Lazy Caturday Reads: 2020 and Impeachment

Good Morning!!

It’s looking like the media has successfully erased Kamala Harris’ candidacy, but yesterday Trump gave her a publicity boost. Trump was inexplicably given an award at a traditionally Black college in South Carolina, but only 10 students were invited to attend the forum, which was filled with Trump supporters.

Greenville News: President Trump addresses political allies as Benedict students are asked to stay in dorms.

COLUMBIA – In a way, what happened outside Benedict College’s gates in the heart of downtown felt quite small. At its peak, the crowd covered less than 100 yards of the sidewalk. But the scene itself represented something much bigger: the fractured, divisive, sometimes ugly and often loud American political climate.

Protests were mounted outside the 150-year-old historically black college where inside a school auditorium President Donald Trump spoke to a room filled with more political allies than students.

The event was billed as a keynote speech on bipartisan success in criminal justice reform, which the president tied to a booming economy that he told his audience has helped black people more than ever before.

Benedict students — some of whom pondered the week prior what questions they might ask the president once his surprise visit to the weekend-long “2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum” was announced — were asked to stay in their dorms.

Seven students were allowed inside for the speech….

The announcement that Trump would join came late and to the surprise of those participating in the forum. The original announcement of the event highlighted only that Democratic candidates were participating.

When Kamala Harris learned about Trump’s appearance she cancelled her own visit to Benedict College.

Trump attacked Harris for this on Twitter and this morning she responded.

I know it’s unlikely Americans are ready for Black woman as the Democratic nominee, but I continue to admire this woman greatly and I believe she will continue make a difference in the years to come.

Greenville News: Kamala Harris backs out of Benedict forum after Trump receives award on visit to SC.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris has withdrawn from participating in the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum today at Benedict College after learning President Donald Trump received an award at the forum on Friday.

Harris, the junior senator from California, was due to speak at the event at the historically black college alongside fellow 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, but she posted a message on Twitter announcing her withdrawal less than 24 hours before she was scheduled to speak.

She cited the Bipartisan Justice Award that the president received and event organization that left only nine Benedict students to be invited, only seven of whom were able to attend according to a school spokesperson.

“I won’t be complicit in papering over Trump’s record,” Harris tweeted in part before announcing she’ll instead take part in a panel at Benedict College’s Antisdel Chapel with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.

Joe Biden is still leading in most polls, but he has been struggling to raise money for his campaign.

Politico: Why Biden is getting crushed in the all-important money race.

Joe Biden’s campaign is drawing more support from big-ticket donors than any other candidate in the race — yet he still can’t match his rivals’ cash flow.

Biden has raised $20.7 million from contributions of at least $500 — $1.5 million more than his nearest competitor, despite entering the race later than all of them — thanks to the former vice president’s strong connections and goodwill among the traditional donors who have long financed the Democratic Party. Biden drew donations from 114 former big money fundraisers for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the third quarter, the most of any Democrat, according to a POLITICO analysis.

But it’s been nowhere near enough to make Biden the leader of the fundraising pack. In fact, his big-dollar dominance, and his reliance on those donors, is more evidence of how quickly small-dollar donations have become the most important component of political fundraising in a sprawling, fractured Democratic race. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are all outraising Biden, and stockpiling cash significantly faster than him, on the back of major support from online donors that Biden has been unable to build.

Biden is spending too much time holding big money fundraisers and not enough time campaigning. A bit more:

The bundler contributions and connections are helping keep Biden’s campaign afloat, but some of those donors are cringing at the way Biden is running his campaign.

“I don’t think Joe Biden is going to be the nominee,” said one major fundraiser, who said he gave to Biden out of loyalty during the third quarter. “I think there’s a thirst for something down the road taking us towards something bigger and better. That’s not going to be Joe Biden, for whom I have the utmost respect. He is acting his age and showing his age.”

Much more at the Politico link. Yesterday Biden approved formation of a super pac. Politico: Biden throws his campaign a lifeline.

By reversing course and dropping his opposition to super PACs, Joe Biden has all but admitted he’s getting swamped in fundraising.

But it was a strategic retreat that could end up paying big dividends for his cash-starved campaign.

Calls to a half-dozen maxed-out Biden donors Friday revealed that they would gladly dig deeper for the former vice president and contribute to a super PAC that enables them — and corporations — to give and spend unlimited amounts of money.

The witching hour by Lisa Parker

“Joe Biden has not raised as much money as the others through his own campaign efforts. But you have to understand, that’s basically how it works. Bernie Sanders had, what, 20,000 people at an event in New York? Suppose each one of those people gave $100,” said Joe Cotchett, a major Bay Area bundler for Biden. “Does Joe have the ability to have 20,000 people at a rally right now? The answer is no. But hopefully for Joe, it will come.”

Harold Schaitberger, head of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which has already endorsed Biden, said it would likely commit to a Biden super PAC.

“We would be in a position to support that effort,” said Schaitberger. “We’re certainly capable of spending in the six figures.

We’ll see. I still don’t think Biden will win the nomination, but at this point, I’ve stopped caring. I’ll vote for Kamala if she’s still around on Super Tuesday, and I’ll hold my nose and vote for whoever the Dems nominate. I don’t think we’ll beat Trump in an election. He has to be impeached and removed or forced to resign. There’s no evidence right now that the 2020 election will be legitimate.

Another problem for Biden is the drip drip drip about his son Hunter. If he is the nominee, the Republicans will talk about Hunter non-stop, and it won’t matter if he did anything illegal. He certainly traded on his father’s name. The latest from The New York Times: Giuliani Is Drawing Attention to Hunter Biden’s Work in Romania. But There’s a Problem.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, signaled this month that he planned to open a new front in his attacks against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — work done by Mr. Biden’s son Hunter Biden for a wealthy Romanian business executive facing corruption charges.

But there’s a problem with that strategy: Mr. Giuliani participated in an effort that would have helped the same executive, and was in fact recruited to do so by Louis J. Freeh, a former F.B.I. director who had been brought onto the matter by Hunter Biden.

In effect, Mr. Giuliani and Hunter Biden were on the same team, if not at the same time. And their work to help the business executive, along with that of Mr. Freeh, stood in contrast to efforts by the United States, including Vice President Biden while he was in office, to encourage anti-corruption efforts in Romania.

The dynamic in Romania underscores how Mr. Giuliani has done a brisk international business with clients who sometimes seem to be seeking to capitalize on his connections to Mr. Trump even as he has accused Hunter Biden of seeking to capitalize on his father’s name while doing business in other countries. And the disclosure of the connection between his role in Romania and Mr. Biden’s comes at a time when Mr. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for possible violations of foreign lobbying laws.

Trump will bash Hunter unmercifully if Biden is the nominee and it won’t matter that Trump is far more corrupt and that his own children are raking in millions through his presidency. The media doesn’t focus on Trump’s nepotism now and they likely won’t in 2020. The focus will be on “both sides,” and pretending that Joe and Hunter’s questionable ethics or, even worse, Elizabeth Warren’s long history of claiming Native American ancestry. It will be the new “her emails.”

I’m sorry to sound so negative today. It’s still a long time until the primaries begin, but it’s not looking good right now. The good news is that the Impeachment inquiry is going full speed ahead.

Catbatting by Maggie Vandewalle

The New York Times: Impeachment Inquiry Is Legal, Judge Rules, Giving Democrats a Victory.

A federal judge handed a victory to House Democrats on Friday when she ruled that they were legally engaged in an impeachment inquiry, a decision that undercut President Trump’s arguments that the investigation is a sham.

The declaration came in a 75-page opinion by Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the Federal District Court in Washington. She ruled that the House Judiciary Committee was entitled to view secret grand jury evidence gathered by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

Typically, Congress has no right to view such evidence. But in 1974, the courts permitted lawmakers to see such materials as they weighed whether to impeach President Richard M. Nixon. The House is now immersed in the same process focused on Mr. Trump, Judge Howell ruled, and that easily outweighs any need to keep the information secret from lawmakers.

And in a rebuke to the Trump administration, she wrote that the White House strategy to stonewall the House had actually strengthened lawmakers’ case. She cited Mr. Trump’s vow to fight “all” congressional subpoenas and an extraordinary directive by his White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, that executive branch officials should not provide testimony or documents to impeachment investigators.

“The White House’s stated policy of noncooperation with the impeachment inquiry weighs heavily in favor of disclosure,” Judge Howell wrote. “Congress’s need to access grand jury material relevant to potential impeachable conduct by a president is heightened when the executive branch willfully obstructs channels for accessing other relevant evidence.”

Of course we don’t know what the right-wing SCOTUS will ultimately decide.

One more interesting piece from Just Security: George Washington’s Advisors Agreed: Impeachment Did Away with Executive Privilege.

President George Washington’s decision to withhold diplomatic papers from the House of Representatives with respect to the Jay Treaty has become an important precedent in current debates over executive privilege. Earlier this month, the White House Counsel’s Office invoked this precedent as its first cited source in claiming executive privilege with respect to the scope of the testimony of Fiona Hill, the former top Russia advisor on the National Security Council. And as the Ukraine affair first came to light and impeachment entered the discussion, John Yoo, writing for the New York Times, cited this precedent as a major stumbling block that would thwart any impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s abuse of his diplomatic powers.

But as one of us pointed out in a recent post for Just Security, Washington clearly signaled that executive privilege would not be available if the House were pursuing an impeachment inquiry. In withholding the papers, he wrote that

“It does not occur that the inspection of the papers asked for can be relative to any purpose under the cognizance of the House of Representatives, except that of an impeachment, which the resolution [requesting the papers] has not expressed.”

(Judge Naomi Rao recently quoted this language in drawing a distinction between the information that Congress can access in an impeachment proceedings as opposed to lawmaking in a dissent.)

Earlier this week, we published an op-ed, highlighting this and other evidence from the Founding era and discussed its significance for current events. While writing, we were impressed by just how unanimous Washington’s advisors were on an impeachment carve-out to executive privilege. Here are some key quotes (with emphasis added), from Washington’s Cabinet (whose advice he had requested) and several others…

Read the rest at the link. Maybe the courts will save us yet–if Chief Justice Roberts can bring himself to care about the Constitution more than partisanship.

I’ll add more links in the comment thread. What stories have you been following?


Lazy Caturday Reads: The Mushrooming Ukraine Scandal

Three Kittens Sitting & Watching by Jean-Louis Klein & Marie-Luce Hubert, Cyclades, Greece

Good Afternoon!!

The Ukraine scandal is unwinding into a massive conspiracy. Rudy Giuliani is in big trouble and the mob boss in the White House is on the verge of throwing him under the bus. The White House is struggling to deal with the tsunami of bad news–they once again sent out their Ukraine talking points to Democrats, according to The Hill.

Here’s what’s happening.

The New York Times: Giuliani Is Said to Be Under Investigation for Ukraine Work.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.

The investigators are examining Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one of the people said. She was recalled in the spring as part of Mr. Trump’s broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects.

The investigation into Mr. Giuliani is tied to the case against two of his associates who were arrested this week on campaign finance-related charges, the people familiar with the inquiry said. The associates were charged with funneling illegal contributions to a congressman whose help they sought in removing Ms. Yovanovitch.

Mr. Giuliani has denied wrongdoing, but he acknowledged that he and the associates worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect potentially damaging information about Ms. Yovanovitch and other targets of Mr. Trump and his allies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his younger son, Hunter Biden. Mr. Giuliani shared that material this year with American government officials and a Trump-friendly columnist in an effort to undermine the ambassador and other Trump targets.

Trump advisers are pushing him to throw Rudy overboard, according to Politico.

Black Cat on a Windowsill, Korovin Konstantin

For weeks, prominent Republican advisers have been privately imploring President Donald Trump to sideline Rudy Giuliani after a barrage of inconsistent, combative and occasionally cringe-inducing media interviews, according to three people familiar with the conversations.

And that was before the arrest of two foreign-born businessmen who reportedly helped Giuliani try to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democrat to take on Trump in next year’s election. Several reports have indicated Giuliani himself may be caught up in the probe.

Yet Trump remains linked to Giuliani, who was initially hired to help fend of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigators, but who now may have pulled the president into another investigation — one that might lead to impeachment. While the president has long appreciated Giuliani’s pugnacious and never-back-down attitude, Trump allies fear Giuliani will damage Trump with his long-winded monologues and free-wheeling accusations.

The constant sniping from staff could ultimately force Trump to dump his long-valued fixer, as he has done with former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and countless other ousted officials, like ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

“Rudy Giuliani needs to stop talking,” said a former campaign official who remains close to Trump’s team.

Trump claims he doesn’t know Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two Ukrainian “businessmen” who were arrested on Wednesday night as they tried to flee to Vienna on one way tickets. Unfortunately for Trump, he has been photographed with the two thugs; and Parnas actually attended Trump’s private party celebrating his 2016 election.

Politico: Indicted Giuliani associate attended private ‘16 election night party for ‘friend’ Trump.

Buster Keaton in Electric House, 1922

Lev Parnas described himself to a foreign correspondent at the cash-bar event in midtown Manhattan as a friend of the president-elect who didn’t live far from his South Florida winter home.

Parnas arrived at Trump’s November 2016 election night party, which was held in a ballroom at the Midtown Hilton, with two other men in suits and their heavily made-up wives, according to a forgotten but newly relevant dispatch from the event published at the time in Le Figaro, France’s oldest daily newspaper.

The Ukrainian-born businessman told the paper that a friend from his hometown of Boca Raton, Fla., had hosted several fundraising events for Trump and that his daughter had traveled around the state singing on the candidate’s behalf. It is not clear what friend Parnas was referring to.

“We are confident,” Parnas, told the newspaper, “America wants a change.” The newspaper described Parnas as an insurer. (Parnas co-founded a company, Fraud Guarantee, that at some point retained Giuliani as a lawyer.)

I posted this one in the comments yesterday, but it bears repeating. Reuters: Indicted Giuliani associate worked on behalf of Ukrainian oligarch Firtash.

One of the two Florida businessmen who helped U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal attorney investigate his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, also has been working for the legal team of a Ukrainian oligarch who faces bribery charges in the United States, according to attorneys for the businessmen and the oligarch.

Lev Parnas, one of the two associates of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, served as a translator for lawyers representing oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Parnas was arrested on Thursday along with the other Florida businessman, Igor Fruman, on unrelated charges that included illegally funneling $325,000 to a political action committee supporting pro-Trump candidates.

The Barn Cat by Ron McGinnnis

Both men had worked in an unspecified capacity for Firtash before Parnas joined the Ukrainian’s legal team, according to a person familiar with the Florida men’s business dealings with Firtash….

Firtash, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen, is battling extradition by U.S. authorities on bribery charges from Vienna, where he has lived for five years.

Federal prosecutors in Illinois said in court papers in 2017 that Firtash was an “upper-echelon” associate of Russian organized crime. He was indicted in 2013 and charged with bribing Indian officials for access to titanium mines. Firtash has denied any wrongdoing.

Firtash was “financing” the activities of Parnas and Fruman, the source familiar with their business dealings said. The source did not detail their specific work for the oligarch or how much money he had paid them and over what period.

Firtash’s attorneys are Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing, who also have been working for Trump. Parnas and Fruman are being represented by former Trump attorney John Dowd.

I’ll be honest, I’m still trying to sort all these stories out. It’s kind of like reading a Russian novel–it’s difficult to keep all the names straight. I’m just sharing the latest news I’ve read.

CBS San Francisco reports on another arrest in the SDNY Ukraine/Giuliani investigation: Ukrainian Andrey Kukushkin, Linked To Giuliani Associates, Arrested In San Francisco On Campaign Finance Violations.

Andrey Kukushkin, 46, is one of four people named in a grand jury indictment announced Thursday by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York.

The others, all Florida residents, include two associates of presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Ukrainian-born Lev Parnas, 47, and Belarus-born Igor Fruman, 54, and a fourth defendant, David Correia, who was born in the United States. The four men are all U.S. citizens….

From The Circus, Merna Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin, 1928

Kukushkin was arrested in San Francisco Thursday morning, according to William Sweeney, assistant chief of the FBI’s New York field office. He made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco and was ordered to be held in custody until a detention hearing on Friday, according to court records.

He is expected to be transferred to New York at a later date to face the charges there.

All four defendants are accused of conspiring in a scheme to disguise contributions of $10,000 each to two Nevada state office candidates from an unnamed Russian businessman who wanted to obtain licenses for marijuana businesses. Federal law prohibits campaign contributions from foreign nationals.

Everyone is trying to find out who the unnamed “Russian businessman” in the SNDY indictment is. David Corn speculates at Mother Jones: Who’s the Secret Russian in the Indictment of Giuliani’s Pals? We Found Some Clues.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman—who had been helping Giuliani search for dirt on Joe Biden and the Democrats in Ukraine—and David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, who were each identified as businessmen, were charged in what seems to be overlapping capers. Parnas and Fruman allegedly made secret donations to Republicans in an effort to advance their business interests and promote the agenda of one or more Ukrainian officials (which included firing the US ambassador to Ukraine). And these two Giuliani confederates also teamed up with Correia, a business partner of Parnas, and Kukushkin and allegedly made donations secretly financed by a Russian national to Republican candidates for state offices in Nevada to buy influence they could use to set up a cannabis business there. This Russian, who would be part of their legal marijuana venture, sent $1 million from overseas accounts to Fruman that was to be used for contributions to federal and state candidates in Nevada and other states, according to the indictment. It’s illegal for a foreigner to funnel donations to US candidates.

Painting by Mischa Askenazy, 1888-1961

The mystery: Who is this wealthy Russian who allegedly tried to make illegal contributions to US politicians in pursuit of launching a cannabis venture?

The indictment does not say. It refers to this individual only as “Foreign National-1.” And the question cannot be yet answered definitively. But California state records and emails obtained by Mother Jones indicate that a Russian businessman named Andrey Muraviev had previously worked with Kukushkin to develop a cannabis enterprise.

It’s complicated so if you’re interested, head over to Mother Jones and read all about it.

NBC News has a scoop on the ousting of former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch: Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged 2 Giuliani associates to push for the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador.

The unnamed Ukrainian official referenced in a federal indictment as directing a plot to oust the then-U.S. ambassador is Ukraine’s former chief prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, according to a U.S. official familiar with the events.

According to the source, Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged two associates of Rudy Giuliani to push for the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was forced out in May.

The associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested Wednesday night as they prepared to board a one-way flight out of the country at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C.

Painting by Peter Adderley

“They sought political influence not only to advance their own financial interests, but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official ⁠— a Ukrainian government official who sought the dismissal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine,” Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a Thursday news conference.

The indictment says the efforts by Parnas and Fruman to remove then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, a respected diplomat with deep knowledge of Ukraine, were “conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”

Read the rest at NBC News. Lutsenko is the prosecutor that Trump urged Ukraine’s President Zelinsky not to fire in the July 25th phone call.

One more from Foreign Policy: Pompeo’s State Department Reels as Impeachment Inquiry Sinks Morale.

The fast-moving impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump has dragged the State Department into the center of the scandal and further wrecked morale at Foggy Bottom, presenting a stress test for how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will balance his relationship with America’s diplomats against his relationship with the president.

The ever-expanding probe into the Trump administration’s apparent efforts to coerce foreign governments into digging up dirt on political rivals has even lower-level State Department officials wondering if they, too, need to lawyer up, with the foreign service officers’ union starting a legal defense fund for career officials caught in the impeachment crossfire.

The latest State Department drama came on Friday as Marie Yovanovitch—a decorated career diplomat forced out of her job as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May following a pressure campaign from Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and his now indicted associates—testified before Congress. The White House sought to ban her voluntary testimony, but she went ahead after a subpoena from the House of Representatives.

Some nine current and former officials said many in the State Department are shocked and angry that Pompeo did little to shield her. No senior State Department official, including Pompeo, defended Yovanovitch as she was thrust into the spotlight amid the impeachment scandal. The State Department, again at the behest of the White House, also blocked the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, from testifying before Congress on Tuesday, though his lawyer said Friday that he will testify next week.

“You don’t get credit for saying something about swagger, then caving the first time you get heat,” said Daniel Fried, who served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs under former President George W. Bush, referring to Pompeo’s promise last year to restore the State Department’s “swagger.”

Read more at FP.

I have no doubt there will be more news breaking this weekend and I can’t wait! What do you think?


Lazy Caturday Reads: We Are Screwed

Cat Lady Feeding the Cats, by Beryl Cook

Good Afternoon!!

This morning I’m having flashbacks to 2006. Democrats had just retaken the House and Nancy Pelosi became the first woman Speaker. But even before she took the gavel, she announced that “impeachment is off the table.” Never mind that Bush and Cheney had lied us into an endless war.

The New York Times, November 8, 2006: Pelosi: Bush Impeachment `Off the Table.’

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi promised Wednesday that when her party takes over, the new majority will not attempt to remove President Bush from office, despite earlier pledges to the contrary from others in the caucus.

“I have said it before and I will say it again: Impeachment is off the table,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said during a news conference.

The Milk Man and Woman with Cat, by Beryl Cook

Pelosi also said Democrats, despite complaining about years of unfair treatment by the majority GOP, “are not about getting even” with Republicans.

She said the GOP, which frequently excluded Democrats from conference committee hearings and often blocked attempts to introduce amendments, would not suffer similar treatment.

“Democrats pledge civility and bipartisanship in the conduct of the work here and we pledge partnerships with Congress and the Republicans in Congress, and the president — not partisanship.”

She also extended an olive branch to Bush on the war in Iraq, saying she plans to work with him on a new plan but will not support the current strategy and supports beginning redeployment of troops by the end of the year.

Pelosi also said she supports the idea of a bipartisan summit on the war.

Now Pelosi is once again Speaker of the House and she’s doing a repeat performance with an even worse “president.” Until recently, I thought her arguments about “getting the facts” by holding hearings before rushing into impeachment made sense.

But the situation with Trump become an emergency. He is stonewalling any and all efforts to question witnesses in Congressional Committees. He is using mob tactics to force a foreign country into helping him get reelected. We can’t wait for the 2020 election to get rid of him, especially because there’s no guarantee that he won’t successfully win by cheating.

Please check out this piece by Tom Scocca at Slate: Someone Should Do Something.

After seeing the events of the past few days, in the light of the events of the days before those, in relation to the events that took place in the weeks, months, and years before that, I am strongly considering writing something that would address the question of whether Nancy Pelosi is bad at her job. If I did, I would argue that the House of Representatives, under Pelosi’s leadership, has come to function as a necessary complement to the corruption and incompetence of President Donald Trump—that a lawless presidency can only achieve its fullest, ripest degree of lawlessness with the aid of a feckless opposition party, which the Democrats are eager to provide.

Cats Eyeing a Lobster, by Beryl Cook

My editor thinks that I should write this article. I understand that in a week when one of the president’s most dedicated flunkies went before Congress to openly sneer at the idea that he should answer questions, making a show of obstructing what was supposed to be an investigation into obstruction of justice—a week now ending with reports, confirmed by the president’s jabbering ghoul of a lawyer on television, that the president tried to force a foreign country to act against the Democrats’ leading presidential candidate—there is good reason to feel that something needs to be written. It is certainly the sort of situation that someone could write about: the opposition party sitting on its hands and issuing vague statements of dismay while the entire constitutional order is revealed to be no match for the willingness of a president and his enablers to break the law.

At some point, in the future, it will probably be necessary to publish an article pointing out the terrifying mismatch between the ever-increasing speed with which our political system is falling apart and the slow trudge toward November 2020, when the Democratic Party hopes that voters will do what current elected Democratic officials will not do and take action to remove our visibly degenerating president from office. If someone did write an article like that, they could point out that by allowing Trump to remain in office unchallenged until the election, Pelosi and the Democratic leadership are saying that, although they hope the voters decide Trump is disqualified from office, they themselves do not think he has done anything wrong enough to merit his removal. If he had, they would do something, and they have not.

Feeding the Tortoise, Cat Looking On, by Beryl Cook

Scocca continues in this vein for several more paragraphs, ending with this conclusion:

Everyone in our democracy—citizens and officials alike, voters and writers, marchers and starers-at-screens—has a role to play, or to consider playing. If I were going to write about this, I would say that it might be time to plan on doing something.

Meanwhile, Jerry Nadler is supposedly thinking about maybe holding Corey Lewandowski in contempt for his disgraceful “testimony” several days ago.

We’re screwed, folks.

Yesterday it became clear that the New York Times is likely to do to Joe Biden what they did to Hillary Clinton and other media outlets will follow suit. Trump actually tweeted a video that featured NYT reporters arguing that Trump’s and Giuliani’s charges about Biden are legitimate.

And Trump (and the media, especially the NYT) will do the same thing to any Democratic candidate who ends up running against him.

We can see the future right now. It’s 2016 all over again.

Look at what happened to Kamala Harris at a forum on LGBT issues. Tommy Christopher at Mediaite: WATCH: ‘Biased’ LGBTQ Forum Question for Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren Goes Viral, Not in a Good Way.

On Friday, Democratic candidates participated in an LGBTQ forum in Iowa, moderated in part by Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Lyz Lenz. Her first question to Senator Harris was about a case in which, as attorney general of California, she defended the state corrections department against a lawsuit seeking gender reassignment surgery for a transgender woman inmate named Michelle-Lael Norsworthy.

“During your time as attorney general in California, you did send a brief seeking to deny gender-affirmation surgery for trans inmates,” Lenz said, adding “You stated that at the time you were just enforcing the existing law.:

By Beryl Cook

“But with this history, the question is, how can trans people trust you will advocate for them, and not just enforce discriminatory laws?” Lenz asked.

Harris responded by noting the support she has received from LGBTQ organizations in her home state, and said “When that case came up, it was because as attorney general, I had clients, and one of them was the California Department of Corrections, and it was their policy. When I learned about what they were doing, behind the scenes, I got them to change the policy.”

And here is how Lenz treat a nearly identical question to Elizabeth Warren:

But when Lenz brought up an arguably more damaging stance on the same issue with Elizabeth Warren, it wasn’t framed as a matter of trust, or even as something for which Warren should answer.

“In 2012, you wrote that you did not support gender-affirming surgery for trans inmates,” Lenz said — to a “Yeah” from Warren — then added “In January of this year, you reversed your opinion and said you had changed on this issue.”

But instead of asking Warren how she could be trusted on an issue that she just got right on (checks notes) 8 months ago, Lenz said Warren’s change “is great,” then asked “So you just said we have to get everybody on board, how do we even do that?”

“So, the way I think about this, and America, equal means equal,” Warren said, but did not address her prior comments in the remainder of her answer.

I guarantee you that if Warren is the nominee, she too will get the Hillary Clinton treatment from the media while Trump mocks her “Pocahantas” on an hourly basis.

 

Here is what the U.S. media should be doing about Trump.

Lenore Taylor at The Guardian: As a foreign reporter visiting the US I was stunned by Trump’s press conference.

…watching a full presidential Trump press conference while visiting the US this week I realised how much the reporting of Trump necessarily edits and parses his words, to force it into sequential paragraphs or impose meaning where it is difficult to detect.

The press conference I tuned into by chance from my New York hotel room was held in Otay Mesa, California, and concerned a renovated section of the wall on the Mexican border.

I joined as the president was explaining at length how powerful the concrete was. Very powerful, it turns out. It was unlike any wall ever built, incorporating the most advanced “concrete technology”. It was so exceptional that would-be wall-builders from three unnamed countries had visited to learn from it.

There were inner tubes in the wall that were also filled with concrete, poured in via funnels, and also “rebars” so the wall would withstand anyone attempting to cut through it with a blowtorch.

The wall went very deep and could not be burrowed under. Prototypes had been tested by 20 “world-class mountain climbers – That’s all they do, they love to climb mountains”, who had been unable to scale it.

It was also “wired, so that we will know if somebody is trying to break through”, although one of the attending officials declined a presidential invitation to discuss this wiring further, saying, “Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing it”, which the president said was a “very good answer”.

The wall was “amazing”, “world class”, “virtually impenetrable” and also “a good, strong rust colour” that could later be painted. It was designed to absorb heat, so it was “hot enough to fry an egg on”. There were no eggs to hand, but the president did sign his name on it and spoke for so long the TV feed eventually cut away, promising to return if news was ever made.

By Beryl Cook

He did, at one point, concede that would-be immigrants, unable to scale, burrow, blow torch or risk being burned, could always walk around the incomplete structure, but that would require them walking a long way. This seemed to me to be an important point, but the monologue quickly returned to the concrete.

In writing about this not-especially-important or unusual press conference I’ve run into what US reporters must encounter every day. I’ve edited skittering, half-finished sentences to present them in some kind of consequential order and repeated remarks that made little sense.

But instead of focusing on Trump’s obvious ignorance, incompetence, and actual psychopathy and dementia, the media with focus on tearing down whichever Democrat wins the nomination. If it’s a black woman it will be even worse.

Finally, here’s the latest on the Ukraine scandal.

The Washington Post: How Trump and Giuliani pressured Ukraine to investigate the president’s rivals.

Politico: Trump tries to move Ukraine scandal’s focus toward Biden.

Three Republicans call for impeachment.

Tom Nichols at The Atlantic: If This Isn’t Impeachable, Nothing Is.

George Conway III and Neal Kaytal at The Washington Post: Trump has done plenty to warrant impeachment. But the Ukraine allegations are over the top.

Beryl Cook and her cat

Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below. Have a nice weekend Sky Dancers!!


Lazy Caturday Reads: Post-Debate Speculation

Edvard Meownch

Good Afternoon!!

The mainstream (AKA white male) media has decided for us that only the oldest (white) Democratic candidates are acceptable to them. It also appears they have mostly rejected Bernie Sanders and embraced Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. I’d like to offer some rare counterarguments, even though it might be a futile exercise.

Henry Olsen at The Washington Post: The three big winners of the Houston debate.

Thursday’s Democratic debate lacked the sparks and conflicts that characterized the first two outings. It nonetheless produced three clear winners: former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Obviously, I disagree with Olsen about Biden but, after all, he is a white man. He does note that Biden “weakened” over the course of the three hours and gave “convoluted” answers to foreign policy questions. He doesn’t mention Biden’s racist response to a question about overcoming the long-term effects of slavery. On Harris and Klobuchar:

By Tetsuo Takahara

Harris was charismatic. Alternately funny and serious, warm and strong, she came across as a real person with real experience and a passion for change. Her answers lacked some of the policy detail of her competitors, but she more than made up for that with her wit and some planned one-liners. Former Obama Cabinet secretary Julián Castro spoke about how Democratic presidential winners excited millions of voters to put together their victorious coalitions. His low-energy performance did not show he was the person to do that, but Harris’s suggested she could.

Whether she can turn a winning persona into a winning campaign remains to be seen. Democrats looking for passionate progressivism have found their champions, and Harris wisely is not trying to out-shout Sanders or Warren. Democrats looking for a steady, more centrist hand also have their person, and Biden thus far hasn’t given them reason to change. But the race is still young, and we know from experience that candidates drop rapidly in the face of attacks and under the pressure of the moment. If Harris can keep this up, she is positioned to pick up former supporters of any of the top three if they falter.

Klobuchar was the surprise of the night, finally showing some energy and life. Her opening statement carefully presented her case as the Midwestern working mom who can unite the country while advancing liberal policy goals. Cleverly blasting Sanders’s signature Medicare-for-all proposal by saying, “While Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill,” was a masterstroke. Her closing statement was superb as she argued that only someone from the middle of the country could speak to the middle of the political spectrum.

By Anatoly Merkushov

She won’t gain much in the polls from her performance, but it nonetheless demonstrates how she could break out of the pack. Her standing in Iowa polls is slightly higher than her national standing, and her debate strategy was laser-targeted on the Iowa voter who isn’t a staunch progressive.

Christopher Frizzelle at The Stranger: Kamala Harris Landed One Solid Blow After Another Against Trump.

Kamala Harris may not be my number-one choice for nominee, but hot damn she can land a punch. At a previous debate, she took her prosecutorial skills straight to Joe Biden. Last night, she changed tack and went for Trump, over and over again. In doing so, she demonstrated what kind of adversary she would be in general-election debates against Trump, and probably did herself some favors by making it easier to picture her as the nominee. (Not that “winning” debates against Trump in a general election would necessarily mean beating him: Hillary Clinton’s debate performances were flawless).

See videos of Harris’ attacks on Trump at the link. Here’s her opening statement:

 

On the Biden front, I posted this piece by Jamil Smith in a comment yesterday, but it’s so important that I’m posting again here:

As you can see from these few articles in which I found praise of Harris, she probably will never be accepted as a legitimate candidate by the media or the “Justice Democrats,” who favor Sanders and Warren. But it’s possible she could attract the black vote if Biden drops out. And we need the black vote.

Rolling Stone: Why It’s Time for Joe to Go.

Donald Trump is not merely a bully, but a racist one. Bigotry has been the marrow of his presidency, so whoever hopes to face him next year will need to at least be fluent in the language of antiracism, if not be practicing it. It is not enough, as author Ibram X. Kendi writes in his new book How to Be an Antiracist, to simply claim that you are “not a racist.” Democrats, particularly white liberals, have skated on that for generations. There is too much institutional cruelty for the next president to undo should a Democrat defeat Trump next fall….

By Robert Romanowicz

Thankfully, ABC seemed to understand this. They had excellent moderators, including Univision’s Jorge Ramos and ABC correspondent Linsey Davis, the panel’s only African American. She asked several questions of the entire field that provoked the kind of frank and open discussion of black concerns and political interests that is rare for a presidential debate. It was fitting, given the setting on the historically black campus of Texas Southern University, but also because Davis said that young black voters consider racism their chief concern….

Davis…directed a question at Biden concerning his alarming 1975 comments on school segregation. She read the full quote, “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather, I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation, and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago,” and Biden smirked oddly as she did so. The correspondent followed up by asking, “What responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?” Without missing a beat, the Democratic front-runner delivered a response that was considerably more disqualifying than anything Castro said all night.

Having just had something offensive that he said 44 years ago quoted back to him, Biden took the opportunity to say something that was arguably worse.

Night City by Marija Jevtic

After proposing that teacher raises are the first step to undoing the legacy of slavery, Biden said the following. It’s worth reading in full.

Number two, make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need — we have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy.

The teachers are — I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. We have — make sure that every single child does, in fact, have 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds go to school. School. Not daycare. School. We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children.

It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — the — make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

That’s the current front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination a) first appearing to treat the mere mention of an old segregationist quote of his as ridiculous, then b) responding to a question about repairing the legacy of slavery by saying that the government needs to have teachers go into the homes of kids in poor schools to teach the parents how to raise those children. And what color are the children, disproportionately, going to those poor schools? Nowhere in that answer is a prescription for making the poor families less so, nor for improving the schools. It’s the kind of paternalistic racism that has so long existed in both liberal and conservative circles, and was on Thursday night spilling out of the mouth of the former vice president on the campus of an HBCU. It was all quite a sight to behold.

Theophile Steinlen lithograph, 1909

Jamil Smith is right. We need an anti-racist candidate if we are going to defeat Trump. Biden can’t pass that test, and so far Warren hasn’t done it either. I guess we’ll find out if she has it in her as time goes on, but so far what we have is her claim of Native Americans blood that offended actual Native Americans and the fact that Trump will repeatedly call her “Pocahantas” in the general election campaign if she’s the nominee.

Jonathan Chait has an interesting argument about what may be happening in the Democratic primary race: What If the Only Democrat Who Isn’t Too Radical to Win Is Too Old?

Here is a science-fiction scenario: Imagine a strange new virus that incapacitates everybody below the age of 75. The virus wipes out the entire political leadership, except one old man, who has survived on account of his age, but may also be too old to handle the awesome task before him.

Now suppose — and I am not certain this is the case, but just suppose — that this is happening to the Democratic presidential campaign. The virus is Twitter, and the old man is (duh) Joe Biden.

Apparently Chait doesn’t see Sanders as a Democrat, and I agree with him. Chait argues that after 2016, liberal Democrats bought into the notion that, based on Bernie Sanders’ performance in the primaries, voters were ready to embrace the most progressive ideas and policies and that Trump’s election proved that “a nominee with extreme positions could still win.”

Dan Casado 2012

Neither of these conclusions was actually correct. The Bernie Sanders vote encompassed voters who opposed Hillary Clinton for a wide array of reasons — including that she was too liberal — and were overall slightly to the right of Clinton voters. And political-science findings that general election voters tend to punish more ideologically extreme candidates remain very much intact. (Trump benefited greatly by distancing himself rhetorically from his party’s unpopular small-government positions, and voters saw him as more moderate than previous Republican nominees, even though he predictably reverted to partisan form once in office.)

And yet, this analysis seemed to race unchallenged through the Democratic Party from about 2016 — it seemed to influence Clinton, who declined the traditional lurch toward the center after vanquishing Sanders — through this year.

Of course after Trump won, the media and many Democrats bought into the idea that they needed to work harder to win over white working class voters, but Chait doesn’t mention that.

Nowhere was the gap between perception and reality more dramatic than on health care. In the run-up to the primary, most of the field signed on to Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All plan. Sanders had not managed to work out solutions to the obstacles that have bedeviled single-payer health-care supporters for decades: How to assure Americans who currently have employer-sponsored insurance to accept higher taxes and that they’ll be happier on a public plan.

Engraving, 19th century, by George White, Vermont.

Kamala Harris has had second thoughts, and has twisted herself into a pretzel trying to wriggle away from the proposal. Cory Booker has largely avoided discussing it. Elizabeth Warren was signaling last year that she would support more moderate reforms, but has instead handcuffed herself to the Sanders plan.

The vulnerabilities of this position have been on bright display in every Democratic debate. Neither Warren nor Sanders could supply a coherent response to the question of whether middle-class voters would pay higher taxes or whether they would like being moved off their employer plan. “I’ve never met anybody who likes their health-insurance company,” Warren insisted, eliding the clear reality that most people who have employer-sponsored insurance do like it. When asked about higher taxes, they dodged by changing the question to total costs. And while it’s probably true that they could design a plan where higher wages — by taking insurance off the company books — would cancel out the high taxes, neither inspired confidence that they could persuade skeptical voters they’d come out ahead in the deal.

The odd thing about this race to the left is that there’s little evidence it appeals to the primary electorate, let alone the general election version. Democrats strongly support universal coverage, but have lukewarm feelings on the mechanism to attain this. They prefer reforms that involve a combination of public and private options over the Bernie movement’s manic obsession with crushing private health insurance.

This applies as well to the party’s general ideological orientation. More Democratic voters express concern the party will nominate a candidate who’s too liberal (49 percent) than one who’s not liberal enough (41 percent). By a similar 54–41 margin, more Democrats want their party to move toward the center than toward the left.

It’s an interesting article and there’s more at the link. I don’t agree with Chait on everything, but I do think Democrats need to think carefully about whether focusing on unrealistic policies that will never get through Congress instead of on the dangers of a Trump second term is a winning strategy.

This post is too long, but I want to call attention to one more important article by Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: What Happens if Trump Won’t Step Down? National security expert Josh Geltzer on why we should be prepared for the worst.

Min Zhen, The Black Cat, 18th century, Princeton University Art Museum

In February, Georgetown Law professor Josh Geltzer began to ponder aloud what would happen if President Donald Trump refused to leave office were he to be defeated in 2020. It sounded far-fetched, but Geltzer isn’t a conspiracy theorist. Actually, he served as senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council and, prior to that, as deputy legal adviser to the NSC and counsel to the assistant attorney general for national security. When he wrote his essay suggesting that perhaps it was time to start preparing for if Trump, who has repeatedly shown a willingness to overstep his constitutional authority, simply refused to leave the Oval Office, he was met with silence. When Michael Cohen warned in his March testimony before Congress, “given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 there will never be a peaceful transition of power,” he too was met with awkward silence. But the anxieties gradually began to grow. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fretted about this possibility in a May interview in the New York Times. When Politico probed the question this summer, it noted: “Constitutional experts and top Republican lawmakers dismiss the fears as nonsense, noting there are too many forces working against a sitting president simply clinging to power—including history, law and political pressure.” But commentators now seem less confident in those forces.

On Thursday, Edward Luce at the Financial Times noted how often Trump jokes about having a third term, observing that, because of Trump’s belief that he could face prosecution after he leaves office, “no other US president has faced the prospect of being re-elected or going to jail.” He added that for Trump, losing the 2020 election is an existential threat, and he has openly invited foreign interference, while Mitch McConnell refuses to even consider legislation to secure the vote. And even if Trump is truly joking when he tweets that he deserves to be credited two extra years in his existing term, years he believes were lost to the Mueller probe, or riffs on staying on the job long after he’d been term-limited out, the tweets send a dangerous message to his loyalists.

Please go read the whole thing.

So . . . what stories are you following? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a peaceful, relaxing weekend.


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Hurricane Dorian is still hovering over the Bahamas, moving at one mph. The New York Times is providing regular updates: Storm Pounds the Bahamas and Threatens Florida.

Hurricane Dorian, now a Category 3 storm, finally began to slowly inch away from the Bahamas early Tuesday, after pummeling the islands with unrelenting rain and winds as the United States waited to see what destructive path it would take.

The storm, which hit the Northern Bahamas as one of the strongest on record in the Atlantic, remained stationary just north of Grand Bahama Island, delivering 120 mile-per-hour winds and ceaseless downpours that have flooded neighborhoods, destroyed homes and killed at least five people. The hurricane was expected to start turning north near Florida’s eastern coast by Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

It is highly unusual for a storm of Dorian’s magnitude to halt and hover over land, bringing what officials fear could be catastrophic damage to the Caribbean islands. It crawled along at just one mile an hour on Monday before all but standing still, moving just 14 miles from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Some residents were able to send video from the Abaco Islands, which took the full brunt of the hurricane. Stunned residents could be seen among crumpled cars, smashed homes, piles of debris and contorted trees.

On Grand Bahama Island, the waters rose quickly over much of the main city, Freeport, trapping people on top of their houses. Messages pleading for rescue ricocheted over WhatsApp, a messaging app, but the wind gusts and racing currents made it impossible to reach many people.

Grand Bahama was set to endure another day of dire conditions on Tuesday, with wind gusts of up to 150 m.p.h., storm surges as much as 15 feet above normal tide levels and devastating flooding from up to 30 inches of rain, the National Hurricane Center said.

These storms endanger animals as well as people, and one woman decided to homeless dogs. ABC News:  Bahamas woman opens her home to 97 rescue dogs during Hurricane Dorian.

Amid Hurricane Dorian, one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the Bahamas, Chella Phillips opened her Nassau home to 97 homeless and abandoned dogs.

“It was either leave the dogs on the street to fend for themselves…or do something about it,” said Phillips on a phone interview with ABC News. “I just want these dogs to be safe. I could care less about the dog poop and pee in my house.”

Ugh. Oh well . . .

On Sunday, Phillips described her experience wrangling the dogs in a Facebook post, saying that 79 of the dogs were in her bedroom to ride out the storm.

“Each island has abundance of homeless dogs, my heart is so broken for the ones without a place to hide a CAT 5 monster and only God can protect them now,” she wrote.

Read more and see more photos at the link.

Meanwhile the Dotard-in-chief played golf, sent out idiotic tweets and pretended to be a weatherman.

From the NYT story:

Over the long weekend, President Trump monitored Hurricane Dorian from a golf cart at his club in Virginia, calling for regular updates from an aide trailing him around the course. By 8 p.m. Monday, as Dorian churned toward Florida and Mr. Trump’s boarded-up Mar-a-Lago resort, the president had golfed twice and since Saturday morning pelted the American public with 122 tweets.

As he has done during other hurricanes, Mr. Trump awaited landfall by assuming the role of meteorologist in chief, adding weatherman-style updates to a usual weekend routine of attacking his enemies, retweeting bits of praise and critiquing the performance of his cable news allies.

Starting with his first weekend tweet at 7:45 a.m. Saturday, Mr. Trump’s Dorian-related tweets were delivered with the speed of a hailstorm.

With his reality-show approach to the presidency, Mr. Trump has a habit of weighing in on the day’s most-covered news stories with his own running commentary. As Dorian approached, Mr. Trump switched into town-crier mode, updating the public on what he had learned — or, what he thought he’d learned — from government officials as Dorian threatened the coast of the state of Florida, where he has owned property for decades.

He’s such a useless idiot. Even Putin must be sick of him and Kim Jong Un is treating him like a doormat.

HuffPost: People Can’t Believe How Easily Kim Jong Un ‘Played’ Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump is accused of being “played” by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as the Hermit Kingdom advances its weapons arsenal.

Trump has repeatedly downplayed North Korea’s missile test launches in recent weeks. But The New York Times reported Monday that U.S. intelligence officials now think Trump’s stance has actually allowed Kim to “test missiles with greater range and maneuverability that could overwhelm American defenses in the region.”

The development sparked anger on Twitter, where MSNBC political analyst Rick Tyler said it was “hard to know who deserves more credit: Kim for successfully completing tests of a rapidly-deployable solid-fuel rockets that threaten the region including American bases or POTUS for allowing it to happen.”

Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” tweeted it was “shocking how easily Donald Trump got played by the most tyrannical communist leader in the world.”

The New York Times: North Korea Missile Tests, ‘Very Standard’ to Trump, Show Signs of Advancing Arsenal.

As North Korea fired off a series of missiles in recent months — at least 18 since May — President Trump has repeatedly dismissed their importance as short-range and “very standard” tests. And although he has conceded “there may be a United Nations violation,” the president says any concerns are overblown.

Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, Mr. Trump explained recently, just “likes testing missiles.”

Now, American intelligence officials and outside experts have come to a far different conclusion: that the launchings downplayed by Mr. Trump, including two late last month, have allowed Mr. Kim to test missiles with greater range and maneuverability that could overwhelm American defenses in the region.

Japan’s defense minister, Takeshi Iwaya, told reporters in Tokyo last week that the irregular trajectories of the most recent tests were more evidence of a program designed to defeat the defenses Japan has deployed, with American technology, at sea and on shore.

Mr. Kim’s flattery of Mr. Trump with beguiling letters and episodic meetings offering vague assurances of eventual nuclear disarmament, some outside experts say, are part of what they call the North Korean leader’s strategy of buying time to improve his arsenal despite all the sanctions on North Korea.

You’d think Republicans would notice that Trump is endangering our national security, but all they do is shrug.

Remember last week when Trump tweeted that classified image?

NPR reports: Amateurs Identify U.S. Spy Satellite Behind President Trump’s Tweet.

Amateur satellite trackers say they believe an image tweeted by President Trump on Friday came from one of America’s most advanced spy satellites.

The image almost certainly came from a satellite known as USA 224, according to Marco Langbroek, a satellite-tracker based in the Netherlands. The satellite was launched by the National Reconnaissance Office in 2011. Almost everything about it remains highly classified, but Langbroek says that based on its size and orbit, most observers believe USA 224 is one of America’s multibillion-dollar KH-11 reconnaissance satellites.

“It’s basically a very large telescope, not unlike the Hubble Space Telescope,” Langbroek says. “But instead of looking up to the stars, it looks down to the Earth’s surface and makes very detailed images.”

The image tweeted by Trump on Friday, showing the aftermath of an accident at Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center, was so detailed that some experts doubted whether it really could have come from a satellite high above the planet.

Iran had been preparing to launch a rocket known as the Safir with a small satellite aboard, but experts believe it exploded during fueling. The image showed crisp writing painted on the edge of the launch pad, the scorched truck that had been used to move the rocket and other details.

Trump seemed to be using the sensitive reconnaissance image to troll the Iranians.

He has to go! But our alternatives seem to be three other septuagenarians: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. I for one am not enthused. I’ll vote for Warren if I have to, but the other two . . . ugh. Bernie is an authoritarian and whiny press critic like Trump; and Biden not as careless with the truth as Trump, but his constant gaffes are disturbing–to me anyway.

NPR: ‘Details Are Irrelevant’: Biden Says Verbal Slip-Ups Don’t Undermine His Judgment.

Joe Biden wants voters to look at the big picture.

His campaign is focused on a mission to “restore the soul of this nation.”

That’s also why the former vice president does not think anyone should get bogged down in the small details he mixes up on the campaign trail.

“That has nothing to do with judgment of whether or not you send troops to war, the judgment of whether you bring someone home, the judgment of whether you decide on a healthcare policy,” Biden told the NPR Politics Podcast and Iowa Public Radio in a wide-ranging interview.

Biden is prone to flubs and gaffes, and has been for years. Most recently, the Washington Post reportedthat a dramatic story he told about the war in Afghanistan conflated and confused facts from multiple different incidents.

Biden has said that he was not intentionally trying to mislead anyone with that story, and he argues that kind of mistake has nothing to do with his ability to serve as president.

“The details are irrelevant in terms of decision-making,” Biden told NPR.

I don’t buy it.

So . . . what stories have you been following?


Tuesday Reads: Too Many Emergencies

Good Afternoon!!

Is it just me, or are we really approaching the point at which U.S. democracy cannot be saved? Trump wants to hold next year’s G7 at his private Doral resort in Florida, which would mean that foreign countries would literally have to pay his family business for the privilege of attending. And Trump will likely try to invite Putin next year after he “went to the mat for Putin” over the weekend.

As we approach next year’s presidential election, the Federal Election Commission, the agency that enforces campaign finance laws, is going out of business. Trump and McConnell have stymied legislative efforts to secure our elections.

House Democrats aren’t doing much to control the lawless madman president, much less take steps toward impeaching him. They are making efforts to get his tax returns through the courts, but Rep. Richard Neal refuses to ask New York to provide Trump’s state tax returns.

It’s beginning to look like the race for the Democratic presidential nomination will be between three deeply flawed septuagenarian candidates: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

I hope you’ll check out the links above; there simply isn’t time or space for me to provide excerpts here. And there are so many emergencies that I didn’t mention, such as Trump’s war on immigrants, the problem of easily available guns and the rising threat of white supremacist violence.

Today’s top emergency is the burning of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil.

The Washington Post: What you need to know about the Amazon rainforest fires.

The Amazon — nearly four times the size of Alaska — is a vast sink for storing carbon dioxide and a key element of any plan to restrain climate change. Any increase in deforestation there would speed up global warming as well as damage an important refuge for biodiversity.

Studies show the 2.2 million-square mile forest is nearing a tipping point, at which large fragmented portions of the rainforest could transform into an entirely different, drier ecosystem, leading to the acceleration of climate change, the loss of countless species and disaster for the indigenous populations that call the tropical rainforest home….

The trees and plants of the Amazon forest pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as part of photosynthesis. Destruction of the forest releases carbon stored in the trees and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide used by them.

People are the cause of the Amazon fires.

…most fires in the Amazon are caused by humans, set either accidentally or intentionally.

Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research found the country has lost more than 1,330 square miles of forest cover to development since January, when President Jair Bolsonaro took office. That’s a 39 percent increase over the same period in 2018. July in particular featured a huge spike in forest loss, with an area larger than the city of Los Angeles lost in a single month.

Why would anyone want to hard the Amazon rain forest?

The biggest economic interest groups eating away at the Amazon are cattle grazers and soybean growers. “Directly after deforestation, mostly what we see is pasture,” said Mikaela Weisse, a fellow at the World Resources Institute. Later, soybean growers expand by taking over pasture lands.

Mining, timber and development firms are also eyeing the region for expansion, encouraged by Bolsonaro’s election.

There’s much more helpful (and horrifying) information at the WaPo link.

The New York Times: Brazil Says It Will Reject Millions in Amazon Aid Pledged at G7.

Hours after leaders of some of the world’s wealthiest countries pledged more than $22 million to help combat fires in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s government angrily rejected the offer, in effect telling the other nations to mind their own business — only to later lay out potential terms for the aid’s acceptance.

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil expressed his ire in a series of Twitter posts on Monday, and specifically criticized and taunted President Emmanuel Macron of France, who had announced the aid package at the Group of 7 summit meeting. Their comments extended a verbal feud between the two leaders.

But early the next day, Mr. Bolsonaro offered possible terms for the acceptance of the aid package when he spoke to reporters in the capital, Brasília.

He said that if Mr. Macron withdrew “insults made to my person,” and what Mr. Bolsonaro interpreted as insinuations that Brazil does not have sovereignty over the Amazon, he would reconsider.

“To talk or accept anything from France, even with their very best intentions, he will have to withdraw his words, and then we can talk,” Mr. Bolsonaro said. “First he withdraws them, then he makes the offer, and then I’ll answer.”

Mr. Bolsonaro, who has suggested earlier that Mr. Macon’s real motive is to shield France’s agriculture from Brazilian competition, had tweeted on Monday that the president “disguises his intentions behind the idea of an ‘alliance’ of the G7 countries to ‘save’ the Amazon, as if we were a colony or a no-man’s land.”

He sounds a lot like like Trump.

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board: Editorial: The Amazon is burning and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro doesn’t care.

The fires raging at the edges of the Amazon rainforest are, at the moment, largely consuming lands that had already been converted from their natural state into tracts waiting to be farmed or developed. Nevertheless, some of the blazes are eating away at the rainforest itself, reducing its size by a football field a minute. And one of the most disturbing things about them is that they aren’t part of the cycle of nature, like a California wildfire might be, but are intentionally set in many cases to get rid of brush and felled trees to make way for soy fields and beef grazing grounds. That reflects Brazil’s troubling return to a policy of deforestation that, if unabated, could have grave consequences for efforts to counter the worst effects of global warming.

The reason the Amazon is burning is because Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who followed Donald Trump’s populist, anti-establishment playbook to win election last year, wants it to. He thinks the Amazon should not be protected, and that lands reserved for indigenous peoples should not be recognized — all in the name of economic growth. That see-no-evil approach is another point Bolsonaro has in common with Trump, who has sought to make an alarming amount of public lands available for oil and gas drilling and other extractive industries, such as uranium mining — the health of the planet be damned.

At the just-concluded G-7 meeting in France, international leaders criticized Bolsonaro for his land-use and environmental policies, which include telling those who would cut the rainforest that his government would no longer stop them. So the rate of deforestation, while still far below what it had been a dozen years ago, has been increasing. The G-7 also announced more than $20 million in aid to Brazil and Bolivia for firefighting equipment — a drop in the bucket considering the need, advocates say — and French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to put together an alliance to push for reforestation.

Bolsonaro was not receptive; he accused the leaders of embracing colonialism by telling Brazil what to do. But there’s nothing colonial in asking a neighbor to stop lighting fires that affect the rest of us….

We are all joined by the hard reality that our continued release of carbon into the atmosphere — whether it be from the cars we commute in or the forest Brazilians burn to grow food — is endangering us all. It’s a reality not recognized by Bolsonaro. Nor by Trump, who neither joined the criticism of Bolsonaro’s policies nor showed up for the G-7 climate talks that led to the fire aid package. Both presidents’ disregard for the well-being of the world is, literally, playing with fire. That won’t end well.

The Washington Post: How beef demand is accelerating the Amazon’s deforestation and climate peril.

There are approximately 1.5 billion cows in the world, a population second only to humans among large mammals. They can be raised anywhere: from the Arctic to the equator, on prairies, in deserts and on mountains.

Cattle ranchers in the Brazilian Amazon — the storied rainforest that produces oxygen for the world and modulates climate — are aggressively expanding their herds and willing to clear-cut the forest and burn what’s left to make way for pastures. As a result, they’ve become the single biggest driver of the Amazon’s deforestation, causing about 80 percent of it, according to the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

The ecological devastation is done in the service of the surging demand for beef. About 80 percent of Brazil’s beef is consumed domestically, said Nathalie Walker, the director of the tropical forest and agriculture program at the National Wildlife Federation.

Read more at the WaPo.

I admit, I’m feeling extremely pessimistic today. If anyone has more positive news, I’d love to read about it. I love you guys.


Lazy Caturday Reads: The Insanity Continues . . .

By Juan Bejar, b. 1946

Good Morning!!

The insanity continues. Yesterday Trump rocked markets with a series of unhinged tweets. I hope you’ll read this CNBC thread. It’s a classic of Trump turbulence.

 

Last night Trump left for the G7 Summit and on his way he had another yelling session with reporters. Nothing sane came out of that, but he claimed that his remark about being “the chosen one was “sarcastic.” and “we were all laughing?” I don’t think Trump knows what sarcasm is.

This morning I turned on the TV to see him at a “working lunch” with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron spoke about the many serious problems that need to be discussed at the summit, including climate change. Trump uttered several disconnected sentences, mostly about the weather. After the lunch, Trump tweeted thanks to Macron to a parody account, misspelling Macon’s name.

The New York Times summarizes yesterday’s insanity: One Crazy Day Showed How Political Chaos Threatens the World Economy.

President Trump arrived in France on Saturday for a meeting of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, having set the stage for fireworks and confusion. In one dizzying day, he had seemed to be searching for whom or what to blame for economic troubles, first using Twitter to call his own Federal Reserve chief an enemy of the United States and then to urge American companies to stop doing business with China.

Louis-Léopold Boilly – Gabrielle Arnault as a Child, 1813

And that was just while the markets were open. Later Friday, he said he would apply tariffs to all Chinese imports and increase those already in place….if a recession and breakdown in international commerce happens in the coming year, histories of the episode may well spend a chapter on the Friday collision of official actions in the government offices of Beijing, in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming and in the Oval Office.

It became clear in real time how the risks of an escalating trade war and the fraying of longstanding financial and political ties could quickly outpace the ability of central banks — the normal first responders to economic distress — to do anything about it.

President Trump’s shoot-first approach adds to the risks at a delicate moment, with major economies in Asia and Europe already teetering and policymakers’ capacity to contain the damage in question.

“The escalation, the unpredictability, the erratic nature of policy developments is central to what is going on, and these aren’t things you can plug into an economic model,” said Julia Coronado, president of MacroPolicy Perspectives, an economic consultancy. “Something is breaking. It’s very dangerous.”

Read the rest at the NYT.

In France today, Trump claimed he has the power to force companies to follow the commands he issued on Twitter yesterday. The New York Times: Trump Asserts He Can Force U.S. Companies to Leave China.

Portrait of a Young Girl, Samuel Miller (c. 1807–1853), c. 1845

BIARRITZ, France — President Trump asserted on Saturday that he has the authority to make good on his threat to force all American businesses to leave China, citing a national security law that has been used mainly to target terrorists, drug traffickers and pariah states like Iran, Syria and North Korea.

As he arrived in France for the annual meeting of the Group of 7 powers, Mr. Trump posted a message on Twitter citing the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 — a law meant to enable a president to isolate criminal regimes but not intended to be used to cut off economic ties with a major trading partner because of a disagreement over tariffs.

“For all of the Fake News Reporters that don’t have a clue as to what the law is relative to Presidential powers, China, etc., try looking at the Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Case closed!” [….]

In raising the possibility of forcing American businesses to pull out of China on Friday, Mr. Trump framed it not as a request but as an order he had already issued.

“Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing our companies HOME and making your products in the USA,” he wrote on Twitter, adding, “We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far better off without them.”

In fact, aides said, no order has been drawn up nor was it clear that he would attempt to do so. Instead, it could be the latest negotiating tactic by a president who favors drastic threats without always following through on them in hopes of forcing partners to make concessions.

The “president” is a madman and we’re stuck with him for now.

By George Gassner 1811–1861

According to CNN, Trump doesn’t understand why he has to go to the G7: Trump has questioned why he must attend G7.

…in conversations with aides over the past weeks, Trump has questioned why he must attend, according to people familiar with the conversations. After the past two G7 summits ended acrimoniously, Trump complained about attending a third, saying he didn’t view the gathering as a particularly productive use of his time.

He’s made similar asides in meetings with other world leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and French President Emmanuel Macron, who have encouraged him over the past six months to commit to attending the Biarritz summit, people familiar with the conversations said. Macron is this year’s summit host.

The G7 represents the world’s major economies, and has long been a regular stop on the US President’s calendar. In small group sessions, with only the leaders and few aides present, the world’s major economic and geopolitical problems are discussed at length.
It’s a more workaday style of foreign travel than the type of trip Trump has come to enjoy, which usually include lavish displays of welcome like royal parades or state banquets. It’s also a practice in the kind of multilateralism that Trump and his aides have downplayed in favor of one-one-one negotiations with other countries.

But if he didn’t attend, he would miss an opportunity to sow global chaos and frighten out allies half to death.

By Otto Van Veen, 1584

Associated Press: At global summit, Trump facing limits of go-it-alone stance.

Trump, growing more isolated in Washington, faces a tepid reception on the world stage, where a list of challenges awaits. Anxiety is growing over a global slowdown , and there are new points of tension with allies on trade, Iran and Russia.

Fears of a financial downturn are spreading, meaning the need for cooperation and a collective response is essential. Yet Trump has ridiculed Germany for its economic travails at a time when he may have to turn to Chancellor Angela Merkel and others to help blunt the force of China’s newly aggressive tariffs on U.S. goods. Those trade penalties, combined with the economic slowdown, have raised political alarms for Trump’s reelection effort .

In a late addition to the schedule, Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron sat across from each other at a small table for lunch outside the opulent Hotel du Palais before the official start of the summit. Hours earlier, Trump threatened anew to place tariffs on French wine imports to the U.S. over France’s digital services tax, and that prompted a European leader to promise European Union action if the U.S. followed through. Macron called for an end to the trade wars he said are “taking hold everywhere.”

Macron, the summit host, said two were discussing “a lot of crisis” around the world, including Libya, Iran and Russia, as well as trade policy and climate change.

Good luck with that.

Martha Bartlett with Kitten 1875 Unknown artist

At The New Yorker, David Remnick warns us about sinking into despair over Trump’s insanity: Trump Clarification Syndrome. Here’s the gist:

Again and again, Trump’s top advisers––Daniel Coats, Gary Cohn, James Mattis, Rex Tillerson, H. R. McMaster, and John Kelly among them––have left the White House clutching their heads, their dignity and nerves in rags, realizing that they have served a President who is unreachable, beyond cure and counsel; a man of rotten character, blatant instability, and zero empathy; an empty but radically dangerous human being, who occupies the highest office in the land….

But, as perilous and unnerving as things are, any form of political despair at such a moment remains unforgivable. Despair is a form of self-indulgence, a dodge. Trump’s derangements in policy and character should instead instill a kind of Trump Clarification Syndrome, a reckoning with what confronts us. A reckoning, as the Amazon rain forest burns, with climate change. A reckoning, as Trump threatens to revoke the barest protections for immigrant children and the guarantee of birthright citizenship, with the history and persistence of bigotry in all forms. With the structural persistence of inequality of income and opportunity. With matters of truth and falsehood. Trump’s presence in the White House is depressing, there is no doubt, but to wallow in that gloom, or even to imagine that public life will “return to normal” on its own after his departure, is insufficient, even inexcusable. Democrats, Independents, and Republicans who cannot countenance Trumpist politics ought to welcome the most urgent kind of political debate on matters of policy and on who we are as a country. Perhaps it is a form of derangement to say it, but it’s entirely possible that Donald Trump, who has been such a ruinous figure on the public scene, has at least done the country an unintended service by clarifying some of our deepest flaws and looming dangers in his uniquely lurid light.

A Girl with Her Cat by Hendrik Maarten Krabbe

In non-Trump news, Joe Biden committed another disturbing faux pas yesterday. The Washington Post: Evoking 1968 at town hall, Biden asks: What would have happened if Obama had been assassinated?

HANOVER, N.H. — Former vice president Joe Biden, returning to this crucial primary state and attempting to put the focus on the foibles of President Trump, took an unusual departure toward the end of a 70-minute dive into health-care policy by asking the crowd to imagine the assassination of Barack Obama.

“None of you . . . women are old enough — but a couple of you guys are old enough,” he said during a town hall at Dartmouth College. “I graduated in 1968. Everybody before me was, ‘Drop out, go to Haight-Ashbury, don’t trust anybody over 30, everybody not get involved.’ No, I’m serious. I know no woman will shake her head and acknowledge it. But you guys know what I’m talking about. Right? But then what happened?”

The front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination referenced the assassinations of two of his political heroes, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy — who was killed while running for president.

At least he’s figured out that the assassinations happening 1968, not the late-1970s.

“Imagine what would have happened if, God forbid, if Barack Obama had been assassinated after becoming the de facto nominee,” he continued. “What would have happened in America?”

La dame et son chat Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837)

What was his point? Your guess is as good as mine. But this puts me in mind of something Hillary said in 2008 that was met with universal outrage. The New York Times, May 24, 2008:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton defended staying in the Democratic nominating contest on Friday by pointing out that her husband had not wrapped up the nomination until June 1992, adding, “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”

Her remarks were met with quick criticism from the campaign of Senator Barack Obama, and within hours of making them Mrs. Clinton expressed regret, saying, “The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Senator Kennedy,” referring to the recent diagnosis of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s brain tumor. She added, “And I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and in particular the Kennedy family was in any way offensive.”

Why isn’t Biden’s strange remark getting the same amount of negative attention that Clinton’s did back in 2008? Actually, I know the answer . . .

So . . . what stories are you following today?