Tuesday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

Couple near poplars, Edward Hopper, 1906

Couple near poplars, Edward Hopper, 1906

A few days ago, I came across an article about Edward Hopper’s paintings of a “stony blonde” woman at Crime Reads. I’m going to use some of the paintings mentioned in the article to illustrate this post. Here’s the article: How Edward Hopper’s Stony Blonde Became  A Noir Icon. On The Femme Fatale Who Flipped the Script, by Stephanie Kane.

Best known for his disengaged customers at a neon-lit diner counter and his flapper staring into a coffee cup in a lonely automat at night, Hopper depicted social isolation before a pandemic made it a way of life. It’s no surprise that the famously reclusive artist binged on movies when he was creatively blocked, read pulp fiction, and had a lasting impact on film noir. He even influenced Alfred Hitchcock: the house in Psycho is modeled on a Hopper painting.

Hopper apparently had issues with women, and only connected with three of them, one of whom was his wife and fellow artist Jo Nivison. You can read Jo and the other two women in the article. Here are the paintings selected by Kane to illustrate her points:

The blonde first appears in Hopper’s 1906 watercolor, Couple near Poplars, as a petite Gibson girl with a gawky swain. Hair upswept, with a pinafore over her corseted waist, she faces into the wind with her arms tightly crossed and lips grimly set. Forty years later she’s the girl on the porch in 1947’s Summer Evening, provocatively dressed in a pink bandeau and high-cut shorts, staring sullenly down as her date leans in imploringly. In 1932’s Room in New York, she’s the wife in the evening dress at the piano, idly touching a key while her husband ignores her for his newspaper. Her hand on the keyboard is poised to come crashing down.

Automat, hopper, 1927

Automat, 1927

When she is alone, the blonde tells another story. In 1927’s Automat, she’s a flapper slumped over a coffee cup in a neon-lit cafeteria. If she’s contemplating her next move, it takes her four years. In 1931’s Hotel Room, she sits at the edge of a bed in a chemise, shoes kicked off and bags on the floor, bent over a train schedule in her lap. Preparing to make a run for it, like that collie in the grass.

In 1957’s Western Motel, she flips the script.

Blonde hair pulled back, in a striking red dress, she sits upright at the foot of a neatly made bed. The picture window behind her frames what could be a Western movie set: blue sky, mountains, and an Aztec green Buick sedan with a bull’s-eye chrome bombsite on the hood, raring to go. Tagged and packed, her bags stand at the door. A pair of blue men’s boxer shorts is draped on a chair. She’s leaving without him. And after 50 years, she finally looks straight at the viewer.

Here, as she faces us for the very first time, Hopper’s blonde’s arc ends. In walking out of Western Motel and into the world, this femme fatale chooses life over love or death.

Can you tell I’m not in the mood for politics today? I’m so sick and tired of Donald Trump that I just want to escape from the world for the next two weeks. Of course I can’t really do that, because another part of me is completely obsessed with knowing what is happening in the lead-up to the election.

Hotel Room, 1931

Hotel Room, 1931

Yesterday we did get a distraction when the news broke that Jeffrey Toobin was caught masturbating during a Zoom call with his New Yorker colleagues. Vice: New Yorker Suspends Jeffrey Toobin for Masturbating on Zoom Call.

The New Yorker has suspended reporter Jeffrey Toobin for masturbating on a Zoom video chat between members of the New Yorker and WNYC radio last week. Toobin says he did not realize his video was on.

“I made an embarrassingly stupid mistake, believing I was off-camera. I apologize to my wife, family, friends and co-workers,” Toobin told Motherboard.

“I believed I was not visible on Zoom. I thought no one on the Zoom call could see me. I thought I had muted the Zoom video,” he added.

Sure Jeffrey.

Two people who were on the call told VICE separately that the call was an election simulation featuring many of the New Yorker’s biggest stars: Jane Mayer was playing establishment Republicans; Evan Osnos was Joe Biden, Jelani Cobb was establishment Democrats, Masha Gessen played Donald Trump, Andrew Marantz was the far right, Sue Halpern was left wing democrats, Dexter Filkins was the military, and Jeffrey Toobin playing the courts. There were also a handful of other producers on the call from the New Yorker and WNYC.

Room in NY, Hopper, 1932

Room in New York, 1932

Both people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely, noted that it was unclear how much each person saw, but both said that they saw Toobin jerking off. The two sources described a juncture in the election simulation when there was a strategy session, and the Democrats and Republicans went into their respective break out rooms for about 10 minutes. At this point, they said, it seemed like Toobin was on a second video call. The sources said that when the groups returned from their break out rooms, Toobin lowered the camera. The people on the call said they could see Toobin touching his penis. Toobin then left the call. Moments later, he called back in, seemingly unaware of what his colleagues had been able to see, and the simulation continued.

The New Yorker says they are “investigating,” and CNN has given Toobin some time off to deal with his “personal issue.” It seems to me that Toobin should just be fired, but he’s a powerful white man, so . . . slap on the wrist I guess.

Apparently, Toobin has a history of sexual misconduct. Read about it in this 2010 New York Daily News piece: CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin made ‘shockingly sexual’ proposition to well-known media figure, she claims.

In today’s news, Trump continues to flog the Hunter Biden non-story. He went on Fox News this morning to rant about it. Raw Story: Trump publicly demands Bill Barr appoint special counsel to investigate Joe Biden in off-the-rails Fox News interview.

In a wide-ranging and off-the-rails Fox News interview President Donald Trump is demanding Attorney General Bill Barr appoint a special counsel to investigate his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, over Russian disinformation spread by his personal attorney and a conservative media outlet owned by his friend.

Summer Evening, Edward Hopper, 1947

Summer Evening, 1947

Trump told “Fox & Friends” Barr has “got to act” against the former vice president and his son Hunter Biden, insisting the Attorney General give credence to the disinformation before Election Day.

“We’ve go to get the Attorney General to act, and he’s got to act, and he’s got to act fast. He’s got to appoint somebody. This is major corruption and this has to be known about before the election,” Trump demanded, before declaring, “we’re going to win the election.”

But more than 50 former intelligence officials say the Hunter Biden story is Russian disinformation. Natasha Bertrand at Politico:

More than 50 former senior intelligence officials have signed on to a letter outlining their belief that the recent disclosure of emails allegedly belonging to Joe Biden’s son “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”

The letter, signed on Monday, centers around a batch of documents released by the New York Post last week that purport to tie the Democratic nominee to his son Hunter’s business dealings. Under the banner headline “Biden Secret E-mails,” the Post reported it was given a copy of Hunter Biden’s laptop hard drive by President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who said he got it from a Mac shop owner in Delaware who also alerted the FBI.

While the letter’s signatories presented no new evidence, they said their national security experience had made them “deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case” and cited several elements of the story that suggested the Kremlin’s hand at work.

Western Motel, Edward Hopper, 1957

Western Motel, 1957

“If we are right,” they added, “this is Russia trying to influence how Americans vote in this election, and we believe strongly that Americans need to be aware of this.”

Nick Shapiro, a former top aide under CIA director John Brennan, provided POLITICO with the letter on Monday. He noted that “the IC leaders who have signed this letter worked for the past four presidents, including Trump. The real power here however is the number of former, working-level IC officers who want the American people to know that once again the Russians are interfering.”

Read more at Politico.

Anyway Trump’s kids are blatantly profiting from their dad’s corrupt presidency. Biden should bring that up in the debate on Thursday night.

Joan Venocchi at The Boston Globe: Enough about Hunter Biden. What about Ivanka Trump?

Trump’s strategy is clear. His own children are brazenly trading on the Trump family name to advance the Trump Organization’s business interests. Changing the subject to “What about Hunter Biden?” becomes a way to project the corruption spotlight onto the Bidens and away from the Trumps. Plus, if the final weeks of the campaign are all about Hunter Biden, that allows Trump to distract from what are the real issues: Trump’s failed leadership, especially regarding the coronavirus pandemic; Trump’s ongoing commitment to dividing the country by race and political ideology, rather than trying to unite it; and Trump’s utter lack of character, integrity, and honesty….

At least Joe Biden acknowledges it was a mistake for his son to join the Burisma board and is pledging that no family members will have any involvement with any foreign government if he’s elected president. Trump, meanwhile, calls the Bidens “an organized crime family,” yet takes no responsibility for the conflicts of interest corrupting his own presidency.

Two comedians, 1965“Can you imagine if my kids did what this guy Hunter has done,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Florida. “Ivanka! Oh my beautiful, my wonderful Ivanka. She’s a good kid. Can you imagine? “

We can do more than imagine. According to Forbes, the Chinese government has granted 41 trademarks to companies linked to Trump’s daughter. And “the trademarks she applied for after her father became president reportedly got approved roughly 40 percent faster than those she requested before her father’s victory in the 2016 election,” Forbes reported.

Read the whole thing at the Globe.

Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele has endorsed Joe Biden. He explains at NBC News: I’m a Republican voting for Joe Biden over Trump. Because I’m an American first.

So here we are, faced with the re-election of President Donald Trump and the prospect of a nation still struggling against Covid-19, reeling from the ravages of a flattened economy and in pain from civil unrest and our genuine concern for how we treat one another.

Rather than binding up the nation’s wounds, Trump exacerbates division. Rather than standing up to the world’s dictators, Trump cravenly seeks the favor of thugs. Rather than fostering free enterprise, Trump embraces economic principles not only outdated in Lincoln’s time, but made even worse today by a leader who lost close to a billion dollars in a single year running a casino. Rather than seeking to build on the legacy of the Republican Party’s founders, of which Trump is surely ignorant, Trump has posited a single purpose for the GOP — the celebration of him.

New York Movie, 1939

New York Movie, 1939

Consequently, America has watched as the Republican Party stopped pursuing its animating principles of freedom and opportunity. It has given up its voice on things that mattered and instead bent the arc of the party towards the baser motives of one man, who is neither a Republican nor a conservative.

Read the rest at the link. I don’t agree with most of it, I’m glad Steele came out publicly. More and more never Trump Republicans are announcing that they will vote for Biden, and we need all the help we can get.

More stories to check out:

The New York Times: Voters Prefer Biden Over Trump on Almost All Major Issues, Poll Shows.

Financial Times: US voters turn against Donal d Trump’s economic policies.

Axios: Axios-Ipsos poll: Trump’s sickness makes him harder to trust.

Brian Karem at The Bulwark: The Donald Trump Show Must Go On. The madness continues on the campaign trail.

The Daily Beast: Even Parts of Trumpworld Are Like: Rudy, WTF Are You Doing?

The New York Times: U.S. Diplomats and Spies Battle Trump Administration Over Suspected Attacks.

Julia Ioffe at GQ: The Mystery of the Immaculate Concussion.

Margaret Sullivan at The Washington Post: What Kristen Welker can learn from Savannah Guthrie about dealing with Trump.

Raw Story: Just two weeks before the election, Justice Department sues Google in biggest antitrust case in decades.

Have a nice Thursday everyone, and please check in with us in the comments if you have the time and inclination.


Lazy Caturday Reads: Trump In Trouble

Good Morning!!

Only a little more than 2 weeks to go until November 3!

Biden continues to lead Trump in the polls. In the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, he Biden is ahead by 11 points among likely voters. At Vanity Fair, Bess Levin humorously summarizes the findings: Poll: Americans Think Donald Trump is a “Horrible” “Disgusting” “Putinesque” “Ass.” They additionally think he’s a “racist,” “despicable,” “corrupt,” “antichrist.”

Trump was able to win in 2016 with just 46% of voters casting a ballot in his favor because states key to the Electoral College backed him. But Biden is ahead in several crucial states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which helped Trump clinch the election four years ago. Not only has Biden maintained an advantage with Black, Latino, and women voters—which might have something to do with the fact that Trump is a flaming raollscist and misogynist—plus young voters, independents, and people who live in cities and suburbs, he is also leading the president with a heretofore unthinkable collection of individuals: white people.

Yes, Trump, who won white voters by 20 points in 2016, and has spent the last four years saying and doing things that have suggested there was a nonzero chance he might appear at a rally one day wearing a white sheet and burning a cross, is losing to Biden with his favorite demographic….

e311dc18f9055eeb652c4493bf95a51fAdditionally, 52% of likely voters view Trump’s presidency as a failure, which is generally not a great thing vis-à-vis winning an election. The bad news for the president comes on the heels of his white-power-embracing, lie-spewing, explosive-diarrhea-of-the-mouth debate performance earlier this month and his COVID-19 diagnosis. And it’s not the only thing the campaign should probably be worried about! On top of the cold, hard data, poll respondents were asked to describe the candidates using one word, and for Trump, the views are a positive sign, unless it’s considered a positive that Americans think he’s a pathetic jackass:

“For Trump, the word that stands out is ‘incompetent,’ while for Biden it is ‘honest.’

From the NPR article:

To be clear, both candidates have a range of words ascribed to them that are positive and negative.

For Trump, on the positive end, people said he is “good,” “great,” “successful” and “strong.” On the negative side, “incompetent” was overwhelmingly the most common word used, followed by “liar,” “failure,” “bad,” “horrible,” “disaster,” “arrogant” and “buffoon.”

The positives ascribed to Biden include, for example, “honest,” “confident,” “hopeful,” “good,” “trustworthy” and “compassionate.”

On the negative side, voters said: “old,” “confused,” “incompetent,” “senile” and “weak.”

Biden also beat Trump soundly in TV ratings of their competing town hall appearances on Thursday night. Vanity Fair: It’s Official: Biden Beats Trump in Town Hall Television Ratings.

Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil was formulated by Dr. S. N. Thomas in the late 1840s. It contained spirits of turpentine, camphor, oil of tar, red thyme, and fish oil

Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil was formulated by Dr. S. N. Thomas in the late 1840s. It contained spirits of turpentine, camphor, oil of tar, red thyme, and fish oil.

According to Nielsen numbers released Friday, the Biden event was watched by 13.9 million viewers on ABC, easily besting Trump’s NBC spectacle, which drew just 10.9 million viewers. The Trump event’s total viewership was dwarfed by Biden’s even though Trump’s was simulcast on CNBC and MSNBC: as CNN noted, the three networks combined for roughly 13 million viewers, a total that still lagged behind the Biden event.

Before Thursday night’s town hall with Trump aired on NBC—a last-minute decision that was broadly panned—outlets reported that the president was banking on a ratings windfall.

“He looks at this the same way he looks at attendance at his rallies versus the [turnout] Biden gets for his events,” an anonymous source told The Daily Beast this week. “He obviously wants to blow Biden out of the water.

But on Friday morning, in the wake of mockery for his performance, Trump received some surprising news: a Biden ratings lead in the preliminary numbers. Even then, it was expected that Trump would ultimately prevail, owing to the fact that NBC blanketed its cable networks with the president. Alas, that wasn’t the case—although Trump could still potentially claim victory, as the Nielsen numbers only account for television viewership and not online and streaming numbers. (As one reporter noted, however, Biden’s town hall did comfortably beat Trump’s event in viewership on YouTube.)

It’s not looking good for Trump, and he is clearly freaking out about it. In a rally in Macon, GA last night he said he might have to leave the country if he loses.

From the article:

At one point, Mr. Trump threatened to leave the country should he lose the election.

“Could you imagine if I lose?” he said. “I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country, I don’t know.”

Trailing in the polls and at a significant cash deficit compared to Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump attempted to argue that he was opting against raising more money as he enters the final stretch of the election.

7ba691e3487ddcefa6da51176d2d1c9a“I could raise more money,” he said. “I would be the world’s greatest fund-raiser, but I just don’t want to do it.”

Mr. Trump’s campaign announced this week that he had raised over $247 million last month, far short of the record $383 million raised by Mr. Biden’s campaign and affiliated Democratic committees.

The president also delivered a discursive monologue about what he cast as a choice to not be more presidential, an allusion to the chaotic style that has turned off suburban women, a group that helped boost Mr. Trump to victory four years ago.

“I used to go and I’d imitate a president who’s playing presidential — it’s so easy compared to what we do,” he said. “I said, ‘I can be more presidential than any president in our history with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln when he wore the hat, that’s tough to beat.’”

Mr. Trump acknowledged his losses in the suburbs, seeming to link his slide to his divisive style. Mr. Biden leads by 23 points among suburban women in battleground states, according to recent polling by The New York Times and Siena College. Among suburban men, the race is tied.

“Suburban women,” he said. “I heard they like my policy but they don’t like my personality. I said they don’t care about my personality, they want to be safe.”

I don’t think it’s just his personality that turns off women voters. It’s his actions and non-actions.

76b7e01e343198f80551b13039a37789Trump might actually try to leave the country if he loses, because he will face multiple criminal prosecutions. But that won’t save him from the millions he owes to someone, likely Deutsche Bank. The New York Times has a new article up based on Trump’s tax data: $421 Million in Debt: Trump Calls It ‘a Peanut,’ but Challenges Lie Ahead.

President Trump painted a rosy picture of his financial condition during a televised town hall on Thursday night, calling his hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due “a peanut” and saying he had borrowed it as a favor to lenders eager to take advantage of his financial strength.

In fact, the loans, and the unusual requirement he had to accept to receive them, illustrate the financial challenges he faces and the longstanding reluctance of banks to deal with him.

Mr. Trump had to personally guarantee $421 million in debt, a rare step that lenders only require of businesses that may not be able to repay. The commitment puts his assets on the line and could place his lenders, should he be re-elected, in the position of deciding whether to foreclose on a sitting president.

The personal guarantee also speaks to why, despite Mr. Trump’s assertion that banks are eager to lend him money, nearly all the money he borrowed in the last decade came from only two institutions.

“When a bank asks for a personal guarantee, it is because the bank isn’t satisfied with the creditworthiness of the borrower,” said Richard Scott Carnell, who served as assistant secretary for financial institutions at the Treasury Department under President Bill Clinton and now teaches law at Fordham University. “If the captain gives a personal guarantee for the ship, he will be less likely to sink it.”

Sheet music, 1876There are lots of articles today on the ridiculous New York Post/Rudy Giuliani story about Hunter Biden’s alleged emails. This one is by David Ignatius at The Washington Post: The truth behind the Hunter Biden non-scandal.

The story of Hunter Biden’s involvement with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma isn’t a scandal about his father, as the Trump campaign claims, but part of a personal tragedy for the vice president’s son, compounded by this week’s dissemination of what looks like disinformation about Joe Biden’s role.

What’s clear, beyond the false scandal-mongering, has been evident for years: Hunter Biden made a mistake getting involved with a dubious company like Burisma. But the notion that the Burisma affair undermines Joe Biden’s case to be president is, as he would say, malarkey.

The Biden campaign has been understandably reluctant to respond, for fear of giving the story legitimacy. Still, Biden has said his son made a mistake. Family friends say the vice president is reluctant to publicly criticize Hunter Biden further, but they stress that both Bidens have learned the painful lesson that a president’s children should stay away from international business. Would that the Trump family recognized that rule.

That’s really the point, isn’t it? I wonder why more news outlets don’t focus on Trump’s nepotism and the corrupt behavior of his children and son-in-law.

e0112888dc530ac522ef0f49d21a74a3The Hunter-Ukraine connection has been a political sideshow since the Biden campaign began. It got new voltage this week when the New York Post published what it claimed were emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop suggesting that he had helped arrange a 2015 meeting between his father and a Burisma executive. The Biden campaign denied any such meeting, and its accounts, based on recollections of multiple staff members, are believable. An Eastern European expert in digital forensics who has examined some of the Ukrainian documents leaked to the New York Post told me he found anomalies — such as American-style capitalization of the names of ministries — that suggest fakery.

Read more at the WaPo and at the following links:

AP: Biden email episode illustrates risk to Trump from Giuliani.

The Daily Beast: Bolton Warned His Staff To Stay Away From Russia-Aligned Rudy Giuliani.

NPR: Analysis: Questionable ‘N.Y. Post’ Scoop Driven by Ex-Hannity Producer, Giuliani.

The Daily Beast: Rudy: Only ‘50/50’ Chance I Worked With a ‘Russian Spy’ to Dig Dirt on Bidens.

One more before I wrap this up. Yesterday Judge Reggie Walton called Trump’s bluff on his tweeted order to declassify every document associated with the Russia investigation. The Washington Post: U.S. judge: Do Trump’s tweets or White House lawyers speak for president on declassifying entire Russia probe?

A federal judge rebuked the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office on Friday for dismissing without explanation President Trump’s “emphatic and unambiguous” tweets ordering the declassification of all documents in the government’s probe of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

“I have fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to the single greatest political CRIME in American History, the Russia Hoax,” the president tweeted Oct. 6. “Likewise, the Hillary Clinton Email Scandal. No redactions!”

1883 posterTrump’s blanket statement came the day after he returned to the White House from three days of treatment for the novel coronavirus at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The tweet has since created a headache for government lawyers in pending open-records lawsuits filed by news organizations seeking fuller disclosure of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report and investigative materials.

Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer maintained in a court filing Tuesday that the White House Counsel’s Office informed the Justice Department that notwithstanding the president’s statement, “there is no order requiring wholesale declassification or disclosure of documents at issue.”

The Judge wasn’t buying it.

At Friday’s hearing, however, Judge Reggie B. Walton of the U.S. District Court in D.C. expressed bafflement at the claim that President Trump’s words were not to be believed.

“I think the American public has a right to rely on what the president says his intention is,” Walton said.

“It seems to me when a president makes a clear, unambiguous statement of what his intention is, that I can’t rely on the White House Counsel’s Office saying, ‘Well, that was not his intent,’ ” the judge said in a hearing conducted by videoconference because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Walton directed the department by noon Tuesday to clarify with Trump or “an individual who has conferred directly with the president” whether Trump had intended to order the declassification and release of Mueller report materials without redaction. The judge cited the urgency of releasing as much information as possible in the remaining days before the election.

This could get interesting. I hope you all have a great weekend. Please stop by Sky Dancing if you have the time and inclination–we love to hear from you!


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

rabiesEverything is still awful in the land of Trump, but the election is only 19 days away. Meanwhile, there is some good news: Joe Biden and Democrats in general are rolling in money and Democrats are voting early in massive numbers.

Politico: Biden raised whopping $383M in September.

Joe Biden announced Wednesday evening that his campaign and affiliated committees raised $383 million in September, breaking a record he had just set the prior month as his campaign continues to ride a surge of online donations.

Biden, the Democratic National Committee and the campaign’s joint fundraising committees started the final 34 days of the campaign with $432 million in the bank, Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon tweeted.

Politico: ActBlue’s stunning third quarter: $1.5 billion in donations.

Democratic candidates and left-leaning groups raised $1.5 billion through ActBlue over the last three months — a record-smashing total that reveals the overwhelming financial power small-dollar donors have unleashed up and down the ballot ahead of the 2020 election.

From July through September, 6.8 million donors made 31.4 million contributions through ActBlue, the Democratic Party’s favored online donation platform, averaging $47 per donation. More than 14,223 campaigns and organizations benefited from the surge in donations, the largest single quarter in the platform’s 15-year history, according to figures shared first with POLITICO. Just in September, ActBlue processed $758 million.

long linesThe Washington Post: Across the country, Democratic enthusiasm is propelling an enormous wave of early voting.

With less than three weeks to go before Nov. 3, roughly 15 million Americans have already voted in the fall election, reflecting an extraordinary level of participation despite barriers erected by the coronavirus pandemic — and setting a trajectory that could result in the majority of voters casting ballots before Election Day for the first time in U.S. history.

In Georgia this week, voters waited as long as 11 hours to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting. In North Carolina, nearly 1 in 5 of roughly 500,000 who have returned mail ballots so far did not vote in the last presidential election. In Michigan, more than 1 million people — roughly one-fourth of total turnout in 2016 — have already voted.

The picture is so stark that election officials around the country are reporting record early turnout, much of it in person, meaning that more results could be available on election night than previously thought.

20201013edshe-bSo far, much of the early voting appears to be driven by heightened enthusiasm among Democrats. Of the roughly 3.5 million voters who have cast ballots in six states that provide partisan breakdowns, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly 2 to 1, according to a Washington Post analysis of data in Florida, Iowa, Maine, Kentucky, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Additionally, those who have voted include disproportionate numbers of Black voters and women, according to state data — groups that favor former vice president Joe Biden over President Trump in recent polls.

The bad news is that the coronavirus pandemic is getting worse, not better, as we head into winter and flu season; and it’s becoming clear that Amy Coney Barrett is more extreme than any of the current “conservative” SCOTUS justices.

Coronavirus News

Deborah Birx may have been even worse than I thought. Science: The inside story of how Trump’s COVID-19 coordinator undermined the world’s top health agency.

042720.op.wct.toon1.BirkOn the morning of 13 July, more than 20 COVID-19 experts from across the U.S. government assembled in a conference room at the Department of Health and Human Services, steps from the Capitol. The group conferred on how best to gather key data on available beds and supplies of medicine and protective gear from thousands of hospitals. Around the table, masks concealed their expressions, but with COVID-19 cases surging out of control in some parts of the country, their grave mood was unmistakable, say two people who were in the room.

Irum Zaidi, a top aide to White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx, chaired the meeting. Zaidi lifted her mask slightly to be heard and delivered a fait accompli: Birx, who was not present, had pulled the plug on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) system for collecting hospital data and turned much of the responsibility over to a private contractor, Pittsburgh-based TeleTracking Technologies Inc., a hospital data management company. The reason: CDC had not met Birx’s demand that hospitals report 100% of their COVID-19 data every day.

According to two officials in the meeting, one CDC staffer left and immediately began to sob, saying, “I refuse to do this. I cannot work with people like this. It is so toxic.” That person soon resigned from the pandemic data team, sources say.

AR-200429695Other CDC staffers considered the decision arbitrary and destructive. “Anyone who knows the data supply chain in the U.S. knows [getting all the data daily] is impossible” during a pandemic, says one high-level expert at CDC. And they considered Birx’s imperative unnecessary because staffers with decades of experience could confidently estimate missing numbers from partial data.

“Why are they not listening to us?” a CDC official at the meeting recalls thinking. Several CDC staffers predicted the new data system would fail, with ominous implications. “Birx has been on a monthslong rampage against our data,” one texted to a colleague shortly afterward. “Good f—ing luck getting the hospitals to clean up their data and update daily.”

And that’s just the beginning. Read the entire sad story at the link.

The New York Times: As Virus Spread, Reports of Trump Administration’s Private Briefings Fueled Sell-Off.

On the afternoon of Feb. 24, President Trump declared on Twitter that the coronavirus was “very much under control” in the United States, one of numerous rosy statements that he and his advisers made at the time about the worsening epidemic. He even added an observation for investors: “Stock market starting to look very good to me!”

bad airBut hours earlier, senior members of the president’s economic team, privately addressing board members of the conservative Hoover Institution, were less confident. Tomas J. Philipson, a senior economic adviser to the president, told the group he could not yet estimate the effects of the virus on the American economy. To some in the group, the implication was that an outbreak could prove worse than Mr. Philipson and other Trump administration advisers were signaling in public at the time.

The next day, board members — many of them Republican donors — got another taste of government uncertainty from Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council. Hours after he had boasted on CNBC that the virus was contained in the United States and “it’s pretty close to airtight,” Mr. Kudlow delivered a more ambiguous private message. He asserted that the virus was “contained in the U.S., to date, but now we just don’t know,” according to a document describing the sessions obtained by The New York Times.

So the White House gave a heads up to wealthy donors, who then told their friends, allowing the superrich to protect themselves financially before the public understood how bad the pandemic would be.

The New York Times: 8 Million Have Slipped Into Poverty Since May as Federal Aid Has Dried Up.

After an ambitious expansion of the safety net in the spring saved millions of people from poverty, the aid is now largely exhausted and poverty has returned to levels higher than before the coronavirus crisis, two new studies have found.

Nick Anderson cartoonThe number of poor people has grown by eight million since May, according to researchers at Columbia University, after falling by four million at the pandemic’s start as a result of an $2 trillion emergency package known as the Cares Act.

Using a different definition of poverty, researchers from the University of Chicago and Notre Dame found that poverty has grown by six million people in the past three months, with circumstances worsening most for Black people and children.

Significantly, the studies differ on the most recent month: While the Columbia model shows an improvement in September, the Chicago and Notre Dame analysts found poverty continued to grow.

“These numbers are very concerning,” said Bruce D. Meyer, an economist at the University of Chicago and an author of the study. “They tell us people are having a lot more trouble paying their bills, paying their rent, putting food on the table.”

Gee, no kidding. And Republicans don’t care. They’re just thrilled with their latest addition to SCOTUS.

Amy Coney Barrett’s Joke of a Confirmation Hearing

Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post: Barrett seeks refuge in ignorance and evasion.

“Are you saying that you … refuse to agree with a known fact?” That was the follow-up question Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) asked Amy Coney Barrett after the Supreme Court nominee refused to affirm that there is discrimination in voting. Eventually Barrett did affirm there is discrimination, but her repeated efforts to avoid making statements on rudimentary moral principles (e.g., it is wrong to forcibly separate families) and basic facts (e.g., corporations have more power than an individual employee; the president cannot unilaterally change the date of the election as set in statute) made Barrett come across as disingenuous, evasive and clueless. She even refused to affirm the peaceful transition of power after an election. Either she has lived her life in a soulless vacuum, or she is terribly afraid of offending President Trump.

cannot tell a lieBarrett was certainly less poised on Wednesday than during previous days. She seemed irritated with Harris, saying she did not know where Harris’s line of questioning was heading. (It didn’t matter. She needed to answer the questions.) She also sounded testy when Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) grilled her on the Affordable Care Act. The Post reported:

 
“I have no animus or agenda for the Affordable Care Act,” she insisted under questioning from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who was citing the judge’s past comments and writings on the ACA and noting that Barrett’s apparent stance was that the law’s individual mandate was unconstitutional.
Like many panel Democrats before her, Klobuchar at one point raised Barrett’s 2017 law review article criticizing Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s opinion upholding the health-care law, asking whether she had been aware that Trump wanted to overturn the ACA when she wrote it.
This time, Barrett seemed to have lost her patience.
“You’re suggesting this was like an open letter to President Trump,” Barrett protested. “It was not.”

Actually, Klobuchar was pointing out that everyone in the hearing room perfectly understood why Barrett was picked: because she has been an outspoken critic of precedent on abortion, the ACA and other conservative policy targets.

There’s more at the WaPo link.

Raw Story: Amy Coney Barrett’s threat to Social Security and Medicare is ‘what right-wing extremism is all about’: Progressive senator.

In keeping with her evasive answers on other key issues—from voting rights to reproductive rights to climate change—President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Wednesday refused to say whether she believes Social Security and Medicare are constitutional, prompting progressive advocacy groups and lawmakers to warn the judge’s confirmation could pose an existential threat to the programs.

Barret woman“Social Security has been law of the land for 85 years, Medicare for 55,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in response to Barrett’s comments. “Tens of millions are dependent upon these programs for retirement security and healthcare. And Judge Barrett doesn’t know if they are constitutional. Really? That’s what right-wing extremism is all about.”

“This is Republicans’ end game: confirm conservative judges who will undermine overwhelmingly popular programs like Social Security and Medicare and rip away healthcare from millions.”
—Sen. Ron Wyden

Questioned by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) during Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Barrett would not say whether she agrees with a right-wing scholar who has argued that Medicare and Social Security are unconstitutional because they exceed the spending powers of Congress. The Supreme Court deemed the Social Security Act of 1935 constitutional in a series of rulings in 1937.

Bess Levin at Vanity Fair: Amy Coney Barrett Says She Hasn’t Yet Committed to Letting Millions of Americans Die a Miserable Senseless Death.

When Republicans inevitably announced they were going to ram through Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation before the November election, after they blocked Merrick Garland’s nomination because of the made-up “election-year” rule, it wasn’t just because they’re colossal hypocrites. Oh sure, they are, but the actual reason they’re doing so is because in Barrett they have found a judge who they can reliably expect will, given the opportunity, help overturn Roe v. Wade, ax the Affordable Care Act, gut voting rights, protect guns, scrap same-sex marriage, and potentially deliver Donald Trump a second term. They know this because in her work as a judge and law professor, she has made her positions abundantly clear. Really, it’s not a secret! It’s all right there with her name on it! Yet even though Barrett’s confirmation is in the bag, on Tuesday, she felt the need to pretend she might not actually strip health care for millions of Americans or reverse the landmark abortion decision or do a solid for Trump should the 2020 election be litigated in court, as the president has said it should be. Whether this was to give Republicans cover or because she knows a clip of her saying, for example, “Why yes, I look forward to forcing women into back-alley abortions” wouldn’t be a great look, Barrett went to absurd lengths to act like her opinions aren’t already widely known.

244204_rgb_768More from Bess Levin: Amy Coney Barrett, Mother of Seven, Not Sure if Separating Migrant Children from their Parents is Bad.

Despite being a mother, Barrett is expected to help overturn the Affordable Care Act. (After she was asked about this possibility, which would strip health insurance from millions, Grassley raged at his Democratic colleagues that “As a mother of seven, Judge Barrett clearly understands the importance of health care.”) She will also very likely go after Roe v. Wade, if given the chance, which some mothers would point out prevents their daughters—or even women they didn’t give birth to!— from being forced into back alley abortions. And even though she’s a mom of seven children, she apparently thinks the jury is still out on whether or not it’s bad to separate small children from their parents, if they happen to be from another country:

This woman is truly a monster, and she responds with crazy evasions in a whiny seven-year-old’s voice. I feel for the other justices who will have to keep straight faces when she presents her “legal arguments.”

Yes, it’s another ghastly day in Trump world, but there’s a good chance we can get rid of him in less than three weeks. Hang in there and vote! 

 

 


Thursday Reads: Dumpster Fire Debate Aftermath

Central Avenue, by Philip Guston

Good Morning!!

The paintings and drawings in this post are by Philip Guston, a painter who shocked the art world in the late 1960s by abandoning his abstract expressionism and turning to cartoonish representations of KKK-like figures that to him reflected the culture of America under Richard Nixon. These works also reflected his childhood memories of scenes of the Klan marching openly in Los Angeles, where his Jewish family lived.

Four major museums have decided to call off a retrospective of Guston’s work for fear of negative reactions to the racial justice content of the paintings. From The New York Times:

In an open letter published Wednesday in The Brooklyn Rail, nearly 100 artists, curators, dealers and writers forcefully condemned the decision last week by the National Gallery of Art in Washington and three other major museums to pull the plug on the largest retrospective in 15 years of one of America’s most influential postwar painters.

The show, after years of preparation, will be delayed until 2024. The stated reason is to let the institutions rethink their presentation of Guston’s later figurative paintings, which feature men in hoods reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan members, and which, a National Gallery spokesperson said, risked being “misinterpreted” today.

Philip Guston – Dawn, 1970 (oil on canvas)

In the open letter, the artists, “shocked and disappointed,” accuse the museums — the National Gallery, Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston — both of betraying Guston’s art and of patronizing the public they are supposed to serve.

The postponement, they write, is an admission of the museums’ “longstanding failure to have educated, integrated, and prepared themselves to meet the challenge of the renewed pressure for racial justice that has developed over the past five years.” They demand that the Guston exhibition take place as scheduled, and that the museums “do the necessary work to present this art in all its depth and complexity.”

Surely these paintings are as relevant in the Trump years as they were in Nixon’s America. Postponing the exhibition until 2024 guarantees that public discussions of their import won’t happen until after Trump’s second term if he is reelected. This reminds me of the many efforts to ban Mark Twain’s profoundly anti-racist novel Huckleberry Finn because of Twain’s use of the N-word.

Read more at Art News: Controversial Philip Guston Show Postponement Met with Shock and Anger from Art Community. See also this statement (and more art works) from Guston’s daughter Musa Mayor: Philip Guston: The Danger is in Looking Away.

Now on to today’s news. Trump’s dumpster fire of a debate performance on Tuesday night is still drawing reactions.

The New York Times Editorial Board: A Debate That Can’t Be Ignored. Americans need to face the man who is their president.

President Trump’s was a national disgrace. His refusal to condemn white supremacists, or to pledge that he will accept the results of the election, betrayed the people who entrusted him with the highest office in the land. Every American has a responsibility to look and listen and take the full measure of the man. Ignorance can no longer be a tenable excuse. Conservatives in pursuit of long-cherished policy goals can no longer avoid the reality that Mr. Trump is vandalizing the principles and integrity of our democracy.

Philip Guston The Line, 1978

It’s a tired frame, but consider how Americans would judge a foreign election where the incumbent president scorned the democratic process as a fraud and called on an armed, violent, white supremacist group to “stand by” to engage with his political rivals.

The debate was excruciating to watch for anyone who loves this country, because of the mirror it held up to the United States in 2020: a nation unmoored from whatever was left of its civil political traditions, awash in conspiratorial disinformation, incapable of agreeing on what is true and what are lies, paralyzed by the horror of a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands and beholden to a political system that doesn’t reflect the majority of the country.

The debate featured one politician trying his best to do his job, trying to bring some normalcy to America’s battered public square, and one politician who seemed incapable of self-control — petulant, self-centered, rageful.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Adam Serwer at The Atlantic: The Most Illuminating Moment of the Debate. Donald Trump sees everything—even his own children—as a reflection of himself.

Shortly after Donald and Ivana Trump’s son was born, however, the future president had an unusual concern for a parent: What if this kid grows up and embarasses me?

“What should we name him?” Donald asked, according to Ivana’s memoir, Raising Trump. When Ivana suggested Donald Jr., the real-estate heir responded, “What if he is a loser?”

That anecdote helps explain one of the more memorable exchanges in Tuesday night’s presidential debate, as well as Trump’s approach to governance. The president’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, sought to criticize Trump’s remarks about U.S. service members being “losers,” as first reported by The Atlantic. In doing so, Biden brought up his late son, Beau, who died of a brain tumor after earning a Bronze Star in the Army National Guard.

Philip Guston, Drawing for Conspirators, 1930

“My son was in Iraq and spent a year there,” Biden said to Trump, raising his voice. “He got the Bronze Star. He got a medal. He was not a loser. He was a patriot. And the people left behind there were heroes.”

In an attempt to neutralize the attack, Trump changed the subject—to Biden’s other son, Hunter. “Hunter got thrown out of the military; he was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use,” he spat out.

To a person who feared sharing his name with his son at the moment of his birth, because the child might turn out to be a “loser,” that attack must have seemed devastating. But normal parents don’t stop loving their children because they do bad things. They love them anyway. That’s what being a parent is.

Biden responded by reaffirming his love for his surviving son. “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem,” Biden responded. “He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.” [….]

More than any other moment of the debate, Trump’s response to Biden’s invocation of his dead son—attempting to make him ashamed of his surviving one—threw the dispositions of the two men into sharp relief. I wondered how Hunter must have felt to see his father speak of his pride in his brother, only for his own name to be brandished as a weapon to inflict shame on his father. And I thought about Biden’s response, which was to reaffirm his pride in Hunter, the troubled son living in the indelible shadow of a departed war hero. In the midst of being attacked by a president trying to wield his own family against him, Biden’s instinct was to reassure Hunter that he is also loved, that nothing could make his father see him as a loser.

Read more at The Atlantic.

At The Washington Post, Eric Garcia wrote about his own struggle with addiction and how Trump’s words will affect other recovering people: Trump’s attack on Hunter Biden will only increase the stigma of addiction.

As saccharine as it sounds, the president of the United States is also the president of screw-ups, addicts and hopefuls like me and Hunter Biden. But Trump’s comments made clear that he believes that an addict’s actions can be used against our families to attack their character.

Philip Guston – Courtroom, 1970 (oil on canvas)

That will make us less willing to talk about our problems and get the help we need. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says explicitly that stigma can make people with substance abuse disorders less willing to seek treatment. And that makes sense. If your addiction is going to be used against you, why try to get better?

Hunter Biden’s problems with alcohol, drugs and women have been well-documented. (News reports show that, contrary to what Trump said Tuesday, Hunter was not dishonorably discharged from the Navy Reserve when he tested positive for cocaine in 2014.) Those demons were enough of an issue that when the former vice president began running last year, the New Yorker published a piece asking whether they would “jeopardize his father’s campaign.” That story ran a few days before I finally hit bottom myself.

I don’t know Hunter Biden, but I do know that worrying that your own actions could hurt the people you love is one of the things that tears an addict up inside.

I hope you’ll read the rest.

The debate also raised fears about Trump stealing the election, by suppressing votes, encouraging white supremacist violence, and using the courts.

The Daily Beast: Trump’s Crew of Far-Right Vigilante Poll Watchers Is Coming.

The truck-revving, banner-waving, loudspeaker-blaring pro-Trump rally took place, conveniently, on Sept. 19, the first Saturday of early voting in the swing state of Virginia, in a parking lot where voters in Democratic-leaning Fairfax County were lined up to cast their ballots. Some Trump supporters drove circles around the voters while others—many without face masks—mingled with the line, chanting and waving flags.

“We had a couple poll observers there that had to actually escort voters in because we saw people that would get to the edge of the parking lot, and see this giant group of Trumpers yelling and screaming,” Jack Kiraly, executive director of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, told The Daily Beast, adding that the scene reminded him of the volunteers who escort people past anti-abortion protesters outside women’s health clinics.

Philip Guston, 1930 or 31

So during Tuesday night’s remarkably unhinged presidential debate, when President Donald Trump urged his supporters to take unsanctioned actions at polling places, Kiraly was reminded of what Fairfax County voters had witnessed earlier this month.

During the debate, Trump appeared to tell the far-right paramilitary group the Proud Boys to “stand by” and urged fans to “go into the polls and watch very carefully” for voter fraud, an exceedingly rare phenomenon Trump has crafted into a cornerstone of his political identity. For close observers of the far right, as well as officials like Kiraly, the remarks amounted to the latest warning that an embattled president might use his supporters to impede fair elections, or to cast the results of those elections in doubt.

If the prospect of election-related violence was already looming over the first presidential contest since Trump effectively welcomed the paramilitary far-right into the Republican Party, the debate made the alarm bells ring even louder.

David Sanger at The New York Times: Tuesday’s Debate Made Clear the Gravest Threat to the Election: The President Himself.

President Trump’s angry insistence in the last minutes of Tuesday’s debate that there was no way the presidential election could be conducted without fraud amounted to an extraordinary declaration by a sitting American president that he would try to throw any outcome into the courts, Congress or the streets if he was not re-elected….

Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to say he would abide by the result, and his disinformation campaign about the integrity of the American electoral system, went beyond anything President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could have imagined. All Mr. Putin has to do now is amplify the president’s message, which he has already begun to do….

The president began the debate with a declaration that balloting already underway was “a fraud and a shame” and proof of “a rigged election.”

Philip Guston – By the Window, 1969 (oil on canvas)

It quickly became apparent that Mr. Trump was doing more than simply trying to discredit the mail-in ballots that are being used to ensure voters are not disenfranchised by a pandemic — the same way of voting that five states have used for years with minimal fraud.

He followed it by encouraging his supporters to “go into the polls” and “watch very carefully,” which seemed to be code words for a campaign of voter intimidation, aimed at those who brave the coronavirus risks of voting in person.

And Mr. Trump’s declaration that the Supreme Court would have to “look at the ballots” and that “we might not know for months because these ballots are going to be all over” seemed to suggest that he would try to place the election in the hands of a court where he has been rushing to cement a conservative majority with his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

And if he cannot win there, he has already raised the possibility of using the argument of a fraudulent election to throw the decision to the House of Representatives, where he believes he has an edge because every state delegation gets one vote in resolving an election with no clear winner. At least for now, 26 of those delegations have a majority of Republican representatives.

And of course Trump’s final backstop could be to trigger mass violence by his white supremacist supporters.

I’m running out of space, but I’ll post more links in the comment thread. Have a nice Thursday, and please check in with us if you have the time and inclination. We love to hear from you!


Tuesday Reads: Double Trouble for Trump

Good Morning!!

The New York Times has published the second installment in its ongoing series on Trump’s taxes. But first, a recap of the revelations from the first blockbuster story and reactions from other sources.

Just Security has a good breakdown of the main revelations from the the first NYT article: Ten Quick Takeaways from the New York Times’ Bombshell Article on Trump’s Tax Returns. This is takeaway 2:

Trump appears to be an absolutely terrible businessman. This is a man who netted $606 million over nineteen years (from 2000 to 2018) through The Apprentice, licensing and endorsements, and investments and businesses run by others, and yet has created enormous financial peril for himself by buying prestige business properties for high prices, and then pouring cash into them without thereby generating positive net returns. Even with the cash infusions, his personally run businesses have continued to lose a great deal of money (even leaving aside depreciation deductions that might or might not be accompanied by actual declines in economic value). One therefore suspects that he is simply funding the negative cash flow, not creating new value that might pay off in the future. (Even the enhanced revenues at some U.S. properties from their being used by lobbyists have failed to eliminate the pattern of losing a great deal.)

Meanwhile, perhaps to fund the ongoing cash infusions, he has been taking out loans and making one-time asset sales that imply a danger of simply running out of money soon if there is no turnaround. The $421 million in personal liability debts that the Times says are due soon add to the impression of an approaching risk of financial breakdown. However, beyond just the financial peril that he may be facing, the pattern looks like one of recklessly and improvidently burning through one’s cash for as long as it lasts, rather than of investing prudently to create future value.

Adam Davidson of The New Yorker posted an interesting Twitter thread yesterday:

Davidson concludes: “Until we know who, we don’t know who this man owes and what they know about him.”

This is from Andrew Weissmann, one of the top prosecutors on the Robert Mueller team:

From The Washington Post: Trump’s debts and foreign deals pose security risks, former intelligence officials say.

ecurity teams at U.S. spy agencies are constantly scouring employee records for signs of potential compromise: daunting levels of debt, troubling overseas entanglements, hidden streams of income, and a penchant for secrecy or deceit to avoid exposure.

President Trump would check nearly every box of this risk profile based on revelations in the New York Times from his long-secret tax records that former intelligence officials and security experts said raise profound questions about whether he should be trusted to safeguard U.S. secrets and interests.

The records show that Trump has continued to make money off foreign investments and projects while in office; that foreign officials have spent lavishly at his Washington hotel and other properties; and that despite this revenue he is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt with massive payments coming due.

“From a national security perspective, that’s just an outrageous vulnerability,” said Larry Pfeiffer, who previously served as chief of staff at the CIA. Pfeiffer, who now serves as director of the Hayden Center for Intelligence at George Mason University, said that if he had faced even a fraction of Trump’s financial burden, “there is no question my clearances would be pulled.”

The disclosures show that Trump’s position is more precarious than he has led the public to believe, and he faces the need for a substantial infusion of cash in the coming years to avert potential financial crisis.

As a result, officials and experts said that Trump has made himself vulnerable to manipulation by foreign governments aware of his predicament, and put himself in a position in which his financial interests and the nation’s priorities could be in conflict.

Moving on, here’s today’s New York Times dispatch: How Reality-TV Fame Handed Trump a $427 Million Lifeline, by Mike McIntire, Russ Buettner and Susanne Craig

From the back seat of a stretch limousine heading to meet the first contestants for his new TV show “The Apprentice,” Donald J. Trump bragged that he was a billionaire who had overcome financial hardship.

“I used my brain, I used my negotiating skills and I worked it all out,” he told viewers. “Now, my company is bigger than it ever was and stronger than it ever was.”

It was all a hoax.

Months after that inaugural episode in January 2004, Mr. Trump filed his individual tax return reporting $89.9 million in net losses from his core businesses for the prior year. The red ink spilled from everywhere, even as American television audiences saw him as a savvy business mogul with the Midas touch…

But while the story of “The Apprentice” is by now well known, the president’s tax returns reveal another grand twist that has never been truly told — how the popularity of that fictional alter ego rescued him, providing a financial lifeline to reinvent himself yet again. And then how, in an echo of the boom-and-bust cycle that has defined his business career, he led himself toward the financial shoals he must navigate today.

Mr. Trump’s genius, it turned out, wasn’t running a company. It was making himself famous — Trump-scale famous — and monetizing that fame.

The show’s big ratings meant that everyone wanted a piece of the Trump brand, and he grabbed at the opportunity to rent it out. There was $500,000 to pitch Double Stuf Oreos, another half-million to sell Domino’s Pizza and $850,000 to push laundry detergent.

There were seven-figure licensing deals with hotel builders, some with murky backgrounds, in former Soviet republics and other developing countries. And there were schemes that exploited misplaced trust in the TV version of Mr. Trump, who, off camera, peddled worthless get-rich-quick nostrums like “Donald Trump Way to Wealth” seminars that promised initiation into “the secrets and strategies that have made Donald Trump a billionaire.”

Just as, years before, the money Mr. Trump secretly received from his father allowed him to assemble a wobbly collection of Atlantic City casinos and other disparate enterprises that then collapsed around him, the new influx of cash helped finance a buying spree that saw him snap up golf resorts, a business not known for easy profits. Indeed, the tax records show that his golf properties have been hemorrhaging millions of dollars for years.

Read the whole long, detailed article at the NYT.

I doubt if Trump’s base supporters read The Atlantic, but maybe they’ll get wind of this on Facebook or Twitter. McCay Coppins writes: Trump Secretly Mocks His Christian Supporters. Former aides say that in private, the president has spoken with cynicism and contempt about believers.

One day in 2015, Donald Trump beckoned Michael Cohen, his longtime confidant and personal attorney, into his office. Trump was brandishing a printout of an article about an Atlanta-based megachurch pastor trying to raise $60 million from his flock to buy a private jet. Trump knew the preacher personally—Creflo Dollar had been among a group of evangelical figures who visited him in 2011 while he was first exploring a presidential bid. During the meeting, Trump had reverently bowed his head in prayer while the pastors laid hands on him. Now he was gleefully reciting the impious details of Dollar’s quest for a Gulfstream G650.

Trump seemed delighted by the “scam,” Cohen recalled to me, and eager to highlight that the pastor was “full of shit.”

“They’re all hustlers,” Trump said.

The president’s alliance with religious conservatives has long been premised on the contention that he takes them seriously, while Democrats hold them in disdain. In speeches and interviews, Trump routinely lavishes praise on conservative Christians, casting himself as their champion. “My administration will never stop fighting for Americans of faith,” he declared at a rally for evangelicals earlier this year. It’s a message his campaign will seek to amplify in the coming weeks as Republicans work to confirm Amy Coney Barrett—a devout, conservative Catholic—to the Supreme Court.

But in private, many of Trump’s comments about religion are marked by cynicism and contempt, according to people who have worked for him. Former aides told me they’ve heard Trump ridicule conservative religious leaders, dismiss various faith groups with cartoonish stereotypes, and deride certain rites and doctrines held sacred by many of the Americans who constitute his base.

As world-wide coronavirus deaths pass 1,000,000, with more than 205,000 in the U.S., another source of political support for Trump appears to be weakening. Politico: ‘He just lies’: Florida’s senior voters suddenly are in play.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida seniors, long an unflinching bloc of reliable GOP votes, are suddenly in play as President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus has his reelection campaign on the defensive.

The pandemic and anxiety about possible cuts to entitlement programs have eroded the GOP’s once-solid advantage with the battleground state’s retirees, recent polls show, a demographic Republicans have won by double digits in recent presidential races.

“I really got sick of him when he did not wear a mask, and he took the control totally away from the governors. It was a very bad situation,” said Joy Solomon, a 65-year-old from Boca Raton who voted for Trump in 2016 largely because that’s who her husband supported, but who has now turned against the president. “I want this place to come back to some sense of normalcy.”

“He just lies about everything,” she said.

Retirees have long flocked to Florida’s warm climate and white sandy beaches, where they’ve gained outsized political sway in the nation’s largest swing state. In the 2012 presidential election, voters 65 and older comprised 26 percent of all votes, a number that jumped to 30 percent in 2016.

Now recent polls show Trump’s comfortable cushion with Florida seniors eroding in a state where campaigns are won on the thinnest of margins.

Read about the latest polls at the link.

With all this happening, you have to wonder how Trump can face participating in a debate with Joe Biden tonight, but that is what he’s scheduled to do tonight at 9PM. I expect he’ll be even crazier than ever–lashing out in all directions. I hope Biden can handle it. Here’s some info on tonight’s political cage match from Vanity Fair: How to Watch the First Presidential Debate Between Trump and Biden.

On Tuesday night, for the first time this election cycle, President Donald Trump and his challenger, former vice president Joe Biden, will come face-to-face to tackle a wide range of issues during the first presidential debate of 2020. Based on just the last few days alone—during which Trump suggested Biden take a drug test before the debate and the New York Times released bombshell reporting on Trump’s federal income tax returns—viewers should expect fireworks between the septuagenarians. Here’s what to know about the first presidential debate, including where to watch or stream, who will moderate, and what the candidates will actually debate….

For those interested in seeing Trump versus Biden, it will be almost impossible to miss Tuesday night’s debate. The event will broadcast live on all the major networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC), as well as cable news channels such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. The debate also airs via CSPAN, which will provide a live-stream on YouTube for the proceedings as well.

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace will be the moderator.

I plan to watch. How about you? If you’re watching tonight, please stop by and share your reactions. In the meantime, I hope you’ll check in here during the day and let us know how you’re doing and what you’re reading and hearing.