Tuesday Reads

landscape-under-a-stormy-sky-1888, Vincent Van Gogh

Landscape Under a Stormy Sky, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh

Good Morning!!

I’m struggling to get going with this post. There is so much negative and even crazy coverage out there. If only there could be a week or two of boring news! But the media is still beating up on Biden for ending a 20-year war,  Republicans are still claiming 2020 was a “rigged election,” and the pandemic is still worsening because wacko right wingers insist on taking a horse de-wormer instead of just getting vaccinated and wearing masks. And we can’t forget the powerful hurricanes and wildfires that are linked to our refusal to deal with climate change. So here’s a sampling of what’s out there in the media today. 

At the Washington Post, Matt Viser has a piece on angry families who recently lost sons and daughters in Afghanistan: ‘Don’t you ever forget that name’: Biden’s tough meeting with grieving relatives.

President Biden made his way on Sunday around a quiet room at Dover Air Force Base, a chamber filled with couches and chairs, with dignitaries and grieving families huddling together as the president came to speak to them privately, one family at a time.

Mark Schmitz had told a military officer the night before that he wasn’t much interested in speaking to a president he did not vote for, one whose execution of the Afghan pullout he disdains — and one he now blames for the death of his 20-year-old son Jared.

But overnight, sleeping in a nondescript hotel nearby, Schmitz changed his mind. So on that dreary morning he and his ex-wife were approached by Biden after he’d talked to all the other families. But by his own account, Schmitz glared hard at the president, so Biden spent more time looking at his ex-wife, repeatedly invoking his own son, Beau, who died six years ago.

Shore wiht red house, Edvard Munch

Shore with Red House, Edvard Munch

Schmitz did not want to hear about Beau, he wanted to talk about Jared. Eventually, the parents took out a photo to show to Biden. “I said, ‘Don’t you ever forget that name. Don’t you ever forget that face. Don’t you ever forget the names of the other 12,’ ” Schmitz said. “ ‘And take some time to learn their stories.’ ”

Biden did not seem to like that, Schmitz recalled, and he bristled, offering a blunt response: “I do know their stories.”

It was a remarkable moment of two men thrown together by history. One was a president of the United States who prides himself on connecting with just about anyone in a moment of grief, but now coming face-to-face with grief that he himself had a role in creating. The other was a proud Marine father from Missouri, awoken a few nights before at 2:40 a.m. by a military officer at his door with news that nearly made him faint.

Obviously the anger of these families is understandable. What I find offensive is the media’s determination to blame Biden for everything that has happened in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. Read more at the WaPo.

The Los Angeles Post Editorial Page editor Sewell Chan defended Biden: Editorial: The latest tragedy in Kabul.

The killing of at least 13 U.S. service members, mostly Marines, and dozens of civilians in a pair of suicide attacks outside the Kabul airport on Thursday is an outrageous act of terrorism — in this case, at the hands of ISIS-K, an Islamic State affiliate that is active in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

President Biden was right to vow vengeance. “We will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and we will make you pay,” he said at the White House.

The attacks are not, however, the work of the Taliban, which has retaken Afghanistan in mere weeks as the Western-backed government and security forces collapsed with scarcely a fight.

Nor are the attacks a sign of failure by the Biden administration, as a host of armchair critics, Washington commentators and Republican cynics have suggested.

We support Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Aug. 31, and his insistence on sticking to that deadline.

Gloucester Harbor, Winslow Homer

Gloucester Harbor, Winslow Homer

In the 11 days before the president addressed the nation Thursday afternoon, the U.S. military had evacuated 100,000 people from Kabul — 7,000 in the previous 12 hours alone. These airlifts have been one of the most complex logistical undertakings in military history, reminiscent of the British evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940 and the Berlin airlift of 1948-49.

No one will soon forget the chaos that accompanied the fall of Kabul, including the heart-wrenching scenes of desperate Afghans holding onto the sides of military aircraft, some later falling from the sky (or dying inside the landing gear). Those moments captured the desperate measures Afghans were willing to take to escape the threat posed by the Taliban to an entire generation’s worth of progress — in education, women’s rights, literacy, health outcomes and personal freedoms.

Critics of the evacuations have made entirely disingenuous, self-serving or simply misleading arguments over the last two weeks. 

Click the link to read the rest.

On the GOP crazy front, over the weekend, North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn threatened “bloodshed” if the “rigged elections” continue and said he wants to “bust out” the “political prisoners” who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

The Washington Post: Rep. Madison Cawthorn falsely suggests elections are ‘rigged,’ says there will be ‘bloodshed’ if system continues on its path.

Cawthorn, a freshman lawmaker and pro-Trump star of the far right, made the remarks during an event at the Macon County Republican Party headquarters in Franklin, N.C., on Sunday night.

“The things that we are wanting to fight for, it doesn’t matter if our votes don’t count,” Cawthorn told the crowd, according to a video of the event posted by the county party on its Facebook page and circulated on Twitter by a Democratic congressional staffer. “Because, you know, if our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place — and it’s bloodshed.”

moroccan-landscape-henri-matisse

Moroccan Landscape, Henri Matisse

Cawthorn suggested that he was prepared to take up arms against his fellow Americans if necessary to combat voter fraud. There is no evidence that widespread fraud took place in the 2020 election.

“I will tell you, as much as I am willing to defend our liberty at all costs, there is nothing that I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American. And the way that we can have recourse against that is if we all passionately demand that we have election security in all 50 states,” Cawthorn said, to applause from the crowd.

About a minute earlier in his remarks, Cawthorn was holding a shotgun that he signed as part of a raffle conducted by the county Republican Party.

More on Cawthorn’s diatribe from Vice News: GOP Congressman Says He Wants to Bust Out Jan. 6 ‘Political Prisoners.’

When Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn was asked about what he’s doing to help the hundreds in jail awaiting trial for their roles in the violent January 6 riots, he called them “political prisoners”—and said he wanted to “bust them out.”

“The big problem is we don’t actually know who all the political prisoners are, and so if we were actually to go and try to bust them out—and let me tell you, the reason why they have taken these political prisoners is they’re trying to make an example, because they don’t want to see the mass protest going on in Washington,” he said at a Macon County Republican Party event on Sunday.

Someone in the audience then asked, “When will you call us to Washington again?”

“We are actively working on this,” Cawthorn responded. “We have a few plans in motion I can’t make public right now,” he said, before calling those facing charges for their role in the January 6 insurrection “political hostages”—for the second time.

The speech was streamed live on Facebook by the Macon County Republican Party on Sunday. 

In Florida, where Covid-19 is running rampant, Governor DeSantis has decided to ignore a court decision that his anti-mask orders are unconstitutional. The New York Times: Florida withholds money from school districts over mask mandates.

The Florida Department of Education has withheld funds from two school districts that made masks mandatory in classrooms this fall, state officials announced on Monday, making good on a threat that local school boards that required students to wear masks would be punished financially….

Richard Corcoran, the state education commissioner, said in a statement that the department would fight to protect parents’ rights to make health care decisions for their children, adding: “They know what is best for their children.”

The penalty applies to two school districts — Alachua County and Broward County — that went ahead with mask mandates in defiance of the governor’s order.

The department had indicated that it would withhold a monthly amount equivalent to school board members’ salaries. In Alachua County, members make about $40,000 a year, and in Broward County about $46,000, according to the State Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

However, because the state does not pay the salaries of local officials, it cannot withhold the salaries directly. Mr. Corcoran had previously said that he might recommend withholding funds “in an amount equal to the salaries of the superintendent and all the members of the school board.”

Also at The New York Times, Jamelle Bouie asks: Do Republicans Actually Want the Pandemic to End?

Joe Biden, in his 2020 campaign for president, promised to get the coronavirus pandemic under control. With additional aid to working families and free distribution of multiple effective vaccines, he would lead the United States out of its ongoing public health crisis….

Always and Forevr, Ford Smith

Always and Forever, Ford Smith

Rather than work with him to vaccinate the country, Biden’s Republican opposition has, with only a few exceptions, done everything in its power to politicize the vaccine and make refusal to cooperate a test of partisan loyalty. The party is, for all practical purposes, pro-Covid. If it’s sincere, it is monstrous. And if it’s not, it is an unbelievably cynical and nihilistic strategy. Unfortunately for both Biden and the country, it appears to be working.

Naturally, some of the loudest vaccine-skeptical Republicans are in Congress. “Think about what those mechanisms could be used for,” Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina said of the Biden administration’s plan for door-to-door vaccine ambassadors. “They could then go door-to-door to take your guns. They could go door-to-door to take your Bibles.”

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has similarly criticized the president’s effort to reach the unvaccinated. “People have a choice, they don’t need your medical brown shirts showing up at their door ordering vaccinations,” she tweeted. “You can’t force people to be part of the human experiment.”

Cawthorn and Greene are obviously fringe figures. But these days, the fringe is not far from the center of the Republican Party (if it ever was to begin with). Their rhetoric is not too different, in other words, from that of their more mainstream colleagues in the Senate.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has attacked vaccine mandates — “There should be no mandates, zero, concerning Covid,” he said in a recent interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity — while Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has urged Americans to “resist” efforts to stop the spread of the virus. “It’s time for us to resist,” Paul said in a video posted to Twitter. “They can’t arrest all of us. They can’t keep all of your kids home from school. They can’t keep every government building closed, although I’ve got a long list of ones they might keep closed or ought to keep closed.” 

Republican rhetoric in Washington, however, is a sideshow to the real fight over Covid, in states like Florida and Texas.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Hurricane Ida has moved on, but Louisiana with be dealing with the aftereffects for a long time. Read about it and see photos at NPR: These Images Show Just How Bad Hurricane Ida Hit Louisiana’s Coastline.

Hurricane Ida’s fierce Category 4 winds and torrential rain left the Louisiana coastline badly beaten.

Images of the effected areasdays after the storm show crushed homes, debris scattered across streets, and flooded neighborhoods.

As cleanup is underway, officials are warning residents who evacuated not to return to their homes just yet due to the severe damage.

Suzanne Valadon, The Gardens at Cortot Street, Montmartre, 1916Out West, the devastating drought and resulting wildfires continue. The New York Times: Evacuations Ordered Near Lake Tahoe as the Caldor Fire Chokes Region.

A wildfire that had burned through remote areas in the Sierra Nevada for two weeks crested a ridge on Monday and began descending toward the major population centers along Lake Tahoe.

As the Caldor fire intensified amid dry and windy conditions, thousands of people along the lake’s southern and western shores were ordered to evacuate. Crews of firefighters sped to put out spot fires only miles from South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Tourists normally swarm the lake on the California-Nevada border in the summer months for boating, fishing, hiking, eating and drinking. But by sunset on Monday, the community seemed to stand still.

On streets that were clogged only hours earlier, shops and businesses — motels, restaurants, supermarkets — were deserted. Roads were empty except for fire engines and television reporters documenting the eerie calm.

It was impossible to know when, if at all, the fire would reach the town. But people did not stay to test the fury of a blaze that fire officials estimate could threaten more than 20,000 structures.

Public safety officials warned that the Caldor fire, the latest to grip California during a particularly unforgiving summer for fire crews in the West, showed no signs of relenting. It had scorched more than 186,000 acres and was 15 percent contained on Monday.

The mandatory evacuation zone extended from Tahoma, Calif., on the western shore of the lake, to the Nevada border. 

So those are the highlights of today’s news from my point of view. What stories are you following?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Mostly Good News and Military Cats

sailors of the HMS Hermione in 1941 surrounding their sleeping cat, Convoy.

Sailors of the HMS Hermione in 1941 surrounding their sleeping cat, Convoy.

Good Afternoon!!

I’m going to begin with some good news today.

Binx, the cat who was trapped on the ninth floor of the collapsed Mami condo has been found! 

The Miami Herald: Cat that lived in collapsed Surfside condo tower is found safe, reunited with family.

Binx, a cat that lived on the ninth floor of Champlain Towers South condo, was found safe two weeks after the building collapsed and has been reunited with his family.

The black cat was found near the rubble and was taken to Kitty Campus, an organization that cares for community cats in Miami Beach.

A volunteer feeding cats in the area was the one who found him, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during a news conference late Friday. Binx was reunited with his family Friday.

“I’m glad that this small miracle could bring some light into the life of a hurting family today and provide a bright spot for our whole community in the midst of this terrible tragedy,” Levine Cava said.

Here’s another feel-good story from the Boston area. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman dog went missing after being frightened by fireworks on the Fourth of July; but now, days later, he has been returned to her. WCVB ABC 5: After nearly a week missing, Massachusetts Olympic hero Aly Raisman finds her dog.

After nearly a week missing, Massachusetts native and two-time Olympian Aly Raisman says her missing dog has been found….

Raisman tweeted last Saturday night that her dog, Mylo, was terrified of the fireworks and ran off in the area of the Seaport District. She says the dog had a tag on, as well as a leash.

Raisman asked people not to actively search for Mylo — yelling his name or running around looking for him — because the organization Missing Dogs Mass advised her that scared dogs will make bad decisions if they are pressured.

The Needham native was a member of the 2012 and 2016 U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics teams, both of which won the gold medal. With two team and four individual Olympic medals, Raisman is the second-most decorated Olympic gymnast in American history.

A bit more good news on the political front. Social Security activists have been pushing Biden to fire the two horrible men that Trump put in charge of the Social Security administration, and he has finally done it.

The Washington Post: Biden fires head of Social Security Administration, a Trump holdover who drew the ire of Democrats.

President Biden on Friday fired Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul, a holdover from the Trump administration who had alienated crucial Democratic constituencies with policies designed to clamp down benefits and an uncompromising anti-union stance.

Saul was fired after refusing a request to resign, White House officials said. His deputy, David Black, who served as the agency’s top lawyer before his appointment by former president Donald Trump, resigned Friday upon request.

Biden named Kilolo Kijakazi, the current deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy, to serve as acting commissioner until the White House identifies a permanent nominee to lead the agency.

As the head of an independent agency whose leadership does not normally change with a new administration, Saul’s six-year term was supposed to last until January 2025.

The White House said a recent Supreme Court ruling, followed by a Justice Department memo on Thursday affirming the president’s authority “to remove the SSA Commissioner at will,” gave the president power to treat the position like that of other traditional political appointments.

Making friends with the locals in Afghanistan

Making friends with the locals in Afghanistan

Saul says he plans to keep doing his job as if nothing has changed.

But Saul said in an interview Friday afternoon that he would not leave his post, challenging the legality of the White House move to oust him.

“I consider myself the term-protected Commissioner of Social Security,” he said, adding that he plans to be back at work on Monday morning, signing in remotely from his New Yorkhome. He called his ouster a “Friday Night Massacre.”

What a dick! I hope someone will lock him out of the system ASAP. More about Saul from Yahoo News:

Saul, a Trump appointee, had triggered fierce criticism from Democrats and advocates, who said he gummed up the speedy distribution of $1,400 stimulus checks to disabled Americans and applied union-busting tactics with labor unions representing federal employees….

Saul is a former GOP donor who served on the board of a conservative think-tank that advocated for cuts to Social Security benefits. Advocates said the Social Security Administration delayed releasing information to the IRS for stimulus checks earlier this year.

They also argued the SSA under Saul made it much more burdensome for disabled people to reestablish their eligibility for benefits.

Congressional Democrats and activists cheered Friday’s firings. Alex Lawson, president of Social Security Works, told Insider it was “great news” Saul and Black are no longer in charge of the agency.

“They were put in place by former President Trump to sabotage Social Security and no one but Wall Street is sad to see them go,” he said. “Their attacks on seniors and people with disabilities will be their shameful legacy.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio also praised the move. The Banking committee chair said in a statement Saul “tried to systematically dismantle Social Security as we know it from within.”

“Social Security is the bedrock of our middle class that Americans earn and count on, and they need a Social Security Commissioner who will honor that promise to seniors, survivors, and people with disabilities now and for decades to come,” Brown said.

I’m one of the people who had to wait weeks for a stimulus check. I’m celebrating these firings.

The CATS program originated during World War II and was instrumental in the invasion of Normandy.

The CATS program originated during World War II and was instrumental in the invasion of Normandy.

Before I move on the bad news, here’s a laugh-out-loud piece from Raw Story: GOP’s Madison Cawthorn: Biden may use door-to-door vaccine program to ‘take your Bibles’

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced “door-to-door outreach” in communities that have low rates of vaccination.

“It’s a year of hard-fought progress. We can’t get complacent now. The best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family and the people you care about the most is get vaccinated,” Biden said.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) panicked over the efforts to protect Americans from the pandemic during an interview conducted by Right Side Broadcast Network at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) gathering in Texas.

Despite the fact the federal government goes door-to-door during the Census, Cawthorn painted a dystopian vision of what could happen if the government knocked on doors to tell Americans about the COVID vaccines, which have proven safe and effective.

“The thing about the mechanisms they would have to build to be able to actually execute that massive of a thing — and then think about what those mechanisms could be used for. They could then go door-to-door to take your guns. They could then go door-to-door to take your Bibles,” he argued.

LOL! The U.S. Post Office also goes door to door, and I don’t think they have ever taken anyone’s bibles away.

Now for the bad news of day.

Allison Chinchar, CNN Meteorologist: Western states face possible all-time heat records this weekend.

Over 30 million people are under heat alerts across western states as temperatures are forecast to soar well into the triple digits this weekend.

Nearly the entire state of California will be impacted by this heat wave, in addition to major metro areas in the Southwest. Numerous daily temperature records will be broken and some all-time records may also be in jeopardy.

Simon, the ship's cat about the HMS Amethyst, with Dickin Medal, awarded for catching rats in wartime.

Simon, the ship’s cat on the HMS Amethyst, with Dickin Medal, awarded for catching rats in wartime.

“High pressure will continue to dominate the southern Great Basin and Mojave Desert, producing a major heat wave into early next week,” the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Las Vegas said. “All-time record high temperatures will be rivaled or exceeded in some areas.”

While the Southwest may be known for its hot temperatures, these numbers are extreme.

A “Very High” heat risk, the highest level (4 of 4), has been issued for much of California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. This includes cities such as Sacramento, Bakersfield and Palm Springs, California, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

“Very High” simply means that the entire population, not just elderly or people who are ill, will be at a very high risk of heat-related illness due to the long duration of heat and the lack of overnight relief.

Utah’s current state temperature record is 117 degrees. The town of St George may meet or exceed that record on Saturday.

Las Vegas has the potential to set a new all-time high temperature record this weekend. The current all-time high is 117 degrees and the National Weather Service is forecasting at least that temperature for Saturday and Sunday.

Sacramento also has the chance to break their all-time high temperature of 114 degrees this weekend.

Death Valley, California, hit a high of 130 degrees on Friday, coming close to the hottest temperature ever recorded on the globe — 134 degrees at the same location in 1913.

The New York Times: Like in ‘Postapocalyptic Movies’: Heat Wave Killed Marine Wildlife en Masse.

Dead mussels and clams coated rocks in the Pacific Northwest, their shells gaping open as if they’d been boiled. Sea stars were baked to death. Sockeye salmon swam sluggishly in an overheated Washington river, prompting wildlife officials to truck them to cooler areas.

The combination of extraordinary heat and drought that hit the Western United States and Canada over the past two weeks has killed hundreds of millions of marine animals and continues to threaten untold species in freshwater, according to a preliminary estimate and interviews with scientists.

“It just feels like one of those postapocalyptic movies,” said Christopher Harley, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia who studies the effects of climate change on coastal marine ecosystems.

To calculate the death toll, Dr. Harley first looked at how many blue mussels live on a particular shoreline, how much of the area is good habitat for mussels and what fraction of the mussels he observed died. He estimated losses for the mussels alone in the hundreds of millions. Factoring in the other creatures that live in the mussel beds and on the shore — barnacles, hermit crabs and other crustaceans, various worms, tiny sea cucumbers — puts the deaths at easily over a billion, he said.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Afghanistan 2009

Afghanistan 2009

The Washington Post: The Trump administration used an early, unreported program to separate migrant families along a remote stretch of the border.

The Trump administration began separating migrant families along a remote stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border months earlier than has been previously reported — part of a little known program coming into view only now as the Biden administration examines government data.

In May 2017, Border Patrol agents in Yuma, Ariz., began implementing a program known as the Criminal Consequence Initiative, which allowed for the prosecution of first-time border crossers, including parents who entered the United States with their children and were separated from them.

From July 1 to Dec. 31, 2017, 234 families were separated in Yuma, according to newly released data from the Department of Homeland Security, almost exactly the same number as were separated in a now well known pilot program in El Paso that year. Because the Yuma program began in May, and the existing data on family separations begins only in July, the number of separations there was likely higher than 234, a prospect the Biden administration is now investigating.

Some of the parents separated under the Yuma program still remain apart from their children four years later. Others are missing — lawyers and advocates have been unable to locate them since they were deported alone. The children separated in Yuma in 2017 were as young as 10 months old, according to government data.

One more from The Atlantic: The Biggest Threat to Democracy Is the GOP Stealing the Next Election, by Steven Livitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

The greatest threat to American democracy today is not a repeat of January 6, but the possibility of a stolen presidential election. Contemporary democracies that die meet their end at the ballot box, through measures that are nominally constitutional. The looming danger is not that the mob will return; it’s that mainstream Republicans will “legally” overturn an election.

In 2018, when we wrote How Democracies Die, we knew that Donald Trump was an authoritarian figure, and we held the Republican Party responsible for abdicating its role as democratic gatekeeper. But we did not consider the GOP to be an antidemocratic party. Four years later, however, the bulk of the Republican Party is behaving in an antidemocratic manner. Solving this problem requires that we address both the acute crisis and the underlying long-term conditions that give rise to it….

HMS Warspite asleep with the ship's mascot kitten in its hammock, 1944.

HMS Warspite asleep with the ship’s mascot kitten in its hammock, 1944.

Last year, for the first time in U.S. history, a sitting president refused to accept defeat and attempted to overturn election results. Rather than oppose this attempted coup, leading Republicans either cooperated with it or enabled it by refusing to publicly acknowledge Trump’s defeat. In the run-up to January 6, most top GOP officials refused to denounce extremist groups that were spreading conspiracy theories, calling for armed insurrection and assassinations, and ultimately implicated in the Capitol assault. Few Republicans broke with Trump after his incitement of the insurrection, and those who did were censured by their state parties.

From November 2020 to January 2021, then, a significant portion of the Republican Party refused to unambiguously accept electoral defeat, eschew violence, or break with extremist groups—the three principles that define prodemocracy parties….

As we argued in How Democracies Die, our constitutional system relies heavily on forbearance. Whether it is the filibuster, funding the government, impeachment, or judicial nominations, our system of checks and balances works best when politicians on both sides of the aisle deploy their institutional prerogatives with restraint. In other words, when they avoid applying the letter of the law in ways contrary to the spirit of the law—what’s sometimes called constitutional hardball. When contemporary democracies die, they usually do so via constitutional hardball. Democracy’s primary assailants today are not generals or armed revolutionaries, but rather politicians—Hugo Chávez, Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orbán, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—who eviscerate democracy’s substance behind a carefully crafted veneer of legality and constitutionality.

This is precisely what could happen in the next U.S. presidential race. Elections require forbearance. For elections to be democratic, all adult citizens must be equally able to cast a ballot and have that vote count. Using the letter of the law to violate the spirit of this principle is strikingly easy. 

I hope you’ll head over to The Atlantic and read the whole thing.

This is getting way too long, so I’ll sign off for now. I hope you all have a great weekend!