Thursday Reads

summer-porch-by-childe-hassam-1904-m-g-whittingham

Summer Porch, by Childe Hassam

Good Afternoon!!

I’m feeling kind of blue today. Partly it’s just the inevitable losses that come with my advanced age, and of course I’m sad about what’s happening to our country. In the past 7 years, we were forced to deal with an evil and incompetent man as presidential candidate and then president, and a still-ongoing global pandemic that has killed more than a million Americans. No wonder so many of us are exhausted. I got this in an e-mail from political writer Jared Yates Sexton this morning. He describes our situation better than I ever could.

There are nine members of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. It might be presumptuous, but I’m guessing if you’re reading this you are not counted among them.

The last time I checked, there was one President, one hundred members of the Senate and 435 representatives in the House. Though there are individuals in the White House and Congress who read this newsletter, their ability to effectively pass legislation or break up the intentional logjam at the federal level is somewhat negligible.

Meanwhile, our political and economic systems have been largely corrupted and co-opted by an increasingly wealthy group of power brokers hellbent on growing their wealth and power at any cost, including the destruction of the Earth and total dismantling of liberal democracy. Chances are, considering the math, you are probably not a member of this historically wealthy class of individuals, but if you are, feel free to get a hold of me. I’ve got some ideas should you want to make a difference.

All of it is overwhelming. To watch detestable actions like the overthrow of Roe V. Wade, followed by a yawning lack of response by those charged with protecting us, leaves a person feeling desperate and, over time, isolated and demoralized. The system, after all, is designed with this in mind. The founding of the United States was predicated on neutralizing the power of the masses in favor of rule by a tiny group of wealthy white men. Almost everything that has happened since then has been to either shore up that rule or battle attempts to trouble it.

To be clear, it feels as if the deck is stacked against you because it is. The flow of history is the story of how the powerful have continually protected themselves from situations where the fate of the masses is weighed more heavily than their own self-interest.

This newsletter appears to be a promo for Sexton’s upcoming book, and it doesn’t offer solutions; but it sure does paint a picture of where we are as a country right now. Sexton says, “we are not alone and we are not powerless.” I guess he’ll explain that in the book.

There isn’t that much I can do at my age, but I keep posting on this blog; somehow that gives me a sense of being a small part of the resistance to authoritarianism. At least I’m paying close attention to daily events and what is being written about them. We’ve been posting to this blog for many years now, and we’ve seen people come and go. If you’re still coming here, I’m very grateful for your presence. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts with us.

A Ten-Year-Old Pregnant Rape Victim and Clueless Male Journalists

Last week a story broke about a 10-year-old Ohio girl who was raped and impregnated. The Guardian:

The case of a 10-year-old child rape victim in Ohio who was six weeks pregnant, ineligible for an abortion in her own state, and forced to travel to Indiana for the procedure has spotlighted the shocking impact of the US supreme court ruling on abortion.

Breakfast Porch, William James Glackens, 1925

Breakfast Porch, William James Glackens, 1925

The story of the girl came to light three days after the court overturned a nationwide right to terminate pregnancy, and Ohio’s six-week “trigger ban” came into effect.

Dr Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist, said she had received a call from a colleague doctor in Ohio who treats child abuse victims and asked for help….

Abortion providers like Bernard say they are receiving a sharp increase in the number of patients coming to their clinics for abortion from the neighboring states where such procedures are now restricted or banned.

“It’s hard to imagine that in just a few short weeks we will have no ability to provide that care,” Bernard told the Columbus Dispatch.

You’d think since the story mentioned a doctor by name, people would accept that the story was legitimate. Bernard even appeared on MSNBC’s The Last Word to talk about the case. But Republicans in Ohio claimed the story was fabricated, and that triggered claims that the story was fake on Fox News and social media. Even the Washington Post fact checker got involved.

But yesterday we learned that the perpetrator of the rape has been arrested. CNN: A man was charged in the rape of a 10-year-old who traveled to Indiana for an abortion.

A Columbus man has been charged with raping a 10-year-old Ohio girl who then had to travel to Indiana seeking an abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, according to court proceedings CNN obtained through affiliate WBNS.

Rumors of the case garnered national and international attention, with some US political leaders referencing it in conversations about abortion bans.

Gerson Fuentes, 27, was arrested Tuesday, according to Columbus police and court documents. He has been charged with felony rape of a minor under age 13, according to the Franklin County Municipal Court. His first court appearance was Wednesday.

Fuentes is being held on $2 million bond, according to the court. CNN has reached out to his attorney for comment.

Fuentes admitted to authorities he raped the young girl on at least two occasions, Det. Jeffrey Huhn testified Wednesday at Fuentes’ arraignment.

Police first were alerted to the child’s pregnancy in late June through a referral by a local children services department that was made by the 10-year-old’s mother, Huhn testified.

The girl underwent a medical abortion in Indianapolis on June 30, the detective testified. DNA from the Indianapolis clinic was being tested against samples from Fuentes and the child’s siblings, Huhn said.

Fox News’s Tucker Carlson was still pretending the story was false last night.

At Neiman Lab, Laura Hazard Owen writes: Unimaginable abortion stories will become more common. Is American journalism ready?

As more states restrict or ban abortion, more girls who are raped will face a choice between crossing state lines for care or having babies while they are still in elementary school.

Andrew Wyeth

House with a porch, by Andrew Wyeth

I wish that this weren’t true. But events this week make it very clear that if you can’t bear to believe it — even if it seems so impossible that it needs a heartily skeptical fact-checking treatment — it is going to happen.

And reporters who want to tell these stories (and the news organizations those reporters work for) may have to abandon some conventional journalism wisdom in order to give the stories the attention they deserve….

The two-byline story — written by Shari Rudavsky and Rachel Fradette — made headlines around the world. But the first reaction of mainly right-leaning news organizations — despite the fact that the doctor who performed the abortion was on the record saying this happened — was to try to debunk it. Why? I mean, in part because it’s horrible and we don’t want to believe a 10-year-old could get raped and pregnant, because 10-year-olds are babies themselves. (By the way, Covid appears to have increased early-onset puberty around the world. Getting your period “early” now means getting it when you’re younger than 8. People for whom a pregnant 10-year-old strains credulity should keep this in mind.)

The debate over the story’s veracity started with a Washington Post “Fact Checker” column. In “A one-source story about a 10-year-old and an abortion goes viral,”

You can read the quotes at Neiman Lab, but lets just say Kessler was extremely skeptical.

“An abortion by a 10-year-old is pretty rare,” Kessler notes. (Oh, that “by.”) “The Columbus Dispatch reported that in 2020, 52 people under the age of 15 received an abortion in Ohio.” Definitions of “rare” may vary, but if 52 under-15-year-olds got abortions in Ohio in 2020, that’s one a week — and it’s just abortions that were reported, during a pandemic when a lot of abortion clinics were closed.

The Post column opened the door to worse takes. “Every day that goes by, the more likely that this is a fabrication. I know the cops and prosecutors in this state. There’s not one of them that wouldn’t be turning over every rock, looking for this guy and they would have charged him,” Ohio attorney general Dave Yost told USA Today’s Ohio Network bureau on Tuesday. Picking up on Kessler’s “single source” criticism, Yost added, “Shame on the Indianapolis paper that ran this thing on a single source who has an obvious axe to grind.”

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board called the episode “An abortion story too good to confirm,” as if there was something particularly juicy and delicious about this one (hint: It’s her age!)

We’re going to be seeing many more horror stories now that the Extreme Court has returned women and girls to second-class citizen status. And no, male journalists will not be ready to deal with the onslaught.

January 6 Committee News

CNN: Trump tried to call a member of the White House support staff talking with January 6 committee, sources say.

Former President Donald Trump tried to call a member of the White House support staff who was talking to the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021, two sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.

The support staffer was not someone who routinely communicated with the former President and was concerned about the contact, according to the sources, and informed their attorney.

Women Taking Tea on the Porch, Albert Lynch

Women Taking Tea on the Porch, Albert Lynch

The call was made after former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified publicly to the committee. The White House staffer was in a position to corroborate part of what Hutchinson had said under oath, according to the sources.

CNN was told the position of the witness Trump tried to call, but not the person’s name. Details about the witness Trump tried to contact have not been previously reported.

The initial revelation about Trump’s phone call was made in a dramatic moment at the end of this week’s hearing by committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney. Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, revealed that Trump “tried to call” an unnamed witness in the committee’s investigation. She said that witness “declined to answer or respond” to Trump’s call and instead alerted their lawyer. The committee has since supplied that information to the Department of Justice….

Rep. Pete Aguilar, a California Democrat who serves on the committee, told CNN on Tuesday that the individual Trump tried to call has been speaking with the panel.

“Trump himself had called someone who has been talking with us,” Aguilar said.

A source familiar with the panel’s investigation added that the committee has spoken to the person Trump tried to call, but not as part of a deposition.

Trump’s crimes just keep on piling up. When will he pay a price? No one outside the DOJ knows.

Donald Ayer, Stuart Gerson, and Dennis Aftergut at The Atlantic: January 6 Was Trump’s Project All Along. And The Department of Justice Has More Than Enough Evidence To Prosecute Him For It.

After seven hearings held by the January 6 committee thus far this summer, doubts as to who is responsible have been resolved. The evidence is now overwhelming that Donald Trump was the driving force behind a massive criminal conspiracy to interfere with the official January 6 congressional proceeding and to defraud the United States of a fair election outcome.

The evidence is clearer and more robust than we as former federal prosecutors—two of us as Department of Justice officials in Republican administrations—thought possible before the hearings began. Trump was not just a willing beneficiary of a complex plot in which others played most of the primary roles. While in office, he himself was the principal actor in nearly all of its phases, personally executing key parts of most of its elements and aware of or involved in its worst features, including the use of violence on Capitol Hill. Most remarkably, he did so over vehement objections raised at every turn, even by his sycophantic and loyal handpicked team. This was Trump’s project all along.

Edward Hopper

By Edward Hopper

Everyone knew before the hearings began that we were dealing with perhaps the gravest imaginable offense against the nation short of secession—a serious nationwide effort pursued at multiple levels to overturn the unambiguous outcome of a national election. We all knew as well that efforts were and are unfolding nationwide to change laws and undermine electoral processes with the specific objective of succeeding at the same project in 2024 and after. But each hearing has sharpened our understanding that Donald Trump himself is the one who made it happen.

As former prosecutors, we recognize the legitimacy of concerns that electoral winners prosecuting their defeated opponents may look like something out of a banana republic rather than the United States of America; that doing so might be viewed as opening the door to prosecutorial retaliation by future presidential winners; and that, in the case of this former president, it might lead to civil unrest.

But given the record now before us, all of these considerations must give way to the urgency of achieving a public reckoning for Donald Trump.

Read the rest of the argument at The Atlantic.

The New York Times: Jan. 6 Panel Will Turn Over Evidence on Fake Electors to the Justice Dept.

The Justice Department has asked the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol for evidence it has accumulated about the scheme by former President Donald J. Trump and his allies to put forward false slates of pro-Trump electors in battleground states won by Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020.

Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the committee, disclosed the request to reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, and a person familiar with the panel’s work said discussions with the Justice Department about the false elector scheme were ongoing. Those talks suggest that the department is sharpening its focus on that aspect of Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, one with a direct line to the former president.

Mr. Thompson said the committee was working with federal prosecutors to allow them to review the transcripts of interviews the panel has done with people who served as so-called alternate electors for Mr. Trump. Mr. Thompson said the Justice Department’s investigation into “fraudulent electors” was the only specific topic the agency had broached with the committee.

A Justice Department official said the agency maintained its position that it was requesting copies of all transcripts of witness interviews.

More details at the NYT.

CNBC reports that the next hearing is scheduled for next Thursday at 8PM. and will focus on “Trump’s hourslong failure to stop the Capitol riot.”

NBC News says there may be more hearings in August: The Jan. 6 committee won’t rule out more hearings this summer.

Have an enjoyable Thursday everyone!!


Tuesday Reads: The Humiliation of the Fake “President”

Good Morning!!

 

As if the fake “president” didn’t have enough humiliations to deal with this morning, Time Magazine has delivered a crushing blow to his ego, announcing Jamal Khashoggi and other journalists as their “Person of the Year.”

The Washington Post: Time’s Person of the Year: ‘Guardians’ of the truth, including slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Time magazine has announced its 2018 Person of the Year is “The Guardians,” four individuals and one group — all journalists — who this year helped expose “the manipulation and the abuse of truth” around the world.

They are the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post contributing columnist who was killed inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in October; the staff of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland; journalist Maria Ressa, the CEO of the Rappler news website, who has been made a legal target in the Philippines; and journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been jailed in Myanmar for nearly a year for their work exposing the mass killing of Rohingya Muslims.

“As we looked at the choices, it became clear that the manipulation and the abuse of truth is really the common thread in so many of this year’s major stories, from Russia to Riyadh to Silicon Valley,” Time magazine editor Edward Felsenthal said on the “Today” show Tuesday morning, where the announcement was made.

“The manipulation and abuse of truth” is a pretty clear reference to Trump’s governing style.

Here’s Time’s cover story: The Guardians and the War on Truth.

The stout man with the gray goatee and the gentle demeanor dared to disagree with his country’s government. He told the world the truth about its brutality toward those who would speak out. And he was murdered for it.

Every detail of Jamal Khashoggi’s killing made it a sensation: the time stamp on the surveillance video that captured the Saudi journalist entering his country’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2; the taxiway images of the private jets bearing his assassins; the bone saw; the reports of his final words, “I can’t breathe,” recorded on audio as the life was choked from him.

But the crime would not have remained atop the world news for two months if not for the epic themes that Khashoggi himself was ever alert to, and spent his life placing before the public. His death laid bare the true nature of a smiling prince, the utter absence of morality in the Saudi-U.S. alliance and—in the cascade of news feeds and alerts, posts and shares and links—the centrality of the question Khashoggi was killed over: Whom do you trust to tell the story?

Khashoggi put his faith in bearing witness. He put it in the field reporting he had done since youth, in the newspaper editorship he was forced out of and in the columns he wrote from lonely exile. “Must we choose,” he asked in the Washington Post in May, “between movie theaters and our rights as citizens to speak out, whether in support of or critical of our government’s actions?” Khashoggi had fled his homeland last year even though he actually supported much of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s agenda in Saudi Arabia. What irked the kingdom and marked the journalist for death was Khashoggi’s insistence on coming to that conclusion on his own, tempering it with troubling facts and trusting the public to think for itself.

Such independence is no small thing. It marks the distinction between tyranny and democracy. And in a world where budding authoritarians have advanced by blurring the difference, there was a clarity in the spectacle of a tyrant’s fury visited upon a man armed only with a pen. Because the strongmen of the world only look strong. All despots live in fear of their people. To see genuine strength, look to the spaces where individuals dare to describe what’s going on in front of them.

Trump and his gullible son-in-law Jared Kushner won’t be happy about this. Plus, yesterday CNN published quotes from the transcript of the recording of the Kashoggi murder: ‘I can’t breathe.’ Jamal Khashoggi’s last words disclosed in transcript, source says.

“I can’t breathe.” These were the final words uttered by Jamal Khashoggi after he was set upon by a Saudi hit squad at the country’s consulate in Istanbul, according to a source briefed on the investigation into the killing of the Washington Post columnist.

The source, who has read a translated transcript of an audio recording of Khashoggi’s painful last moments, said it was clear that the killing on October 2 was no botched rendition attempt, but the execution of a premeditated plan to murder the journalist.
During the course of the gruesome scene, the source describes Khashoggi struggling against a group of people determined to kill him.

“I can’t breathe,” Khashoggi says.

“I can’t breathe.”

“I can’t breathe.”

The transcript notes the sounds of Khashoggi’s body being dismembered by a saw, as the alleged perpetrators are advised to listen to music to block out the sound.

And, according to the source, the transcript suggests that a series of phone calls are made. Turkish officials believe the calls were placed to senior figures in Riyadh, briefing them on progress.

Nick Ayers and John Kelly

In other humiliations, the fake “president” decided to humiliate Chief of Staff John Kelly by announcing his firing without any warning, and then the fake “president” was in turn humiliated by his choice to replace Kelly. Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair:

On Friday night, members of Donald Trump’s West Wing gathered for drinks at the Trump International Hotel following a holiday dinner at the White House. As they mingled in the lobby, Bill Shine, Stephen MillerKellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and others grappled with the latest West Wing upheaval: Trump had changed the plan and fired Chief of Staff John Kellyearlier that afternoon. “It got back to Trump that Kelly was bad-mouthing him and Trump had decided he’d had enough. His attitude was, ‘fuck him,’” an attendee told me.

Kelly’s defenestration surprised few people—Trump had wanted to fire him for months—but the lingering problem had been finding a replacement whom Trump felt comfortable with (and who wanted the job). “The president really wanted someone he knows. He didn’t want to gamble,” a former West Wing official said. After weeks of lobbying by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Trump had been convinced that Mike Pence’s 36-year-old chief of staff, Nick Ayers, was the best candidate. On Friday afternoon, Trump met with Ayers, Pence, and Kelly and finalized the transition, a source briefed on the meeting said. A press release announcing Ayers’s hiring was reportedly drafted and ready to go for when Trump planned to announce Kelly’s departure on Monday.

But Trump’s frustration with Kelly boiled over after Kelly pressed him to name his deputy Zachary Fuentes interim chief of staff. “Trump didn’t like how Kelly was trying to dictate the terms of his departure,” a Republican briefed on the discussions told me. Trump blew up the carefully orchestrated announcement and told reporters on Saturday as he walked to Marine One that Kelly would be leaving by the end of the year. “John wanted to announce his own departure. This was a humiliation,” a former West Wing official said.

Trump’s impulsive announcement quickly became an even bigger problem when it turned out that Kelly’s replacement was not sewn up; Ayers surprised Trump later that day by insisting that he only wanted the job short term. “Trump was pissed, he was caught off guard,” a former West Wing official briefed on the talks said.

And to make sure the humiliation of the fake “president” was complete, Ayers announced his departure on Twitter.

Now Trump is left with no one to humiliate in the formerly prestigious Chief of Staff job. The Washington Post: ‘There was no Plan B’: Trump scrambles to find chief of staff after top candidate turns him down.

After announcing the exit of his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and being turned down by his pick to replace him, Nick Ayers, Trump found himself Monday in an unexpected predicament — scrambling to recruit someone to help run the executive branch of the federal government and guide the administration through the political tumult and possible legal peril ahead.

“Will you be my Chief of Staff?”

In any White House, the chief of staff is arguably the most punishing position. But in this White House — a den of disorder ruled by an impulsive president — it has proved to be an especially thankless job. The two people to hold the job were left with their reputations diminished after failing to constrain the president, who often prefers to function as his own chief of staff.

Three members of Trump’s Cabinet who have been discussed inside the West Wing as possible chiefs of staff — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer — each signaled Monday that they were not interested in the position.

Considerable buzz has centered on two other contenders. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) noted his interest in the job by issuing a statement saying that “serving as Chief of Staff would be an incredible honor.”

“It is not something I have been campaigning for,” Meadows told reporters Monday on Capitol Hill, adding that his phone “blew up” after the Ayers news broke. “The president has a good list of candidates. I’m honored to be one of those.”

And acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, who traveled with Trump to Kansas City, Mo., last week , is seen by the president and his allies as a loyalist.

But Trump’s advisers and aides cautioned that there was not yet a front-runner.

Although aides said the president is committed to finding a replacement for Kelly before the Christmas holiday, they said he has been vacillating — casting about in all corners for potential picks and frustrated by news coverage depicting his White House as a place where talented people do not want to work.

Why would anyone want to work for Trump? I guess it will have to be someone whose reputation is already in tatters. I can’t imagine anyone who has hopes for a future career being interested. That description could apply to Whitaker, but how could he get a security clearance when he’s associated with a company that is under investigation for fraud?

Of course Trump is claiming he has multiple applicants for the job.

Hahahahahahahaha!

That’s it for me today. What stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Breton Children Reading, Emile Vernon, 1913

Good Afternoon!!

Thank goodness the “holidays” are almost over now, and soon a new year will begin. What will 2018 bring? Will Trump continue his goal of destroying democracy or will we somehow manage to keep it alive? First we have to get through the journalistic ritual of looking back over the year that is ending.

Eugene Robinson posted his evaluation of 2017 last night: Trump’s first year was even worse than feared.

Grit your teeth. Persevere. Just a few more days and this awful, rotten, no-good, ridiculous, rancorous, sordid, disgraceful year in the civic life of our nation will be over. Here’s hoping that we all — particularly special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — have a better 2018.

Many of us began 2017 with the consoling thought that the Donald Trump presidency couldn’t possibly be as bad as we feared. It turned out to be worse.

Did you ever think you would hear a president use the words “very fine people” to describe participants in a torch-lit rally organized by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan? Did you ever think you would hear a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations thuggishly threaten that she would be “taking names” of countries that did not vote on a General Assembly resolution the way she wanted? Did you ever think the government of the world’s biggest military and economic power would reject not just science but also empiricism itself, preferring to use made-up “alternative facts” as the basis for major decisions?

We knew that Trump was narcissistic and shallow, but on Inauguration Day it was possible to at least hope he was self-aware enough to understand the weight that now rested on his shoulders, and perhaps grow into the job. He did not. If anything, he has gotten worse.

Read the rest at The Washington Post.

Paul Krugman still has hope: America Is Not Yet Lost.

Auguste reading to her daughter, by Mary Cassatt

Donald Trump has been every bit as horrible as one might have expected; he continues, day after day, to prove himself utterly unfit for office, morally and intellectually. And the Republican Party — including so-called moderates — turns out, if anything, to be even worse than one might have expected. At this point it’s evidently composed entirely of cynical apparatchiks, willing to sell out every principle — and every shred of their own dignity — as long as their donors get big tax cuts.

Meanwhile, conservative media have given up even the pretense of doing real reporting, and become blatant organs of ruling-party propaganda….

What we’ve seen instead is the emergence of a highly energized resistance. That resistance made itself visible literally the day after Trump took office, with the huge women’s marches that took place on Jan. 21, dwarfing the thin crowds at the inauguration. If American democracy survives this terrible episode, I vote that we make pink pussy hats the symbol of our delivery from evil….

Let’s be clear: America as we know it is still in mortal danger. Republicans still control all the levers of federal power, and never in the course of our nation’s history have we been ruled by people less trustworthy.

This obviously goes for Trump himself, who is clearly a dictator wannabe, with no respect whatsoever for democratic norms. But it also goes for Republicans in Congress, who have demonstrated again and again that they will do nothing to limit his actions. They have backed him up as he uses his office to enrich himself and his cronies, as he foments racial hatred, as he attempts a slow-motion purge of the Justice Department and the F.B.I.

I count it as a good sign that journalists are coming right out and calling Trump a wannabe dictator. Also a good sign: both Robinson and Krugman acknowledge that if we are to survive Trump, women’s leadership will be the reason. How ironic that a woman had to be excoriated and mocked by abusive male journalists for this awakening of women’s power to happen.

Jan Van Eyck – Madonna with the Child Reading (1433)

It’s also a good sign that journalists finally recognized the Russian threat, although this only happened after a monster was installed as POTUS. Yesterday The Washington Post published a breathtaking analysis of what the Russians accomplished last year and the danger they still pose to our democracy: Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options. Here’s a brief excerpt; please go read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

The events surrounding the FBI’s NorthernNight investigation follow a pattern that repeated for years as the Russian threat was building: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin’s ambitions. Top U.S. policymakers didn’t appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions.

One previously unreported order — a sweeping presidential finding to combat global cyberthreats — prompted U.S. spy agencies to plan a half-dozen specific operations to counter the Russian threat. But one year after those instructions were given, the Trump White House remains divided over whether to act, intelligence officials said….

The miscalculations and bureaucratic inertia that left the United States vulnerable to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential electiontrace back to decisions made at the end of the Cold War, when senior policymakers assumed Moscow would be a partner and largely pulled the United States out of information warfare. When relations soured, officials dismissed Russia as a “third-rate regional power” that would limit its meddling to the fledgling democracies on its periphery.

Senior U.S. officials didn’t think Russia would dare shift its focus to the United States.

“I thought our ground was not as fertile,” said Antony J. Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state. “We believed that the truth shall set you free, that the truth would prevail. That proved a bit naive.”

Much more at the WaPo link.

From former CIA Deputy Director and Acting Director Michael Morrell: Russia never stopped its cyberattacks on the United States.

Every first-year international-relations student learns about the importance of deterrence: It prevented a Soviet invasion of Western Europe during the height of the Cold War. It prevented North Korea from invading South Korea in the same time frame. Today, it keeps Iran from starting a hot war in the Middle East or other nations from initiating cyberattacks against our infrastructure.

The Reader, by Federico Zandomeneghi (Italian, 1841)

And yet, the United States has failed to establish deterrence in the aftermath of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. We know we failed because Russia continues to aggressively employ the most significant aspect of its 2016 tool kit: the use of social media as a platform to disseminate propaganda designed to weaken our nation.

There is a perception among the media and general public that Russia ended its social-media operations following last year’s election and that we need worry only about future elections. But that perception is wrong. Russia’s information operations in the United States continued after the election and they continue to this day.

This should alarm everyone — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. Foreign governments, overtly or covertly, should not be allowed to play with our democracy.

Read about the continuing threats from Russia at the WaPo link.

At the Columbia Journalism Review, Jonathan Peters reports on the work of NYT master’s student to examine Trump’s Twitter attacks on the media.

Trump’s prolificacy on Twitter is well documented, and some of his press-related tweets have captured vast public attention. For example, Trump tweeted in July a doctored video in which he wrestled a man whose head had been replaced by the CNN logo. It got hundreds of thousands of retweets.

Off Twitter, of course, Trump has waged a rhetorical war on the press, threatening to sue various newspapers and calling journalists “the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” all while characterizing as “fake news” any story he dislikes.

That’s what prompted an NYU master’s student to start tracking Trump’s tweets critical of the press. “I took it on as a labor of love and hate, and I suffered through his tweets every few days to log them,” says Stephanie Sugars, who is pursuing a joint MA in journalism and international relations. “It seemed important to maintain a record of what has appeared to be a deliberate and sustained campaign to discredit the media as an institution.”

By Zulia Gotay de Anderson

Sugars was working as a researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists last spring when she created the Trump-tweet spreadsheet that she recently shared with me. She was helping to launch a website that documents press freedom incidents in the US. (CJR is a partner.) Originally, she and others at CPJ thought it would include not only arrests and equipment seizures but also anti-press social media posts.

“That just wasn’t manageable,” Sugars says. “We decided to pare the site back and not focus on tweets. I kept up with the spreadsheet, though, and continued to add to it, even after leaving [CPJ] when my term as a researcher there ended.”

Peters then assigned his students a the University of Georgia to “review the spreadsheet and to help me identify notable items and trends in the data.” Read the rest at the CJR link to see the results.

One more interesting read: could Ivanka be in trouble with the law? GQ: Ivanka Trump’s Old Jewelry Business Is Now Caught Up in an Alleged Fraud Scheme. Author Ben Schreckenger begins by asking, “Why do people looking to launder money seem to find Trump family businesses so appealing?”

Throw a dart at a map of the world and there’s a solid chance it will land near a spot where a Trump family business has allegedly gotten caught up in a money laundering scheme.

There’s Panama, where the Trump Ocean Club is said to have washed dirty cash for Russian gangsters and South American drug cartels. There’s Azerbaijan and the Trump Baku, where the money allegedly being laundered was said to belong to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. And of course, there’s the Trump Soho in Manhattan, a magnet for money from Kazakhstan and Russia, and a property that one former executive on the project now calls “a monument to spectacularly corrupt money-laundering and tax evasion.”

In each of those cases, the Trump Organization has denied any wrongdoing and has sought to distance itself—and the Trump family—from the property, saying they merely licensed ​the Trump name. But as it turns out, it’s not just Trump-branded real estate developments that perhaps have attracted the wrong kinds of money.

Thanks to an overlooked filing made in federal court this past summer, we can now add a jewelry business to the list of Trump family enterprises that allegedly served as vehicles to fraudulently hide the assets of ultra-rich foreigners with checkered backgrounds. In late June, the Commercial Bank of Dubai sought—and later received—permission to subpoena Ivanka Trump’s now-defunct fine jewelry line, claiming its diamonds were used in a massive scheme to hide roughly $100 million that was owed to the bank, according to filings at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Read the rest at GQ.

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


Thursday Reads: We Have Entered The Twilight Zone.

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Good Morning!!

Yesterday JJ posted a link to this brief post by Melissa McEwan:

I was managing to keep a lid on the bitterness about Hillary Clinton not being our president until I saw Donald Trump start to govern.

It’s going precisely the way I thought it would, so it’s not like I’m surprised.

It’s just that seeing it actually begin to unfold is triggering a deep well of resentment, and a profound grief, that I was only able to keep at bay until he was sworn in.

And now I cannot contain it. I am angry and resentful and grief-stricken in a way I have never felt before.

That’s exactly how I feel. The time from the election to the inauguration was bad enough, but now everything feels unreal and frightening. Last night on Rachel Maddow’s show, Dan Rather called it a “Twilight Zone feeling.” I think it’s likely that a majority of Americans feel this way. A man with the temperament and personality of a 6-year-old–sometimes a 3-year-old–is sitting in the White House watching Fox News and plotting the destruction of our country. And even more horrifying, he has the power to blow up the entire world if he so chooses.

I recall feeling desperate and enraged after the Supreme Court handed the presidency to George W. Bush, but this is so much worse. I feel anxious and on-edge all the time. I’m afraid to get too far from my news sources for fear that he will do something drastic; and even if I try to escape into a book or TV show or video game I just can’t shake this feeling of everything being out-of-kilter. The only difference I can see between tRump and a dictator like Kim Jong Un is that we have a few checks and balances in place–for now–to keep our child-leader from killing or jailing his critics.

Did the photographer put that shadow "mustache" in deliberately?

Did the photographer put that shadow “mustache” in deliberately?

Apparently the DC police feel empowered to arrest and charge journalists now. The New York Times reports: Felony Charges for Journalists Arrested at Inauguration Protests Raise Fears for Press Freedom.

At least six journalists were charged with felony rioting after they were arrested while covering the violent protests that took place just blocks from President Trump’s inauguration parade in Washington on Friday, according to police reports and court documents.

The journalists were among 230 people detained in the anti-Trump demonstrations, during which protesters smashed the glass of commercial buildings and lit a limousine on fire.

The charges against the jouMexirnalists — Evan Engel, Alexander Rubinstein, Jack Keller, Matthew Hopard, Shay Horse and Aaron Cantu — have been denounced by organizations dedicated to press freedom. All of those arrested have denied participating in the violence.

“These felony charges are bizarre and essentially unheard of when it comes to journalists here in America who were simply doing their job,” said Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of Pen America. “They weren’t even in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were in the right place.”

Carlos Lauria, a spokesman and senior program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, called the charges “completely inappropriate and excessive,” and the organization has asked that they be dropped immediately.

“Our concern is that these arrests could send a chilling message to journalists that cover future protests,” Mr. Lauria added.

Witnesses reported that sweeping arrests during the parade targeted rioters, protesters and journalists indiscriminately. A lawyer representing dozens of people arrested, Mark Goldstone, told The Associated Press that the police had “basically identified a location that had problems and arrested everyone in that location.”

WTF?!

Yesterday, tRump began pressing forward with his promised Muslim ban, his fantasy border wall, and his threat to “defund” sanctuary cities by issuing a series of executive orders. He also threatened to reopen CIA “black sites” and reinstate Bush-era torture techniques. On Twitter, he even threatened to send Federal troops into Chicago to crack down on crime!

This isn’t creeping fascism; it’s galloping fascism.

The good news is that the White House and government agencies are leaking like crazy. Vox obtained leaked copies of draft executive orders: Read leaked drafts of 4 White House executive orders on Muslim ban, end to DREAMer program, and more. Yesterday the White House released two of the orders that were exactly like the drafts; therefore Vox decided to report on the others.

The two orders released today by the Trump administration, and delivered yesterday by our source, start the process of building President Trump’s famous “wall,” and make it easier for immigration agents to arrest, detain, and deport unauthorized immigrants at the border and in the US. Those policies are explained in detail here.

The four remaining draft orders obtained by Vox focus on immigration, terrorism, and refugee policy. They wouldn’t ban all Muslim immigration to the US, breaking a Trump promise from early in his campaign, but they would temporarily ban entries from seven majority-Muslim countries and bar all refugees from coming to the US for several months. They would make it harder for immigrants to come to the US to work, make it easier to deport them if they use public services, and put an end to the Obama administration program that protected young “DREAMer” immigrants from deportation.

 In all, the combined documents would represent one of the harshest crackdowns on immigrants — both those here and those who want to come here — in memory.

Read the rest at Vox.

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Last night, ABC News ran an interview with tRump conducted by David Muir. I haven’t watched the whole thing yet, but the clips I’ve seen are terrifying. The interview confirmed what we already know–that tRump is a childish, ignorant buffoon who is clearly incompetent to hold any public office, much less be POTUS.

The Washington Post has published the entire interview with annotations by Aaron Blake. I can’t bring myself to post excerpts, but please read the whole thing at the Post. You watch the video there too if you can stand it.

tRump is running around saying dangerous things, apparently without even consulting the Cabinet members who would be charged with carrying out his orders.

Politico: Mattis, Pompeo stunned by CIA ‘black sites’ report.

Two of the officials who will be in charge of carrying out President Donald Trump’s terrorism detainee policies, Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, were “blindsided” by reports of a draft executive order that would require the CIA to reconsider using interrogation techniques that some consider torture, according to sources with knowledge of their thinking.

Lawmakers in both parties denounced the draft order on Wednesday even as White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he had “no idea where it came from” and that it is “not a White House document.”

It’s unclear who wrote the draft order or whether Trump will sign it, though members of Congress in both parties were taking that prospect seriously on Wednesday.

Some members of Congress said the document raised the specter of Trump following through on campaign vows to bring back waterboarding and other George W. Bush-era torture practices, which many lawmakers consider a shameful chapter of U.S. history.

The document, obtained and published by The New York Times and Washington Post, calls for the director of national intelligence to review whether to bring back the CIA’s infamous black-site prisons. Those were secret overseas facilities where the CIA carried out brutal interrogations of terrorism suspects from 2001 to 2006, as documented in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 investigation into the issue.

The draft order says terrorism suspects in U.S. custody will not be subject to “torture” or “degrading treatment.” But it characterizes a 2016 law barring torture as “a significant statutory barrier” and would revoke an executive order signed by President Barack Obama stating that suspects must be treated in compliance with international law.

Unbelievable.

Ku Klux Klan on a Ferris Wheel--a metaphor for tRump World?

Ku Klux Klan on a Ferris Wheel–a metaphor for tRump World?

I’m going to give you the rest of the news in a link dump, because I’m just too traumatized to do more.

Vox: The best theory for why Trump tells such obvious lies.Tru

WaPo: People were taking Trump seriously. Now they’re starting to take him literally.

WaPo: Maybe Trump isn’t ‘lying’. Jennifer Rubin suggests that Trump may not be able to tell truth from fantasy.

WaPo: In his first major TV interview as president, Trump is endlessly obsessed with his popularity.

NYT: Clinics for World’s Vulnerable Brace for Trump’s Anti-Abortion Cuts.

New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman asks “Is Donald Trump’s War With CNN Personal?”

Nina Burleigh at Newsweek: Trump White House Senior Staff Have Private RNC Email Accounts.

NYT: As Trump Orders Wall, Mexico’s President Considers Canceling U.S. Trip.

CNN: Trump to Mexican president: Better to cancel our meeting.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and try to stay calm just for today. I love you all.


Lazy Saturday Reads: Children of the Corn and Some Serious Journalism

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Good Morning!!

I spent most of yesterday in a state of extreme anger. As I’ve been writing for a long time now, I’m fed up with the media attacking Hillary and ignoring real questions about Donald Trump’s dishonesty and corruption. I’m hoping when I drive back to Massachusetts next week, I’ll find some peace and quiet all alone in my car. It usually works that way.

Late last night, lots of people on Twitter were having fun photoshopping a new Trump ad that showed three of his children (Where is Tiffany?). For the first time all day I was able to laugh. I’m going to use the best ones to illustrate this post. Here’s the original tweet from Donald Trump Jr. that started it all.

The corporate media spent the last day before Labor Day reveling in the release of the FBI’s notes from their interview with Hillary Clinton. Sadly for the New York Times and the rest of the national media circus, there was once again nothing to support their ravening desire to prove Hillary is a corrupt liar. Too bad, so sad. Oh, they tried their best to make her look bad, but with very little success.

It’s been a very bad couple of weeks for the corporate media. Now that we have twitter and blogs, they can’t escape criticism when they screw up, and they’ve screwed up royally. It must be very difficult for these “journalists” who like to think of themselves as so much smarter and more savvy than the rest of us to see their flawed stories and their own pompous attitudes mocked on Twitter. But why is it so hard for them to just admit when they’re wrong?

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John Stoer at The Washington Monthly tries to understand Why Political Journalists Can’t Take Criticism. Stoer begins by discussing the AP’s claim last week that half of the people who met with Clinton as Secretary of State were Clinton Foundation Donors. It was simply ridiculous, but the AP still refuses to correct their false tweets about the horrible article. Then he offers a more recent example:

On NPR this morning, “Morning Edition” host Steve Inskeep asked Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake if he shares Clinton’s view on immigration. According to Trump, Inskeep said, his opponent favors “open borders” and “amnesty.”

This is an example of a statement that’s technically accurate, but entirely misleading. And dangerous. Yes, Trump has said, time and again, that Clinton wants “open borders” and “amnesty.” It’s also true that this claim exists only the realm of fantasy. Indeed, in an interview — just yesterday — NPR’s Mara Liasson told Inskeep those claims were false.

Journalists, I believe, are beholden to the truth. If they are unwilling to pay deference to the authority of the truth, even when that deference conflicts with the profession’s other guiding principles, there isn’t much point in being a journalist….

I got in touch with Inskeep on Twitter this morning to make him aware of his mistake. (I do not subscribe to the childish claim, as Glenn Greenwald does, that the American media is in the tank for one or the other candidate). It was an honest mistake. So I asked: Will you be offering a clarification?

I didn’t expect Inskeep to reply. When he did, it was not a good faith exchange between journalists about the concrete facts of the matter. He offered instead a series of bewildering deflections, obfuscations, and, to be frank, playing dumb.

Go over to The Washington Monthly to read the exchange.

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Of course there are some journalists who are doing important investigative work. One is David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post who has spent the past year trying to find evidence of Trump’s charitable giving. He wrote the story that Dakinikat referenced yesterday about Trump’s illegal gift (essentially a bribe) to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi while she was considering joining a lawsuit against Trump University.

Trump pays IRS a penalty for his foundation violating rules with gift to aid Florida attorney general.

Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year, an official at Trump’s company said, after it was revealed that Trump’s charitable foundation had violated tax laws by giving a political contribution to a campaign group connected to Florida’s attorney general.

The improper donation, a $25,000 gift from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, was made in 2013. At the time, Attorney General Pam Bondi was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University. She decided not to pursue the case.

Earlier this year, The Washington Post and a liberal watchdog group raised new questions about the three-year-old gift. The watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed a complaint with the IRS — noting that, as a registered nonprofit, the Trump Foundation was not allowed to make political donations.

The Post reported another error, which had the effect of obscuring the political gift from the IRS.

In that year’s tax filings, The Post reported, the Trump Foundation did not notify the IRS of this political donation. Instead, Trump’s foundation listed a donation — also for $25,000 — to a Kansas charity with a name similar to that of Bondi’s political group. In fact, Trump’s foundation had not given the Kansas group any money.

The prohibited gift was, in effect, replaced with an innocent-sounding but nonexistent donation.

Trump’s business said it was unaware of any of these mistakes until March, when it heard from the watchdog group and The Post.

Anyone who believes that this wasn’t a bribe that was deliberately hidden from the IRS is a hopeless fool. Twitter has been filled with comments on this story and questions about why no one else in the media is covering it, but I’ve seen no serious responses from corporate media reporters.

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Another investigative reporters who has been doing important work is Gabriel Sherman of New York Magazine. Sherman is the author of a book on Roger Ailes, and he has spent month investigating the story of Ailes’ sexual abuse of women at Fox News. Sherman’s stories ultimately led to Ailes leaving the right wing network and going to work for Donald Trump. Here’s the latest blockbuster story from Sherman: The Revenge of Roger’s Angels. How Fox News women took down the most powerful, and predatory, man in media.

It took 15 days to end the mighty 20-year reign of Roger Ailes at Fox News, one of the most storied runs in media and political history. Ailes built not just a conservative cable news channel but something like a fourth branch of government; a propaganda arm for the GOP; an organization that determined Republican presidential candidates, sold wars, and decided the issues of the day for 2 million viewers. That the place turned out to be rife with grotesque abuses of power has left even its liberal critics stunned. More than two dozen women have come forward to accuse Ailes of sexual harassment, and what they have exposed is both a culture of misogyny and one of corruption and surveillance, smear campaigns and hush money, with implications reaching far wider than one disturbed man at the top.

It began, of course, with a lawsuit. Of all the people who might have brought down Ailes, the former Fox & Friends anchor Gretchen Carlson was among the least likely. A 50-year-old former Miss America, she was the archetypal Fox anchor: blonde, right-wing, proudly anti-intellectual. A memorable Daily Show clip showed Carlson saying she needed to Google the words czar and ignoramus. But television is a deceptive medium. Off-camera, Carlson is a Stanford- and Oxford-educated feminist who chafed at the culture of Fox News. When Ailes made harassing comments to her about her legs and suggested she wear tight-fitting outfits after she joined the network in 2005, she tried to ignore him. But eventually he pushed her too far. When Carlson complained to her supervisor in 2009 about her co-host Steve Doocy, who she said condescended to her on and off the air, Ailes responded that she was “a man hater” and a “killer” who “needed to get along with the boys.” After this conversation, Carlson says, her role on the show diminished. In September 2013, Ailes demoted her from the morning show Fox & Friends to the lower-rated 2 p.m. time slot.

Carlson knew her situation was far from unique: It was common knowledge at Fox that Ailes frequently made inappropriate comments to women in private meetings and asked them to twirl around so he could examine their figures; and there were persistent rumors that Ailes propositioned female employees for sexual favors. The culture of fear at Fox was such that no one would dare come forward. Ailes was notoriously paranoid and secretive — he built a multiroom security bunker under his home and kept a gun in his Fox office, according to Vanity Fair — and he demanded absolute loyalty from those who worked for him. He was known for monitoring employee emails and phone conversations and hiring private investigators. “Watch out for the enemy within,” he told Fox’s staff during one companywide meeting.

Taking on Ailes was dangerous, but Carlson was determined to fight back. She settled on a simple strategy: She would turn the tables on his surveillance. Beginning in 2014, according to a person familiar with the lawsuit, Carlson brought her iPhone to meetings in Ailes’s office and secretly recorded him saying the kinds of things he’d been saying to her all along. “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago, and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better. Sometimes problems are easier to solve” that way, he said in one conversation. “I’m sure you can do sweet nothings when you want to,” he said another time.

It’s a long, fascinating story. Read all the gory details at the New York Magazine link.

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?