Thursday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

It’s another big news day. We lost Madeline Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State, paving the way for other women to meet with NATO allies and announce new sanctions on Russia. Afterwards, he will visit Poland and perhaps even go to the border of Ukraine. Today is the final day of the hearings on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Today will be dedicated to testimony from people who support or oppose her nomination. The Ukraine war continues, with reports of Ukrainian victories and numerous analyses of the failure of Putin’s efforts to subdue it’s neighbor. I’ll get to as much of this news as I can.

Madeline Albright

The Washington Post: Madeleine Albright, first female secretary of state, dies at 84.

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Madeline Albright

Madeleine K. Albright, who came to the United States as an 11-year-old political refu­gee from Czechoslovakia and decades later was an ardent and effective advocate against mass atrocities in Eastern Europe while serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the first female secretary of state, died March 23 in Washington. She was 84.

The cause was cancer, her family said in a statement.

Before Dr. Albright, the inner sanctum of U.S. foreign policymaking had been an almost exclusively male domain. In many ways, her politically fraught early life — enduring Nazi and communist repression — impelled her rise to the highest levels of international politics.

Her family, which was Jewish, narrowly avoided extermination at the hands of the Nazis. They fled to England shortly after Hitler’s tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Several of Dr. Albright’s relatives, including three grandparents, died in the concentration camps of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. After the war, Dr. Albright’s father, a Czech diplomat wary of communism, feared he would be arrested following a 1948 coup by hard-line Stalinists in Prague. The family escaped once more, this time to the United States.

Before she died, Albright wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, published Feb 3: Putin Is Making a Historic Mistake.

In early 2000, I became the first senior U.S. official to meet with Vladimir Putin in his new capacity as acting president of Russia. We in the Clinton administration did not know much about him at the time — just that he had started his career in the K.G.B. I hoped the meeting would help me take the measure of the man and assess what his sudden elevation might mean for U.S.-Russia relations, which had deteriorated amid the war in Chechnya. Sitting across a small table from him in the Kremlin, I was immediately struck by the contrast between Mr. Putin and his bombastic predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.

Obit Albright

FILE – U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright smiles as she shakes hands with Russian acting President Vladimir Putin, right, in Moscow’s Kremlin, on Feb. 2, 2000. 

Whereas Mr. Yeltsin had cajoled, blustered and flattered, Mr. Putin spoke unemotionally and without notes about his determination to resurrect Russia’s economy and quash Chechen rebels. Flying home, I recorded my impressions. “Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.”

I have been reminded in recent months of that nearly three-hour session with Mr. Putin as he has massed troops on the border with neighboring Ukraine. After calling Ukrainian statehood a fiction in a bizarre televised address, he issued a decree recognizing the independence of two separatist-held regions in Ukraine and sending troops there.

Mr. Putin’s revisionist and absurd assertion that Ukraine was “entirely created by Russia” and effectively robbed from the Russian empire is fully in keeping with his warped worldview. Most disturbing to me: It was his attempt to establish the pretext for a full-scale invasion.

Should he invade, it will be a historic error.

It sure looks like she was right. For more on Albright and Putin, check out this interview she gave to NPR’s All Things Considered in June, 2021: Madeleine Albright had a lot to say about Putin — and she didn’t mince words.

Biden in Europe

AP News: US to expand Russia sanctions, accept 100K Ukraine refugees.

BRUSSELS (AP) — The United States will expand its sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine, targeting members of the country’s parliament and the central bank’s gold reserves, the White House announced Thursday.

At the same time, Washington will increase its humanitarian assistance by welcoming 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and providing an additional $1 billion in food, medicine, water and other supplies.

The White House announced the initiatives as U.S. President Joe Biden and world leaders gathered in Brussels for a trio of summits in response to the Russian invasion, seeking new ways to limit the economic and security fallout from the conflict.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the day’s first meeting, an emergency NATO summit, where he called for “military assistance without limitations.” He pleaded for anti-air and anti-ship weapons, asking “is it possible to survive in such a war without this?”

A U.S. official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Western nations are discussing the possibility of providing anti-ship weapons amid concerns that Russia will launch amphibious assaults along the Black Sea coast.

There should be a lot more news about Biden’s trip in the course of the day today.

Ketanji Brown Jackson

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Republicans boast they have not pulled a Kavanaugh. In fact, they’ve treated Jackson worse.

Throughout her Senate confirmation hearings, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been a model of composure, which is made all the more impressive by the egregious behavior of some on the Republican side.

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Ketanji Brown Jackson

During the hearings, Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) have congratulated themselves for declining to treat Judge Jackson the way Democrats handled the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh. In fact, by the most relevant measures, Mr. Graham and a handful of other Judiciary Committee Republicans have handled themselves worse.

A woman credibly accused Mr. Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Democrats rightly asked the committee to investigate. After a superficial FBI review, Republicans pressed forward his nomination. In the end, it was Mr. Kavanaugh who behaved intemperately, personally attacking Democratic senators and revealing partisan instincts that raised questions about his commitment to impartiality.

By contrast, Republicans have smeared Judge Jackson based on obvious distortions of her record and the law. Mr. Graham and others painted her as a friend of child pornographers, despite the fact that her sentences in their cases reflect the judicial mainstream. Even conservative outlets had debunked these accusations before the hearings began. The more Judge Jackson argued for rationality in criminal sentencing — or attempted to, as Mr. Graham continually interrupted her — the more Mr. Graham ranted about the evils of child pornography, which Judge Jackson had already condemned repeatedly and her record plainly shows she takes seriously.

graham-berates-jackson-over-kavanaughMr. Graham also attacked Judge Jackson for her work defending Guantánamo Bay detainees, acknowledging that no one should judge her for representing unpopular defendants or advocating zealously for her clients — and then proceeding to do just that.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) used much of her time assailing those concerned about transgender people. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) attacked Judge Jackson for sitting on the board of Georgetown Day School, a D.C. private school, because he disapproves of its anti-racism curriculum, which Judge Jackson has never endorsed, let alone relied upon in a ruling. Similarly, several Republicans complained that outside pressure groups favored her nomination, even though she has no connection to them. These attacks by association underscored that they had little substance on which to criticize her.

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: Cory Booker Aside, Democrats Stranded Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The third day of hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court came to a close on Wednesday following another 10-plus hours filled with character smears about child pornography from Republican senators and more phony umbrage about some out of context quotes. At this point, with just one more day of testimony from outside witnesses remaining, it is worth noting that this entire circus is being performed to try to pick off two or three Republican votes—and perhaps one Democratic vote—that will probably not come. One of the reasons Sen. Lindsey Graham is quite literally spitting and screaming about amicus briefs filed on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees two decades ago, is because having voted to confirm Judge Jackson to a federal appeals court less than a year ago, he must manufacture sufficient umbrage to vote against her now. Happily for Sen. Graham, time has gradually reduced him to a pile of free floating umbrage held together by hair.

If we can all agree that the purpose of this charade for Graham is to try to flip Sens. Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski, and that for Sen. Ted Cruz, the purpose of this charade is to goose his own twitter mentions, and for Sen. Josh Hawley the purpose is to take what was a fringe “endangering our children” smear campaign last week and push it to the GOP mainstream today, it’s manifestly clear who the real pornographers are this week. But if we can all agree what the GOP agenda has been, I remain utterly mystified by the Democrats. They have the votes to confirm. They are about to irrevocably alter the course of American history. So what are they afraid of?

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Josh Hawley lectures Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.

I wrote earlier this week about the utter failure on the part of Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats to connect this hearing to what is going to be a catastrophic series of progressive losses at the Supreme Court this term, and the almost staggering inability to lay out any kind of theory for progressive jurisprudence, or even a coherent theory for the role of an unelected judiciary in a constitutional democracy. My colleague Mark Joseph Stern wrote today about a broadside attack on the whole idea of unenumerated rights, substantive due process, and the entire line of cases that protect Americans from penalties for using birth control, forced sterilization, indoctrination of their children, and afford them the right to marry who they want. More mysterious than this coordinated GOP project to undermine LGBTQ rights, marriage equality, contraception, and abortion—again, none of this is new or shocking—was the almost complete silence from Senate Democrats on these issues of substantive due process, privacy, and bodily autonomy. On the simplest level the hearing might have been an opportunity to explain why Roe v Wade is in fact the tip of the constitutional iceberg; that the same doctrinal underpinnings at risk in this term’s looming catastrophe of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization could lead to existential losses of countless other freedoms. But the hearings were framed as if Republicans stand to lose the court, and the midterms, while the Democrats behaved as if the future of the courts, the Senate, and democracy itself has no bearing on what happened inside the Senate chamber.

Please read the rest at Slate.

More reads to check out on this topic:

Mark Joseph Stern at Slate: The Ketanji Brown Jackson Hearings Show Marriage Equality Is the Next Target Once Roe Falls.

Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post: GOP grandstanders aren’t the only reason Jackson’s confirmation hearings were so disgraceful.

Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post: These Trump judges failed Hawley’s sentencing test for Jackson.

The New York Times: QAnon Cheers Republican Attacks on Jackson. Democrats See a Signal.

The Washington Post: American Bar Association says Jackson is ‘A-plus’ on final day of confirmation hearings.

Ukraine War

CNN: Ukrainians claim to have destroyed large Russian warship in Berdyansk.

Lviv, Ukraine (CNN) Ukrainian armed forces said they destroyed a large Russian landing ship at the port of Berdyansk in southern Ukraine on Thursday.

The port, which had recently been occupied by Russian forces with several Russian warships in dock, was rocked by a series of heavy explosions soon after dawn.

Social media videos showed fires raging at the dockside, with a series of secondary explosions reverberating across the city.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine said they had “destroyed a large landing ship,” which they named as the “Orsk”in a post on Facebook.

The Ukrainian armed forces said that besides destroying the Orsk, two more ships were damaged.

“A 3,000-ton fuel tank was also destroyed. The fire spread to the enemy’s ammunition depot. Details of the damage inflicted on the occupier are being clarified,” they said.

It’s not known what weapon was used to attack the port.

More Ukraine/Russia reads

CNN: The bodies of Russian soldiers are piling up in Ukraine, as Kremlin conceals true toll of war.

The Economist: The Stalinisation of Russia. As it sinks in that he cannot win in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is resorting to repression at home.

Douglas London at The Wall Street Journal: Spies Will Doom Putin. After invading Ukraine, he’s tightening the screws the way the Soviets did—and that will help the CIA recruit Russians.

Lawrence Freedman at Comment is Freed: Losing Wars and Saving Face.

I guess that’s enough to keep us busy. I hope Thursday goes well for you and yours.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

St.Gertrude herself and cats Zarathustra and David Bowie captured in stained glass

St.Gertrude herself and cats Zarathustra and David Bowie captured in stained glass

It’s been a long time since I posted Fat Cat Art by Svetlana Petrova & Zarathustra the Cat / FatCatArt.com. Dakinikat posted a comment on Thursday about St. Gertrude, the patron saint of cats, whose feast day is the same as St. Patrick’s day. I was looking for paintings of her when I came across this one at the Fat Cat Art site. The other images in this post are also by Petrova and her late beloved ginger cat Zarathustra.

The Ukraine war rages on, as Putin continues to commit ghastly war crimes by attacking civilians. Reading about what’s happening, let alone watching the images on TV is horrifying. It’s a terribly helpless feeling, and there’s a temptation to want the U.S. to get more actively involved, but that is simply impossible.

Last night on MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell gave a powerful explanation of what the U.S. trying to enforce a no fly zone over Ukraine would mean. You can watch it on The Last Word website. It lasts about 7 minutes. Basically, O’Donnell said that the very idea is a fantasy and that a no fly zone has never been enforced against a nuclear power. It would mean U.S. and Russian pilots being shot down and killed and would also involve U.S. planes flying over Russian territory. I recommend watching it if you didn’t see it last night.

For the latest news on Ukraine, I recommend The Guardian’s summary of the latest updates: Russia-Ukraine war: what we know on day 24 of the invasion.

  • Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy says the time has come for peace talks, warning that it will otherwise take generations for Russia to recover from losses suffered during the war. He released a video address saying Ukraine wanted meaningful and honest negotiations with Moscow on peace and security without delay, Reuters reported. “The time has come for a meeting – it is time to talk.” Zelenskiy said Russian forces were deliberately blocking humanitarian supplies to cities under attack.
  • Ukraine’s position is unchanged in talks with Russia, Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said. Earlier today, a member of Russia’s negotiating team said Moscow and Kyiv were most aligned on Ukraine’s neutrality and giving up on joining Nato. Podolyak accused Russian statements of attempting “to provoke tension in the media”.
  • Russia says it has used a hypersonic weapon for the first time, to destroy an underground military depot in western Ukraine. Hypersonic missiles are fast weapons that can evade detection by missile defence systems. The defence ministry said it had destroyed a large underground depot for missiles and aircraft ammunition in the Ivano-Frankivsk region.
  • Ukraine’s interior minster told Associated Press it would take years to find and defuse all of the unexploded ordnance from the country. Denys Monastyrsky said: “A huge number of shells and mines have been fired at Ukraine and a large part haven’t exploded. They remain under the rubble and pose a real threat. It will take years, not months, to defuse them.”
  • Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, praised Fox News for its coverage of the war in Ukraine during an in-studio interview with the Russian state-controlled RT network. “We know the manners and the tricks that are being used by the western countries to manipulate media … If you take the United States, only Fox News is trying to present some alternative point of view,” he said.

Click the link for more updates.

Boris Kustodiev. Merchant’s Wife at Cat’s Tea

Boris Kustodiev. Merchant’s Wife at Cat’s Tea

In other news, Republicans are of course trying to smear Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson and it is sickening.

Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post: Opinion: How low will the GOP go in taking on Ketanji Brown Jackson? Josh Hawley lets us know.

“I’ve noticed an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children,” Hawley tweeted. “I’m concerned that this [is] a record that endangers our children.” [….]

In the cherry-picked, context-free Hawley-verse, Jackson has been lying in wait to foist this child-endangerment scheme on the country since her law school days. Count one is her writing as a student editor on the Harvard Law Review, about sex-offender registries, DNA databanks and civil-commitment laws that states were busy enacting.

In her article, Jackson grappled with the tension between constitutional limits on permissible punishment and the community’s need for self-protection. Given conservatives’ focus on analyzing the text of a law rather than divining lawmakers’ intent, you might have thought that Hawley would cheer Jackson’s argument that in assessing the constitutionality of sex offender laws, “courts have relied too heavily on the legislatures’ intent.” But no.

Instead, Hawley wrenches a few lines out of context. “As far back as her time in law school, Judge Jackson has questioned making convicts register as sex offenders — saying it leads to ‘stigmatization and ostracism.’ ”

Hello, Senator? That is in a section headlined “The Critics” that outlines the views of the statute’s opponents. Hawley might just have easily quoted from the previous section — “commitment legislation literally immobilizes dangerous sexual deviants and, thus, presumably promotes both immediate and long-term public safety.”

And that’s just from Jackson’s law school days. Hawley also attacks Jackson for supporting a review of minimum sentencing guidelines for child porn along with every other member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Finally he criticizes her work as a judge:

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, true version, aka The Furry Night

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, true version, aka The Furry Night

The final count against Jackson involves how she, in Hawley’s assessment, “put her troubling views into action. In every single child porn case for which we can find records, Judge Jackson deviated from the federal sentencing guidelines in favor of child porn offenders.”

Sounds terrible, right? Except because the guidelines are so outdated and therefore unfair, that’s what judges do in almost every case — 70 percent, according to the latest statistics.

According to data compiled by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, judges imposed below-guidelines sentences in nearly 80 percoent of child pornography cases in the District of Columbia, where Jackson was a trial court judge before being elevated to the appeals court. In Missouri, Hawley’s home state, judges imposed sentences below the guidelines in more than 77 percent of cases.

For more background on Jackson’s record on these issues, you can read this article by Tierney Sneed at CNN: GOP senators push misleading portrayal of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s record on child porn cases.

After Hawley posted a Twitter thread enumerating his false accusations, right wing “news” outlet OAN took the smears even further. Media Matters: Baseless OAN attack on Ketanji Brown Jackson echoes QAnon conspiracy theory.

Following Sen. Josh Hawley’s (R-MO) Twitter rant yesterday against Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a segment on OAN took his unfounded and misleading attacks against her record in a more deranged direction. The host and her guest falsely accused Jackson of being “kind” to pedophiles, echoing the long-running QAnon conspiracy theory accusing liberal elites of engaging in pedophilia.

During the March 17 segment on OAN’s Tipping Point, host Kara McKinney outlined the conspiratorial accusations against Jackson before RedState editor Brandon Morse immediately dove into QAnon-like commentary about what he described as “the pedophilia problem that is currently happening in the left”

Here’s what Morse had to say:

Andrew Wyeth, The Cat in Christina’s World

Andrew Wyeth, The Cat in Christina’s World

Morse claimed that the “corporate media” is ignoring this issue because of self-interest:

They have been doing their absolute best to try to eliminate any substantial talk about the pedophilia problem that is currently in the left and especially the radical left. They have been trying to make this almost a normal thing for some time. And if they come down hard on it, then it’ll reinforce the idea to society that pedophilia is a bad thing. And it is a very bad thing. It should be come down on hard. But they’re not.

And I’m afraid that the reason that they’re not doing this is because there’s probably more pedophiles, or at least people who are friendly to pedophiles out there, than we might think in positions of power, especially on the left. You know, you had a ton of people suddenly go into hiding or shut up, you know, once Jeffrey Epstein was back in the spotlight for this. And it’s scary to think that you have a lot of these leftists, these Democrats, politicians, activists, media figures who have been caught, or who have been trying to ease the pain of any of these pedophiles who are to be — who should be suffering for their crimes. You see this a lot, lately.

And it’s scary to think that this new judge that’s come up here is one of these people who is going to be very kind to them. 

It sounds like the upcoming hearings on Jackson’s nomination are going to be an embarrassing clown show.

From the AP, some horrifying news from South Carolina: Firing-squad executions get the greenlight in South Carolina.

South Carolina has given the greenlight to firing-squad executions, a method codified into state law last year after a decade-long pause in carrying out death sentences because of the state’s inability to procure lethal injection drugs.

The state Corrections Department said Friday that renovations have been completed on the death chamber in Columbia and that the agency had notified Attorney General Alan Wilson that it was able to carry out a firing-squad execution.

Lawmakers set about tweaking state law to get around the lethal injection drug situation. Legislation that went into effect in May made the electric chair the state’s primary means of execution while giving inmates the option of choosing death by firing squad or lethal injection, if those methods are available.

During South Carolina’s lengthy debate, Democratic state Sen. Dick Harpootlian — a prosecutor-turned-criminal-defense lawyer — introduced the firing squad option. He argued that it presented “the least painful” execution method available.

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer with the Cat

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer with the Cat

“The death penalty is going to stay the law here for a while,” Harpootlian said. “If we’re going to have it, it ought to be humane.”

According to officials, the death chamber now also includes a metal chair, with restraints, in the corner of the room in which inmates will sit if they choose execution by firing squad. That chair faces a wall with a rectangular opening, 15 feet away, through which the three shooters will fire their weapons.

State officials also have created protocols for carrying out the executions. The three shooters, all volunteers who are employees of the Corrections Department, will have rifles loaded with live ammunition, with their weapons trained on the inmate’s heart.

A hood will be placed over the head of the inmate, who will be given the opportunity to make a last statement.

Finally, the House isn’t keen on the Senate’s permanent daylight saving time bill, according to Dan Diamond of The Washington Post: Senate plan for permanent daylight saving time faces doubts in the House.

The House is set to hit the snooze button on the Senate’s plan to permanently change the nation’s clocks.

“It could be weeks — or it could be months” before House Democratic leaders decide whether to tee up a vote on eliminating the biannual clock changes that have governed daily life in most states for decades, said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D.-N.J.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees time change policies. While the Sunshine Protection Act, which unanimously passed the Senate on Tuesday, would nationally shift clocks an hour later to maximize daylight, some doctors have argued that adopting permanent standard time would be a healthier option and better align with humans’ natural rhythms.

Pallone, who held a hearing last week on daylight saving time, said he shares the Senate’s goal to end the “spring forward” and “fall back” clock changes linked to more strokes, heart attacks and car accidents. But he wants to collect more information, asking for a long-delayed federal analysis on how time changes might affect productivity, traffic and energy costs, among other issues.

Pablo Picatso, Woman with a Fan and a Cat, having fun

Pablo Picasso, Woman with a Fan and a Cat, having fun

“There isn’t a consensus, in my opinion in the House, or even generally at this point, about whether we should have standard versus daylight saving as the permanent time,” Pallone said. “Immediately after the Senate passed the bill, I had members come up to me on the floor and say, ‘Oh, don’t do that. I want the standard time,’ ” he added, declining to identify the lawmakers.

The White House also has not communicated its position on permanent daylight saving time, congressional aides said. While President Biden, as a freshman senator, voted for that in December 1973 — the last time that Congress attempted to institute the policy nationwide — he also witnessed the near-immediate collapse of support amid widespread reports that darker winter mornings were contributing to more car accidents and worsened moods. Members of Congress introduced nearly 100 pieces of legislation to change or do away with the law before it was finally repealed in October 1974.

A few more stories to check out:

Raw Story: Top Kremlin spy boss reportedly under house arrest over Ukraine debacle: WSJ.

The Washington Post: It’s 70 degrees warmer than normal in eastern Antarctica. Scientists are flabbergasted.

Greg Bluestein at Politico: How Brian Kemp Resisted Trump’s Pressure to Overturn the Georgia Election Results.

The Daily Beast: People’s Convoy Reveals Ridiculous New Goal: ‘Take Back’ Black Lives Matter Plaza.

That’s it for me today. What are you thinking and reading about? Take care Sky Dancers!


Tuesday Reads: Two Momentous Days

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Good Afternoon!!

Is it really only Tuesday? I’m already exhausted and the week has barely begun. Today is the day that voters in Georgia will decide which party controls the U.S. Senate. Trump held a rally in Georgia last night, supposedly to support Kelly Loeffler and David Purdue, the GOP candidates, but he spend most of his time arguing that he actually won the November election and should remain in office for four more years. Tomorrow Trump’s army of seditionists will be trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election–in Congress and in the streets of DC. Trump has been encouraging them to come and cause trouble in the streets and yesterday, he announced plans to address the angry rabble during their “protests.” Here’s the latest:

Georgia Runoff Elections

NBC News: Georgia voters head to the polls in pivotal Senate runoff elections.

Georgia voters are heading to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in pivotal runoff elections that will determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. ET in the state and they close at 7 p.m. ET. Voters who are in line by 7 p.m. can still cast a ballot, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office. More than 3 million Georgia residents have already cast ballots in the two races during the early voting period that started Dec. 14.

In the races, Democrat Jon Ossoff is running against Republican David Perdue, whose Senate term expired on Sunday with the start of the new Congress, and Democrat Raphael Warnock is trying to unseat GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler. The runoffs come after none of the candidates captured 50 percent of the vote in November’s election.

jd010121daprThe outcome Tuesday will decide whether Republicans will retain control of the Senate or Democrats retake the majority, which would give President-elect Joe Biden a better chance at passing his agenda through Congress. If both Democrats win, the chamber would be split 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris acting as the tie-breaker for Democrats on party-line votes. But the party would still face obstacles given the need for 60 votes to advance major legislation.

From Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball: 

With Election Day voting underway in the crucial Senate runoffs in Georgia, we continue to see both races as Toss-ups. But after an early-voting period where Democrats may have performed better than they did in the lead-up to the November election, Republicans may need to follow suit with an impressive day-of-election performance to defend Sens. David Perdue (R-GA) and Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) against challengers Jon Ossoff (D) and Raphael Warnock (D), respectively.

Georgians have cast roughly 3 million votes so far in the contest through early in-person and mail-in voting. Even without accounting for any Election Day votes, this is an impressive turnout, about 60% of the roughly 5 million votes cast in Georgia’s high-turnout November election.

The last time Georgia had a Senate runoff, in 2008, only 2.1 million votes were cast compared to 3.9 million votes cast for president in the general election. So a dozen years ago, turnout in the runoff was just a little more than half that of the general election, and then-Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) won the runoff by 15 points after leading in the November vote by just three points.

cjones01022021The turnout in these runoffs as a percentage of the general election vote is going to be markedly higher than in 2008. The key question is how much higher.

The votes cast before Election Day in these Senate runoffs may be more Democratic leaning than those cast before the November general election. Perhaps the most encouraging data point for Democrats is that the Black voter share of the pre-Election Day vote is up a few points from the pre-Election Day Black vote in the general election. Given that Black voters overwhelmingly support Democrats, any increase in the Black share of the electorate is very important.

Read more analysis at the link.

A couple more Georgia election stories to check out:

Takeo Spikes at USA Today: Georgia’s rural Black voters were ignored and suppressed. Now they might flip the Senate.

NBC News: In Georgia, Democrats close with populist pitch vowing $2,000 stimulus checks.

Trump’s Final Rally

Politico: Trump uses Georgia rally to pressure GOP on Electoral College challenge.

President Donald Trump came to Georgia on Monday to campaign for Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in an attempt to help Republicans retain control of the Senate. But he very quickly revealed another motivation for traveling to this ultra-conservative enclave.

“Hello, Georgia. By the way, there is no way we lost Georgia. There’s no way,” Trump said immediately after taking the stage. “That was a rigged election. But we are still fighting it.” [….]

“People will remember the people who don’t support us,” Trump said of Wednesday’s joint session of Congress, when lawmakers will vote to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College votes.

Speaking at a rally here, Trump berated members of his party who have refused to support his attempt to overturn Biden’s win in November, and continued to promote falsehoods that the election was stolen from him — spending relatively little time talking up the incumbent senators whose runoff elections will take place on Tuesday.

He vowed to campaign against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in 2022 because they certified Biden’s win in the state, and he praised Republicans who plan to challenge the Electoral College results in Congress this week.

On Twitter, Aaron Rupar reported that the audience seemed bored when Trump briefly tried to talk about today’s Senate runoff elections. 

Tomorrow’s Trump Fan “Protests”

Politico: MAGA marchers plot final D.C. stand on Jan. 6.

Timed to the day when Congress will formally certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win, the MAGA crowd is trying to pressure Vice President Mike Pence and Republican lawmakers to refuse to seat Biden over fabricated voter-fraud claims. It’s a doomed plan, given the makeup of Congress, the absent evidence behind the rigged election allegations and the fact that every important state has already certified Biden’s win. Yet that hasn’t stopped a swell of Trump supporters from making plans — and the president from teasing his own appearance.

According to disinformation and extremist researchers, the Jan. 6 gathering will look similar to November’s Million MAGA March — a mashup of garden-variety Trump supporters and more extreme members of the far right, with no apparent central organizing apparatus. Stop the Steal, a group affiliated with pro-Trump super PACs and allies of Trump adviser Roger Stone, has filed for permits and plans to protest outside the Capitol, but other groups have also claimed to be the true official planners.

Click the link for more details.

ABC News: As he seeks to prevent certification of election, Trump plans to attend DC rally.

Over the weekend the president tweeted, “I will be there. Historic day!” replying to a tweet from one of the rally organizers.

Yesterday, the Proud Boys leader was arrested and also sued. Read the details at The Washington Post: Proud Boys leader arrested in the burning of church’s Black Lives Matter banner, D.C. police say.

DC is preparing for possible violence from the Trump cultists.

NBC News: D.C. mayor calls on National Guard as pro-Trump protests set for capital.

The Washington Post: D.C. houses of worship beef up security as Trump defenders descend on the nation’s capital.

On Trump and the GOP Congressional Sedition Caucus

John Cassidy at The New Yorker: Trump’s Authoritarian Moment Is Here.

If there were any doubt remaining that Donald Trump still represents a dire threat to American democracy, the events of this weekend dispelled it. As a new Congress gathers to confirm that the voters chose Joe Biden to be the next President, a proceeding that should be a mere formality, Trump is desperately trying to overturn the result and stay in office. Even more disturbing, large numbers of elected Republicans are joining in this unprecedented effort to reject the popular will. If the Republic gets through the next two weeks without a catastrophe, we must surely take steps to protect ourselves against the next would-be authoritarian, which could well be Trump himself in 2024.

On Sunday, the Washington Post reported the contents of a lengthy phone call that took place on Saturday between Trump and Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state. Raffensperger is one of the honorable Republicans at the state and local level who have stood up against the President’s efforts to bully them into calling the election for the loser: him. The conversation was a long one—it lasted almost an hour—but the transcript shows that this wasn’t the Trump of the campaign trail or the White House press room, endlessly going off on tangents. Throughout the conversation, he remained focussed on his counterfactual narrative—that he carried Georgia easily—and a specific set of demands for Raffensperger.

247110_rgb_768“So look, all I want to do is this,” the President said at one point. “I just want to find eleven thousand seven hundred and eighty votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.” At numerous points, Trump repeated incendiary allegations about voter fraud in Georgia that some of his supporters have been putting forward. Among other things, he claimed that five thousand dead people voted, three hundred thousand fake ballots were submitted, and that Fulton County, an area the former Vice-President won big, shredded three thousand pounds of ballots and covertly removed voting machines. Raffensperger and his general counsel, who was also on the call, calmly pointed out that his office had investigated all of these claims and found them to be false. (Georgia’s state supreme court and a federal judge appointed by George W. Bush rejected the Trump campaign’s claims as well.) Trump wasn’t to be put off. “So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need eleven thousand votes,” he repeated. “Fellas, I need eleven thousand votes. Give me a break.”

Since the election, some commentators have downplayed Trump’s refusal to accept the result, saying that he was merely exercising the inviolate American right to sue. But this wasn’t Rudy Giuliani standing outside Four Seasons Total Landscaping, in a Philadelphia strip mall. It was the President of the United States speaking from the Oval Office and leaning on a local election official, with the backing of his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who was also on the call, and a number of other Trump lawyers, including Cleta Mitchell, a partner at the corporate law firm Foley & Lardner. “The entire call is astonishing,” Michael Bromwich, a former inspector general at the Justice Department, commented on Twitter, after the Post report was published. “The bullying, the threats, the insults, the credulous embrace of discredited conspiracy theories. Like a crime boss, Trump occasionally says that all he wants is the truth. But he doesn’t—he wants the win.”

George F. Will at The Washington Post: Hawley, Cruz and their Senate cohort are the Constitution’s most dangerous domestic enemies.

On a conference call last Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his caucus that, in his 36 Senate years, he has twice cast votes to take the nation to war and once to remove a president, but that the vote he will cast this Wednesday to certify Joe Biden’s electoral college victory will be the most important of his career. McConnell (R-Ky.) understands the recklessness of congressional Republicans who are fueling the doubts of a large majority of Republicans about the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

20210101edbbc-aThe day before McConnell’s somber statement, Missouri’s freshman Republican senator, Josh Hawley, announced that on Wednesday, 14 days before Biden will be inaugurated, he will challenge the validity of Biden’s election. Hawley’s conscience regarding electoral proprieties compels him to stroke this erogenous zone of the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominating electorate.

Hawley’s stance quickly elicited panicky emulation from Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, another 2024 aspirant. Cruz led 10 other senators and senators-elect in a statement that presents their pandering to what terrifies them (their Trumpkin voters) as a judicious determination to assess the “unprecedented allegations” of voting improprieties, “allegations” exceeding “any in our lifetimes.”

So, allegations in sufficient quantity, although of uniformly risible quality, validate senatorial grandstanding that is designed to deepen today’s widespread delusions and resentments. While Hawley et al. were presenting their last-ditch devotion to President Trump as devotion to electoral integrity, Trump was heard on tape browbeating noncompliant Georgia election officials to “find” thousands of votes for him. Awkward.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

The New York Times: Pence’s Choice: Side With the Constitution or His Boss.

Speaking to supporters of President Trump on Monday at the Rock Springs Church in Milner, Ga., Vice President Mike Pence implored the crowd to vote in the two runoff elections Tuesday that will determine whether Republicans maintain control of the Senate.

“I am here for one reason and one reason only, and that is that Georgia and America need David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler back in the Republican majority,” Mr. Pence said.

But the crowd had a message for him, too.

“We need you do the right thing Jan. 6!” one supporter cried out. “Stop the steal!” shouted others. The crowd applauded.

Cartoonist Gary Varvel: Mike Pence's main job

If Mr. Pence has tried to skirt Mr. Trump’s efforts to cling to power, his reception in Georgia on Monday served as the latest reminder of the delicate role he will play on Wednesday, when Congress conducts what is typically a ceremonial duty of opening and counting certificates of electoral votes.

As president of the Senate, Mr. Pence is expected to preside over the pro forma certification of the Electoral College vote count in front of a joint session of Congress. It is a constitutionally prescribed, televised moment in which Mr. Pence will name the winner of the 2020 presidential election, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

What Pence said in Georgia:

“I know we all have got our doubts about the last election,” Mr. Pence said Monday in Georgia, attempting to assuage Trump supporters. “I want to assure you that I share the concerns of millions of Americans about voting irregularities. I promise you, come this Wednesday, we will have our day in Congress.”

It was not clear, perhaps by design, what he meant. Mr. Pence does not have unilateral power to affect the outcome of Wednesday’s proceedings. But he has carefully tried to look like he is loyally following the president’s lead even as he goes through a process that is expected to end with him reading out a declaration that Mr. Biden is the winner.

We’ll find out tomorrow.

So that’s what’s happening over the next two days. It should be interesting. Take care of yourselves and take breaks from the news as needed!


New Year’s Eve Reads: So Long 2020

Revelers recovering from New Years Eve celebrations on the steps of Grand Central Station, New York, circa 1940.

Revelers recovering from New Years Eve celebrations on the steps of Grand Central Station, New York, circa 1940.

Good Afternoon!!

It has been a long, torturous year; thank goodness it’s almost over. In 20 days, Trump will be gone and we’ll have a normal president again. Unfortunately, tens of thousands of Americans will die as long as an irresponsible, uncaring narcissistic madman remains in control of the U.S. government.

Zachary B. Wolf at CNN: Trump absent as vaccine distribution lags and thousands continue to die.

A closing indignity on the final day of this horrendous year is that nobody actually seems to expect Donald Trump, who is still the President, to be paying much or any attention to the actual nightmare underway in the country he still leads.

At 341,000 and growing, more people have died from Covid-19 in the US this year than died in battle in World War II and Vietnam combined, according to data on casualties in those wars from the Department of Veterans Affairs. There were many more noncombat deaths in those conflicts. But the point here is the country is at war with a global pandemic and the President spent the week on the golf course and tweeting about his election loss instead of trying to save Americans.

It’s worth mentioning, in case nobody has told him, that more than 3,700 US Covid deaths were reported Tuesday, a frightening new record that will soon be eclipsed since the country notched a record number of new hospitalizations on the same day, which was soon broken on Wednesday.

American actress Clara Bow holds up a large card while actor Larry Gray inscribes a New Year's greeting with a giant pen, 1935.

American actress Clara Bow holds up a large card while actor Larry Gray inscribes a New Year’s greeting with a giant pen, 1935.

The 3,700 deaths in one day, for context, is more than half the US casualties on D-Day and more than the entire Tet Offensive in Vietnam.

Many people have pointed out the US is suffering a 9/11 every day. But the sad truth of that comparison has worn off as the Covid-19 numbers have grown more unfathomable. And while 9/11 was a single attack that changed the way Americans live, this war with coronavirus is still surging….

The vaccine program — Operation Warp Speed — which Trump put in place, has deployed millions of doses of vaccines for the disease, but that’s falling further and further behind schedule, which means it could take years at the current rate to vaccinate enough Americans to halt the pandemic.

Christina Maxouris at CNN: US sets daily Covid-19 death record for the second straight day. Another 80,000 could die in next 3 weeks, new forecast says.

More than 80,000 Americans could die of Covid-19 over the next three weeks, a new US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ensemble forecast projects — offering a stark reminder the nation is still facing challenging times.

The new prediction comes amid ongoing vaccine distributions — a rolloutexperts say has been slower than they’d hoped. Vaccines will only make any meaningful impact once they’re widely available to the public, possibly not until summertime, experts have said.

In the meantime, Covid-19 hospitalizations are soaring. The US set a record Wednesday for number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals on a given day, at 125,200, according to the COVID Tracking Project….

Seasonal greetings from the original Hollywood sex symbol, Mae West, 1936.

Seasonal greetings from the original Hollywood sex symbol, Mae West, 1936.

California’s Los Angeles County hit a grim milestone Wednesday, surpassing 10,000totalCovid-19 deaths, and one health official there said any progress made over the summer had “completely evaporated.” Texas reported a record number of hospitalizations for the third day in a row. Mississippi and Louisiana saw their highest single-day casecountsNew Orleans officials urged “extreme caution” during New Year’s Eve, announcing bars, breweries, and live adult entertainment venues must close indoor facilities starting at 11 p.m. Wednesday….

In Nevada, a similar message: Gov. Steve Sisolak urged residents to avoid high-risk activities to slow the spread of the virus in the state….

Celebratory gatherings and travel could help drive another surge of infections — followed by hospitalizations and deaths — health officials have warned. But millions have opted to spend the holidays away from home. More than a million people passed through airport security checks Tuesday, for the fourth straight day after the Christmas holiday.

Here in Massachusetts, I just got a text and a recorded phone call from the state asking me to stay home. That’s no problem for me, of course. Even if there weren’t a pandemic, I wouldn’t be out celebrating on “amateur night.” I’ve been happily sober for 38 years.

Trump is still hoping someone will help him stage a coup, and Sen. John Hawley has volunteered. The Charlotte Observer:

Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley became the first senator to say he’ll object to the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory when Congress meets on Jan. 6 to accept the results of the presidential election.

Several House Republicans have previously signaled their intention to do the same. With members of both the House and Senate bringing objections, it’ll set off a dramatic scenario requiring a roll call vote in both chambers.

The January votes are unlikely to change the outcome of the election, but they will cap off a prolonged effort by President Donald Trump’s allies seeking to overturn the president’s defeat and hinder Biden’s transition.

Great! This will force Republican lawmakers to go on the record supporting or opposing sedition. Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post: Let Josh Hawley put Republicans to the uncomfortable test.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) — Yale Law School, Supreme Court clerk, Missouri attorney general and, according to the first line of his Twitter bio, “constitutional lawyer” — surely knows better.

American jazz musician and bandleader Benny Goodman and his orchestra play for an enthusiastic audience during a New Year's Eve dance at the Waldorf Astoria, New York City, 1938.

American jazz musician and bandleader Benny Goodman and his orchestra play for an enthusiastic audience during a New Year’s Eve dance at the Waldorf Astoria, New York City, 1938.

His plan to challenge the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college victory when Congress convenes for that purpose on Jan. 6 has no basis in the facts or the law. That is putting it too charitably, actually. It is, if anything, anti-constitutional — inconsistent with the Constitution’s vision of the ceremonial role of Congress in ratifying the election results.

It is doomed to fail — except, perhaps, at its scarcely disguised purpose of winning Hawley favor in the eyes of the Trumpian base. Think of it as the first act of Hawley’s all-but-inevitable 2024 presidential campaign. Think of it as what it is: a stunt.

Yet while irresponsible, Hawley’s move is not necessarily a terrible development. It forces a vote that will have the salutary effect of requiring his Republican colleagues to decide — and to put on the record —whether their loyalty is to President Trump or to the Constitution. Better to know than to guess. Better to inflict some accountability rather than to enable dodging.

Put another way: Any vote that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fervently wishes to avoid is one I’m for. Put every member of the House and Senate on the record, and let them reap the consequences, for good and for ill, in the short term of political fallout and in the long view of history. Those who vote against certifying Biden’s victory can explain it to their grandchildren.

Trump apparently still thinks he has a shot, so he’s cutting short his two-week golf vacation and coming back to DC to watch the show. 

Kailin Collins and Kevin Liptak at CNN: Trump to return to Washington early ahead of Republican plan to disrupt certification of Biden’s win.

Trump is now slated to leave Palm Beach before his annual New Year’s Eve party, even though guests had already gathered at his south Florida club and were told Trump would be in attendance, according to three people familiar with the matter. The President typically relishes appearing on the red carpet in front of the press and his friends, but is skipping the event altogether this year in what will be an unusual move.

In the President’s daily public schedule for Thursday, the White House stated the President and first lady Melania Trump will leave Florida at 11 a.m. ET to return to the White House.

British actress Ida Lupino smiling at a friendly sailor as she cuts a cake which reads Happy Victory Year, 1944.

British actress Ida Lupino smiling at a friendly sailor as she cuts a cake which reads Happy Victory Year, 1944.

Over the course of his stay in Florida, Trump has been single-mindedly focused on the election results and the upcoming certification process in Congress, set for January 6. After losing dozens of court cases and having his appeal rejected by the Supreme Court, Trump has viewed the January 6 event as his best opportunity to overturn the election he lost.

He has been in an irritated mood during most of the trip and fumed about everything from the election outcome to first lady Melania Trump’s renovations to his private quarters, according to multiple people who spoke with him.

At one point, Trump also said he was concerned Iran could retaliate in the coming days for the US drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, one year ago. A person speculated that could be a contributing factor in his early departure. Trump was at Mar-a-Lago when he ordered the Soleimani strike on January 3, 2020.

Before leaving for Palm Beach, he learned of Vice President Mike Pence’s role in the certification proceedings on Capitol Hill, which is mostly ceremonial. As he was flying to Florida for his vacation, Trump retweeted a call from one of his supporters for Pence to refuse to ratify the Electoral College count on January 6.

While in Florida, Trump has repeatedly raised the January 6 date with members of Congress and other associates, according to people familiar with the conversations. He lobbied senators on whether they would go along with House conservatives in objecting to the results.

GOP Senators may be failing another test after Mitch McConnell block Democrats’ effort to increase Covid relief payments from $600 to $2,000. Eric Levitz at New York Magazine: The GOP Just Let Democrats Have Their Stimulus and Campaign On It Too.

Next week, voters in Georgia will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate in 2021 — and thus, quite plausibly, the future of macroeconomic, climate, and health-care policy in the United States….

If Perdue and Loeffler prevail, Biden will likely struggle to so much as get his own Cabinet nominees confirmed, let alone judicial appointees. Meanwhile, his capacity to legislate will be contingent upon the good-faith cooperation of Mitch McConnell, which is about as dependable a resource as the empathic self-restraint of Donald Trump, or the commitment to ethical consumption of Jeffrey Dahmer.

Debbie Reynolds, wearing a 1953 tiara and a costume with tinsel, blows a horn while sitting atop a star-shaped clock in a promotional portrait for New Year's Eve.The stakes are high, is what I’m saying. And earlier this month, it looked like the GOP was intent on gifting Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock a potent message for the Georgia runoffs: Our races are referenda on a second large stimulus package. As of a few weeks ago, Republicans were insisting on a $500 billion stimulus bill that was bereft of cash assistance or long-term federal unemployment benefits. Democrats, for their part, were backing a $2.2 trillion stimulus that included a $600 a week federal unemployment benefit, another round of $1,200 relief checks, funding for states and cities, housing assistance, small business aid, and a variety of other social supports. All available polling indicated that the voting public favored the Democratic position.

But Trump upset the applecart by calling for $2,000 cash payments. Seeing that the $2,000 payments could help them in the run-off elections, Purdue and Loeffler announced support for them. But McConnell chose to block Trump’s proposal. In the end, the Senate would only support $600 direct payments and a $300 unemployment supplement. 

So the Senate Majority Leader blocked an up-or-down vote on $2,000 checks, opting instead to wed the proposal to two of Donald Trump’s other demands — the repeal of the law that insulates social-media platforms from being sued for libel on the basis of statements their users post, and the formation of a commission to investigate voter fraud in the 2020 election. It is far from clear that most Republicans actually wish to repeal the former law, which would have a wide variety of chaotic consequences, many of which seem contrary to the interests of a political movement whose media has thrived on unmoderated social-media platforms. The point of rolling these demands together isn’t to ensure that they all pass, but rather, that they all fail — because Democrats blocked them.

This gambit is clever but flawed. For one thing, Trump is still refusing to play his part. Instead of insisting that his three demands are inseparable, the president called for the immediate passage of $2,000 checks alone on Wednesday morning.

It’s very possible that McConnell’s game-playing could help Democrats win in Georgia.

…polling suggests these races are going to be very close. Which means flipping even a tiny fraction of voters could be decisive. And there is some evidence that Democrats can win over skeptical voters by communicating the fact that they are the party more supportive of $2,000 relief payments: A new national Data For Progress poll, shared exclusively with Intelligencer, found that Independent voters initially said they preferred the Republicans to prevail in Georgia by a margin of 41 to 38 percent — but when told that the Democratic candidates would pass another round of stimulus checks if elected, while the Republicans would not, these voters shifted their allegiance, favoring Ossoff and Warnock over Perdue and Loeffler by 52 to 37 percent.

There’s much more analysis at the New York Magazi ne link.

That’s all I have for you on this last day of a nightmarish year. Here’s hoping 2021 will be better. At least we’ll be rid of Trump. Have a Happy New Year, however you choose to celebrate tonight.