Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

It appears that Cover-Up General Bill Barr has struck again. He apparently ordered the Southern District of New York to end their investigation of campaign finance violations by Michael Cohen and Individual 1 (AKA Donald Trump).

The Washington Post: Prosecutors have ‘concluded’ Michael Cohen campaign finance probe, judge says.

Federal prosecutors have concluded the campaign finance investigation centered on President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, or at least key aspects of it, a federal judge overseeing the case wrote Wednesday, suggesting prosecutors will not charge executives in the Trump Organization or any others who have been linked to the matter.

The good news is that Judge William H. Pauley ordered the public release of search warrants and other documents related to the case. Prosecutors asked Pauley to allow some redactions of the materials, but the judge said no dice. The materials should be available sometime this morning.

He [Pauley] wrote that the government disclosed in a secret filing Monday that it had “concluded the aspects of its investigation that justified the continued sealing of the portions of the Materials relating to Cohen’s campaign finance violations.” He rejected their request to file the materials with redactions to protect “third-party privacy interests,” because, by his telling, the case is over and the public deserves to see everything.

“The campaign finance violations discussed in the Materials are a matter of national importance,” Pauley wrote. “Now that the Government’s investigation into those violations has concluded, it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the Materials.”

So Barr has made sure that the Trump Organization will no longer be in danger of prosecution. Will the investigations into Trump’s inauguration be axed next?

Rachel Maddow talked about this last night.

Folks, this is getting scarier with every passing day. Trump now controls the Department of Justice and apparently can order investigations stopped or opened. Republicans control the Senate, so nothing the Democrats pass will even be considered there, including impeachment. The only protection we have left is the courts, and Trump and the GOP are working overtime to stock them with Trump judges.

Last night Trump held another Nazi/KKK rally in North Carolina, during which he attacked has latest target Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and encouraged the crowd as they screamed “send her back!”

And in case you thought Trump was ad libbing, here’s the proof that the attack was orchestrated.

From The Charlotte Observer editorial board: ’Send her back’: A dark reminder of who we are.

It happened in the first half of Wednesday’s speech. Donald Trump, our president, began to talk about Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democratic from Minnesota who was among the four women of color he had attacked Sunday in a racist tweet. Everyone knew Trump would speak about the women at some point to the Greenville, North Carolina crowd. Did we know what would come next?

“Send her back.”

The chant rose quickly from a handful of voices to a chorus of bigotry. It was a chilling moment. It was “lock her up” in a white hood. It was despicable.

It could have happened at any Donald Trump rally. It might have happened in any state, north or south. But it happened in Greenville, in our state, and it was one of North Carolina’s darkest moments.

“Send her back.”

Or perhaps not. Maybe the chant will be absorbed in the vortex that is Donald Trump. In a presidency of so many shameful moments, of so many new lows, the singularly awful ones tend to lose their significance. It’s possible that North Carolina might be forgotten when the chant inevitably spreads to the next rally. But North Carolina shouldn’t forget.

The Associated Press: Trump leans on issue of race in bid for a 2nd term in 2020.

President Donald Trump has placed racial animus at the center of his reelection campaign, and even some of his critics believe it could deliver him a second term.

Every successful modern presidential campaign has been built on the notion of addition, winning over voters beyond core supporters. But Trump has chosen division on the belief that the polarized country he leads will simply choose sides over issues like race.

He intensified his attacks on Wednesday, blasting four young congresswomen of color during a rally in Greenville, North Carolina . The crowd responded by chanting, “Send her back!” echoing Trump’s weekend tweet in which he said the lawmakers, all American citizens, should “go back” to the countries from which they came.

“I do think I am winning the political fight,” Trump declared at the White House. “I think I am winning it by a lot.”

Not since George Wallace’s campaign in 1968 has a presidential candidate — and certainly not an incumbent president — put racial polarization at the center of his call to voters. Though Trump’s comments generated outrage and even a resolution of condemnation in the House, the president and his campaign believe the strategy carries far more benefits than risks.

The Irish Times: Fintan O’Toole: Trial runs for fascism are in full flow.

To grasp what is going on in the world right now, we need to reflect on two things. One is that we are in a phase of trial runs. The other is that what is being trialled is fascism – a word that should be used carefully but not shirked when it is so clearly on the horizon. Forget “post-fascist” – what we are living with is pre-fascism.

It is easy to dismiss Donald Trump as an ignoramus, not least because he is. But he has an acute understanding of one thing: test marketing. He created himself in the gossip pages of the New York tabloids, where celebrity is manufactured by planting outrageous stories that you can later confirm or deny depending on how they go down. And he recreated himself in reality TV where the storylines can be adjusted according to the ratings. Put something out there, pull it back, adjust, go again.

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.

Read the rest at the link above.

Last night Trump also celebrated a meaningless vote in the house about impeachment. Politico suggests that he might actually think the vote has ended the threat.

IT BARELY TOOK THE PRESIDENT ANY TIME before he said this Wednesday evening at his campaign rally in Greenville, N.C.: “I just heard that the United States House of Representatives has overwhelmingly voted to kill the most ridiculous project I’ve ever been involved in: the resolution — how stupid is that — on impeachment. I want to thank those Democrats because many of them voted for us, the vote was a totally lopsided 332-95-1.” … Upon arriving in North Carolina, President Donald Trump said the same thing: “We have just received an overwhelming vote against impeachment. And that’s the end of it. Let the Democrats now go back to work….

a few smart, seasoned people in the White House wondered to us Wednesday night if TRUMP actually believes this vote ended impeachment. Of course, it didn’t. This was a procedural vote that means nothing in the grand scheme of things. There are still nearly 90 Democrats who are now on record supporting an impeachment inquiry, and ROBERT MUELLER is coming to the Hill next week. There are Democrats who believe the impeachment caucus will swell as soon as he opens his mouth.

At Bloomberg, Jonathan Bernstein writes: That Strange Impeachment Vote? It May Be a Big Deal.

Inflaming the base: July 16, 2019

Representative Al Green, a Democrat from Texas, has regularly introduced articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Usually, when a regular bill or resolution has been introduced, it’s then referred to committee. If the majority party doesn’t want to consider the bill, it will die with no further action. Under House rules, however, any member can force an impeachment resolution onto the floor as pending business. That’s what Green did Wednesday.

This maneuver doesn’t mean that impeachment gets a final vote, or even debate. What it does get is a “motion to table,” which means that lawmakers can vote to either keep the resolution as pending business or kill it off. When Green did this in 2017, 58 Democrats voted to keep the impeachment measure alive. In 2018, 66 did so. This time, it was up to 95.

Of course, there are more Democrats in the current Congress than in the previous one. And we can’t assume that all the votes to table were necessarily votes against impeachment (pro-impeachment independent Justin Amash voted to table, for instance). Some legislators may have objected to bringing the resolution straight to the floor on procedural grounds, or thought that Green’s articles were poorly drafted. Still, the vote offers a decent proxy for where impeachment sentiment stands in the House: It divides Democrats and unites Republicans in opposition. For now.

What I found interesting was that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has said she opposes impeachment, apparently didn’t whip the vote. If that’s the case, what does it say about her real position? One interpretation is that she simply wanted to mollify pro-impeachment Democrats by giving them an easy opportunity to express their views. Another is that Pelosi isn’t as opposed to impeachment as she has let on, and was using this vote to gauge sentiment within the caucus – or even to demonstrate that support for ousting the president is growing.

(Emphasis added.)

I’ll end with this breaking news from The Miami Herald: Judge keeps Jeffrey Epstein in N.Y. jail as prosecutors build on sex trafficking case.

Wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein will have to wait out a sex trafficking trial from a jail cell after a federal judge in New York ruled Thursday against his request for release on bail.

Epstein, 66, had offered to put up any collateral the judge wished from his self-estimated $559 million fortune. He said he would live in isolation in his Manhattan mansion, and pay for private security to ensure he remains inside and that no one enters unless authorized by the courts.

But with prosecutors warning that Epstein could easily flee or attempt to interfere with their witnesses, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Berman has ordered that Epstein remain at the Manhattan Correctional Institute as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York seeks his conviction on child sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. Berman, according to reporters covering the hearing in New York, cited concerns that Epstein is a “danger” to others.

Berman’s ruling is a major victory for Epstein’s accusers, who have grown by the dozens since he was first investigated on trafficking allegations in South Florida more than a dozen years ago. The wealthy financier was first arrested in Palm Beach County in the mid-2000s after police began to suspect that he was abusing underage girls.

I’ll post anything I find about the release of Cohen materials from SDNY. What stories are you following today?


Fresh Hell Friday Reads: Just Another Day in Trumpfuckistan

Image result for Twitter propaganda posterGood Afternoon Sky Dancers!

It’s Friday in Trumpfuckistan!  Why wouldn’t all hell be breaking out as usual!  Just one daily Constitutional Crisis after another with a hefty dose of complete ineptitude.   But why take my word for it when you can take Former Speaker Paul Ryan’s?  That really triggered the Dotard in Chief today.  Oh, and another cabinet secretary has sailed off in to the scandal land. Meanwhile, I’m waiting for a some really bad weather from Tropical Storm Barry. so let me make use of the sun and electricity while I can!

Okay, so Alex Acosta–child pedophile enabler–stepped down today over the Epstein case he failed on in a Rose Garden scrum that was yet one more surreal Trumpfuckistan lie and propagandaFest.  This article is from Politico.

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is stepping down from his post, just two days after he held a news conference to defend a plea deal that he brokered for wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while serving as a U.S. attorney in Florida more than a decade ago.

President Donald Trump informed reporters Friday morning of Acosta’s departure. “This was him, not me,” said Trump as Acosta stood beside him.

Trump, who saw Acosta largely as a source of favorable monthly statistics about unemployment and job growth, called Acosta “a great Labor secretary not a good one” and “a tremendous talent. He’s a Hispanic man, he went to Harvard, a great student.” Trump indicated that he was satisfied with Acosta’s explanation for the plea deal in Wednesday’s news conference, saying, “He explained it.”

But Acosta has had a rocky relationship in recent months with other White House officials, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, over the perceived slow pace of deregulation at the department. And one person familiar with the situation said that although Trump initially thought Acosta handled the Epstein controversy well, over the last couple of days the president saw the negative press and didn’t like it.

“POTUS is not a fan of bad press, especially when other people make him look bad,” this person said.

So, I’d just like to say as some one who has taught basic economics since 1980 that I’ve never heard any one believe that the labor department does anything but report that damn statistics.  They’re not the source of any kind of macro policy.   They do, however, oversee Human Trafficking.

Here are some interesting Epstein Headlines:

Miami Herald: “New victims come forward as Epstein asks to be released from jail to his Manhattan mansion”

At least a dozen new victims have come forward to claim they were sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein even as the multimillionaire money manager tries to convince a federal judge to allow him to await a sex trafficking trial from the comfort of the same $77 million Manhattan mansion where he’s accused of luring teenage girls into unwanted sex acts.

Following Epstein’s arrest Saturday in New Jersey, four women have reached out to New York lawyer David Boies, and at least 10 other women have approached other lawyers who have represented dozens of Epstein’s alleged victims in the past.

Jack Scarola, a Palm Beach attorney, said at least five women, all of whom were minors at the time of their alleged encounters with Epstein, have reached out to either him or Fort Lauderdale lawyer Brad Edwards.

“The people we are speaking to are underage victims in Florida and in New York. They are not individuals whose claims have previously been part of any law enforcement investigation,’’ Scarola said.

Michelle Celarier / New York Magazine: Real Hedge-Fund Managers Have Some Thoughts on What Epstein Was Actually Doing

Kass was well-connected on Wall Street, where he’d worked for decades, so he began to ask around. “I went to my institutional brokers, to their trading desks and asked if they ever traded with him. I did it a few times until the date when he was arrested,” he recalls. “Not one institutional trading desk, primary or secondary, had ever traded with Epstein’s firm.”

When a reporter came to interview Kass about Bernie Madoff shortly before that firm blew up in the biggest Ponzi scheme ever, Kass told her, “There’s another guy who reminds me of Madoff that no one trades with.” That man was Jeffrey Epstein.

“How did he get the money?” Kass kept asking.

For decades, Epstein has been credulously described as a big-time hedge-fund manager and a billionaire, even though there’s not a lot of evidence that he is either. There appears little chance the public is going to get definitive answers anytime soon. In a July 11 letter to the New York federal judge overseeing Epstein’s sex-trafficking case, Epstein’s attorney offered to provide “sealed disclosures” about Epstein’s finances to determine the size of the bond he would need to post to secure his release from jail pending trial. His brother, Mark, and a friend even offered to chip in if necessary.

Naturally, this air of mystery has especially piqued the interest of real-life, non-pretend hedge-funders. If this guy wasn’t playing their game — and they seem pretty sure he was not — what game was he playing? Intelligencer spoke to several prominent hedge-fund managers to get a read on what their practiced eyes are detecting in all the new information that is coming to light about Epstein in the wake of his indictment by federal prosecutors in New York. Most saw signs of something unsavory at the heart of his business model.

To begin with, there is much skepticism among the hedgies Intelligencer spoke with that Epstein made the money he has — and he appears to have a lot, given a lavish portfolio of homes and private aircraft — as a traditional money manager. A fund manager who knows well how that kind of fortune is acquired notes, “It’s hard to make a billion dollars quietly.” Epstein never made a peep in the financial world.

Epstein was also missing another key element of a typical thriving hedge fund: investors. Kass couldn’t find any beyond Epstein’s one well-publicized client, retail magnate Les Wexner — nor could other players in the hedge-fund world who undertook similar snooping. “I don’t know anyone who’s ever invested in him; he’s never talked about by any of the allocators,” says one billionaire hedge-fund manager, referring to firms that distribute large pools of money among various funds.

Epstein’s spotty professional history has also drawn a lot of attention in recent days, and Kass says it was one of the first things that raised his suspicions years ago. Now 66, Epstein didn’t come from money and never graduated from college, yet he landed a teaching job at a fancy private school (“unheard of,” says Kass) and rose through the ranks in the early 1980s at investment bank Bear Stearns. Within no time, Kass notes, Epstein was made a partner of the firm — and then was promptly and unceremoniously ousted. (Epstein reportedly left the firm following a minor securities violation.) Despite this “squishy work experience,” as Kass puts it, at some point after his quick exit, Epstein launched his own hedge fund, J. Epstein & Co., later renamed Financial Trust Co. Along the way, he began peddling the improbable narrative that he was so selective he would only work with billionaires.

So does Trump actually realize this is one more thing that makes him look like a incompetent fool?  This is an Op Ed at WAPO from Jennifer Rubin.   I just heard Jim Messina call it as Trump “perp walking” Acosta to the reporters.

Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta and President Trump bowed to reality, the reality that retaining the man who cut a secret plea deal with a “monster” (as Republicans described him) sex offender was untenable. Acosta, as many anticipated after his heartless, soulless and entirely disingenuous news conference, stepped down Friday (or was pushed out).

This is a frequent pattern for Trump: A scandal-plagued Cabinet member or White House staffer comes under fire (e.g. Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, Rob Porter). Trump insists the real victim is the accused, who is a “great guy” and doing “a great job.” Republicans mumble, fidget and insist there is nothing to see here, while Democrats lace into the malefactor and Trump. Democrats stress the spinelessness of Republicans who enable a president whose natural affinity is with those accused of corruption, self-dealing and abusive conduct. Trump blames the press, insisting the coverage is “fake news.” Then Trump dumps the guy, leaving the Republicans who insisted there was never any problem looking like spineless sycophants. Rinse, repeat.

and of course THIS:

Image result for Facebook propaganda posterLaura Bassett / GQ: “When Does America Reckon with the Gravity of Donald Trump’s Alleged Rapes?”

So, then, when is America going to reckon with the alleged serial sexual abuser in the White House? Donald Trump has not only been accused of rape and sexual misconduct by more than 20 women over the past several decades, but he regularly uses his power to threaten survivors who come forward and to protect and promote men who abuse women.

Many are hoping the Epstein trial will also implicate some of his powerful friends, including Trump. The world’s most privileged pedophile was known to hang out with the likes of Bill Clinton, Woody Allen, Prince Andrew, celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz, and, yes, the president, sometimes giving them rides on his infamous private child-sex-abuse plane, nicknamed the “Lolita Express.” Trump, who now claims he’s “not a fan,” in 2002 called Epstein a “terrific guy” who “likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

And Trump’s connections to Epstein’s sex trafficking may go beyond merely superficial. In 2016, “Jane Doe” filed a lawsuit against Trump alleging a “savage sexual attack” in 1994, when she was 13 years old, in which he tied her to a bed at Epstein’s house, raped her, and struck her in the face. The account was corroborated by a witness who claimed to have seen the child perform sexual acts on both Trump and Epstein.

Just as he has a patten of sexual predation, Trump also seems to have a pattern of threatening victims who come forward. Jane Doe alleged in the lawsuit that Trump told her she shouldn’t ever say anything if she didn’t want to “disappear like Maria,” a 12-year-old girl who had also been abused along with her. Jane Doe dropped the lawsuit in November 2016, days before Trump’s election, after her attorney, Lisa Bloom, cited “numerous threats” against her client. (Trump denied the allegations, and Bloom declined to comment for this story.)

Even if the Epstein proceedings fail to produce evidence against Trump, there is enough already in the public record—including words recorded out of his own mouth—to substantiate a shockingly prolific history of sexual misconduct. The first rape allegation against him was by his ex-wife Ivana, who in a deposition in the early 1990s described a violent assault by her husband in 1989 in which he pulled out fistfuls of her hair and jammed himself inside her. She clarified while he was running for president in 2015—and while under a gag order that prevents her from discussing her marriage with Trump without his approval—that the alleged rape was not in a “criminal sense.” What she, likely coached by Trump’s team, seemed to be implying is that a man has a right to sex with his wife, regardless of his level of violence or her protestations (all 50 states have laws against non-consensual sex, or rape, within a marriage).

The little too late award though, goes to Paul Ryan for his revelation that Trump has no idea what he’s doing.  **Maggie Habberman trigger warning**

According to an interview in the upcoming American Carnage, Ryan admitted, “I told myself I gotta have a relationship with this guy to help him get his mind right. Because, I’m telling you, he didn’t know anything about the government…I wanted to scold him all the time. Those of us around him really helped to stop him from making bad decisions. All the time. We helped him make much better decisions, which were contrary to kind of what his knee-jerk reaction was. Now I think he’s making some of these knee-jerk reactions.”

After covering some of the quotes, sand singling out Ryan’s “I wanted to scold him [Trump],” guest Haberman sardonically added, “And yet he didn’t — go figure.”

“I think this is you can add Paul Ryan to the long list of people who have left Donald Trump’s either service or working partnership in some fashion and who then go on to talk about how they were really trying behind the scenes to change everything and that’s why they didn’t say anything publicly,” she continued. “This is not a surprise if you were watching what was happening on the Hill over the last two and a half years. especially after the initial failed vote on repealing the health care legislation that President Obama put in place.”

“But I don’t know how many points everyone thinks they’re going to get for saying this stuff after they’ve stepped off stage,” she bluntly added.

Then there’s this from Caleb Howe  at Mediaite:  “Trump Says It’s Not Free Speech to ‘Write Bad’ About ‘Something Good’: That’s ‘Dangerous Speech”

President Donald Trump had a lot to say at the White House Social Media Summit on Thursday, including offering his take on what does and does not constitute free speech. While the social media influencers in the room do, he said, the mainstream media does not. Also writing something ‘bad’ about something ‘good’ didn’t make the cut.

The president was already deep into his address when he made the remark, having had two other people take the podium already. After he retook the microphone, he talked about speaking with the honchos at tech companies, including Google and Twitter. He told the audience that at these one-on-one conversations “at the highest level” the tech leaders seem to be understanding or on board, and that then they go back and he realizes “three or four weeks later it’s worse, it actually got worse.”

He talked about how Silicon Valley is admired for their technology and how smart they are, but that they aren’t “using that brilliance” fairly. “They have to do that.”

“And we don’t want to stifle anything, we certainly don’t want to stifle free speech. But that’s no longer free speech,” said Trump. “See I don’t think that the mainstream media is free speech either, because it’s so crooked, it’s so dishonest.”

“So to me, free speech is not when you see something good and then you purposely write bad, to me that’s very dangerous speech, and you become angry at it,” said Trump. “But that’s not free speech.”

He continued, talking about CNN and the use of the phrase “fake news” in the mainstream press. “The worst fakers of all” are using the phrase, he said. “They’ve turned it around!”

BB reported yesterday at the kinds of creepy conspiracy type tweeters invited to that “summit”.   It’s been a long week for any one thinking about the US Constitution and the future of democracy in our country.

So, I have more prep work to do before the water and wind of Barry really bothers us.  That’s it from me!  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Thursday Reads: Trump’s “Social Media Summit” and Jeffrey Epstein Updates

“Hello gryphon, you are half-bird and so big,” by Erin Kelso

Good Afternoon!!

The illustrations in this post are by fantasy artist Erin Kelso, AKA bluefooted.

Jeffrey Epstein is still all over the news, although Trump is trying to distract the media by inviting a bunch of Nazis and right wing conspiracy theorists to visit the White House today  for a “social media summit” and sending out deranged tweets, in one of which he claimed to be “so great looking and smart, a true Stable Genius!” followed by the suggestion that he might be in office for 14 more years.

Trump’s “social media” summit

The Washington Post: ‘We will not let them get away with it’: Trump threatens social media ahead of White House summit.

President Trump plans to gather Republican lawmakers, campaign strategists and online provocateurs for a “social media summit” at the White House on Thursday, rallying his political allies and escalating his attacks on Facebook, Google and Twitter ahead of the 2020 election.

Harpy, by Erin Kelso

For Trump, the conference represents his highest profile broadside against Silicon Valley after months of accusing tech companies of censoring conservative users and websites. Facebook, Google and Twitter each has denied the president’s allegations of political bias, though none of them has been invited to the White House for Trump’s summit.

Hours before the event, Trump tweeted that the focus of the conversation “will be the tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies,” though he didn’t mention any by name. “We will not let them get away with it much longer,” he added.

Trump has assailed Facebook, Google and Twitter for months, even accusing them of trying to rig the election. In March, for example, he said the companies had engaged in “collusion” and work in opposition to a “certain group of people that happen to be in power, that happen to have won the election.”

At times, though, Trump’s attacks have come in response to efforts by Facebook, Google and Twitter to remove hate speech, threats of violence and other troubling content from their platforms.

Because Trump just loves hate speech.

Vox’s Recode reveals some of the nuts who will be at Trump’s “summit.”

…the gathering in Washington this week will bring together conservative media outlets and Donald Trump supporters who accuse Big Tech of anti-conservative bias despite a lack of evidence supporting their claims.

Canyon Maker, by Erin Kelso

Who will actually be there: The leaders of several conservative groups, like Turning Point USA, YourVoice Inc, right-wing YouTube channel Prager University, conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, and a right-wing meme maker known as Carpe Donktum have all confirmed they are attending Thursday’s meeting.

What’s it’s really about: Trump has suggested the government might sue social media companies over accusations of political bias, but he hasn’t taken concrete action so far. In May, Recode reported on a tool the White House launched for people to flag claims of social media censorship — but the tool is essentially a ploy to gather voter data. According to the Journal, today’s summit “is a way to rally Trump’s base” and will offer a “preview of a likely theme in Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign.” [Ryan Tracy / The Wall Street Journal]

More information on the attendees from CNN:

The White House has repeatedly declined to release a list people it expects to attend, but some of the recipients have turned to social media to boast about being invited.

By ErinKelso

Among them are Bill Mitchell, a radio host who has promoted the extremist QAnon conspiracy theory on Twitter; Carpe Donktum, an anonymous troll who won a contest put on by the fringe media organization InfoWars for an anti-media meme; and Ali Alexander, an activist who attempted to smear Sen. Kamala Harris by saying she is not an “American black” following the first Democratic presidential debates.

Other eyebrow raising attendees include James O’Keefe, the guerrilla journalist whose group Project Veritas tried to trick reporters at the Washington Post by planting a source who told the paper that she had been impregnated as a teenager by failed Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore; Charlie Kirk, the founder of the right-wing student group Turning Point USA who sometimes posts misleading information on social media; and Benny Johnson, the journalist-turned-activist who was fired for plagiarism by BuzzFeed and demoted at the Independent Journal Review for violating company standards.

From Vice: Trump Invites Fringe Social Media Company Popular With Nazis to the White House.

[Today] President Donald Trump is meeting with a series of right wing figures at the White House to discuss social media issues. But Facebook and Twitter won’t be there. In fact, the only social media network that has publicly said it’s attending is Minds—billed as the crypto “anti-Facebook” and once home to several neo-Nazi extremist groups.

Pulp, a public relations firm that counts Minds among its client list, sent Motherboard a photo of the invitation the fringe social media site received to the White House for the summit.

By Erin Kelso

“Minds.com is the only social media network invited to the White House’s social media summit!” wrote the Pulp representative in an email to Motherboard. Facebook and Twitter, social media companies with an astronomically larger number of users than Minds, were excluded from the summit.

A previous Motherboard investigation found that miliant neo-Nazi groups connected to Atomwaffen Division—a violent American hate group connected to several murders—was using Minds as a platform for recruiting and spreading propaganda. Minds eventually banned the accounts when Motherboard showed them to the platform, but the company’s lax content moderation allowed them to proliferate unchecked for months.

One more from The Daily Beast: Trump’s Social Media Summit Mortifies White House, Enrages Far-Right Allies.

Donald Trump has invited personalities from across the right-wing internet to the White House on Thursday for a “Social Media Summit,” but the event is causing his administration headaches even before it begins.

So far, the summit has stirred up resentments among pro-Trump personalities who were never invited to the party, and one invitee has been disinvited over an anti-Semitic cartoon—raising questions for the White House about why he was invited in the first place….

The Devil, by Erin Kelso

Notably, the group so far doesn’t appear to include anyone who has actually been banned from major social platforms, even though those bans have played a significant role in driving accusations on the right that the social giants are biased. Pro-Trump figures like anti-Muslim activist Laura Loomer, InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and Proud Boys men’s group founder Gavin McInnes, for example, don’t appear to have been invited.

That fact hasn’t been lost on fringe Trump supporters. In a livestream from Washington, D.C., InfoWars reporter and Jones lieutenant Owen Shroyer raged that no one from InfoWars was invited to the event, while people who hadn’t been banned were.

Shroyer declared that the event was an “abortion of truth” and compared the invitees to dogs getting a bone and a pat on the head.

Read much more at the link.

Jeffrey Epstein News

Last night The New York Times published a very interesting story on Epstein’s financial history: Jeffrey Epstein’s Fortune May Be More Illusion Than Fact.

Mr. Epstein is routinely described as a billionaire and brilliant financier, and he rubbed elbows with the powerful, including former and future presidents. Even after his 2008 guilty plea in a prostitution case in Florida, he promoted himself as a financial wizard who used arcane mathematical models, and he often dropped the names of Nobel Prize-winning friends. He told potential clients that they had to invest a minimum of $1 billion. At his peak in the early 2000s, a magazine profile said he employed 150 people, some working out of the historic Villard Houses on Madison Avenue.

Much of that appears to be an illusion, and there is little evidence that Mr. Epstein is a billionaire.

Wicked and the Unicorn, by Erin Kelso

Mr. Epstein’s wealth may have depended less on his math acumen than his connections to two men — Steven J. Hoffenberg, a onetime owner of The New York Post and a notorious fraudster later convicted of running a $460 million Ponzi scheme, and Leslie H. Wexner, the billionaire founder of retail chains including The Limited and the chief executive of the company that owns Victoria’s Secret.

Mr. Hoffenberg was Mr. Epstein’s partner in two ill-fated takeover bids in the 1980s, including one of Pan American World Airways, and would later claim that Mr. Epstein had been part of the scheme that landed him in jail — although Mr. Epstein was never charged. With Mr. Wexner, Mr. Epstein formed a financial and personal bond that baffled longtime associates of the wealthy retail magnate, who was his only publicly disclosed investor.

You’ll need to read the whole thing, but one fascinating revelation is that Epstein was aided by the same private section of Deutsche Bank that lent millions to Donald Trump.

In recent years, Mr. Epstein was a client of Deutsche Bank’s private-banking division, which caters to ultrawealthy individuals and families. The bank provided Mr. Epstein with loans and wealth-management accounts, as well as trading services through its investment banking arm, according to two people familiar with the relationship. At one point, compliance officers at Deutsche Bank raised concerns about transactions by Mr. Epstein’s company, because he posed reputational risk to the bank, the people said.

Deutsche Bank managers overruled their concerns, the people said. They noted that there was nothing illegal about the transactions and that Mr. Epstein was a lucrative client.

Earlier this year, the bank ended its relationship with Mr. Epstein.

Queen Titania, by Erin Kelso

AP: Whispers, suspicion about Epstein on Caribbean island.

Ask about Jeffrey Epstein on St. Thomas and rooms go quiet. Some people leave. Those who share stories speak in barely audible tones.

The 66-year-old billionaire bought Little St. James Island off this U.S. Caribbean territory more than two decades ago and began to transform it — clearing the native vegetation, ringing the property with towering palm trees and planting two massive U.S. flags on either end. When guides took scuba divers to spots near the island, security guards would walk to the water’s edge.

It was off-putting to residents of St. Thomas — a lush tropical island east of Puerto Rico with winding roads through mountains dotted with dainty Danish colonial-era homes. Then, when Epstein pleaded guilty in a 2008 to soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution, his need for privacy began to appear more sinister.

“Everybody called it ‘Pedophile Island,’” said Kevin Goodrich, who is from St. Thomas and operates boat charters. “It’s our dark corner.”

Many people who worked for Epstein told The Associated Press this week that they had signed long non-disclosure agreements, and refused to talk. One former employee who declined to be identified said Epstein once had five boats, including a large ferry in which he transported up to 200 workers from St. Thomas to his island every day for construction work.

Click on the link to read more details.

The Bitter End, by Erin Kelso

Joe Pompeo at Vanity Fair: “He Was Living In Peace, Like Dr. Mengele In Paraguay”: Manhattan Media Remember Jeffrey Epstein, The Monster Hiding In Plain Sight.

In late 2009, as civil complaints alleging Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of underage girls were mounting, George Rush, the long-running Daily News gossip columnist, was preparing a story on one of the latest Jane Doe lawsuits filed against the billionaire financier. The legal documents contained allegations that hadn’t yet been reported, and Rush was keen on nudging them into the public domain. He drew up a list of questions and sent them to Howard Rubenstein, who was Epstein’s publicist at the time. Rush’s reporting resulted in a call from Epstein himself to Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman, who had been a business partner of Epstein’s a few years earlier. The enigmatic and press-shy tycoon was offering Zuckerman something rare: an interview for the Daily News. But when Epstein got on the phone with Rush, Epstein said he could only speak off the record, on the advice of his lawyers. The whole 22-minute conversation sounded to Rush like a bunch of spin.

“It was just kind of this self-serving rationale for how he had been tormented by the lawyers for these girls, whom he characterized as these preexisting prostitutes and strippers who’d already been indoctrinated into the sex world,” Rush told me, describing the interview only in general terms because, even 10 years later, it’s still off the record. “You got the sense that he could adopt many masks. He played up his working-class roots on Coney Island, and how he understood that this was a good story that sold newspapers, and how everybody hates a rich guy. He basically said, I get why this is a good story for you, but I think a better story would be how these con artist lawyers are abusing the legal system.”

Rush said his Epstein chat was “almost useless,” though it “did give me a window into him. He briefly acknowledged getting himself into this mess. But he showed little remorse and no pity for his victims. He was mostly concerned with keeping Ghislaine Maxwell, his alleged henchwoman, out of the story.”

This is a long but interesting story, but check it out. Along the way, Epstein’s behavior has been enabled by so many rich and powerful allies.

Two more:

The New York Times: Cyrus Vance’s Office Sought Reduced Sex-Offender Status for Epstein.

The New York Post: NYPD let convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein skip judge-ordered check-ins.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: Jeffrey Epstein, Trump, and the Politicized DOJ

Summertime, by Mary Cassatt, 1894

Good Morning!!

The news is full of Jeffrey Epstein stories; I can only hope that this time his victims will finally get justice. Bill Barr has recused himself from the case, but will that keep Trump and the Justice Department he now controls from helping his old pal Epstein?

Trump Has Politicized the DOJ

Chris Smith at Vanity Fair: “It Would Be Ridiculously Naive Not To Be Concerned”:   Trump has Politicized the DOJ. How Long Can the SDNY Hold Out?

Sally Yates tried to warn us. Way back in January 2017, at the end of the very first week of the Trump administration, the new president signed an executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. It was a blatantly political act, following months of Trump campaign promises, and it immediately provoked lawsuits challenging the order as religious discrimination. Yates, the acting attorney general, refused to defend the legally indefensible and was summarily fired. “The president is attempting to dismantle the rule of law, destroy the time-honored independence of the Justice Department, and undermine the career men and women who are devoted to seeking justice day in and day out,” Yates wrote in a New York Times op-ed published in July 2017.

Summer’s Day, by Berthe Morisot

Two Julys later, Trump’s politicization of the DOJ is gaining new momentum and depth. The president’s choice of William Barr as attorney general, and Barr’s entirely predictable attempts to undercut the Mueller report, has been the highest-profile, highest-stakes move to weaponize the department for partisan purposes. But two fresh episodes demonstrate Trump’s relentless push to subvert the DOJ, and how far-reaching the damage will be to the rule of law. First came Sarah Fabian, the senior attorney in the DOJ’s Office of Immigration Litigation, telling a California appeals court that it is “safe and sanitary” for jailed immigrant children to go without soap or toothbrushes and to sleep on concrete floors under bright lights. “I actually felt somewhat sorry for her,” a former federal prosecutor says. “You could hear how half-hearted she was in making the point. But there is no way she would have been making that argument at all without it being approved at the highest levels of DOJ….”

The second, ongoing case echoes the events that got Yates fired. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled against adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, after documents from a now deceased Republican consultant’s hard drives were exposed. The census citizenship question, Thomas Hofeller wrote in an analysis, “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” The DOJ announced it would not be fighting the Supreme Court ruling; the Commerce Department announced it would begin printing the census forms without the question in question.

Trump didn’t care. “We are absolutely moving forward,” he declared on Twitter. Which was news to DOJ lawyers, who found themselves fumbling during an emergency conference call with a Maryland district court judge….

Summer Afternoon in Rockport, by Carl Peters

After a few more days of confusion, the DOJ said on Friday it would demur from pursuing the case, at least until the Commerce Department “adopts a new rationale for including the citizenship question.” That new spin should arrive very soon. Over the weekend Trump and Barr replaced the DOJ legal team handling the case. Whether the prior group of career lawyers balked at returning to the Supreme Court with a new, possibly untenable argument or whether Barr simply wants fresh minds on the case, the shift was all but unprecedented, and is yet another indication that Trump sees the DOJ as a political tool.

Will Trump find a way to force the DOJ to help Epstein? I think he’s likely to try. Smith concludes:

…it’s hard to imagine Trump won’t try to intercede if the famously independent SDNY—currently back in the headlines for charging billionaire Jeffrey Epstein with sex trafficking—moves to indict one or more of the president’s high-ranking associates. (Epstein has pleaded not guilty.) “The fear is that Trump doesn’t even need to say it out loud anymore, because Barr is so protective of him,” Rocah says. “It would be ridiculously naïve not to be concerned.”

Also recommended from Zoe Tillman at Buzzfeed News: Trump Is Bringing In New Lawyers On The Citizenship Question Case And No One Knows What’s Happening.

Epstein stories to check out

Ken White provides a good backgrounder on the case at The Atlantic: Jeffrey Epstein Is Out of Luck.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, famously aggressive in pursuing high-profile prosecutions, charged Epstein last week with child sex trafficking in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1591. These new charges represent the Department of Justice’s attempt to redeem a reputation soiled by the extremely questionable plea deal it gave Epstein in 2008.

Summer Landscape, by Pierre Auguste Renoir, 1875

In 2006 and 2007, Epstein— once a reliable companion of the well-connected — faced extensive, detailed allegations that he paid multiple minors for sexual contact and for their services in procuring other minors. Most people, hammered with that kind of evidence, would spend the rest of their lives in prison. But Epstein could afford the lavish attention of a defense team staffed by legal luminaries like Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr. Most of us hope an attorney will defend us competently at trial, but the super-rich can afford to go on the offense. Epstein’s lawyers hounded the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, which was considering federal charges based on reports that Epstein procured underaged girls across state lines. Former U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta – now President Trump’s Secretary of Labor – characterized it as a “year-long assault on the prosecution and prosecutors,” and complained that Epstein’s team investigated prosecutors and their families “looking for personal peccadilloes that may provide a basis for disqualification.”

The strategy worked. Epstein’s team secured the deal of the millennium, one utterly unlike anything I’ve seen in 25 years of practicing federal criminal law. Epstein agreed to plead guilty to state charges, register as a sex offender, and spend 13 months in county jail, during which time he was allowed to spend 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, out of the jail on “work release.” In exchange, the Southern District of Florida abandoned its criminal investigation of Epstein’s conduct, agreed not to prosecute him federally, and – incredibly— agreed not to prosecute anyone else who helped him procure underaged girls for sex. This is not normal; it is astounding.

Read the rest at the link.

Barbara McQuade at New York Magazine: The Jeffrey Epstein Case Shows What Sex Trafficking Really Looks Like.

Interior at Etretat, the 14th of July, by Henri Matisse, 1920

When jurors hear “sex trafficking,” they conjure up images of victims bound by chains, subjected to physical force and imprisonment. While some cases include those aggravating facts, more often, the victim instead chooses to stay with her assailant, who preys upon a vulnerability. Defendants recruit victims in a variety of ways and then force them to engage in sex acts with them or with paying customers. Jurors are sometimes persuaded that if the defendant was truly engaging in sex trafficking, the victim would have simply run away or called the police.

As a former federal prosecutor, I have seen cases of sex trafficking, and none of those cases involved victims in ropes or chains. More often, the cases involved runaways, undocumented immigrants, or victims of sexual abuse.

A high-profile case like Epstein’s provides a teachable moment for American jurors. The indictment notes that some of his victims returned to his home to perform sex acts for money, even after they knew full well what was in store for them. The indictment also notes that the victims were “for various reasons, particularly vulnerable to exploitation.” That is the secret sauce of sex trafficking….

Sex trafficking is particularly egregious when it involves children, as in Epstein’s case. Children by definition are unable to consent to sex. In Epstein’s case, girls were lured to his home for sex with promises of hundreds of dollars and the prospect of modeling careers — offers that can be head-spinning and irresistible for a young teen.

by

Summer day, Gloucester Harbor, by Alice Judson

One of the reasons that we prosecute crimes is to deter others from committing similar acts. By seeing criminals punished for wrongdoing, others learn from their example. Another potential benefit of the Epstein case is to educate the public that not all victims of sex trafficking are found in chains. Here is hoping that jurors will learn from this example.

Read the whole thing at The Intelligencer.

Vicky Ward (who researched and wrote an in-depth piece about Epstein for Vanity Fair in 2003) at The Daily Beast: Jeffrey Epstein’s Sick Story Played Out for Years in Plain Sight.

For almost two decades, for some nebulous reason, whether to do with ties to foreign intelligence, his billions of dollars, or his social connections, Epstein, whose alleged sexual sickness and horrific assaults on women without means or ability to protect themselves is well-known in his circle, remained untouchable.

As many people know, I spent many months on his trail in 2002 for Vanity Fair and discovered not only that he was not who he claimed to be professionally, but also that he had allegedly assaulted two young sisters, one of whom had been underage at the time. Very bravely, they were prepared to go on the record. They were afraid he’d use all his influence to discredit them—and their fear turned out to be legitimate.

As the article was being readied for publication, Epstein made a visit to the office of Vanity Fair’s then-editor, Graydon Carter, and suddenly the women and their allegations were removed from the article. “He’s sensitive about the young women,” Carter told me at the time. He also mentioned he’d finagled a photograph of Epstein in a swimsuit out of the encounter. And there was also some feeble excuse about the article “being stronger as a business story.” (Epstein had also leaned heavily on my ex-husband’s uncle, Conrad Black, to try to exert his influence on me, which was particularly unwelcome, given that Black happened to be my ex-husband’s boss at the time.)

Summer Evening Wheat Field at Sunset, by Vincent Van Gogh

But much worse was to come from Epstein’s army of willfully blind lobbyists. In 2007 and 2008, as the FBI prepared a 53-page indictment that would charge Epstein with sex crimes, Epstein’s powerful legal team played the influence card.

After one meeting with then-U.S. Attorney Acosta, where presumably “intelligence” was mentioned, the indictment was shelved and, instead, Epstein signed a non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors, pleading guilty to one count of solicitation of prostitution and one count of procurement of minors for prostitution, which earned him a cushy 13 months in county jail, from where he was allowed to leave to work at his office and go for walks.

It’s worth reading the whole thing.

More helpful Epstein stories, links only

The New York Times: Seized Photos of Nude Girls Deepens Questions About Jeffrey Epstein’s 2008 Deal.

The New York Times: Inside Epstein’s $56 Million Mansion: Photos of Bill Clinton, Woody Allen and Saudi Crown Prince.

The Washington Post: Epstein indictment renews questions about earlier case handled by Trump Cabinet official.

Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: Alex Acosta gave a pass to Epstein years ago. He’s still at it as labor secretary.

Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times: Jeffrey Epstein Is the Ultimate Symbol of Plutocratic Rot.

Bloomberg: Mystery Around Jeffrey Epstein’s Fortune and How He Made It.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Famous Authors And Their Cats (Plus News)

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday, Dakinikat highlighted this article at The Independent in which the owner of a tanker that the Trump administration claims was attacked by Iran says the Trump folks are lying.

The ship operator said “flying objects” that may have been bullets were the cause of damage to the vessel, rather than mines used by Iranian forces, as the US has suggested.

Yutaka Katada, chief executive of the Japanese company operating the ship called Kokuka Courageous, one of two vessels attacked near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, said the damage could not have been caused by mines or torpedos that are shot underwater, since the damage was reportedly above the ship’s waterline.

Now Germany has chimed in. Newsweek: Germany Joins Chorus Casting Doubt on Trump Administration Claim that Iran was Behind Attack on Oil Tankers.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Friday cast doubt on evidence that the U.S. government claims is proof that Iran was behind an attack this week on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

William Faulkner and cat

The attack on the two vessels, one Japanese and one Norwegian, took place as Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran to try to calm tensions between Tehran and Washington.

The U.S. Navy later released a video that purported to show members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard sneaking over to the ship in the middle of the night to remove an unexploded mine. U.S. officials claimed this is evidence of Iran’s culpability, but Maas argued that the video was insufficient proof to pin the attack on Iran.

“The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me,” Maas told reporters during a press conference on Friday. The boat’s Japanese owner also cast doubt on the theory that a mine had been used to attack the ship, telling journalists that members of his crew had witnessed a flying object.

Iran has denied any role in the event, and some observers have raised questions about whether the intelligence was being used as a pretext for the U.S. to escalate conflict with the country.

Peter Baker writes at The New York Times: As Trump Accuses Iran, He Has One Problem: His Own Credibility.

For any president, accusing another country of an act of war presents an enormous challenge to overcome skepticism at home and abroad. But for a president known for falsehoods and crisis-churning bombast, the test of credibility appears far more daunting.

Ursula Le Guin and cat

For two and a half years in office, Mr. Trump has spun out so many misleading or untrue statements about himself, his enemies, his policies, his politics, his family, his personal story, his finances and his interactions with staff that even his own former communications director once said “he’s a liar” and many Americans long ago concluded that he cannot be trusted.

Fact-checking Mr. Trump is a full-time occupation in Washington, and in no other circumstance is faith in a president’s word as vital as in matters of war and peace. The public grew cynical about presidents and intelligence after George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq based on false accusations of weapons of mass destruction, and the doubt spilled over to Barack Obama when he accused Syria of gassing its own people. As Mr. Trump confronts Iran, he carries the burden of their history and his own….

The task is all the more formidable for Mr. Trump, who himself has assailed the reliability of America’s intelligence agencies and even the intelligence chiefs he appointed, suggesting they could not be believed when their conclusions have not fit his worldview.

That’s an important point. Trump has been attacking the findings of the U.S. intelligence community since he was a candidate. He has repeatedly said he believes Vladimir Putin over his own FBI and CIA.

Again following up on Dakinikat’s post yesterday, here’s a brilliant essay by Virginia Heffernan at The Los Angeles Times: All the president’s lying ladies — Hicks, Sanders and Conway — make news.

Anton Chekhov and cat

The Trump White House is a bit like Shakespeare summer camp: not enough substantial parts for the girls. The female roles at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. are for craven ladies-in-waiting who are allotted very little moral agency, let alone opportunities for heroics. They subvert their ambitions to their overlord’s; they lie, in short.

Yes, there’s a Lady Macbeth, portrayed in Trumpworld as a waxen blonde sleepwalker, a ghostly daughter-wife whose veins are certifiably free of the milk of human kindness. (Ivanka’s understudy, the creepy Melania, has skipped so many rehearsals she’s been written off.)

A shrewd, unholy trinity has settled for lesser roles: the liar-handmaidens Hope Hicks, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway. The president, according to Michael Wolff’s latest book, “Siege,” likes to see these three in a “cat fight,” in which each undermines the others as she competes to lie most robustly on his behalf.

The melancholic former White House Communications Director Hicks, choleric counselor Conway and splenetic Press Secretary Sanders aren’t just complicit in the president’s depravity. They have managed to advance it.

But the advantage this trio has over Lady Ivanka is that they can leave.

To further tempt you to read the whole thing, here is Heffernan’s characterization of Sarah Huckabee Sanders:

Sanders is known for her never-ending mendacity and her near-religious devotion to Trump, who, according to Wolff, calls her the “Huckabee Girl.”

Patricia Highsmith and cat

Indeed, Trump has often treated Sanders as if she were the possession of her father, Mike Huckabee, on loan to him as a scullery maid. Scullery for Trump includes, above all, mendacity. Sanders is featured in the Mueller report for her “slip of the tongue” — the claim that “countless” FBI agents disliked former FBI Director James Comey.

Not only was this fabrication part of Sanders’ tireless effort to make it seem as though Trump is a normal law-and-order Republican (and not a carnie thug with well-documented contempt for the whole FBI), it was also an effort to obfuscate Trump’s reason for firing Comey. We all know it: to kill the Russia investigation.

Go read the rest. You won’t be sorry.

At Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson explains how the trial of a border patrol agent could expose the “toxic culture” of his agency: ‘Guats,’ ‘Tonks’ and ‘Subhuman Shit’: The Shocking Texts of a Border Patrol Agent.

In the days before he allegedly struck a 23-year-old undocumented Guatemalan man with a government-issued Ford F-150, Border Patrol agent Matthew Bowen sent a text to a fellow agent. In the exchange, which federal prosecutors now claim offers “insight into his view of the aliens he apprehends,” Bowen railed against unauthorized migrants who’d thrown rocks at a colleague as “mindless murdering savages” and “disgusting subhuman shit unworthy of being kindling for a fire.” The text message also includes a plea to the president: “PLEASE let us take the gloves off trump!”

Kingsley Amis and cat

Two weeks later, on December 3rd, 2017, Bowen was on patrol near Nogales, Arizona, when he spotted a suspected unauthorized border crosser. Identified as Antolin Rolando Lopez-Aguilar in a federal affidavit, the man had been hiding but took off running back toward the Nogales point of entry, “in an apparent effort to avoid apprehension,” the affidavit states.

Instead of pursuing Lopez-Aguilar on foot, Bowen chased after him in his federal vehicle, known as a “Kilo Unit” in Border Patrol lingo. As caught on camera, Bowen maneuvered “the front grille of the truck directly behind Lopez-Aguilar,” according to the affidavit. With the F-150 bearing down on him, Lopez-Aguilar reached back “to ‘push off’ of the hood” before Bowen “accelerated the… Kilo Unit directly into the back of Lopez-Aguilar’s body, knocking Lopez-Aguilar to the ground,” the document states. The Ford’s tires came to a full stop “within inches of running Lopez-Aguilar over where he lay on the ground.”

Bowen, now 39, was indicted in May 2018, on two counts — one, a civil rights crime, for what prosecutors call Bowen’s choice to use “deadly force against a person who was running away from him and posed no threat,” and the other, an obstruction charge, for his alleged effort to “cover up his crime.” Bowen has pleaded not guilty to both counts. (Lopez-Aguilar was scraped up, but not seriously injured according to court documents, and reportedly sentenced to 30 days for the misdemeanor offense of illegal entry into the United States.)

PD James and cat

Bowen’s trial is due to begin in August. But the case is already shining a spotlight on a troubled culture at Border Patrol, the law enforcement arm of Customs and Border Protection, at a moment when both agencies have been grappling with a surge in migrants, and faced allegations of widespread wrongdoing, ranging from physical and sexual abuse of minors to housing migrants in substandard shelters, including one likened to “a human dog pound.”

Read the rest at Rolling Stone.

At The Washington Post, David Von Drehle examines the differential treatment given to rich men in the U.S. justice system: Jeffrey Epstein’s scandal of secrecy points to a creeping rot in the American justice system.

When rich people are credibly accused of crimes, does the public have a right to know? Should multimillionaires be allowed to silence their accusers with cash?

According to superlawyer David Boies, “dozens” of women who could give testimony about being sexually assaulted as girls by mysterious financier Jeffrey Epstein are silenced by settlements they reached with their alleged assailant. The exact number is yet another secret in this least transparent of criminal cases. “Three dozen or eight dozen, I don’t know, but there are dozens,” Boies told me recently. He himself represents two alleged Epstein victims bound by “non-disclosure agreements” (NDAs).

Robert Graves and cats

Because Epstein can afford to buy silence, he may succeed in shuttering the window of accountability pried open in a South Florida court back in February. U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra ruled that federal prosecutors — led by the current labor secretary, Alexander Acosta — broke the law by entering a secret sweetheart deal to allow Epstein to serve a cushy sentence without facing evidence that he assaulted more than 30 underage girls in Palm Beach.

That ruling may prove hollow, however, if the alleged victims are now gagged by their settlements with Epstein. What a galling next chapter that would be in this appalling story.

Epstein, whose enormous and unexplained wealth attracted a circle of friends that included Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, actor Kevin Spacey and Britain’s Prince Andrew, travels from mansion to mansion while poor men accused of lesser crimes rot in prison.

This scandal of secrecy points to a creeping rot in the American justice system. Too many cases involving potential felonies are resolved through civil settlements that include ironclad NDAs. Once the money changes hands, witnesses can no longer testify to crimes; indeed, penalties for telling the truth after a settlement often run to the millions of dollars — ruinous for most crime victims. It’s a short step removed from silencing witnesses with cement shoes.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a nice weekend!


Lazy Saturday Reads

Diner, by Kevin Mizner

Diner, by Kevin Mizner

 

Good Morning!!

You’ve  probably heard by now that Donna Douglas, who played Elly Mae Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies, died on Thursday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She was either 81 or 82, depending on which news source you read. I wasn’t a fan of the show, but it was hard not to be aware of it; and I did see it from time to time in reruns. From the LA Times:

The show — about the down-home Clampetts who strike it rich with an Ozarks oil well and move to California — became an immediate hit when it began airing on CBS in 1962. It starred Buddy Ebsen as patriarch Jed, Irene Ryan as Granny, Max Baer Jr. as Jethro and Douglas as Elly May, a buxom tomboy character who had curly blond pigtails, wore gingham and blue jeans and loved her “critters.” ….

After winning beauty contests in her home state, Douglas headed to New York City in the mid-1950s in search of modeling jobs and wound up on television as a billboard girl on “The Steve Allen Show.” She took acting lessons and landed a few parts in other TV series before writer and producer Paul Henning asked her if she thought she’d be right for his new show, “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

“I just looked at him and grinned,” Douglas told AP Hollywood reporter Bob Thomas in 1965. “Could I handle Elly May? Why, it was just like my own life.” ….

She had to retrieve the Southern accent she had tried to lose, and she had no trouble with the dogs, skunks, mountain lion, chimpanzee and other animals Elly May adored on the series.

“I loved doing Elly May,” the actress would recall. “And, of course, ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ was a story about the American dream. No matter who tried to slicker us or take advantage of us, we always came out on top. We were never the losers. We set a good example.”

I hadn’t realized until I read it in the Times obituary, that Donna Douglas also appeared in one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes ever.

la-et-st-before-hillbillies-donna-douglas-trav-001

Douglas appeared for just a few minutes in the final moments of the second season episode, “The Eye of the Beholder,” written by series creator Rod Serling. The episode aired in 1960, years before “The Beverly Hillbillies” in 1962. But unlike “Hillbillies,” where her good looks were used as a punch line, here they became part of a ghoulish twist. In fact, it was one of the best, and most memorable, twist endings in the show’s history.

The episode recounted the recovery of a woman named Janet Tyler after a series of medical procedures attempting to fix a face that has apparently been completely deformed. While she deals with the doctors and nurses in the hospital, we see her head wrapped completely in bandages.

In fact, it was actress Maxine Stuart who played Tyler for these scenes. But in the episode’s final moments, the bandages are removed and Tyler’s face is revealed to be Douglas’.

“No change. No change at all,” the doctor laments. And then we see the face of the medical staff — snouted and horrific. But in this world, it’s Douglas’ face that’s the monstrosity.

This ending is regularly listed among the top “Twilight Zone” endings of all time, and the image of a horrified Douglas being restrained by the bizarre-looking doctor is one that’s made its way onto many T-shirts and posters.

Here’s that final scene. The sound is a little low, but you’ll get the idea.

Here’s the full episode:

Douglas later appeared in another Twilight Zone episode, “Cavender Is Missing,” and was a guest on many television programs, including Bachelor Father, 77 Sunset Strip, Adam 12, Night Gallery, Route 66, and Surfside 6.

Also on Thursday, instant karma struck Florida State University, its football team, and quarterback/accused rapist Jameis Winston when the team got blown out by Oregon in the Rose Bowl, thanks to Winston’s poor performance. From The Washington Post: It all implodes on Jameis Winston.

Florida State had not lost a game since November 2012, and quarterback Jameis Winston was personally undefeated since high school. That stretch included a national championship last season, plus a Heisman Trophy for Winston….

In the first-ever College Football Playoff semifinal game, the Seminoles were trailing at halftime, 18-13, but that seemed no cause for worry, as the team had staged second-half comebacks all season. Even after a pair of fumbles by FSU running back Dalvin Cook had helped Oregon take a 39-20 lead late in the third quarter, it still seemed entirely possible that Winston could lead his team back.

Down 19 points, Florida State faced a fourth-and-5 situation and decided to go for it. That’s when the previously unflappable Winston committed a mind-boggling turnover:

Whoa!! (Read twitter reactions at the WaPo link.)

On the sidelines, lip-readers picked up FSU Coach Jimbo Fisher telling Winston something that looked like, “If you don’t calm the [expletive] down, you’re going to the bench.”

Winston did not calm, um, down, at least if an interception on his second throw after that costly fumble was any indication. Eventually, Winston did go to the bench, but that was mostly because the game proceeded to get even more out of hand.

It was 59-20 when backup quarterback Sean Maguire entered the game, and that’s how it ended. Winston is widely expected to declare for the NFL draft, meaning that the Rose Bowl was almost certainly his last college game, and it certainly did not go the way he wanted.

You have to wonder if any NFL team will want to sign Winston considering the league’s current problem with domestic violence.

Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston

After the game, Oregon players taunted Winston by chanting “no means no” along with the crowd. Th

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said in a statement to the Associated Press that the behavior was inappropriate.

“This is not what our program stands for, and the student-athletes will be disciplined internally,” Helfrich said.

Winston was never charged after a woman accused him of raping her in 2012.

Oregon has its own problems with sexual assaults by athletes.

Three former basketball players were suspended in June for a minimum of four years after a freshman student filed a report alleging they sexually assaulted her. Prosecutors decided there wasn’t enough evidence to charge the players, who said the sexual contact was consensual.

Winston was recently  “cleared” of wrongdoing in a joke of a hearing; Vice obtained a published the entire transcript. Read all about it at the link.

This is so sad. A 7-year-0ld girl who survived a plane crash that killed the rest of her family went in search of help.

Larry Wilkins, 71, was watching the local news at his Buckberry Trail home at around 6:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. ET) when he said he heard a knock.

 “The little girl come to my door,” Wilkins told NBC News in a telephone interview late Friday. “She was bleeding pretty bad, her legs were bleeding, her face had a bloody nose. She was barefoot, only had one sock on.”

“She told me that her mom and her dad were dead, and she was in a plane crash, and the plane was upside down,” he said. “She asked if she could stay here. I said, ‘Honey, what can I do for you?’ I got a wash cloth and cleaned her up. And of course called 911.”

Marty Gutzler, 49, and Kimberly Gutzler, 45; their daughter, 9-year-old Piper Gutzler; and Sierra Walder, 14, Piper’s cousin were killed in the crash, according to Kentucky State Police. The identity of the 7-year-old survivor was not released. The victims were from Nashville, Illinois, police said.

So heartbreaking. I hope that brave little girl has other family members who will take care of her.

Hundreds of NYPD officers turn their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio at funeral of fallen officer Rafael Ramos.

Hundreds of NYPD officers turn their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio at funeral of fallen officer Rafael Ramos.

Many NYPD officers are continuing their long-running tantrum against NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. They’re enraged because de Blasio said that he has warned his black son to be careful in any interactions with police. Because de Blasio dared to tell the truth, the police union has instigated a work slowdown; and officers have turned their backs on the mayor in at least two public appearances, including the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos. The New York Times editorialized about this disgraceful behavior twice. As the editors point out, de Blasio campaigned on ending the unconstitutional “stop and frisk” policy and reforming “policing excesses.” The editors stated that the public wants NYPD officers to

1. Don’t violate the Constitution.

2. Don’t kill unarmed people.

3. Do your jobs.

Meanwhile, according to Think Progress, some NYC residents are “benefiting from the NYPD’s work stoppage.”

As a result of what the New York Post is calling a “virtual work stoppage,” tickets and summonses for minor offenses have plummeted by 94 percent and overall arrests have fallen 66 percent. Theoretically, the practice will strain police budgets, which rely on fines from tickets to make-up for funding shortfalls. ​

Although it’s not the intended goal of the work stoppage, the decline in arrests could save New Yorkers money. The city residents who are normally hit with tickets for minor violations tend to be low income individuals who are forced to pay up a hefty portion of their paychecks.

The city began following the broken-windows style of policing in the early 1980s, a strategy championed by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton which focuses on eliminating low-level crime to prevent more violent offenses in the city’s neighborhoods. But a report earlier this year by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan found that the NYPD’s practice of arresting more people for minor offenses since 1980 has disproportionately affected young black and Latino men.

While de Blasio and Bratton have followed through on their promise to reform the city’s stop and frisk practices and the mayor announced in November that police would stop making arrests for low-level marijuana possessions, there are still racial biases in police practices throughout the city that result in a tougher financial burden on those already struggling to make ends meet.

And New Yorkers of all income levels are also saving money on one of the most consistent ways the city can slam people with tickets— parking violations are down by 92 percent, from 14,699 to just 1,241 this year.

A few more headlines:

A rescued sea turtle is recovering after washing ashore a Wellfleet beach. (Image Credit: New England Aquarium)

A rescued sea turtle is recovering after washing ashore a Wellfleet beach. (Image Credit: New England Aquarium)

CBS Boston, Large Sea Turtle Rescued From Cape Cod Beach.

Weather.com, Hundreds of Sea Turtles Are Washing Up on New England Shores, and Experts Don’t Know Why.

Gizmodo, Why the Flu Vaccine Doesn’t Always Work.

CNN, Scientists: Random gene mutations primary cause of cancer.

CNN World, What killed the Maya? ‘Blue Hole’ offers clues.

Nature World News, Audubon Bird Watchers Get an ‘Unusual’ Show, this New Year.

AP via USA Today, Accused plotter of U.S. embassy bombings dies in N.Y.

BBC News, UK Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey ‘in critical condition’.

The Guardian, Prince Andrew named in US lawsuit over underage sex claims.

More about this at Politico, Woman who sued convicted billionaire over sex abuse levels claims at his friends.

and The Daily Mail, Prince Andrew ‘lobbied the US government to go easy on Jeffrey Epstein’: Palace denies claims royal tried to use his influence to help billionaire paedophile during 2008 police probe