Lazy Caturday Reads

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Good Morning!!

We’ve reached the end of another week in the post-Trump era, and we continue to deal with crises that developed and worsened during the monster’s regime. It’s clear that it will take a long time to recover–if recovery is even possible. On the plus side, it’s great to have a normal president again–a person with empathy and compassion–and a caring, engaged first lady, and White House pets!

Biden’s Covid relief package appears to be on track for passage, despite the efforts of Republicans in Congress. The New York Times: Republicans Struggle to Derail Increasingly Popular Stimulus Package.

Republicans are struggling to persuade voters to oppose President Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue plan, which enjoys strong, bipartisan support nationwide even as it is moving through Congress with just Democratic backing.

Democrats who control the House are preparing to approve the package by the end of next week, with the Senate aiming to soon follow with its own party-line vote before unemployment benefits are set to lapse in mid-March. On Friday, the House Budget Committee unveiled the nearly 600-page text for the proposal, which includes billions of dollars for unemployment benefits, small businesses and stimulus checks.

Republican leaders, searching for a way to derail the proposal, on Friday led a final attempt to tarnish the package, labeling it a “payoff to progressives.” The bill, they said, spends too much and includes a liberal wish list of programs like aid to state and local governments — which they call a “blue state bailout,” though many states facing shortfalls are controlled by Republicans — and increased benefits for the unemployed, which they argued would discourage people from looking for work.

f41e011b0d7776d62868846f4192e37dOut in the real world, even Republican voters support the relief bill.

More than 7 in 10 Americans now back Mr. Biden’s aid package, according to new polling from the online research firm SurveyMonkey for The New York Times. That includes support from three-quarters of independent voters, 2 in 5 Republicans and nearly all Democrats. The overall support for the bill is even larger than the substantial majority of voters who said in January that they favored an end-of-year economic aid bill signed into law by President Donald J. Trump.

While Mr. Biden has encouraged Republican lawmakers to get on board with his package, Democrats are moving their bill through Congress using a parliamentary process that will allow them to pass it with only Democratic votes.

“Critics say my plan is too big, that it cost $1.9 trillion dollars; that’s too much,” Mr. Biden said at an event on Friday. “Let me ask them, what would they have me cut?”

House Republican leaders on Friday urged their rank-and-file members to vote against the plan, billing it as Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California’s “Payoff to Progressives Act.” They detailed more than a dozen objections to the bill, including “a third round of stimulus checks costing more than $422 billion, which will include households that have experienced little or no financial loss during the pandemic.” Ms. Pelosi’s office issued its own rebuttal soon after, declaring “Americans need help. House Republicans don’t care.”

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is moving forward with it’s investigation of Trump’s finances. Reuters: Exclusive: New York City tax agency subpoenaed in Trump criminal probe.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has subpoenaed a New York City property tax agency as part of a criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s company, the agency confirmed on Friday, suggesting prosecutors are examining the former president’s efforts to reduce his commercial real-estate taxes for possible evidence of fraud.

The subpoena issued to the New York City Tax Commission is the latest indication that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. is looking at the values Trump assigned to some commercial properties in tax filings and loan documents.

photo-of-snow-catAlong with information already subpoenaed from creditors, the tax agency documents would help investigators determine whether Trump’s business inflated the value of his properties to secure favorable terms on loans while deflating those values to lower tax bills for those same properties….

The subpoena likely would compel the agency to provide detailed income and expense statements the Trump Organization would have filed as part of an effort to lower tax assessments on some of its commercial properties, according to people familiar with the commission’s operations. Trump’s holdings include Trump Tower and Trump Plaza.

Those filings typically would include valuations submitted by the company to challenge the market values assigned to Trump’s property by the city’s tax assessors, they added.

Subpoenas also have been issued to at least two creditors that helped finance Trump’s real-estate holdings, Deutsche Bank AG and Ladder Capital Finance LLC, Reuters has previously reported.

The Federal investigation into the January 6 insurrection is continuing to heat up. 

The Washington Post: U.S. investigating possible ties between Roger Stone, Alex Jones and Capitol rioters.

The Justice Department and FBI are investigating whether high-profile right-wing figures — including Roger Stone and Alex Jones — may have played a role in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach as part of a broader look into the mind-set of those who committed violence and their apparent paths to radicalization, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The investigation into potential ties between key figures in the riot and those who promoted former president Donald Trump’s false assertions that the election was stolen from him does not mean those who may have influenced rioters will face criminal charges, particularly given U.S. case law surrounding incitement and free speech, the people said. Officials at this stage said they are principally seeking to understand what the rioters were thinking — and who may have influenced beliefs — which could be critical to showing their intentions at trial.

769e257ae7490ca39b79e8e4d1bbe242However, investigators also want to determine whether anyone who influenced them bears enough responsibility to justify potential criminal charges, such as conspiracy or aiding the effort, the officials said. That prospect is still distant and uncertain, they emphasized.

Nevertheless, while Trump’s impeachment trial focused on the degree of his culpability for the violence, this facet of the case shows investigators’ ongoing interest in other individuals who never set foot in the Capitol but may have played an outsized role in what happened there through their influence, networks or action.

“We are investigating potential ties between those physically involved in the attack on the Capitol and individuals who may have influenced them, such as Roger Stone, Alex Jones and [Stop the Steal organizer] Ali Alexander,” said a U.S. official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a pending matter.

The Washington Post: U.S. Alleges Wider Oath Keepers Conspiracy, Adds More Defendants in Jan. 6 Capitol Riot.

U.S. authorities on Friday alleged a broader conspiracy by Oath Keepers to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, charging six new individuals who appeared to be members or associates of the right-wing group.

One self-described leader in the group, which recruits among military and law enforcement, sent a Facebook message claiming at least 50 to 100 Oath Keepers planned to travel to D.C. with him on Jan. 6 and that they would “make it wild,” echoing a comment President Donald Trump made on Twitter rallying supporters to the Capitol.

A 21-page indictment alleged that the defendants “did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with each other and others known and unknown” to force entry to the Capitol and obstruct Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden as president in riots that led to five deaths and assaults on 139 police.

The nine-person indictment named three already charged military veterans — Jessica Marie Watkins, 38, and Donovan Ray Crowl, 50, both of Woodstock, Ohio; and Thomas E. Caldwell, 66, of Berryville, Va. The six new defendants include siblings Graydon Young, 54, of Englewood, Fla., and Laura Steele, of Thomasville, N.C. It also includes married couples Kelly and Connie Meggs, 52 and 59, of Dunnellon, Fla.; and Bennie and Sandra Parker, 70 and 60, of the Cincinnati area.

More details at the WaPo link.

74b47b2bb2069367067776f258164a25Zoe Tillman at Buzzfeed News: The Capitol Rioters Are Starting To Face Much More Serious Charges For The Insurrection.

Bruno Cua, an 18-year-old from Milton, Georgia, was already facing serious charges when he was arrested on Feb. 6 in connection with the insurrection at the US Capitol a month earlier. He was accused not only of illegally entering the Capitol but also of assaulting police and of obstructing Congress’s efforts to certify the presidential election, which are felony crimes.

But it only got worse for Cua when a federal grand jury in Washington, DC, returned an indictment four days later. On top of the original set of charges, the grand jury bumped up misdemeanor counts he’d faced for entering the Capitol to felonies, citing evidence that he’d carried a “deadly and dangerous weapon” — in his case, a baton. The addition of a “weapons enhancement” meant the maximum sentence he faced for those counts jumped tenfold, from one year in prison to 10.

Cua is one of a growing number of defendants charged in the insurrection seeing their felony counts — and potential prison time — stack up as the investigation presses on. Other defendants only charged with misdemeanors when they were arrested are now facing felonies post-indictment. Acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin in Washington had told reporters one week after the assault on the Capitol that the early rounds of arrests on misdemeanor charges were “only the beginning,” and promised more “significant charges” once prosecutors took these cases before a grand jury. New court documents in cases such as Cua’s show how that’s taking shape.

Of the more than 230 people charged to date, at least 70 are now facing a minimum of one felony count — the most common is obstruction of Congress, which has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. More than 30 are charged with assaulting or interfering with law enforcement officers, and at least 14 are charged with carrying or using a weapon that day. Weapons identified in the government’s court filings so far have included knives, Tasers, a hockey stick, a large metal pipe, baseball bats, fire extinguishers, and batons.

Now that Trump is gone, the Feds are admitting how dangerous right-wing extremism is.

Yahoo News: Feds now say right-wing extremists responsible for majority of deadly terrorist attacks last year.

The U.S. government is acknowledging for the first time that right-wing extremists were responsible for the majority of fatal domestic terrorist attacks last year, according to an internal report circulated by the Department of Homeland Security last week and obtained by Yahoo News.

cat-snowmanA review of last year’s domestic terrorist incidents by a DHS fusion center — which shares threat-related information between federal, state and local partners — found that although civil unrest and antigovernment violence were associated with “non-affiliated, right-wing and left-wing actors, right-wing [domestic violent extremists] were responsible for the majority of fatal attacks in the Homeland in 2020.”

The report, produced by the Joint Regional Intelligence Center, a DHS-funded fusion center, was sent out to police and law enforcement agencies nationwide as part of an intelligence-sharing system created after the 9/11 attacks.

While independent think tanks and outside groups have been pointing to the rise in ring-wing violence for some time, this appears to be the first known instance of an official government or law enforcement agency clearly acknowledging the trend, though senior officials have noted the rise in white supremacist attacks. The report also comes not long after the end of the Trump administration, which was criticized for downplaying right-wing violence.

So . . . lots happening this weekend. I’ll add more stories in the comment thread. What’s on your mind today?


Thursday Reads: Trump and Deutsche Bank; Schools Reopening

Good Morning!!

Last night The New York Times revealed that Deutsche Bank has been cooperating in the New York Attorney General’s investigation of the Trump Organization for quite some time:

Trump’s Bank Was Subpoenaed by N.Y. Prosecutors in Criminal Inquiry.

The New York prosecutors who are seeking President Trump’s tax records have also subpoenaed his longtime lender, a sign that their criminal investigation into Mr. Trump’s business practices is more wide-ranging than previously known.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office issued the subpoena last year to Deutsche Bank, which has been Mr. Trump’s primary lender since the late 1990s, seeking financial records that he and his company provided to the bank, according to four people familiar with the inquiry.

The criminal investigation initially appeared to be focused on hush-money payments made in 2016 to two women who have said they had affairs with Mr. Trump.

But in a court filing this week, prosecutors with the district attorney’s office cited “public reports of possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization” and suggested that they were also investigating possible crimes involving bank and insurance fraud.

Trump, Deutsche Bank has been a frequent target of regulators and lawmakers digging into the president’s opaque finances. But the subpoena from the office of the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., appears to be the first instance of a criminal inquiry involving Mr. Trump and his dealings with the German bank, which lent him and his company more than $2 billion over the past two decades.

Deutsche Bank complied with the subpoena. Over a period of months last year, it provided Mr. Vance’s office with detailed records, including financial statements and other materials that Mr. Trump had provided to the bank as he sought loans, according to two of the people familiar with the inquiry….

The subpoena to Deutsche Bank sought documents on various topics related to Mr. Trump and his company, including any materials that might point to possible fraud, according to two people briefed on the subpoena’s contents.

That must have been quite a shock to Trump.

As The Daily Beast explains, Trump himself triggered the public announcements by Vance by mischaracterizing the investigation in legal filings: The Footnote That Could Lock Trump Up in 2021.

Things had already been going badly for Trump in this legal fight but he bought time as the case made its way up to the Supreme Court, which ultimately rejected his argument, reasoning that “the public has the right to every man’s evidence.” The high court then returned the matter to a district court, while affording Trump with little remaining basis to object, in the absence of any reason to conclude that the subpoena will interfere with his official duties.

It is well established that grand juries have wide latitude to conduct investigations. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson put it, a grand jury “can investigate merely on suspicion that the law is being violated, or even just because it wants assurance that it is not.” Therefore, if Trump had been astute, he would have accepted the high court’s decision and given up on his effort to block Vance’s subpoena. But Trump chose to overplay his hand. Last month, the president’s lawyers declared that the nature and scope of Vance’s investigation is limited to an inquiry into Trump’s illicit efforts to funnel hush money payments to former sexual partners during the months leading up to the 2016 election through his fixer, Michael Cohen, and contended that the purported narrowness of the inquiry meant that Vance had no right to make a broad demand for Trump’s financial records.

Yet Trump had no basis to make declarations about the scope of the DA’s investigation; indeed, the only detailed explanation Vance has offered to date is contained in a (properly) secretly filed portion of a declaration by one of his prosecutors that has been reviewed only by the court. Furthermore, by making uninformed assertions about the scope of the investigation, Trump was all but daring Vance to comment about the nature of an ongoing investigation in the run up to an election….

After noting that the DA has no obligation to disclose the nature or scope of an ongoing criminal investigation in response to a challenge to a subpoena—let alone improperly disclose grand jury evidence – Vance’s office stated that Trump’s claims about the supposedly limited scope of the investigation “is fatally undermined by undisputed information in the public record.” The DA’s brief then went on to quote the judge himself, who months ago—after reading Vance’s secret account of the matters under review—observed that it is related to “alleged insurance and bank fraud by the Trump Organization and its officers.”

Ooopsie! Read more details at the link above.

Meanwhile, Trump is still pushing for schools to fully open around the country. It’s not going well in the places that have followed his advice.

The Washington Post: A Mississippi town welcomed students back to school last week. Now 116 are home in quarantine.

Last week, schools in Corinth, Miss., welcomed back hundreds of students. By Friday, one high schooler tested positive for the novel coronavirus. By early this week, the count rose to six students and one staff member infected. Now, 116 students have been sent home to quarantine, CNN reported Wednesday.

Despite the quick fallout, the district’s superintendent said he has no plans to change course.

“Just because you begin to have positive cases, that is not a reason for closing school,” Superintendent Lee Childress said in a Facebook Live broadcast on Tuesday on the school district’s Facebook page.

As districts around the country debate the merits of in-person classes versus remote learning amid an escalating novel coronavirus pandemic, the Corinth School District’s early experience shows how quickly positive tests can lead to larger quarantines.

ABC News: Students at school touted by Pence for reopening must quarantine due to COVID-19.

Fourth graders at a school in North Carolina have been asked to quarantine for 14 days after a student there tested positive for COVID-19.

The school, a Thales Academy in Wake Forest, said it was notified on Monday that the student became infected after having contact with an infected family member.

The student was asymptomatic and was last at school on Friday. Teachers who were exposed also will be quarantined.

Thales Academy, a network of private non-sectarian community schools with eight locations in North Carolina, made the news last week after Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited a classroom and applauded the school for reopening.

Pence and DeVos visited a campus in Apex, not Wake Forest.

NBC News: Georgia second grader tests positive for coronavirus after first day of school, forcing class to quarantine.

Two suburban Atlanta school districts that began in-person classes Monday with mask-optional policies face more questions about COVID-19 safety protocols after on-campus pictures showed students packed shoulder-to-shoulder. The day after school resumed, one school announced a second grader tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing the child’s teacher and classmates to be sent home to quarantine for two weeks, CBS affiliate WGCL-TV reports.

In Cherokee County, dozens of seniors gathered at two of the district’s six high schools to take traditional first-day-of-school senior photos, with students squeezing together in black outfits. No one in pictures at Sequoyah High School in Hickory Flat or Etowah High School in Woodstock wore a mask.

In Paulding County, student pictures taken Monday and Tuesday show crowded hallways at North Paulding High School in Dallas. Fewer than half of the students shown are wearing masks.

More on this school from Buzzfeed News: The Truth Behind A Viral Picture Of A Reopening School Is Worse Than It Looked.

Behind a viral photo of a crowded hallway at a high school in Georgia, a potentially dire situation is brewing. Students, teachers, and parents fear the Paulding County school’s rushed reopening plans may be spiraling out of control just two days after students — who said they were told they could face expulsion for remaining home — returned to class despite reports of positive coronavirus cases among students and staff.

North Paulding High School, about an hour outside Atlanta, reopened Monday despite an outbreak among members of its high school football team, many of whom, a Facebook video shows, worked out together in a crowded indoor gym last week as part of a weightlifting fundraiser.

Within days of that workout, several North Paulding players had tested positive for the coronavirus. The school’s parents were notified just hours before the first day of class.

And multiple teachers at North Paulding say there are positive tests among school staff, including a staff member who came into contact with most teachers at the school while exhibiting symptoms last week. Teachers and staff said the school won’t confirm coronavirus infections among district employees, citing privacy reasons.

“That was exactly one week ago, so we are all waiting to see who gets sick next week,” a North Paulding teacher told BuzzFeed News of her exposure to the virus.

Despite recommendations from CDC health officials, the district has called mask-wearing a “personal choice” and said that social distancing “will not be possible to enforce” in “most cases.”

Read more at the link.

The Nashville Tennessean: These Tennessee school districts are already reporting COVID-19 cases after reopening.

Just two weeks after the first school districts in Tennessee reopened to students amid the coronavirus pandemic, some are already closing their doors.

Nearly 50 school districts have started the school year as of Wednesday — the majority of them in-person — and at least 14 confirmed COVID-19 cases connected to schools have already been reported.

Two school districts, Coffee County Schools and Blount County Schools, have already closed schools or altered their schedules as a result of exposures to the virus.

Click the link for details.

Business Insider: An emergency medicine physician projects that if schools open in the fall, they’ll close by the end of October with COVID-19 outbreaks.

Citing the “confluence” of the flu season and increased exposure, one doctor with experience in advising city officials on public health said schools can either taking strict health safety precautions or expect to shut the school down again by the end of October if they reopen.

Matt Lambert, an emergency medicine physician and the former chief medical information officer for New York City Health and Hospitals, the nation’s largest public health system, told Business Insider that he is “all for very thoughtful attempts at reopening schools.” [….]

“For local schools, if they want to try and open up using some really practical techniques around mask-wearing and distancing and maybe even rotations of when students come, I think that is something worthwhile to try,” Lambert said, adding, “But the virus is more prevalent now than it has been at any other time.”

“If we move to open up schools, even with the best models we can think of, passing the virus is going to be inevitable,” he continued. “Kids can contract the virus; kids can transmit the virus. There might be some varying levels of what it’s like in kids compared to adults, but it is clear that they can do that.”

Lambert said, given the transmission of the virus, it would be “inevitable” for an infected student to pass on the coronavirus “to either a chronically ill teacher or an elderly loved one at home who may have a bad outcome from this.”

Naturally, teachers are scared. NPR: Most Teachers Concerned About In-Person School; 2 In 3 Want To Start The Year Online.

As the school year starts in many districts across the country, a new national poll of teachers from NPR/Ipsos finds overwhelming trepidation about returning to the physical classroom.

Eighty-two percent of K-12 teachers say they are concerned about returning to in-person teaching this fall, and two-thirds prefer to teach primarily remotely. On the latter point, teachers are aligned with parents and the general public: Another recent NPR/Ipsos poll found two-thirds of respondents thought schools in their area should be primarily remote, including 62% of parents of children under 18.

The teacher poll was conducted July 21-24 and included 505 respondents. Half teach at low-income schools.

When it comes to going back to the classroom, 77% of teachers are worried about risking their own health.

Read the rest at NPR.

There’s much more happening in the news. I’ll add more in the comments and I hope you will too.


Strauss-Kahn Accuser’s Words “Misrepresented” in Leaks to Media

Nafissatou Diallo

Just a short time ago, the woman who accused former IMF head Dominque Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her spoke briefly at press conference at a Brooklyn church.

“I’m here because I had people call me a lot of bad names,” Ms. Diallo said softly at the Christian Cultural Center on Flatlands Avenue. “A lot of things they said about me was not true.”

Before being introduced by Rev. A.R. Bernard, senior pastor at the center, Ms. Diallo, 32, dressed in a dark suit, rubbed her fingers together slowly, blinking often as she gazed out the windows of the lobby, past the bank of cameras and reporters.
“Me and my family, we are going through a lot,” she said. “We cry every day.”

She spoke for less than five minutes and was escorted from the podium when she finished without taking any questions; her lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, and other supporters remained at the microphone and spoke with reporters.

Diallo’s attorney says that the Manhattan DA’s office either mistranslated or deliberately misinterpreted taped conversations she had with an Arizona prison inmate.

Ms. Diallo and her lead lawyer, Kenneth P. Thompson, spent much of Wednesday at the district attorney’s office in Manhattan, where they listened to a recording of conversations Ms. Diallo had with a fellow African immigrant in an Arizona jail after she said she was attacked. Law enforcement officials told Mr. Thompson and The New York Times last month that Ms. Diallo could be heard saying on the tape “words to the effect of: ‘Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing.’ ”

But after listening to the recording on Wednesday, Mr. Thompson told reporters at a news conference that Ms. Diallo’s statements had been mischaracterized. He said that at no point did she raise the issue of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s wealth or status in the way that prosecutors had described it. Rather, he said, the man she was speaking with, who initiated the calls to Ms. Diallo, remarked during one conversation that Ms. Diallo could stand to gain money from the case, but she quickly dismissed the idea and said it was a matter for her lawyer.

Thompson also noted that in the first phone call, Diallo’s description of what happened with Strauss-Kahn was

consistent with what she told investigators a day earlier. In sexual-assault cases, people who hear an early account of an attack are called “outcry witnesses,” and are often used to buttress the credibility of a person making an accusation.

“She told the guy that someone tried to rape her at her job,” Mr. Thompson said in an interview after his news conference. “She said: ‘I didn’t know who he was. We fought each other. Because he wasn’t able to take off my clothes, he put his penis in my mouth. He touched me. They took me to the hospital, and they arrested him.’ ”

The DA’s office said they could not comment on evidence in an ongoing investigation. But didn’t they already have quite a bit to say? Someone leaked negative information about Diallo to the media, resulting in Strauss-Kahn being released on bail while his accuser was treated like a liar and money-grubber. From CNN Justice:

The hotel maid who has accused the then-head of the International Monetary Fund of sexually assaulting her met Wednesday with prosecutors for at least seven hours….

Prior meetings between the maid, Nafissatou Diallo, and prosecutors who are deciding whether to pursue charges against French financier Dominique Strauss-Kahn ended abruptly last month after Thompson accused Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance of “abandoning” her.

Prosecutors had disclosed credibility issues with Diallo, who is from Guinea.

[….]

Diallo’s attorney said the Sofitel New York employee wants to tell a jury what happened to her. “I want justice. I want him to go to jail,” Diallo told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in an interview that aired this week.

I give Diallo a lot of credit for coming forward publicly and revealing her identity. I hope Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance will let her have her day in court.