Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

Kitty on the Fence, photo by Andy Sewell

Kitty on the Fence, photo by Andy Sewell

Some big Trump criminality news broke yesterday, and today there’s more news on stories we’ve been following over the past week.  Here’s the latest:

This one was posted late last night at The New York Times: Trump Officials Failed to Provide Accounting of Foreign Gifts.

The Trump administration left office without providing the State Department with an accounting of the gifts former President Donald J. Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials received from foreign governments in 2020, the department disclosed late Friday.

The department said that as a result, it could not fully account for the gifts officials received, the latest example to emerge in recent months of how the Trump administration’s flouting of laws and norms about the day-to-day operations of government now makes it harder to determine whether anything improper took place.

“It’s flagrant and it looks terrible,” said Richard W. Painter, the former top ethics lawyer for George W. Bush’s administration. “Either it was really stupid or really corrupt.”

Under federal law, each government department and agency is legally required to submit a list to the State Department of gifts over $415 its officials received from foreign governments. The measure is intended to ensure that foreign governments do not gain undue influence over American officials.

LOL We already know that the Trumps were under “undue influence” from Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and likely more countries.

The department said it had tried to collect the information about the gifts Trump White House officials had received but had failed to come up with an accounting.

“As a result, the data required to fully compile a complete listing for 2020 is unavailable,” the State Department said in a footnote to its list of gifts government officials received that year….

Country Cats, Rosemary Margaret Daunis

Country Cats, Rosemary Margaret Daunis

In February, it was revealed that classified documents and gifts from the White House had been improperly taken to Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, a matter federal authorities are now in the preliminary stages of investigating. Around that time, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol learned that significant chunks of time were missing from White House call records from the day of the attack….

The State Department’s inspector general reported in November that tens of thousands of dollars in gifts given to Trump administration officials were missing. They included a 30-year-old Suntory Hibiki bottle of Japanese whiskey given to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, worth $5,800, and a 22-karat-gold commemorative coin valued at $560 given to another State Department official.

Many more items are missing–read about the rest at the NYT link.

Three interesting follow-up stories on the fake DHS guys who were busted for bribing Secret Service agents. 

CNN: Many questions remain in impersonation plot that duped federal agents, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors told a judge Friday that they still don’t know a motive for two men charged with impersonating federal agents, whether they are connected to any foreign government or whether they received anything from the federal agents they allegedly duped.

“This investigation is less than two weeks old, and every day it gets worse and worse as more and more evidence comes forward, and more and more witnesses come forward,” prosecutor Josh Rothstein told a federal judge on Friday.

The Justice Department is arguing that Haider Ali and Arian Taherzadeh should stay behind bars while the investigation continues. Judge Michael Harvey peppered prosecutors with questions, many of which they couldn’t answer.

The hearing will continue Monday, and the two men will remain behind bars over the weekend. Neither Taherzadeh nor Ali has entered a formal plea.

Cat and kittens, photo by Janet Tunget

Cat and kittens, photo by Janet Tunget

The two men spent more than two years impersonating Homeland Security agents, currying favor with federal law enforcement officers, some of whom lived in a swanky DC complex where they had apartments, and amassing a small arsenal of weapons and surveillance equipment, according to court documents.

Federal investigators are trying to unravel how the men paid for five apartments in a high-rent Washington neighborhood, as well as weapons and other equipment, a US law enforcement official said.

Among the questions for investigators is whether the money could have come from a foreign government, though they have noted that the effort didn’t appear to have the sophistication expected of trained foreign intelligence services.

Rothstein noted that one of the men, Ali, has citizenship status in Pakistan while also being a naturalized US citizen. Ali had traveled to Iran in the months before the scheme began, Rothstein said, and took five other trips abroad, including to Iraq and Pakistan.

(Highlighting added by me)

The Daily Mail: Stash of assault rifles, body armor, passports with multiple visas, and sham uniforms found in penthouse of ‘fake’ Homeland agents – including one with ‘links to Pakistani intelligence.’

A motion for detention of the two men who were arrested Wednesday for impersonating federal agents includes a slew of damning evidence, including images showing several different passports, visas and IDs.

The prosecutors are requesting Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Sher-Ali, 35, be detained due to a slew of evidence found in a raid of their units in a luxury apartment building in southeast Washington, D.C….

Taherzadeh told law enforcement in an interview after being taken into custody on Wednesday that Ali was the one funding their lavish lifestyle and seemingly endless stream of gifts, but claimed he wasn’t aware where the money was coming from.

best-spring-day-country-girl-cat-farm-landscape-debbie-criswell

Debbie Criswell, Best spring day

The question remains, however, on what Ali and Taherzadeh’s motives were in getting close to people with White House access by impersonating government agents.

Secret Service agents assigned to details for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence are among those being investigated for accepting lavish gifts and partying with Taherzadeh and Ali, who alleged they were agents with the Department of Homeland Security.

At least one of the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) agents receiving free rent from Taherzadehand Ali was assigned to the detail protecting Harris’ residence at Number One Observatory Circle at the Naval Observatory, sources at the building told DailyMail.com.

Another, sources claim, was on the presidential protective detail and regularly traveled with President Biden on Air Force One.

The new information comes after an affidavit released Wednesday revealed that one of the witnesses in the case is a secret service agent that worked on First Lady Jill Biden’s protective detail.

Again, the added highlighting is mine. There’s much more at the link, including photos of the defendants and the evidence.

Justin Rohrlich of The Daily Beast interviewed a “former friend” of one of the imposters: Homeland Security Conman’s Arrest Is ‘Karma,’ Says Former Friend.

A man arrested this week for allegedly posing as a phony Homeland Security agent in a years-long ruse that fooled at least four members of the Secret Service—one of them on first lady Jill Biden’s security detail—has been busted for passing bad checks, allegedly created a fake company to win a city contract, and stiffed a close friend and business partner before skipping town, according to state court records and interviews with two former associates.

Arian Taherzadeh, 40, was arrested by the feds at his Washington, D.C., apartment complex on Wednesday….

Barn cats in Spring

Barn cats in Spring

In an interview with investigators following his arrest, prosecutors say Taherzadeh admitted to posing as a DHS agent and said he also falsely told others that he was an ex-Army Ranger. However, he put much of the onus on Ali, telling the feds that “Ali was the individual that funded most of their day-to-day operation but Taherzadeh did not know the source of the funds.”

“You could call it karma,” a former friend and business partner in Kansas City who started a now-defunct IT consultancy with Taherzadeh told The Daily Beast. “I got burned a couple of different times and I finally walked away.”

The friend said he’s extremely curious to know what Taherzadeh’s end-game was.

“Part of me just wants to tell you, it’s because he could,” he said.

The tale of the con is a long story. You can read it at the Daily Beast link.

January 6 investigation news

I know you’ve probably heard about this bombshell story from CNN yesterday: CNN Exclusive: ‘We control them all’: Donald Trump Jr. texted Meadows ideas for overturning 2020 election before it was called.

Two days after the 2020 presidential election, as votes were still being tallied, Donald Trump’s eldest son texted then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that “we have operational control” to ensure his father would get a second term, with Republican majorities in the US Senate and swing state legislatures, CNN has learned.

In the text, which has not been previously reported, Donald Trump Jr. lays out ideas for keeping his father in power by subverting the Electoral College process, according to the message reviewed by CNN. The text is among records obtained by the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021.

“It’s very simple,” Trump Jr. texted to Meadows on November 5, adding later in the same missive: “We have multiple paths We control them all.” [….]

Illustration by Erika Klein, 1964

Illustration by Erika Klein, 1964

Immediately before his text to Meadows describing multiple paths for challenging the election, Trump Jr. texted Meadows the following: “This is what we need to do please read it and please get it to everyone that needs to see it because I’m not sure we’re doing it.”

The November 5 text message outlines a strategy that is nearly identical to what allies of the former President attempted to carry out in the months that followed. Trump Jr. makes specific reference to filing lawsuits and advocating recounts to prevent certain swing states from certifying their results, as well as having a handful of Republican state houses put forward slates of fake “Trump electors.”

If all that failed, according to the Trump Jr. text, GOP lawmakers in Congress could simply vote to reinstall Trump as President on January 6.

“We have operational control Total leverage,” the message reads. “Moral High Ground POTUS must start 2nd term now.”

Lock him up. Please.

The New York Times: Pro-Trump Rally Planner Is Cooperating in Justice Dept.’s Jan. 6 Inquiry.

Ali Alexander, a prominent organizer of pro-Trump events after the 2020 election, has agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department’s investigation of the attack on the Capitol last year, the first high-profile political figure known to have offered assistance to the government’s newly expanded criminal inquiry.

Speaking through a lawyer, Mr. Alexander said on Friday that he had recently received a subpoena from a federal grand jury that is seeking information on several broad categories of people connected to pro-Trump rallies that took place in Washington after the election.

In a statement from the lawyer, Mr. Alexander said he was taking “a cooperative posture” with the Justice Department’s investigation but did not know what useful information he could give. He also disavowed anyone who took part in or planned violence on Jan. 6.

While it remains unclear what Mr. Alexander might tell the grand jury, he was intimately involved in the sprawling effort to mount political protests challenging the results of the election, and had contacts with other organizers, extremist groups, members of Congress and, according to the House committee investigating Jan. 6, White House officials during the period after Election Day.

CAT-COUNTRY Rosemary Margaret Daunis

Cat Country by Rosemary Margaret Daunis

I actually think the NYT is underplaying the important of this development, but here’s a bit more from the article:

The grand jury subpoena Mr. Alexander received suggests that prosecutors have greatly widened the scope of their inquiry to include not only people who were at the Capitol, but also those who organized and spoke at pro-Trump events in November and December 2020 and on Jan. 6, 2021.

In an indication that the inquiry could reach into the Trump administration and its allies in Congress, the subpoena also seeks information about members of the executive and legislative branches who were involved in the events or who may have helped to obstruct the certification of the 2020 election….

Mr. Alexander took part in two so-called Stop the Steal rallies in Washington that preceded the former president’s event at the Ellipse, near the White House, on Jan. 6 — one on Nov. 14, 2020, and the other a few weeks later on Dec. 12 — as well as events in the key swing state of Georgia in December.

In the run-up to those gatherings, Mr. Alexander came into contact with a host of rally organizers and with right-wing groups like the Oath Keepers militia and the 1st Amendment Praetorian that provided both public and personal security at the events. 

The Washington Post on the plea deal with Proud Boy Charles Donohoe: Proud Boys leader admits plan to storm Capitol, will testify against others.

A North Carolina man who was one of the leaders of the far-right Proud Boys as they assaulted the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, pleaded guilty Friday to two felony counts with a minimum sentence of nearly six years in prison, but agreed to cooperate against his co-defendants in hopes of getting a lighter sentence.

Court records filed Friday show he has already provided numerous insights into the group’s plans and their intention to disrupt the congressional electoral vote confirmation….

Donohoe, 34, of Kernersville, N.C., admitted to conspiring to help organize an attack on Congress by angry supporters of then-president Donald Trump and to assaulting law enforcement officers. Donohoe is the first among six of the charged Proud Boys’ leaders, including longtime chairman Enrique Tarrio, to admit to both organizing an attack on Congress and assaulting law enforcement officers.

By Warren Kimble

By Warren Kimble

On the plans for and carrying out of the assault on the Capitol:

As early as Jan. 4, prosecutors said, “Donohoe was aware that members of MOSD leadership were discussing the possibility of storming the Capitol. Donohoe believed that storming the Capitol would achieve the group’s goal of stopping the government from carrying out the transfer of presidential power. Donohoe understood that storming the Capitol would be illegal.”

On the morning of Jan. 6, the Proud Boys marched away from the Ellipse before President Donald Trump began his speech, and did not return. Instead, they went to the Capitol shortly after 10 a.m., the statement of offense says, and Donohoe posted that his group numbered “200-300 PBs.” Co-defendants Ethan Nordean and Joseph Biggs mustered the group, the statement says, and “Donohoe understood that Nordean and Biggs were searching for an opportunity to storm the Capitol.”

By 1 p.m., the Proud Boys were being instructed in messages to “Push inside!” Donohoe reposted the message to other group leaders. Donohoe admitted throwing two water bottles at police trying to prevent the mob’s advance. At 1:37 p.m., Donohoe took a picture of co-defendant Dominic Pezzola holding a riot shield that had been snatched from police.

Donohoe then found another Proud Boy who “initiated an altercation at the front of the crowd,” the statement says. “Donohoe pushed forward to advance up the concrete stairs toward the Capitol. The crowd overwhelmed law enforcement who were attempting to stop their advance.”

Despite all the whining from Twitter lawyers, it sure looks like the DOJ is conducting a serious investigation that could reach all the way to Trump.

Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers! Spring is on the way.


Lazy Caturday Reads: Mostly SCOTUS Stuff

Biden New Cat

Willow, the Biden family’s new pet cat at the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2022. The Washington Monument can be seen in the distance. (Erin Scott/The White House, AP)

Good Afternoon!!

Joe Biden wasn’t my first choice for the Democratic nomination in 2020; in fact, I didn’t want him to run at all. But I was wrong. He has been a good president so far, and his deep foreign policy knowledge and experience have been showcased during the Ukraine crisis. This morning Biden was in Poland meeting with U.S. troops at the Ukraine border. It appears he’s a hit as commander-in-chief.

Yesterday the majority of the Supreme Court acknowledged that Biden is in fact commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, but Alito, Gorsuch, and Thomas disagreed. Ian Millhiser at Vox: The Supreme Court rules that Joe Biden is commander-in-chief. Three justices dissent.

The Supreme Court on Friday evening decided, no, it was not going to needlessly insert itself in the military chain of command above President Joe Biden.

The Court’s decision in Austin v. U.S. Navy SEALs 1-26 largely halted a lower court order that permitted certain sailors to defy a direct order. A group of Navy special operations personnel sought an exemption from the Pentagon’s requirement that all active duty service members get vaccinated against Covid-19, claiming that they should receive a religious exemption.

A majority of the Court effectively ruled that, yes, in fact, troops do have to follow orders, including an order to take a vaccine.

The decision is undeniably a win for the balance of power between the executive branch and the judiciary that has prevailed for many decades. But the fact that the Court had to weigh in on this at all — not to mention that three justices, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch, dissented from the majority — is a worrisome sign about America’s judiciary.

Brett Kavanagh explained why he sided with the majority:

…laying out why the lower court erred, this court “in effect inserted itself into the Navy’s chain of command, overriding military commanders’ professional military judgments.” Had the Court ruled the other way in SEALs, it would have effectively placed itself at the apex of the military’s chain of command, displacing Biden as commander-in-chief.

Henry (dog) and traveling companion Baloo, by Cynthia

Henry (dog) and traveling companion Baloo, by Cynthia Bennett

But as Kavanaugh correctly notes in his concurring opinion, there is a long line of Supreme Court precedents establishing that courts should be exceedingly reluctant to interfere with military affairs.

In Gilligan v. Morgan (1973), for example, the Court held that “the complex, subtle, and professional decisions as to the composition, training, equipping, and control of a military force are essentially professional military judgments,” and that “it is difficult to conceive of an area of governmental activity in which the courts have less competence.”

Nevertheless, Judge Reed O’Connor, a notoriously partisan judge in Texas who is best known for a failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, ruled in favor of the service members who refused to follow a direct order. And the conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit refused the Navy’s request to stay key parts of O’Connor’s order.

That left the responsibility of restoring the military’s proper chain of command to the Supreme Court. Though the Court’s order does not wipe out O’Connor’s decision in its entirety, it temporarily blocks that decision “insofar as it precludes the Navy from considering respondents’ vaccination status in making deployment, assignment, and other operational decisions.”

In other SCOTUS news, the Ginni Thomas story is still snowballing. Daknikat wrote quite a bit about Thomas yesterday; https://skydancingblog.com/2022/03/25/friday-reads-you-shouldnt-go-back-home/if you haven’t read her post, please check it out.

Scott Wong at NBC News: Ginni Thomas pressed for GOP lawmakers to protest 2020 election results.

Shortly after the 2020 election, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, sent an email to an aide to a prominent House conservative saying she would have nothing to do with his group until his members go “out in the streets,” a congressional source familiar with the exchange told NBC News.

Thomas told an aide to incoming Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks, R-Ind., that she was more aligned with the far-right House Freedom Caucus, whose leaders just two months later would lead the fight in Congress to overturn the results of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.

Cat who thinks he's a dog by Jack Shepherd

Cat who thinks he’s a dog by Jack Shepherd. He was raised with and by the dogs.

The RSC was long representative of the most conservative House members, but in the past several years, it has been replaced by the tea party-driven Freedom Caucus.

Thomas wrote to the aide that Freedom Caucus members were tougher than RSC members, were in the fight and had then-President Donald Trump’s back, according to the source familiar with the email contents. Until she saw RSC members “out in the streets” and in the fight, she said, she would not help the RSC, the largest caucus of conservatives on Capitol Hill.

Her November 2020 email came in response to a request from the RSC to offer policy recommendations as Banks was set to take the helm of the group in early 2021. But when Thomas portrayed the RSC as soft in its support for Trump and told its members to take to the streets, the aide thanked her for her suggestions and moved on….

The email exchange suggests Thomas was pressuring Republicans in Congress to get more aggressive in fighting for Trump at a key moment when the lame-duck president and his inner circle were devising a strategy to overturn the results of the 2020 election and keep him in power.

Obviously Thomas has access to powerful politicians only because she is married to Clarence Thomas.

Conservative columnist Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast: If Ginni Thomas’ Big Lie Texts Don’t Shock You, Nothing Will.

“Biden and the Left [are] attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

“[The] Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators…are being arrested and…will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.”

Oh yeah, and “Watermarked ballots in over 12 states have been part of a huge Trump & military white hat sting operation in 12 key battleground states.”

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Another photo of the cat who thinks he’s a dog and his friends, by Jack Shepherd.

These aren’t the rantings of some obscure, tinfoil hat-wearing lunatic. These are just a few of the 29 text messages sent by Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. These messages were sent in the wake of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory, as Mrs. Thomas sought to push Meadows to try to overturn the 2020 election results—sometimes quoting far-right websites to make her case.

In a world where more tenuous relationships than a spouse have sparked huge controversies (think Barack Obama’s relationships with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the former Weather Underground activist Bill Ayers), the level of this conflict of interest should be condemned by intellectually honest conservatives.

As one smart observer put it, “If you had a problem with Bill Clinton meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the tarmac, you should probably have a problem with Ginni Thomas’s barrage of texts to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in the days preceding a legitimate self-coup attempt.”

Click the link to read the rest.

Another conservative take from David French at The Atlantic: The Worst Ginni Thomas Text Wasn’t From Ginni Thomas. Mark Meadows and the dangerous religious zeal of “Stop the Steal.”

After giving examples of Thomas’s text messages, French writes:

This is the kind of communication that would make you worry about a family member’s connection to reality. When it comes from the wife of a Supreme Court justice who enjoys direct access to the White House chief of staff, it’s not just disturbing; it’s damaging to the Supreme Court….

It is…understandable if ordinary Americans wonder whether she’s made an impact on her husband, and it’s important for Justice Thomas to recuse himself from any future cases that could potentially involve additional disclosures of his wife’s communications with the White House or her involvement in the effort to overturn the election.

Mako-the-Cat-Dog- thinks he's a cat

Mako the Cat-Dog: raised by cats, he thinks he is one.

But the Ginni Thomas texts were not the most alarming aspect of Woodward and Costa’s story. There was a text in the chain that disturbed me more than anything Ginni Thomas wrote. It came from Meadows, and here’s what it said: This is a fight of good versus evil . . . Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues. I have staked my career on it. Well at least my time in DC on it.

One of the most dangerous aspects of the effort to overturn the election was the extent to which it was an explicitly religious cause. January 6 insurrectionists stampeded into the Senate chamber with prayers on their lipsProminent religious leaders and leading Christian lawyers threw themselves into the effort to delay election certification or throw out the election results entirely. In the House and Senate, the congressional leaders of the effort to overturn the election included many of Congress’s most public evangelicals.

They didn’t just approach the election fight with religious zeal; they approached it with an absolute conviction that they enjoyed divine sanction. The merger of faith and partisanship was damaging enough, but the merger of faith with lawlessness and even outright delusion represented a profound perversion of the role of the Christian in the public square.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

More Ginni Thomas stories:

The Washington Post: Ethics experts see Ginni Thomas’s texts as a problem for Supreme Court.

The New York Times: Justice Thomas Ruled on Election Cases. Should His Wife’s Texts Have Stopped Him?

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Justice Thomas’s wife is a political extremist. This is now a problem for the court.

There are quite a few stories today that deal with the disrespectful treatment that Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson received from Republicans in her Senate confirmation hearings.

I really liked this one from Kevin Cullen at The Boston Globe, because he trotted out an old saying that my Dad often used: You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much.

One of life’s inexplicable wonders is how Harvard can produce someone as grounded and poised and principledas Ketanji Brown Jackson and also someoneas unmoored and annoying and unscrupulous as Ted Cruz.

Providing clear evidence of how pathetic my existence is, I watched Jackson’s confirmation hearing start to finish, a marathon of high drama and low farce.

Am I a loser? Yes, but nothing likethe preening senators who treated Jackson with appalling disrespect, with constant interruptions and cynical questions meant to gin up their base, not ascertain whether Jackson is qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.

Cat and rabbit cuddlingIf you had to boil down the objections of Republicans to Jackson it is this: She’s a soft-on-crime, pedophile-coddling, racist-baby-kissing, terrorist-hugging Critical Race Theory nut job.

Other than that, they acknowledged, she seems nice enough.

It was hard to decide which senator combined rudeness and pandering to produce the greatest mix of condescension. Besides Cruz, Senators Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, and Tom Cotton – another Harvard man! – all covered themselves in something less than glory.

But when it comes unctuousness, Cruz takes the cake.

That he and Jackson served together on the Harvard Law Review didn’t spare Jackson from his unremitting bile.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin repeatedly told Cruz he was going over his allotted time and violating rules. Proving the old adage that you can always tell a Harvard man but you can’t tell him much, Cruz ignored Durbin.

Cruz was too busy yammering about racist babies and fake women and child pornographers to pay attention to something as inconsequential as rules.

When Cruz said, “Under the modern leftist sensibilities, if I decide right now that I’m a woman, then apparently I’m a woman,” I thought, “This guy went to Harvard Law School?”

Read the rest if you can use a laugh.

More follow up stories on the Jackson hearings:

Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: Ivy League Republicans’ phony rebellion against the ‘elites.’

Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post: Forget advise and consent. This is smear and degrade.

The Independent: Hawley attacked Ketanji Brown Jackson’s ‘alarming’ record on sex offenders. He agreed to an abuser getting only probation.

Two articles on Wesley Hawkins, who was sentenced by Jackson as an 18-year-old and was the subject of much of the GOP screaming and yelling about child porn cases:

The New York Times: Who is Wesley Hawkins? Republicans zero in on Jackson’s sentencing of a teen in a child sex abuse case.

The Washington Post: Wesley Hawkins, talk of the Jackson hearings, describes life after pornography sentence.

Sorry this is so late. WordPress deleted my post in progress twice and I had to reconstruct it. Have a great weekend!


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

We’ve lost another 1960s icon. Ronnie Spector, lead singer of the Ronettes died yesterday. She was a beloved part of the sound track of my high school years.

Variety: Ronnie Spector, Girl Group Icon and Leader of the Ronettes, Dies at 78.

Ronnie Spector, whose hard-edged yet tremulous voice soared on the girl-group hits of the early ‘60s, died on Wednesday of cancer. She was 78….

Née Veronica Bennett, she forged an enduring “bad girl” image with her older sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley – towering teased beehive hairdos, canopies of mascara and eyeliner and tight-fitting slit skirts – that rubbed against the aching romanticism of the Ronettes’ Philles Records hits of 1963-66.

ronnie-spector-obit

Ronnie Spector

Though producer Phil Spector employed other powerful female vocalists like the Crystals’ Darlene Love, La La Brooks and (on the memorable “River Deep Mountain High”) Tina Turner, the Ronettes’ lead singer became the ideal vehicle for the massive-sounding hits he termed “little symphonies for the kids.”

In “Out of His Head,” his biography of the producer, Richard Williams wrote, “Ronnie Bennett’s hugely quavering, massively sexy voice [was] a pure pop instrument the like of which no one had ever heard before. Spector had found his instrument, and she had found her setting.”

Like burning magnesium, the Ronettes flared hot, brightly and quickly: Their string of hits, which began with 1963’s “Be My Baby,” had played out by 1966, as the producer’s interest in the group had run its course.

Ronnie married Phil Spector in 1968. It was an abusive relationship in which Spector “kept his wife a virtual prisoner in their Beverly Hills home for years…” Eventually, Ronnie’s mother rescued her from the marriage in 1972,

In later years, Ronnie Spector recorded fitfully as a solo artist, and was a beneficiary of the rock ‘n’ roll revival of the early ‘70s. She remained an icon among her musician fans: She enjoyed high-profile studio collaborations with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Eddie Money and Ramones lead singer Joey Ramone, and Billy Joel penned the single “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” expressly for her. Her second husband and manager Jonathan Greenfield helped renew her reputation as a live performer.

She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Ronettes in 2007.

More music news: Did you see that an old Bob Dylan song has been released after staying hidden for 40 years?

In present day news, the January 6 committee has been very busy. The latest news is about forged 2020 Electoral College certificates that came from states that Biden won. Dakinikat posted about this on Monday, but more keeps coming out. At that time we learned about documents from 4 states; now we know there were at least 7 states involved. You can see the forged documents at American Oversight.

CNN: Trump allies’ fake Electoral College certificates offer fresh insights about plot to overturn Biden’s victory.

In the weeks after the 2020 election, then-President Donald Trump’s allies sent fake certificates to the National Archives declaring that Trump won seven states that he actually lost. The documents had no impact on the outcome of the election, but they are yet another example of how Team Trump tried to subvert the Electoral College — a key line of inquiry for the January 6 committee.

The fake certificates were created by Trump allies in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico, who sought to replace valid presidential electors from their states with a pro-Trump slate, according to documents obtained by American Oversight.

The documents contain the signatures of Trump supporters who claimed to be the rightful electors from seven states that President Joe Biden won. But these rogue slates of electors didn’t have the backing of any elected officials in the seven states — like a governor or secretary of state, who are involved in certifying election results — and they served no legitimate purpose.

The documents were first posted online in March by the government watchdog group. But they received renewed attention this week, as the January 6 committee ramps up its investigation into Trump’s attempted coup, including how his allies tried to stop states from certifying Biden’s victory, in part, by installing friendly slates of electors who would overturn the will of the voters.

The real documents are posted on the National Archives website. More details from CNN.

Some of the fake certificates with pro-Trump electors were sent to the National Archives by top officials representing the Republican Party in each state, according to the documents.

They sent these fake certificates after Trump himself failed to block governors from signing the real certificates. Specifically, Trump encouraged Republican governors in states like Georgia and Arizona not to certify the election results, and falsely claimed the elections were fraudulent. But these GOP officials ignored Trump, followed the law, and awarded the electors to Biden.

Installing slates of “alternate electors” was an integral part of the ill-fated plan conceived by Trump allies to usurp power on January 6 by pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to throw out the pro-Biden electors that had been chosen by voters. The idea was promoted by Trump advisers inside and outside the White House, including controversial right-wing lawyer John Eastman.

Rachel Maddow has been reporting on the fake certificate story this week. Here’s her latest:

From Newsweek: Mark Meadows Worked on Creating Fake Electoral College To Overturn Election Results—Report.

Mark Meadows, former chief of staff to Donald Trump, allegedly worked on creating a fake electoral college following the 2020 presidential election. That’s according to a contempt report released Sunday night by the House of Representatives panel investigating the January 6 Capitol riot.

The report comes just days after Meadows launched legal proceedings against the panel and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Meadows filed a lawsuit in a Washington, D.C. federal court on December 8 after the committee said it would proceed with a contempt case against him for his refusal to appear for a deposition.

Among other issues, the committee said Meadows sent emails and texts about sending “alternate electors” to Congress in November 2020, allegedly saying “I love it” about the idea to an unidentified member of Congress.

“Mr. Meadows received text messages and emails regarding apparent efforts to encourage Republican legislators in certain States to send alternate slates of electors to Congress, a plan which one Member of Congress acknowledged was ‘highly controversial’ and to which Mr. Meadows responded, ‘I love it,'” the committee report said.

“Mr. Meadows responded to a similar message by saying ‘[w]e are’ and another such message by saying ‘Yes. Have a team on it,'” it said.

The committee also said in its report that Meadows introduced former President Donald Trump to then-Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark as part of efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

“Mr. Clark went on to recommend to Mr. Trump that he be installed as Acting Attorney General and that DOJ should send a letter to State officials urging them to take certain actions that could affect the outcome of the November 2020 election by, among other things, appointing alternate slates of electors to cast electoral votes for Mr. Trump rather than now-President Biden,” the report said.

It sure looks like Mark Meadows is in deep sh&t.

The Trumpist Republicans are now working hard to fix future elections in their favor. Ed Pilkington at The Guardian: Trump loyalists form alliance in bid to take over election process in key states.

Extreme Republicans loyal to Donald Trump and his “big lie” that the 2020 election was rigged have formed a nationwide alliance aiming to take control of the presidential election process in key battleground states that could determine the outcome of the 2024 presidential race.

At least eight Republicans who are currently running to serve as chief election officials in crucial swing states have come together to form the coalition.

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Jim Marchant

The group shares conspiracy theories about unfounded election fraud and exchanges ideas on how radically to reconstruct election systems in ways that could overturn the legitimate results of the next presidential race.

All of them backed Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election and cling on to power against the will of American voters. Several of the alliance have been personally endorsed by Trump and have a credible shot at winning the post of secretary of state – the most powerful election officer in each state.

The existence of the “coalition of America First secretary of state candidates” was disclosed by one of the members themselves, Jim Marchant who is running for secretary of state in Nevada. A former business owner and Nevada state assembly member, Marchant has ties with the QAnon conspiracy theory movement….

In an interview with the Guardian, Marchant said that there were currently eight members of the coalition bidding for chief election official posts, with more likely to join soon. He said participants included Jody Hice in Georgia, Mark Finchem in Arizona and Kristina Karamo in Michigan – all three of whom have been endorsed by Trump.

Marchant also named Rachel Hamm in California and David Winney in Colorado, and said that further members were likely to be recruited imminently in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Several in-person “summits” of the candidates had already been held, with the next planned in Wisconsin on 29 January and Nevada on 26 February.

All the candidates named by Marchant have been prominent exponents of false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent. Finchem attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on January 6 hours before the US Capitol was stormed.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are trying to pass voting right legislation. The Washington Post reports that Chuck Schumer has a new strategy: Schumer sets up final Senate confrontation on voting rights and the filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer prepared Democrats on Wednesday for the final phase of a year-long push to pass voting rights legislation, sketching out legislative maneuvers that could launch debate on a pair of stalled bills and force a confrontation over the Senate’s rules in the coming days.

U.S. Capitol Commemorates First Anniversary Of January 6 Attack

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer

The details of the next steps, laid out in a memo that Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent to colleagues Wednesday afternoon, comes as President Biden has launched his own aggressive push to convince his fellow Democrats to band together and overhaul the filibuster — the long-standing Senate rule requiring a 60-vote supermajority — in order to overcome strict GOP opposition to voting rights bills….

In the memo, Schumer announced his intention to use existing rules to jump-start debate on the voting bills by having the House amend an existing, unrelated bill dealing with NASA and sending it back to the Senate as soon as Wednesday night. Starting debate under those circumstances requires only a simple majority of 51 votes — not a 60-vote supermajority.

But the maneuver does not affect the 60-vote requirement for ending debate and moving to final passage of the Democratic bills. With at least two Democratic senators signaling that they are not willing to erode that provision, Schumer’s plan would set up a final confrontation when and if a motion to close debate is blocked. At that point, Schumer or another Democrat could move to establish a new, 51-vote precedent, subject to a simple majority vote.

Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have both defended the 60-vote margin for protecting minority rights and encouraging bipartisanship even as dozens of their colleagues have switched their own views on the filibuster in recent months. Manchin told reporters on several occasions this week he is willing to change the rules only with bipartisan support, not on party lines.

Both Manchin and Sinema, however, have continued to meet with Democratic colleagues who have sought to change their minds. Schumer previously said the Senate would vote on a possible rules change no later than Monday — the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday — and a senior Democratic aide said Wednesday that pledge remains in effect.

I’m so sick and tired of hearing about those two. Sigh . . . 

What’s on your mind today? What stories are you following?


Cat Tuesday: January 6 News and Commentary

Cat, by Gabriel Alix, Haitian artist, 1979

Cat, by Gabriel Alix, Haitian artist, 1979

Good Afternoon!!

The paintings in this post are examples of “jungle art” by Haitian artists. Dakinikat posted a couple of these yesterday and I really like them. They have a similar quality to “folk art.”

Last night the House January 6 committee met to vote on whether to refer Mark Meadows to the Justice Department for criminal contempt of Congress. The session was televised and generated quite a bit of news and commentary. The committee plans to hold televised meetings “in the first quarter” of 2022. When that happens, we could see more interest from the general public. I only hope the hearings start sooner rather than later.

Here’s the latest news on the hearing:

The Washington Post: House Jan. 6 committee votes to hold Meadows in contempt, details texts from Trump allies who wanted him to call off rioters.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol voted Monday night to hold former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in criminal contempt for defying a subpoena, while also releasing a series of texts from Fox News hosts and Donald Trump Jr. urging Meadows to implore President Donald Trump to call off the violent mob.

The seven Democrats and two Republicans tasked with investigating the insurrection all supported the resolution that could be taken up by the full House as soon as Tuesday.

Last week, Meadows backed away from cooperating with the committee just days after saying he would, arguing that the panel was pressuring him to discuss issues that the former president said are protected by executive privilege. However, he had already produced thousands of documents for the panel, including text messages and emails related to the events of the day.

At a public meeting ahead of the vote Monday, members of the committee used information already provided by Meadows to make the case that he is a key figure in understanding Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results, what role the White House played in planning the rally that preceded the attack, and why Trump did not immediately come out and forcefully call on his supporters to stop their assault on the Capitol once it was underway.

Jean Claude Paul, Haitian artist

By Jean Claude Paul, Haitian artist

“History will not look upon you as a victim. History will not dwell on your long list of privilege claims or your legal sleight of hand,” the committee chairman, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), said of Meadows and others who are refusing to cooperate. “History will record that in a critical moment in our democracy, most people were on the side of finding the truth, of providing accountability, of strengthening our system for future generations. And history will also record, in this critical moment, that some people were not.”

Read about the hearing in detail at the WaPo. This article covers everything this happened in the meeting.

The New York Times: Fox News Hosts Sent Texts to Meadows Urging Trump to Act as Jan. 6 Attack Unfolded.

Three prominent Fox News anchors sent concerned text messages on Jan. 6 to Mark Meadows, the last chief of staff for President Donald J. Trump, urging him to persuade the president to take the riot seriously and to make an effort to stop it.

The texts were made public on Monday, shortly before the House committee scrutinizing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol voted 9-0 in favor of recommending that Mr. Meadows be charged with contempt of Congress. Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, read the text messages aloud.

The texts, part of a trove of 9,000 documents that Mr. Meadows had turned over before he stopped cooperating with the inquiry, were sent to the former White House chief of staff by Laura Ingraham, the host of the nighttime show “The Ingraham Angle”; Sean Hannity, a longtime prime-time host who once appeared onstage with Mr. Trump at a campaign rally; and Brian Kilmeade, a host of the morning show “Fox & Friends.”

gabriel-alix-b7b17c87-4d25-488e-bcdd-c0ccf417ee9-resize-750

By Gabriel Alix

“Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” Ms. Ingraham wrote. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.”

Mr. Kilmeade echoed that concern, texting Mr. Meadows: “Please, get him on TV. Destroying everything you have accomplished.”

Sean Hannity texted: “Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol.”

Ms. Ingraham’s text came in contrast with what she said on her Fox News program in the hours after the attack, when she promoted the false theory that members of antifa were involved.

Yesterday Fox News ignored the January 6 committee hearing.

The committee also met yesterday with the former commander of the DC National Guard, who has accused defense department officials of refusing to deploy the guard during the violent insurrection. CNN: Former DC National Guard commander meets with January 6 committee

Commentary on recent revelations about Mark Meadows and others about January 6

Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post: Opinion: Mark Meadows has already established a coup plot. Do we care enough to save the republic?

Multiple pieces of evidence have emerged pointing to a deliberate effort to overthrow our democracy. And it is former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows who is key to piecing them all together.

Now, we just need to see if the country cares enough to hold all those involved accountable.

Start with the two memos from John Eastman, President Donald Trump’s lawyer, who sketched out a plan for Vice President Mike Pence to block Joe Biden from assuming the presidency. After making false accusations of election fraud, Eastman suggested Pence could simply refuse to accept electoral college votes when Congress met on Jan. 6 to certify the results, making Trump the “winner” or throwing it to the House where Republicans on a unit vote (one per each state delegation) might have crowned Trump president.

Two additional memos from Trump campaign counsel Jenna Ellis, one on Dec. 31 and one on Jan. 5, have also surfaced. Politico reports: “In the Jan. 5 memo, Ellis argued that key provisions of the Electoral Count Act — limiting Pence’s authority to affirm or reject certain electors — were likely unconstitutional. She concluded that Pence, while presiding over lawmakers’ counting of electors, should simply halt the process when their alphabetical proceeding reached Arizona.” This, of course, would be patently illegal. (Has her state bar been contacted?)

Raymond Lafaille, Two White CatsWe also know of Trump’s efforts to force the Justice Department to declare the election was corrupt and “leave the rest to me” and Republicans in Congress. And we have seen the mind-boggling 38-page PowerPoint plan to conduct a coup, including a declaration of “national security emergency” that could halt the voting, if needed. As bizarre as the document was, even more bizarre are the alleged meetings that Meadows and lawmakers had with the plan’s author, none of whom had the common sense and loyalty to report it to the FBI.

The House select committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection, in its document release in advance of the contempt vote for Meadows’s failure to appear for his deposition, sets out a list of questions it would have asked Meadows. In doing so, they provided the outline of the coup plot:

Click the link to read the rest.

SV Date at HuffPost: Meadows’ ‘Protect Pro Trump People’ Email May Explain Military Reluctance To Deploy Troops.

An email authored by Donald Trump’s chief of staff in the run-up to the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol may help explain military leaders’ reluctance to deploy troops that day: Doing so could have forced troops to choose between following the orders of their direct commanders or obeying the commander in chief of the United States armed forces.

Mark Meadows wrote that the National Guard would be deployed to “‘protect pro Trump people’ and that many more would be available on standby,” according to the resolution by the House committee investigating Jan. 6 that recommends referring criminal contempt of Congress charges against Meadows to the Department of Justice.

The resolution did not specify the recipient of that note or when it was sent.

Top military officials in the Trump administration’s final days have previously said they were concerned that Trump would try to use the military to remain in power. At the time, describing his goals through the end of Trump’s term, acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller told associates “No military coup, no major war, and no troops in the streets,” according to the book “Betrayal,” by ABC’s Jon Karl.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley also worried about a coup, and told colleagues that Trump had become “the classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose,” according to the book “I Alone Can Fix It,” by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker.

One source familiar with the Jan. 6 committee’s work said the worry about troops potentially receiving “conflicting orders” ― one set via the non-political military chain of command, to protect the constitutional process, and the other from Trump himself, designed to let him retain power ― was a real concern in early January.

Read the rest at HuffPo.

Tigre, by Gabriel Alix

Tigre, by Gabriel Aliz

Aaron Rupar at Public Notice: Unpacking the pro-coup PowerPoint that wound up in Mark Meadows’s emails.

Thanks to the work of the January 6 committee, the gaps in our knowledge of what happened in the weeks leading up to the insurrection are finally being filled. In fact, as I write this newsletter late Sunday, a major story just broke about a January 5 email from then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows advising an unnamed person that the National Guard was on standby to “protect pro Trump people.”

That obviously sounds bad, but the extent to which then-President Trump tried to subvert the military to help him overturn his election loss (and thereby essentially end democracy in the US) remains somewhat shrouded in mystery. A White House document that surfaced as a result of the committee’s subpoena of Meadows, however, indicates the National Guard comment was more than idle chatter.

The document I’m referring to is a PowerPoint presentation that circulated around Trumpworld ahead of January 6 and was part of the emails Meadows turned over to the committee. And unlike the often dull PowerPoints you are I are familiar with from offices or academic settings, this one was basically a blueprint to a coup.

Some key details remain unknown — such as who authored the presentation and to what extent it embodied the White House’s thinking — but the man who circulated it around the White House, a retired US Army colonel named Phil Waldron, was influential enough to reportedly work alongside Rudy Giuliani, be in meetings with Trump, and brief multiple members of Congress about the contents of the PowerPoint ahead of January 6.

On Sunday I put together a Twitter thread sharing notable details from the 36-page document. You can check out the whole thing starting here. But to boil it down, it outlines a fantastical, fact-free, debunked conspiracy theory about China being behind a global conspiracy to get Donald Trump out of the White House, then cites that conspiracy as a pretext for Trump to throw out the election results….

The details of the conspiracy aren’t really important. A flood of official investigations and lawsuits (not to mention a number of former Trump administration officials) have affirmed time and time again that Biden’s win was fair, and nothing in the PowerPoint will persuade anyone who isn’t already guzzling the MAGA Kool-aid. All that matters is it provided a cover story for then-Vice President Mike Pence to take extraordinary steps to prevent the election from being certified.

Read the rest at the link and do check out Rupar’s twitter thread.

Fritz Philemon, Black Cat Naive, Hatian jungle painting

By Fritz Philemon

Finally, check out Hunter Walker’s new piece at Rolling Stone: Two Jan. 6 Organizers Are Coming Forward and Naming Names: ‘We’re Turning It All Over’

Two key organizers of the main Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C. are coming in from the cold.

Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lynn Lawrence are set to testify next week before the House select committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The pair will deliver testimony and turn over documents, including text messages, that indicate the extensive involvement members of Congress and the Trump administration had in planning the House challenge to certifying Biden’s election and rally near the White House where Donald Trump spoke — efforts that ultimately contributed to a massive and violent attack on the Capitol.

Among the documents the couple is providing are conversations they had with staffers and members of Congress as they planned the main rally that took place on the White House Ellipse that day. Stockton described these discussions as largely logistical and focused on planning the members’ participation in objections to the electoral certification on the House floor and various events that were staged to protest against the election. They include Instagram messages Lawrence exchanged with Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) as she tried to get him to speak at the Ellipse rally. Cawthorn, whose office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, ultimately appeared onstage at that event.

“We’re turning it all over and we’ll let the cards fall where they may,” Stockton says.

It’s the latest revelation from the couple, veteran activists who have spent the better part of a decade specializing in staging political stunts while working for conservative activist groups, Republican campaigns, and Trump’s on-again-off-again strategist Steve Bannon. Stockton and Lawrence were members of the team that led the nationwide “March for Trump” bus tour, which ended with the Jan. 6 rally at the White House Ellipse. In recent weeks, Stockton and Lawrence have participated in an extensive series of interviews with Rolling Stone revealing what they knew about the day.

The pair were the sources for a story that was published in late October, when they said members of Congress were involved in planning Trump’s efforts to overturn the election and the Jan. 6 Ellipse rally. They claimed one of these lawmakers, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), suggested the possibility Trump could get them a “blanket pardon” in an unrelated ongoing investigation if they helped protest the election. (Gosar later suggested that story was “categorically false and defamatory.”) Stockton and Lawrence also say they were told that Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, had communicated with the organizers and was warned about concerns of potential violence.

Nothing in the documents viewed by Rolling Stone or the couple’s statements revealed any planning for, or coordination with, the violent attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters.

I’ll post a few more stories in the comment thread and I hope you will too. 


Thursday Reads: The State of U.S. Democracy

Susan Wheeler

Illustration by Susan Wheeler

Good Afternoon!!

Sorry if today’s illustrations seem incongruous, but I found them comforting and I need that right now.

This morning President Biden is hosting a virtual “democracy summit,” and the current state of democracy in the U.S. is getting lots of criticism. The AP reports on Biden’s open speech: Biden sounds alarm at virtual summit about global democracy.

President Joe Biden on Thursday opened the first White House Summit for Democracy by sounding an alarm about a global slide for democratic institutions and called for world leaders to “lock arms” and demonstrate democracies can deliver.

Biden called it a critical moment for fellow leaders to redouble efforts on bolstering democracies. In making the case for action, he noted his own battle win passage of voting rights legislation at home and alluded to the United States’ own challenges to its democratic institutions and traditions.

“This is an urgent matter,” Biden said in remarks to open the two-day virtual summit. “The data we’re seeing is largely pointing in the wrong direction.”

The video gathering, something that Biden had called a priority for the first-year of his presidency, comes as he’s repeatedly made a case that the U.S. and like-minded allies need to show the world that democracies are a far better vehicle for societies than autocracies.

The premise is a central tenet of Biden’s foreign policy outlook — one that he vowed would be more outward looking than his predecessor Donald Trump’s “America First approach.

Some critiques:

The New York Times on criticism from foreign adversaries: Biden Rallies Global Democracies as U.S. Hits a ‘Rough Patch.’

A few days before President Biden’s Summit for Democracy, a virtual meeting of more than 100 countries that opened Thursday morning, the Chinese foreign ministry released a stinging report about the American democratic system.

Kitty's Tea Party, by Harry Brooker

Kitty’s Tea Party, by Harry Brooker

The “gunshots and farce on Capitol Hill have completely revealed what is underneath the gorgeous appearance of the American-style democracy,” the Chinese report said, citing the Jan. 6 riot. In a country where “money decides everything,” the report charged, “an entrenched political paralysis” renders governing impossible.

A spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry struck a similarly contemptuous tone in late November. “The United States claims the right to decide who is worthy of being called a democracy and who is not,” said the spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, according to Tass, the state news agency. “It certainly looks cynical. I would say that it looks pathetic, given the state of democracy and human rights in the United States and in the West in general.”

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Biden vowed to shore up U.S. alliances, which he has said suffered badly during the Trump era, and to unite democracies against the authoritarianism of rising powers, including Russia and China. So a backlash from authoritarian governments that were not invited to a summit meeting meant to support democratic values is hardly surprising.

But even U.S. officials concede that American democracy is straining from political polarization, racial injustice and discord, voting rights restrictions and domestic extremism, among other issues. Some activists are urging Mr. Biden to devote more attention to problems at home before turning his focus abroad.

“You can’t try to export and defend democracy globally when you can’t protect it domestically,” said Cliff Albright, a co-founder and executive director of the Black Voters Matter Fund, a progressive nonprofit group in Atlanta. “You can’t be the global fireman when your house is on fire.”

That tension will loom over the two-day virtual gathering of leaders from model democracies like Germany, Japan and Sweden to countries with mixed records such as Georgia, Nigeria and Pakistan. The meeting, which also includes journalists, civil society activists and business leaders, is meant to be a forum for democracies to exchange ideas and critiques, U.S. officials say. Participants will also make commitments on political reform, corruption, human rights and other matters.

Nicole's Magic Tea Party, by Ann PeckA tongue lashing from David Rothkopf at The Daily Beast: The First Rule of the Democracy Club? Be a Damn Democracy.

For the summit, which will virtually host 110 countries, to be of any real value, it needs to establish real benefits for being a democracy, penalties for not being one, incentives to promote democracy, and standards high enough to preclude faux democracies, non-democracies and fading democracies from participating.

So far, the White House has been trying to have it both ways. It has excluded countries like China and Russia from the summit because they’re not democracies and are seen as the central bad actors in President Joe Biden’s view of geopolitics today as a struggle between democracies and autocracies.

In fact, excluding them was, polite press statements notwithstanding, one of the main reasons for holding this event.

On the other hand, it has tried to tiptoe around the list of who is in and who is out with statements like Jen Psaki’s “Inclusion or invitation is not a stamp of approval on their approach to democracy—nor is exclusion a stamp of the opposite of that, of disapproval.” I’m a big Jen Psaki fan, but that is weak stuff. Exclusion most definitely is a stamp of disapproval, as it should be. Indeed, that’s the point. And exclusion has already sent a strong and much-needed message to countries like Turkey, Hungary, Egypt and, for that matter, every government in the Middle East except for Iraq and Israel.

And inclusion is definitely a stamp of approval, one that has been extended to governments and leaders invited despite demonstrably undermining democracy in their own countries? That includes Jair Bolsanaro in Brazil and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, both of whom have shown strong autocratic tendencies. Narendra Modi in India, who has overseen serious backsliding on democratic rights and protections in India. And the governments of Pakistan, Poland, Angola, and Congo, all of which probably should have been dinged from the list. As for Iraq and Israel, the former is often more influenced by the neighboring government in Iran than it is its own people while the other excludes millions within its borders from full participation in its government and society.

Bunnies' tea party

Bunnies’ tea party postcard

On the precarious situation here in the U.S.:

…[T]he Democracy Summit is a U.S. foreign policy initiative that was conceived from the get-go with a domestic political element. When Biden talks about the battle between pro-democratic and pro-autocratic forces in the world, he is not just thinking about China and Russia but also about Donald Trump and his Republican Party’s systematic efforts to undercut democracy here.

This is a party that is defending the organizers of a coup attempt, promoting the principle architect of that attempt as their leader, carving away voting rights, seeking to disenfranchise voters of color through gerrymandering and racism-bespoke voting restrictions, promoting an anti-democratic, extraconstitutional, minority-driven rule in the US Senate, enabling the minority to dictate the course of the judiciary, and promoting campaign finance rules that give huge advantages to America’s wealthiest citizens at the expense of everyone else.

Further, should that party win in 2022 and 2024, the experience of the Trump years suggests they will take further steps to ensure that their president is above the law, carve away at congressional oversight, negate checks and balances, twist the mission of the Department of Justice, and eliminate laws and mechanisms that might constrain their ability to impose their will on the American people.

The efforts of the enemies of democracy in the U.S. have already taken a toll. According to a Pew Global Attitudes survey of leading countries this spring, few believe U.S. democracy is any longer a “good model” for other nations. Among foreigners in 16 countries polled, a median of 17 percent saw us as a good model while 57 percent said “we used to be a good example.” We know it, too. Among Americans surveyed, just 19 percent said we are a good example, while 72 percent said we are no longer.

At HuffPost, SV Date states it baldly: U.S. Now ‘Exhibit A’ Among Imperiled Democracies At Summit, Thanks To Trump.

As President Joe Biden opens a long-ago-promised “democracy summit” Thursday with over 100 nations participating, he finds himself in charge of “Exhibit A” among the world’s imperiled democracies.

Among the major industrial powers that make up the Group of Seven, only the United States has suffered an attempt to overthrow representative democracy since the group’s creation a half century ago, in the form of Donald Trump’s efforts to void the 2020 election and remain in power. Among the 17 democracies in the G-20, the U.S. is one of just two, along with Turkey, to have seen its chief executive abuse that power to in an attempt to remain in office.

Tea Party, by Nancy Lee Moran

Tea Party, by Nancy Lee Moran

Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council analyst and United Kingdom native who was among the first to describe the Trump-incited insurrection on Jan. 6 as a coup attempt, said the idea that it could ever happen in this country had been unthinkable.

“Not in a million years did I imagine that the United States would be exemplifying this crisis in democracy,” she said.

“Biden has to be candid upfront about the U.S. being the latest battleground of democracy versus autocracy,” said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a history professor and authoritarianism expert at New York University. “And use the summit to send a message to democrats and autocrats that the U.S. will pursue anti-democratic forces with vigor and resolve.”

Ironically, Biden specifically citied Trump’s anti-democratic tendencies when he first mentioned the need for a summit to rally the world’s democracies in a July 11, 2019, campaign speech.

Read the rest at HuffPost

Today’s news on the ongoing Republican coup attempt:

The Washington Post: Low-profile heiress who ‘played a strong role’ in financing Jan. 6 rally is thrust into spotlight.

Eight days before the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, a little-known Trump donor living thousands of miles away in the Tuscan countryside quietly wired a total of $650,000 to three organizations that helped stage and promote the event.

The lack of fanfare was typical of Julie Fancelli, the 72-year-old daughter of the founder of the Publix grocery store chain. Even as she has given millions to charity through a family foundation, Fancelli has lived a private life, splitting time between her homes in Florida and Italy, and doting on her grandchildren, according to family members and friends.

Now, Fancelli is facing public scrutiny as the House committee investigating the insurrection seeks to expose the financing for the rallythat preceded the riot at the U.S. Capitol.Fancelli is the largest publicly known donor to the rally, support that some concerned relatives and others attributed to her enthusiasm for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

The Washington Post previously reported that on Dec. 29, 2020, Fancelli donated $300,000 to Women for America First, a nonprofit group that helped organize the Jan. 6 rally, and $150,000 to the nonprofit arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, which paid for a robocall touting a march to “call on Congress to stop the steal.”

On the same day, Fancelli gave $200,000 to State Tea Party Express, according to Sal Russo, a top consultant to the conservative group. Russo told The Post last week that he gavethe House committee recordsof Fancelli’s donation, which he said was used for radio ads and social media urging supporters of President Donald Trumpto attend the rally and subsequentmarch. He condemned the violence at the Capitol.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Susan Wheeler2

Illustration by Susan Wheeler

Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: Opinion: Mark Meadows’s new effort to cover up Trump’s coup is ludicrous — and dangerous.

Mark Meadows, who recently revealed that Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus before the first 2020 debate without telling its organizers, is frantically atoning for his momentary lapse of loyalty. Trump’s former chief of staff just filed a new lawsuit designed to help Trump cover up his coup attempt.

Mark Meadows, who recently revealed that Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus before the first 2020 debate without telling its organizers, is frantically atoning for his momentary lapse of loyalty. Trump’s former chief of staff just filed a new lawsuit designed to help Trump cover up his coup attempt.

But this core idea is central to Meadows’s lawsuit, and indeed to the broader legal attack on the Jan. 6 committee that is coming from Trump himself.

Meadows is suing the committee over its subpoenas for extensive documents from Meadows and others. He wants the court to toss out subpoenas, which would keep buried untold new details about Trump’s coup attempt.

One of Meadows’s core arguments is that the subpoena, and the committee’s activities, lack a “legitimate legislative purpose.” The suit notes that if this can be established, the subpoena is invalid.

But that’s nonsense. There are many valid legislative purposes driving the committee’s investigation.

Of course it’s nonsense. A judge should just throw the lawsuit out. But that hasn’t been happening with other ludicrous claims–like Steve Bannon’s.

Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post: Opinion: David Perdue confesses he would have aided a coup. He’s not the only one.

David Perdue, the former U.S. senator from Georgia and now a candidate for governor, made a stunning confession on Wednesday: Despite there being no evidence of election fraud and multiple audits that showed President Biden won the state, he would have refused to certify Georgia’s 2020 results.

The Republican told Axios: “Not with the information that was available at the time and not with the information that has come out now. They had plenty of time to investigate this. And I wouldn’t have signed it until those things had been investigated and that’s all we were asking for.”

The results were investigated in multiple audits and court cases. There was no fraud.

Perdue is saying the quiet part out loud. Given the same circumstances in 2024 — a clean election with close results in key states — Republicans would seek to undo the will of the voters, call on the House of Representatives to “fix” the election and thereby sink our democracy.

Click the link to read the rest.

It really isn’t looking good for democracy. I hope Biden has better answers for how to deal with the ongoing efforts of the Trumpists to overthrow the government he currently leads.

What do you think? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread below.