Finally Friday Reads: Fishy business and a Big Rotting Fish

Vladimir KushDeep Sea Project, 1996

Good Day Sky Dancers!

There’s one thing to say about the current Republican party that has so identified with Trump’s mash-up of severe personality disorders.  It’s this.  If they’re investigating something, it’s bound to be a projection of what they’ve been up to.  House Republicans are gearing up a House Select Panel targeting “DOJ and FBI and their ‘ongoing criminal ‘investigations.’  One of the most disgusting things about this panel is that consideration is being given to Republican Representative Scott Perry, who is currently a target of a criminal investigation. This committee will be rife with the craziest of the crazy Freedom Party members and was probably one of the concessions Kevin McCarthy gave to get his very limp and floppy Speaker’s Gavel.

This comes precisely as we learn more about the Barr Department of Justice and the Russian Inquiry and the role of the FBI Agent that was a Russian Asset in the investigation into Trump’s Russian ties. We’ve already heard all the fishy business surrounding the Secret Service and the destruction of evidence during the Trump self-coup. All that stink you smell are fishes rotting at the head.

The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used As a Table (1934)

This astounding piece at the New York Times was covered extensively on the news last night. “How Barr’s Quest to Find Flaws in the Russia Inquiry Unraveled.” The review by John Durham at one point veered into a criminal investigation related to Donald Trump himself, even as it failed to find wrongdoing in the origins of the Russia inquiry.”  The byline is shared by Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman, and Katie Benner.  It’s a story of how John Durham fell down the Trump Rabbit hole only to find the rabbit was Barr, who took him on a visit to an Italian Wonderland where the only whiff of a crime was a financial one committed by Trump himself.  It has become the giant nothing burger prepared since the Benghazi Committee and the Clinton Email debacle.  This was another one of those projections of Trump’s bad-faith dealings onto Hillary Clinton and the people around her.

You may remember it led to the indictment and trial of two people at the bottom of the ladder that was quickly dismissed. The once esteemed Durham’s career is now one of those dead things killed by Trump.

But after almost four years — far longer than the Russia investigation itself — Mr. Durham’s work is coming to an end without uncovering anything like the deep state plot alleged by Mr. Trump and suspected by Mr. Barr.

Moreover, a monthslong review by The New York Times found that the main thrust of the Durham inquiry was marked by some of the very same flaws — including a strained justification for opening it and its role in fueling partisan conspiracy theories that would never be charged in court — that Trump allies claim characterized the Russia investigation.

The Times investigation uncovered these things about the Barr-Durham collaboration to appease Trump on the charges he colluded with Russia.  Which, of course, he did. There was also a leak of the criminal investigation, which set the Fox News propaganda channel on fire.  No mention was made that it was Trump who was the target of the investigation.

Interviews by The Times with more than a dozen current and former officials have revealed an array of previously unreported episodes that show how the Durham inquiry became roiled by internal dissent and ethical disputes as it went unsuccessfully down one path after another even as Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr promoted a misleading narrative of its progress.

  • Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham never disclosed that their inquiry expanded in the fall of 2019, based on a tip from Italian officials, to include a criminal investigation into suspicious financial dealings related to Mr. Trump. The specifics of the tip and how they handled the investigation remain unclear, but Mr. Durham brought no charges over it.

  • Mr. Durham used Russian intelligence memos — suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation — to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the financier and philanthropist who is a favorite target of the American right and Russian state media. Mr. Durham used grand jury powers to keep pursuing the emails even after a judge twice rejected his request for access to them. The emails yielded no evidence that Mr. Durham has cited in any case he pursued.

  • There were deeper internal fractures on the Durham team than previously known. The publicly unexplained resignation in 2020 of his No. 2 and longtime aide, Nora R. Dannehy, was the culmination of a series of disputes between them over prosecutorial ethics. A year later, two more prosecutors strongly objected to plans to indict a lawyer with ties to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign based on evidence they warned was too flimsy, and one left the team in protest of Mr. Durham’s decision to proceed anyway. (A jury swiftly acquitted the lawyer.)

Now, as Mr. Durham works on a final report, the interviews by The Times provide new details of how he and Mr. Barr sought to recast the scrutiny of the 2016 Trump campaign’s myriad if murky links to Russia as unjustified and itself a crime.

 The Barbarians, 1937, Max Ernst

Steve Benen of MSNBC writes, “Details expose Barr’s Durham probe as a law enforcement scandal. John Durham’s probe set out to uncover a scandal. New details help prove that Bill Barr’s partisan investigation actually became a scandal.”

The original investigation into Trump’s Russia scandal, led by then-special counsel Robert Mueller, led to a series of striking findings: The former president’s political operation in 2016 sought, embraced, capitalized on, and lied about Russian assistance — and then took steps to obstruct the investigation into the foreign interference.

The Trump White House wasn’t pleased with the conclusions, but the Justice Department’s inspector general conducted a lengthy probe of the Mueller investigation, and not surprisingly, the IG’s office found nothing improper.

This, of course, only outraged Trump further, so Barr directed Durham, a federal prosecutor to conduct his own investigation into the investigation. That was more than three years ago.

At this point, Durham’s investigation into the Russia scandal investigation has lasted longer than Mueller’s original probe of the Russia scandal. Indeed, as of this morning, is still ongoing.

On the surface, what matters most is the conclusion: Barr told Durham to prove that the investigation into the Russia scandal was an outrageous abuse. We now know that this aspect of the endeavor was a spectacular failure: Durham apparently found no such evidence, and his prosecutorial efforts were an embarrassing debacle.

Around the Fish, Paul Klee, 1944

In other words, Trump is still the source of each “Crime of the Century”, not Hillary Clinton.  Details from the Times investigation continue to stun.

But just below the surface, the details uncovered by the Times paint an even uglier portrait. Instead of allowing the U.S. attorney to conduct an independent probe, Barr effectively oversaw the details of Durham’s probe, as the two met in the attorney general’s office “for at times weekly updates and consultations about his day-to-day work.”

The same article uncovered a series of related and dramatic revelations — too many to reference here — including Durham pressuring the Justice Department’s inspector general, Barr pressuring Durham to release an anti-Clinton memo ahead of Election Day, and internal dissent among members of Durham’s team about the integrity of the investigation, including the resignation of the prosecutor’s top aide.

There was also this amazing tidbit of information:

Mr. Durham used Russian intelligence memos — suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation — to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the financier and philanthropist who is a favorite target of the American right and Russian state media. Mr. Durham used grand jury powers to keep pursuing the emails even after a judge twice rejected his request for access to them. The emails yielded no evidence that Mr. Durham has cited in any case he pursued.

The Times also noted that Durham was ultimately forced to investigate suspected criminal wrongdoing from Trump — a detail that was hidden from the public — which we’ll explore in more detail a little later this morning.

But reading this amazing reporting, I found myself thinking, not of Main Justice, but of Capitol Hill. Among the first priorities of the new House Republican majority was the creation of a special committee that would investigate the political “weaponization” of the federal government.

The wonders of nature, 1953 by Rene Magritte

I’m sure the Republican clown show will continue with their crazy conspiracy theories and not the real thing.  Then, there’s the FBI agent that took money from Oleg Deripaska.  This is the same Russian oligarch connected with Paul Manafort.  This is from Insider.  “Exclusive: Inside the extramarital affair and cash-fueled double life of Charles McGonigal, the FBI spy hunter charged with taking Russian money”. Mattathias Schwartz has the byline.

Federal prosecutors charged McGonigal with money laundering and making false statements in his mandatory employee disclosures to the FBI. He was also charged with taking money from a representative of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who McGonigal had once himself investigated, in violation of US economic sanctions against Russia; the indictment alleges that Deripaska paid him to investigate a rival oligarch. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

McGonigal was not an ordinary FBI agent. He led the WikiLeaks investigation into Chelsea Manning as well as a search for a Chinese mole inside the CIA. While working at FBI headquarters in Washington, he played a role in opening the investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia contacts that was later dubbed Operation Crossfire Hurricane.

But it was McGonigal’s final FBI job, special agent in charge of the counterintelligence division at the FBI’s New York field office, that was his most important assignment at the bureau. It was his job to find enemy spies and recruit his own.

“New York City is a global center for espionage and counterespionage,” says one senior law-enforcement insider who was closely familiar with the specifics of McGonigal’s role. “You have visits from foreign business elites and politicians. You have the United Nations. You have ethnic populations. Who runs the pitches to recruit spies from all those other countries? The FBI. So the access you get in that job is extraordinary. It’s almost bottomless. So if you’re running FBI counterintelligence in New York, you can get your hands on almost anything you want, and you don’t always have to make excuses for why you’re asking for it.”

The impact of the McGonigal indictments is still rippling out through the law-enforcement world. The charges accuse an official at the heart of the Trump-Russia investigation of secretly selling his own access, accepting bundles of cash in surreptitious meetings with someone who had ties to Albanian intelligence. McGonigal, a top-tier member of the city’s law-enforcement community, a man who had fully integrated himself into a powerful circle of trust where favors get swapped and sensitive intelligence gets circulated, is accused of himself being on the take. If the indictments are correct, McGonigal was leading a dangerous double life, right under the noses of some of the sharpest cops in America.

But what might be most striking about the case against McGonigal is how cheaply he is alleged to have rented out his law-enforcement powers. One indictment suggests that for $225,000, McGonigal’s associates got him to lobby the Albanian prime minister about the awarding of oil-field drilling licenses and then open an FBI investigation connected to a US citizen who had lobbied for one of the prime minister’s political opponents. Arranging a meeting for an executive from a Bosnian pharmaceutical company with a US official at the United Nations was said to be a pricier item — $500,000, one indictment claims. It is unclear whether that money ever materialized.

Sparky’s Dream,Vicky Knowles, 2008

You can read more at the link. And of course, the fall out from the Secret Service and the Trump Supporters in their ranks continues to gather headlines. This is from a month ago.  “Joe Biden Reportedly Struggled to ‘Trust’ Some of His Secret Service Detail Who Were Donald Trump Supporters.”

A new book, The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House by Chris Whipple, is alleging that Joe Biden has “trust” issues with several members of his security detail. “A bigger problem was Biden’s discomfort with his Secret Service detail; some of them were MAGA sympathizers. He didn’t trust them,” Whipple wrote in an excerpt obtained by The Hill.

Joe Biden was used to a smaller group of Secret Service agents when he was vice president under Barack Obama’s administration and suddenly felt like he was surrounded by people on the Trump train, according to Whipple. The feeling was that “the Secret Service is full of white ex-cops from the South who tend to be deeply conservative.” The author wrote, “Surrounded by a new phalanx of strangers, Biden couldn’t help but wonder, Do these people really want me here?

I can only imagine what the next few years will be like.  This is especially true now that Trump has been let back on to major Social Media Sites.  I’ll be really surprised if CSPAN doesn’t have trouble getting the righ access to these hearings too.  Welcome to Surreal Dystopia Story Time.  I’ll take Drag queens any time over Fish Tales.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads

Good Morning!!

two-acrobats-with-a-dog-by-pablo-picasso-1905-m-g-whittingham

Two Acrobats with a Dog, by Pablo Picasso, 1905

In my Tuesday post, I wrote about the right wing media attacks on Hillary Clinton after Bill Barr’s handpicked special counsel (aka attack dog) John Durham made public a court filing that implied that the Clinton campaign had somehow spied on Donald Trump in 2016. I posted a NYT piece by Charlie Savage that explained why the charges were nonsensical.

This insanity has continued all this week, and yesterday even Durham pointed out that the wingers were wrong. Charlie Savage at The New York Times: Durham Distances Himself From Furor in Right-Wing Media Over Filing.

John H. Durham, the Trump-era special counsel scrutinizing the investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference, distanced himself on Thursday from false reports by right-wing news outlets that a motion he recently filed said Hillary Clinton’s campaign had paid to spy on Trump White House servers.

Citing a barrage of such reports on Fox News and elsewhere based on the prosecutor’s Feb. 11 filing, defense lawyers for a Democratic-linked cybersecurity lawyer, Michael Sussmann, have accused the special counsel of including unnecessary and misleading information in filings “plainly intended to politicize this case, inflame media coverage and taint the jury pool.”

In a filing on Thursday, Mr. Durham defended himself, saying those accusations about his intentions were “simply not true.” He said he had “valid and straightforward reasons” for including the information in the Feb. 11 filing that set off the firestorm, while disavowing responsibility for how certain news outlets had interpreted and portrayed it.

“If third parties or members of the media have overstated, understated or otherwise misinterpreted facts contained in the government’s motion, that does not in any way undermine the valid reasons for the government’s inclusion of this information,” he wrote.

But even as he did not acknowledge any problem with how he couched his filing last week, Mr. Durham said he would make future filings under seal if they contained “information that legitimately gives rise to privacy issues or other concerns that might overcome the presumption of public access to judicial documents.”

Former President Donald J. Trump has seized on the inaccurate reporting to declare that there is now “indisputable evidence” of a Clinton campaign conspiracy against him — and to suggest that there ought to be executions. Mr. Trump, Fox News hosts and others have also criticized mainstream journalists for not covering the purported revelation.

Yesterday, Clinton herself spoke out in an aside in a speech at the New York Democratic Convention.

That was a clear warning that the nonsense is approaching libel territory. Ted Johnson at Deadline: Hillary Clinton On Fox News’ Amplification Of “Spying” Claims: “They’re Getting Awfully Close To Actual Malice In Their Attacks.”

Hillary Clinton went on offense against a fusillade of attacks from Donald Trump and his defenders among rightward talk hosts and media outlets, as she took aim specifically at Fox News.

“Fox leads the charge in their accusations against me, counting on their audience to fall for it again,” Clinton said in a speech before New York state Democrats. “And as an aside, they are getting awfully close to actual malice in their attacks.”

Last week, John Durham, the special counsel who has been investigating the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, raised some new allegations in a court filing. Conservative talk hosts seized on it as a bombshell that showed that Clinton’s campaign spied on Trump. The New York Post had a cover on Tuesday with the headline “Hillary the Spy,” and a Fox News chyron read “Hillary Is The Real Insurrection” during Jesse Watters’ show.

Edvard Munch, In the Kennel

In the Kennel, by Edvard Munch

In fact, according to multiple fact checking stories from outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN, Durham’s allegations, which involve an internet security expert working for the U.S. government and a law firm that did work for Clinton’s campaign, were old news, not as significant as they seem, or potentially misleading. Yet media on the right ran with it, characterizing it as a Watergate-level scandal, or even greater.

A FoxNews.com story claimed that Durham alleged that lawyers from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016 had paid to “infiltrate” servers belonging to Trump Tower and later the White House, in order to establish an ‘inference’ and ‘narrative’ to bring to federal government agencies linking Donald Trump to Russia. The word “infiltrate,” however, comes not from Durham’s filing but from commentary from an ally to Trump, Kash Patel.

Read more on the Hillary hate story:

Gregory Krieg at CNN: Hillary Clinton sidesteps Cuomo, hits out at Fox News and GOP lies in New York speech.

Oliver Darcy at CNN: Sean Hannity dares Hillary Clinton to sue as she warns network’s dishonest coverage gets ‘close to actual malice.’

Factchecker Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post: How the right embraced the false claim that Hillary Clinton ‘spied’ on President Donald Trump.

Erick Boelert writes that John Durham is “Ken Starr II”: The media and Durham’s corrupt “spying” investigation.

In other news, the situation in Ukraine is getting more and more dangerous. Here are the latest stories this morning:

Interesting analysis of Putin from Anton Troianovski at The New York Times: Vladimir Putin: Crafty Strategist or Aggrieved and Reckless Leader?

MOSCOW — At this moment of crescendo for the Ukraine crisis, it all comes down to what kind of leader President Vladimir V. Putin is.

In Moscow, many analysts remain convinced that the Russian president is essentially rational, and that the risks of invading Ukraine would be so great that his huge troop buildup makes sense only as a very convincing bluff. But some also leave the door open to the idea that he has fundamentally changed amid the pandemic, a shift that may have left him more paranoid, more aggrieved and more reckless.

Interior with dog, 1934, Henri MatisseThe 20-foot-long table that Mr. Putin has used to socially distance himself this month from European leaders flying in for crisis talks symbolizes, to some longtime observers, his detachment from the rest of the world. For almost two years, Mr. Putin has ensconced himself in a virus-free cocoon unlike that of any Western leader, with state television showing him holding most key meetings by teleconference alone in a room and keeping even his own ministers at a distance on the rare occasions that he summons them in person.

Speculation over a leader’s mental state is always fraught, but as Mr. Putin’s momentous decision approaches, Moscow commentators puzzling over what he might do next in Ukraine are finding some degree of armchair psychology hard to avoid.

“There’s this impression of irritation, of a lack of interest, of an unwillingness to delve into anything new,” Ekaterina Schulmann, a political scientist and former member of Mr. Putin’s human rights council, said of the president’s recent public appearances. “The public is being shown that he has been in practical isolation, with ever fewer breaks, since the spring of 2020.”

Could Putin be nearly as crazy as Trump?

A large-scale invasion of Ukraine, many analysts point out, would be an enormous escalation compared with any of the actions that Mr. Putin has taken before. In 2014, the Kremlin’s subterfuge allowed Russian forces stripped of identifying markings to capture Crimea without firing a single shot. The proxy war that Mr. Putin fomented in Ukraine’s east allowed him to deny being a party to the conflict.

“Starting a full-scale war is completely not in Putin’s interest,” said Anastasia Likhacheva, the dean of world economy and international affairs at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. “It is very difficult for me to find any rational explanation for a desire to carry out such a campaign.”

Even if Mr. Putin were able to take control of Ukraine, she noted, such a war would accomplish the opposite of what the president says he wants: rolling back the NATO presence in Eastern Europe. In the case of a war, the NATO allies would be “more unified than ever,” Ms. Likhacheva said, and they would be likely to deploy powerful new weaponry along Russia’s western frontiers.

CNBC: Russia now has over 150,000 troops near Ukraine, U.S. official says, amid reports of more attacks.

The Ukrainian government and Russian state-controlled media on Friday exchanged fresh accusations of cease-fire violations near the country’s eastern border.

Andre Utter and his dog, by Suzanne Valadon, 1932

Andre Utter and his dog, by Suzanne Valadon, 1932

In a statement on Facebook, the Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation said 45 cease-fire violations had been recorded in eastern Ukraine on Friday as of 2 p.m. local time. The JFO alleged that 34 of those violations included the use of weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements, which Russia, Ukraine and pro-Moscow separatists signed in 2014 and 2015 to prevent a war in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russian state-controlled media agency RIA claimed on Friday that Ukrainian government forces had launched three shelling strikes against Russian-backed separatists.

CNBC was unable to verify either report.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday said its mission in Ukraine had reported almost 600 cease-fire violations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, substantially higher than the 153 violations reported during the previous period.

There’s much more at the link.

CBS News: Shelling intensifies in eastern Ukraine amid concern Russia’s creating a pretext for an invasion.

Kyiv — Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian separatists they’re fighting in the country’s east reported a second day of increased shelling on Friday, as the leaders of the rebels’ self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics accused the Ukrainian government of planning an imminent attack. The rebel administrations in the two breakaway regions announced plans to evacuate thousands of civilians into neighboring Russia.

Western leaders say an escalation in the fighting in Ukraine‘s Donbas region — which has simmered for almost eight years — could be part of Russian efforts to create a “false-flag” pretext to invade.

“Ukraine is not your enemy, but those who want to defend you against Ukraine are. Do not heed rumours about some offensive operation,” Ukraine’s defense minister said in a speech Friday. “We have no intentions to conduct any force actions towards the ORDLO (Donbas) or the Crimea. At all. We will move by the political and diplomatic way. Because there are our citizens and we will not put them in danger.”  

The Ukrainian government’s reassurance didn’t appear to be calming nerves in the rebel-held region, however, with social media photos purporting to show people lining up to take money out of banks.

Read more at CBS News.

Two Dogs, Malmo Konsthall, Sweden, 1911

Two Dogs, Malmo Konsthall, Sweden, 1911

Reuters: Rebels announce evacuation from east Ukraine.

MOSCOW/KYIV, Feb 18 (Reuters) – Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine said on Friday they planned to evacuate their breakaway region’s residents to Russia, a shock turn in a conflict the West believes Moscow plans to use to justify an all-out invasion of its neighbour.

Announcing the move on social media, Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said Russia had agreed to provide accommodation for those who leave. Women, children and the elderly should be evacuated first. The other self-proclaimed region, Luhansk, made a similar announcement.

Millions of civilians are believed to live in the two rebel-held regions of eastern Ukraine; most are Russian speakers and many have already been granted Russian citizenship.

The eastern Ukraine conflict zone saw the most intense artillery bombardment for years on Friday, with the Kyiv government and the separatists trading blame. Western countries have said they think the shelling, which began on Thursday and intensified in its second day, is part of a pretext to invade.

Washington said Russia – which says it started drawing down troops near Ukraine this week – had instead done the opposite: ramping up the force menacing its neighbour to between 169,000 and 190,000 troops, from 100,000 at the end of January.

“This is the most significant military mobilisation in Europe since the Second World War,” U.S. ambassador Michael Carpenter told a meeting at the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

One more from Foreign Policy: Russia Planning Post-Invasion Arrest and Assassination Campaign in Ukraine, U.S. Officials Say.

The United States has obtained intelligence that Russia may target prominent political opponents, anti-corruption activists, and Belarusian and Russian dissidents living in exile should it move forward with plans to invade Ukraine, as U.S. President Joe Biden warned on Thursday that the threat of a renewed Russian invasion of the country remains “very high” and could take place within the next several days. 

Four people familiar with U.S. intelligence said that Russia has drafted lists of Ukrainian political figures and other prominent individuals to be targeted for either arrest or assassination in the event of a Russian assault on Ukraine.

Cape Cod Evening, Edward Hopper

Cape Cod Evening, Edward Hopper

A fifth person, a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the United States has been downgrading its intelligence classification regarding threats to specific groups within Ukraine to share this information with Ukrainian government officials and other partners in the region positioned to help….

“As we’ve seen in the past, we expect Russia will try to force cooperation through intimidation and repression,” said a U.S. official who spoke on background on condition of anonymity. 

“These acts, which in past Russian operations have included targeted killings, kidnappings/forced disappearances, detentions, and the use of torture, would likely target those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons,” the official said. 

The Biden administration has also been startled by how formalized the lists are, which appear to target anyone who could challenge the Russian agenda. Five Eyes intelligence partners have also tracked Russian intelligence agencies, such as the FSB and GRU, building up target and kill lists. One congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the moves were typical of Russian doctrine, using armed forces to seize military objectives, while special operators shape the conflict and intelligence operators come into the country to get rid of opposition elements. 

I expect there will be more developments in the Ukraine story today and over the weekend. 

What are your thoughts? What other stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Francine van Hove, Plasirs du Matin, French, 1942

Francine van Hove, Plasirs du Matin, “Morning Pleasures,” French, 1942

There may be some movement in the Ukraine crisis. The AP reported this morning that some Russian troops are being pulled back and returned to their bases. Later the story was updated to report that Putin wants to negotiate: Putin: Russia ready to discuss confidence-building measures.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Moscow is ready for talks with the U.S. and NATO on limits for missile deployments and military transparency.

Speaking after talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Putin said the U.S. and NATO rejected Moscow’s demand to keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out of NATO, halt weapons deployments near Russian borders and roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe.

They agreed to discuss a range of security measures that Russia had previously proposed.

Putin said that Russia is ready to engage in talks on limits on the deployment of intermediate range missiles in Europe, transparency of drills and other confidence-building measures but emphasized the need for the West to heed Russia’s main demands.

The statement followed the Russian Defense Ministry’s announced a partial pullback of troops after military drills, adding to hopes that the Kremlin may not be planning to invade Ukraine imminently. The Russian military gave no details on where the troops were pulling back from, or how many.

From The Washington Post: Russia says some troops withdrawing from Ukraine’s border; NATO chief notes ‘cautious optimism’ but sees no de-escalation yet.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday he sees reason for “cautious optimism” after Moscow signaled willingness to continue talks to resolve the crisis over Ukraine, and Russia said some of its troops were returning to base. But the NATO chief noted no signs of Russian de-escalation “on the ground.”

“There are signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels ahead of meetings with NATO defense ministers Wednesday. “There are grounds for cautious optimism. So far, we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground.”

After Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled Monday that he was open to diplomacy to resolve the crisis between Russia and NATO over Ukraine’s bid to join the alliance, Moscow sent a barrage of contradictory signals Tuesday — announcing that some Russian forces were being sent home after completing drills, even as major military exercises continued near Ukraine.

Putin met German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the Kremlin on Tuesday, the latest in a string of Western leaders urging the Russian president to de-escalate the most serious crisis in Russia’s relations with NATO since the end of the Cold War.

U.S. officials have warned that Putin has the final military pieces in position to launch a major attack within days if he chooses to do so.

“We have not seen any de-escalation on the ground, no signs of reduced Russian military presence on the border with Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said Tuesday. He said NATO is looking for a “significant and enduring” withdrawal of Russian forces, troops and heavy equipment from areas bordering Ukraine as a sign of real de-escalation.

Coffee, by Edward Hopper

Coffee, by Edward Hopper

The big news yesterday was about the Trump’s accounting firm Mazars dumping him as a client. The New York Times: Accounting Firm Cuts Ties With Trump and Retracts Financial Statements.

Donald J. Trump’s longtime accounting firm cut ties with him and his family business last week, saying it could no longer stand behind a decade of annual financial statements it prepared for the Trump Organization, court documents show.

The decision, which was disclosed to the company in a Feb. 9 letter from the accounting firm, comes amid criminal and civil investigations into whether Mr. Trump illegally inflated the value of his assets. The firm, Mazars USA, compiled the financial statements based on information the former president and his company provided.

The letter instructed the Trump Organization to essentially retract the documents, known as statements of financial condition, from 2011 to 2020. In the letter, Mazars noted that the firm had not “as a whole” found material discrepancies between the information the Trump Organization provided and the actual value of Mr. Trump’s assets. But given what it called “the totality of circumstances” — including Mazars’ own investigation — the letter directed the Trump Organization to notify anyone who received the statements that they should no longer rely on them.

The statements, which Mr. Trump used to secure loans, are at the center of the two law enforcement investigations into whether Mr. Trump exaggerated the value of his properties to defraud his lenders into providing him the best possible loan terms.

Mazars’ acknowledgment that the statements were fundamentally flawed was a potential blow to the Trump Organization as it attempts to fend off the long-running scrutiny of its finances. And for Mr. Trump, whose personal finances are intertwined with those of his family business and who has long faced questions about his taxes, Mazars is the latest in a long line of companies to break with him over the last year, following in the path of several banks, insurers and lawyers.

The disclosures about Mazars’ work for Mr. Trump appeared in new court documents filed by the New York attorney general, Letitia James, who is seeking to question the former president and two of his adult children under oath as part of her civil investigation.

A couple of expert reactions to this story:

I’m sure you’ve heard about the legal filing by John Durham, the special counsel appointed by Bill Barr to investigate the Russia investigation, that implied some kind of sinister activity by the Clinton campaign in 2016. The right wing media has been going nuts over this, but it’s basically meaningless. Charlie Savage explains at The New York Times: Court Filing Started a Furor in Right-Wing Outlets, but Their Narrative Is Off Track.

When John H. Durham, the Trump-era special counsel investigating the inquiry into Russia’s 2016 election interference, filed a pretrial motion on Friday night, he slipped in a few extra sentences that set off a furor among right-wing outlets about purported spying on former President Donald J. Trump.

But the entire narrative appeared to be mostly wrong or old news — the latest example of the challenge created by a barrage of similar conspiracy theories from Mr. Trump and his allies.

Upon close inspection, these narratives are often based on a misleading presentation of the facts or outright misinformation. They also tend to involve dense and obscure issues, so dissecting them requires asking readers to expend significant mental energy and time — raising the question of whether news outlets should even cover such claims. Yet Trump allies portray the news media as engaged in a cover-up if they don’t.

The latest example began with the motion Mr. Durham filed in a case he has brought against Michael A. Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer with links to the Democratic Party. The prosecutor has accused Mr. Sussmann of lying during a September 2016 meeting with an F.B.I. official about Mr. Trump’s possible links to Russia.

The filing was ostensibly about potential conflicts of interest. But it also recounted a meeting at which Mr. Sussmann had presented other suspicions to the government. In February 2017, Mr. Sussmann told the C.I.A. about odd internet data suggesting that someone using a Russian-made smartphone may have been connecting to networks at Trump Tower and the White House, among other places.

Mr. Sussmann had obtained that information from a client, a technology executive named Rodney Joffe. Another paragraph in the court filing said that Mr. Joffe’s company, Neustar, had helped maintain internet-related servers for the White House, and that he and his associates “exploited this arrangement” by mining certain records to gather derogatory information about Mr. Trump.

Mary Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed, 1897

Mary Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed, 1897

The right wingers are thrilled by this story, but it’s complete bullshit.

The conservative media also skewed what the filing said. For example, Mr. Durham’s filing never used the word “infiltrate.” And it never claimed that Mr. Joffe’s company was being paid by the Clinton campaign.

Most important, contrary to the reporting, the filing never said the White House data that came under scrutiny was from the Trump era. According to lawyers for David Dagon, a Georgia Institute of Technology data scientist who helped develop the Yota analysis, the data — so-called DNS logs, which are records of when computers or smartphones have prepared to communicate with servers over the internet — came from Barack Obama’s presidency.

“What Trump and some news outlets are saying is wrong,” said Jody Westby and Mark Rasch, both lawyers for Mr. Dagon. “The cybersecurity researchers were investigating malware in the White House, not spying on the Trump campaign, and to our knowledge all of the data they used was nonprivate DNS data from before Trump took office.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Mr. Joffe said that “contrary to the allegations in this recent filing,” he was apolitical, did not work for any political party, and had lawful access under a contract to work with others to analyze DNS data — including from the White House — for the purpose of hunting for security breaches or threats.

Marcy Wheeler has been covering this story since the beginning. You can read what she has to say in these posts at her Emptywheel blog:

John Durham, Ask Not For Whom The Statute of Limitation Tolls…

John Durham Chose To Meet With John Ratcliffe Rather Than Witnesses Necessary To His Investigation.

Donald Trump Suggested Michael Sussmann Should Be Killed Because Rodney Joffee “Spied” On Barack Obama.

This is a horrific story about a possible hate crime from The New York Times: Screams That ‘Went Quiet’: Prosecutors’ Account of Chinatown Killing.

Police officers who responded to a 911 call about a disturbance in a Lower Manhattan building on Sunday heard a woman screaming when they reached the sixth floor, but the door to the apartment where the screams had come from was locked.

Morning Coffee, by Harry Roseland

Morning Coffee, by Harry Roseland

As police struggled with the door, at first they still heard her calls for help, but “then she went quiet,” a prosecutor, Dafna Yoran, said in a Manhattan Criminal Court hearing on Monday night. Another voice emerged, sounding like a woman and telling them, “‘We don’t need the police here — go away.’”

When a specialized police unit arrived and broke down the door, they found Christina Yuna Lee, 35, dead in her bathtub with more than 40 stab wounds. The second voice, Ms. Yoran said, was actually that of Assamad Nash, who had followed the victim into the building on Chrystie Street in Chinatown, forced his way into her home and stabbed her.

When officers broke into the apartment, the police found Mr. Nash hiding under a bed and the knife believed to be the murder weapon hidden behind a dresser, prosecutors said.

It’s not yet clear why Ms. Lee was targeted, but the Asian community in New York is terrified.

Mr. Nash, 25, whose last known address was a men’s homeless shelter in the Bowery, was arraigned on first-degree charges of murder, burglary and sexually motivated burglary. A judge ordered him held without bail, and prosecutors said he was facing a sentence of up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

Though the authorities have not determined that Ms. Lee was targeted because of her ethnicity, her killing stoked fears in the city’s Asian community, which was already on edge after a rise in attacks during the pandemic.

Her killing also fit a pattern that has become an unsettlingly common feature of the pandemic in New York City: a seemingly unprovoked attack in which the person charged is a homeless man. In many neighborhoods in Manhattan, residents have expressed growing concern about homeless people, some of whom seem to be struggling with mental illness, menacing and harassing passers-by.

Ms. Lee, who graduated from Rutgers University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in art history, worked as a creative producer for Splice, an online music platform based in New York City. The company said in a statement that it was heartbroken over her “senseless” death.

Read the rest at the NYT.

One more story on the trucker blockade story from The Washington Post: ‘Freedom Convoy,’ police face off near U.S.-Canada border crossings as Trudeau invokes Emergencies Act.

Canadian police tried to clear protesters near crossings at the U.S.-Canada border, making arrests as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the country’s Emergencies Act on Monday.

The-Morning-Coffee, by Charles Hawthorne

The Morning Coffee, by Charles Hawthorne

Standoffs between police and protesters in Coutts, Alberta, and Surrey, B.C., persisted overnight after authorities had earlier reopened the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest land border crossing and a key trade artery connecting Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit.

Trudeau on Monday became the first Canadian leader to invoke the act, under pressure to quell the chaos that has spiraled from the self-styled “Freedom Convoy” demonstrations against vaccine mandates and coronavirus restrictions.

The law, passed in 1988, will give police “more tools” to bring order to areas where public assemblies “constitute illegal and dangerous activities,” he said. Financial institutions, meanwhile, will get sweeping powers to halt the flow of funding to the Freedom Convoy protests.

Critics of Trudeau’s move quickly spoke out against the Liberal government. The nonprofit Canadian Civil Liberties Association said using the law, which gives the federal government broad powers, such as the authority to freeze financial accounts without court orders, was unjustified. “Emergency legislation should not be normalized. It threatens our democracy and our civil liberties,” it said in a statement.

The protests that began with truckers in Ottawa in late January have rippled across the country, choking off several U.S.-Canada border crossings, and inspiring protests against pandemic restrictions across the world. The Ambassador Bridge blockade lasted nearly a week, disrupting U.S. supply chains and millions of dollars in trade.

There’s a lot happening in the news today. What stories have you been following?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1975

Peter Saul, Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1975

The mainstream media, led by The New York Times, is writing the Democrat’s obituary after Terry McAuliffe’s loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race, but I don’t feel like writing about that. I have no idea whether the loss will affect the 2022 midterms. I don’t really want to think about it, except that I hope the Democrats will finally do something about the filibuster. There has been some talk of changing Senate rules for voting rights legislation, after Republicans once again blocked debate on the Voting Rights Act.

The New York Times: Republicans Block a Second Voting Rights Bill in the Senate.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked legislation to restore parts of the landmark Voting Rights Act weakened by Supreme Court rulings, making it the second major voting bill to be derailed by a G.O.P. filibuster in the past two weeks.

Despite receiving majority support, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named for the civil rights activist and congressman who died last year, fell nine votes short of the 60 required to advance over Republican opposition.

In the aftermath of the defeat, Senate Democrats said they would intensify internal discussions about altering filibuster rules or making other changes to allow them to move forward on voting rights legislation despite deep resistance by Republicans, who have now thwarted four efforts to take up such measures.

“Just because Republicans will not join us doesn’t mean Democrats will stop fighting,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, after the vote. “We will continue to fight for voting rights and find an alternative path forward.”

Yesterday the Federal Reserve announced plans to deal with inflation. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been affected by the rising food prices. Even though we’re getting the biggest Social Security increase in a very long time, it isn’t going to be enough. The New York Times: Fed Takes First Step Toward End of Pandemic Measures.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday took its first step toward withdrawing support for the American economy, saying that it would begin to wind down a stimulus program that’s been in place since early in the pandemic as the economy heals and prices climb at an uncomfortably rapid pace.

Peter Saul’s Columbus Discovers America, 1992-1995, points the way to the painter’s mature work, distinguished by provocative subject matter and a cartoon-based style.

Peter Saul’s Columbus Discovers America, 1992-1995, points the way to the painter’s mature work, distinguished by provocative subject matter and a cartoon-based style.

Central bank policymakers struck a slightly more wary tone about inflation, which has jumped this year amid booming consumer demand for goods and supply snarls. While officials still expect quick cost increases to fade, how quickly that will happen is unclear.

Fed officials want to be prepared for any outcome at a time when the economy’s trajectory is marked by grave uncertainty. They are not sure when prices will begin to calm down, to what extent the labor market will recover the millions of jobs still missing after last year’s economic slump, or when they will begin to raise interest rates — which remain at rock-bottom to keep borrowing and spending cheap and easy.

So the central bank’s decision to dial back its other policy tool, large-scale bond purchases that keep money flowing through financial markets, was meant to give the Fed flexibility it might need to react to a shifting situation. Officials on Wednesday laid out a plan to slow their $120 billion in monthly Treasury bond and mortgage-backed security purchases by $15 billion a month starting in November. The purchases can lower long term interest rates and prod investors into investments that would spur growth.

Assuming that pace holds, the bond buying would stop altogether around the time of the central bank’s meeting next June — potentially putting the Fed in a position to lift interest rates by the middle of next year.

John Durham’s “investigation” into the origins of the FBI/DOJ investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia is beginning to look like a real witch hunt. The New York Times: Authorities Arrest Analyst Who Contributed to Steele Dossier.

Federal authorities on Thursday arrested an analyst who in 2016 gathered leads about possible links between Donald J. Trump and Russia for what turned out to be Democratic-funded opposition research, according to people familiar with the matter.

The arrest of the analyst, Igor Danchenko, is part of the special counsel inquiry led by John H. Durham, who was appointed by the Trump administration to scrutinize the Russia investigation for any wrongdoing, the people said.

Mr. Danchenko, was the primary researcher of the so-called Steele dossier, a compendium of rumors and unproven assertions suggesting that Mr. Trump and his 2016 campaign were compromised by and conspiring with Russian intelligence officials in Moscow’s covert operation to help him defeat Hillary Clinton.

The people familiar with the matter spoke on condition of anonymity because the indictment of Mr. Danchenko had yet to be unsealed. A spokesman for Mr. Durham did not respond to a request for comment.

Peter Saul, Quack-Quack, Trump, 2017

Peter Saul, Quack-Quack, Trump, 2017

So this information was leaked without any indication of what the basis of the arrest was. What laws did  Danchenko break? The last Durham arrest was hinky too.

The charges against Mr. Danchenko follow Mr. Durham’s indictment in September of a cybersecurity lawyer, Michael Sussmann, which accused him of lying to the F.B.I. about who he was working for when he brought concerns about possible Trump-Russia links to the bureau in September 2016.

Mr. Sussmann, who then also worked for Perkins Coie, was relaying concerns developed by data scientists about odd internet logs they said suggested the possibility of a covert communications channel between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-linked financial institution. He has denied lying to the F.B.I. about who he was working for.

Today is the hearing about whether Trump has any right to claim executive privilege over documents related to the January 6 insurrection. CNN: High-stakes hearing Thursday in Trump effort to block release of presidential documents.

The power Donald Trump holds as a former president will be put to the test on Thursday, as a federal judge is set to hear arguments on whether Trump can keep secret records from his White House about his attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump has asked the DC District Court to block the National Archives from giving more than 700 pages of documents to the House Select Committee investigating January 6. He’s claimed the House’s investigation is illegitimate, and that his role as a former President should give him control over reviewing and deciding upon access to the records.

The hearing may be the pivotal moment in a potentially historic legal fight about the authority of a former president, the House’s investigative power and the reach of executive privilege….

In the short term, the case also may have huge implications for the bipartisan House investigation, which is pushing for records and witnesses before the midterm elections take place next year. Without access to the documents, the House could be hampered significantly in its fact-finding.

In court, the House has cast its investigation as one of its most critical tasks in history. “In 2021, for the first time since the Civil War, the Nation did not experience a peaceful transfer of power,” lawyers for the House wrote over the weekend. “A peaceful transfer of power from one President to another is crucial to the continuation of our democratic government. It is difficult to imagine a more critical subject for Congressional investigation, and Mr. Trump’s arguments cannot overcome that pressing legislative need.

Hitler's Bunker, Peter Saul

Hitler’s Bunker, Peter Saul

This happened yesterday in the trial of the Charlottesville rally organizers. Buzzfeed News: A Renowned Holocaust Historian Testified That Charlottesville Rally Organizers’ Messages Were A “Call To Arms”

Neo-Nazis Christopher Cantwell and Matthew Heimbach on Wednesday seemed almost to forget for a moment that they were in a court of law and defendants in a civil case that could potentially bankrupt them and take down the white nationalist groups with which they’re associated.

“What’s your favorite Holocaust joke?” Cantwell, who is representing himself in court, asked Heimbach, who was called to the stand by the plaintiffs as a witness, during cross-examination….

The strategy behind Cantwell’s line of questioning wasn’t immediately clear, and attorneys for the plaintiffs interjected before any jokes were uttered. But Cantwell, who had previously gone on bizarre courtroom tangents, and Heimbach spent nearly an hour talking about their adoration for Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler, the dictator’s book Mein Kampf, and their belief that the Holocaust was a hoax.

Hitler, Heimbach testified, “did nothing wrong” in murdering some 6 million Jews.

The exchange between the two neo-Nazis contrasted sharply with the testimony by Deborah Lipstadt, an acclaimed Holocaust scholar and professor of modern Jewish history at Emory University.


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Claude Monet, Water Lillies, 1916

Here we go folks. Trump is not just laying the groundwork for martial law; he now wants to delay the election.

Associated Press: Trump floats November election delay – but he can’t do that.

President Donald Trump is for the first time floating a “delay” to the Nov. 3 presidential election, as he makes unsubstantiated allegations that increased mail-in voting will result in fraud.

The dates of presidential elections — the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in every fourth year — are enshrined in federal law and would require an act of Congress to change. The Constitution makes no provisions for a delay to the Jan. 20, 2021 presidential inauguration.

Still, the mere suggestion of the delay was extraordinary in a nation that has held itself up as a beacon to the world for its history of peaceful transfer of power.

Trump tweeted Thursday: “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

CNN: Trump floats delaying election despite lack of authority to do so.

President Donald Trump explicitly floated delaying November’s presidential election on Thursday, lending extraordinary voice to persistent concerns that he would seek to circumvent voting in a contest where he currently trails his opponent by double digits.

Trump has no authority to delay an election, and the Constitution gives Congress the power to set the date for voting. Yet Trump’s message provides an opening — long feared by Democrats — that both he and his supporters might refuse to accept the results of the presidential results.

But in his tweet on Thursday morning — coming 96 days before the election and minutes after the federal government reported the worst economic contraction in recorded history — Trump offered the suggestion because he claimed without evidence the contest will be flawed.

Trump has previously sought to stoke fear and lay the groundwork to question the election’s results by promoting the idea that mail-in voting leads to widespread fraud and a “rigged” election. Democrats have warned that his efforts are meant both to suppress voting and to provide a reason to refuse to leave office should he lose.

Dove 1949 Pablo Picasso

Bill Barr appears to be planning an “October surprise.” The Washington Post: Barr says he won’t wait until after election to reveal Durham’s findings. Democrats fear a campaign-altering surprise.

Attorney General William P. Barr reiterated this week that he will not wait until after November’s election to release whatever U.S. Attorney John Durham finds in his examination of the FBI’s 2016 investigation into President Trump’s campaign, raising fears among Democrats that Barr and Durham could upend the presidential race with a late revelation.

Republicans have been eagerly awaiting Durham’s findings — hopeful that the prosecutor Barr handpicked last year to investigate the investigation of possible coordination between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia will validate their fierce criticisms of the bureau. Democrats, meanwhile, have worried that the Connecticut U.S. attorney is aiding a political stunt designed to undercut an investigation that dogged Trump’s presidency.

As the election draws near — and much of what Durham is doing remains a mystery — both sides have grown increasingly anxious, with liberals fretting over an October surprise, and Republicans wondering whether Durham’s work could push into the next administration.

Barr has repeatedly and stridently attacked the Russia investigation — saying that what happened to Trump was “one of the greatest travesties in American history” — while hinting vaguely that he is “troubled” by what he knows Durham has found. That has drawn accusations from Democrats and legal analysts that he is inappropriately talking about an ongoing case and prejudging its outcome.

“There’s a real danger, in fact an urgent threat, that anything the Department of Justice does will be timed to aid the president,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D- Conn.) said in an interview, adding, “Barr has proven ready, willing and able to distort, distract and deceive.”

I wonder if this news will affect Trump’s attitude about the pandemic?

Cain attended Trump’s hate rally in Tulsa and didn’t socially distance or wear a mask.

The Daily Beast: Herman Cain Dies After Month-Long Battle With Coronavirus.

Herman Cain, the one-time Republican presidential candidate and prominent businessman, has died a month after he was hospitalized with COVID-19.

“We knew when he was first hospitalized with COVID-19 that this was going to be a rough fight,” a post on his website said Thursday. “He had trouble breathing and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. We all prayed that the initial meds they gave him would get his breathing back to normal, but it became clear pretty quickly that he was in for a battle.”

The post said there were “hopeful indicators, including a mere five days ago when doctors told us they thought he would eventually recover, although it wouldn’t be quick.”

Vincent Van Gogh, Water Lillies 1887

However, he “never quite seemed to get to the point where the doctors could advance him to the recovery phase.” [….]

Cain was 74. He had been “pretty healthy” in recent years, the post said. However, he was considered at higher risk for severe coronavirus complications due to his history of cancer.

Whatever semblance of normal business remained on Capitol Hill during the COVID-19 outbreak was upended when U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Tyler Republican, disclosed Wednesday he tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

Several other members of Congress similarly tested positive to little fanfare over the last several months. But Gohmert’s diagnosis unleashed a commotion on Capitol Hill unlike anything the nearly two dozen staffers, consultants, lobbyists and members interviewed for this story could recall in recent memory.

Gohmert’s aversion to wearing masks and following other practices intended to mitigate the spread of the virus led many here to believe he might eventually contract the virus and potentially expose his colleagues. For months, members and staffers on the Hill watched with simmering fury as Gohmert and a handful of other Republican lawmakers made their rounds each day without masks.

“I just find it very disturbing that there are still many of my colleagues, especially in [the] Judiciary [Committee], that are just not following the attending physicians’ guidelines,” said U.S. Rep. Sylvia R. Garcia, a Houston Democrat who spent much of Tuesday in the same room as Gohmert in a hearing that included testimony from U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

“We’re going to have to find a way to make it a rule — and perhaps make it a rule with sanctions — because we’re spending too much time in Judiciary either arguing about it or talking about it, and we’re all on edge because they’re not wearing their masks,” she added. “I’m not sure why, but it’s just very disturbing.”

Water Lillies, Claude Monet

Gomert thinks wearing a mask is what made him sick.

“I can’t help but wonder if by keeping a mask on and keeping it in place, if I might have put some … of the virus on the mask and breathed it in. … But the reports of my demise are very premature,” he said. “If somebody feels strongly about everybody should wear a mask, then they shouldn’t be around people that don’t wear masks.”

What a moron.

California and Florida recorded record numbers of coronavirus deaths per day yesterday. CBS News:

Both California and Florida — the two states with the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country — set new records for single-day coronavirus deaths on Wednesday. The heartbreaking milestones come as the U.S. surpasses 150,000 deaths from the virus.

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday said 197 people in the state died from COVID-19 on Tuesday, the state’s highest in a single day. The state also reported 8,755 new positive cases.

According to Johns Hopkins University, California has the highest number of confirmed cases in the U.S., with at least 473,785. If California were its own country, it would have the fifth-highest number of cases behind only the U.S., Brazil, India and Russia….

Florida’s Department of Health confirmed Wednesday that 216 people died from the virus on Tuesday, a new single-day record for the state just one day after setting its previous record of 186 new deaths. An additional 9,448 people tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to at least 451,423 confirmed cases.

The Sunshine State surpassed New York — a former hot spot that reported six new COVID-19 fatalities Wednesday — in total confirmed cases Saturday. Many ICUs across the state are at or nearing capacity.

Picasso, Dove of Peace, 1949

I’ll end with this from The New York Times. John Lewis wrote an essay shortly before he died: Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation. Though I am gone, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

Head over to the NYT to read the rest.

Take care Sky Dancers, and please give a shout out in the comments if you can. I love you all and don’t know how I could have made through the past four years without your voices.