In the summer of 2015, America caught a glimpse of how its future could unfold. The US military conducted a routine exercise in the south that triggered a cascade of conspiracy theories, particularly in Texas. Some believed the manoeuvre was the precursor to a Chinese invasion; others thought it would coincide with a massive asteroid strike. The exercise, called Jade Helm 15, stood for “homeland eradication of local militants”, according to one of the right’s dark fantasy sites. Greg Abbot, Texas’s Republican governor, took these ravings seriously. He ensured that the 1,200 federal troops were closely monitored by the armed Texas National Guard. In that bizarre episode, which took place a year before Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for president, we see the germs of an American break-up.
As with any warning of impending civil war, the very mention of another American one sounds impossibly alarmist — like persistent warnings from chief Vitalstatistix in the Asterix comic series that the sky was about to fall on Gaulish heads. America’s dissolution has often been mispredicted.
Yet a clutch of recent books make an alarmingly persuasive case that the warning lights are flashing redder than at any point since 1861. The French philosopher Voltaire once said: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” As the University of California’s Barbara Walter shows in her bracing manual, How Civil Wars Start, US democracy today is checking all the wrong boxes.
Dachshund Puppies by Otto Bache
Even before Trump triumphed in the 2016 presidential election, political analysts were warning about the erosion of democracy and drift towards autocracy. The paralysing divisions caused by Trump’s failed putsch of January 6, 2021, has sent it into dangerous new territory. Polls show that most Republicans believe, without evidence, that the election was stolen by Democrats backed by the so-called “deep state”, the Chinese government, rigged Venezuelan voting machines, or a feverish combination thereof.
In This Will Not Pass, a book by New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, Joe Biden is quoted telling a senior Democrat: “I certainly hope [my presidency] works out. If it doesn’t I’m not sure we’re going to have a country.” That a US president could utter something so apocalyptic without raising too many eyebrows shows how routine such dread has become.
Yet thinking about Watergate saddens me these days. The nation that came together to force a corrupt president from office and send many of hisco-conspiratoraides to prison is a nation that no longer exists.
“The national newspapers mattered in a way that is unimaginable to us today, and even the regional newspapers were incredibly strong,” Garrett Graff, author of “Watergate: A New History,” told me last week. I have been immersed in his nearly 800-page history — a “remarkably rich narrative,” former Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. called it in a review — which sets out to retell the story.
Americans read about Watergate in their daily papers and watched the dramatic hearings on television. Gradually, public opinion changed and Nixon was forced to resign. Sullivan writes and Graff argues conditions are very different today.
Our media environment is far more fractured, and news organizations are far less trusted.
And, in part, we can blame the rise of a right-wing media system. At its heart is Fox News, which was founded in 1996, nearly a quarter-century after the break-in, with a purported mission to provide a “fair and balanced” counterpoint to the mainstream media. Of course, that message often manifested in relentless and damaging criticism of its news rivals. Meanwhile, Fox News and company have served as a highly effective laundry service for Trump’s lies. With that network’s help, his tens of thousands of false or misleading claims have found fertile ground among his fervent supporters — oblivious to the skillful reporting elsewhere that has called out and debunked those lies.
As Graff sees it, the growth of right-wing media has enabled many Republican members of Congress to turn a blind eye to the malfeasance of Team Trump. Not so during the Watergate investigation; after all, it was Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) who posed the immortal question: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” Even the stalwart conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater (Ariz.) was among those who, at the end, managed to convince Nixon that he must resign.
Video obtained by ABC News, taken outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, as last week’s massacre was unfolding inside, appears to capture a 911 dispatcher alerting officers on scene that they were receiving calls from children who were alive inside the classroom that the gunman had entered — as law enforcement continued to wait nearly an hour and a half to enter the room.
Puppies, by Federico Olaria
“Child is advising he is in the room, full of victims,” the dispatcher can be heard saying in the video. “Full of victims at this moment.”
“Is anybody inside of the building at this…?” the dispatcher asked.
Minutes later, the dispatcher says again: “Eight to nine children.”
The video, obtained by ABC News, also shows police rescuing children from inside the school by breaking through a window and pulling them out, and also leading them out the back door to safety….
The video, which appears to show some of what took place outside the school, raises new questions about law enforcement’s response to one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings, which left 19 children and two teachers dead.
The gunman was left inside the classroom for 77 minutes as 19 officers waited in the hallway — and many more waited outside the building — after the incident commander wrongly believed the situation had transitioned from an active shooter to a barricaded subject, law enforcement has said.
Supreme Court officials are escalating their search for the source of the leaked draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, taking steps to require law clerks to provide cell phone records and sign affidavits, three sources with knowledge of the efforts have told CNN.
Some clerks are apparently so alarmed over the moves, particularly the sudden requests for private cell data, that they have begun exploring whether to hire outside counsel.
Ticket Home, by Christina Ramos
The court’s moves are unprecedented and the most striking development to date in the investigation into who might have provided Politico with the draft opinion it published on May 2. The probe has intensified the already high tensions at the Supreme Court, where the conservative majority is poised to roll back a half-century of abortion rights and privacy protections.
Chief Justice John Roberts met with law clerks as a group after the breach, CNN has learned, but it is not known whether any systematic individual interviews have occurred.
Lawyers outside the court who have become aware of the new inquiries related to cell phone details warn of potential intrusiveness on clerks’ personal activities, irrespective of any disclosure to the news media, and say they may feel the need to obtain independent counsel.
“That’s what similarly situated individuals would do in virtually any other government investigation,” said one appellate lawyer with experience in investigations and knowledge of the new demands on law clerks. “It would be hypocritical for the Supreme Court to prevent its own employees from taking advantage of that fundamental legal protection.”
I’ll end with a story that isn’t completely negative. It’s an interview with First Lady Jill Biden at Bazaar: A First Lady Undeterred.
In November 2020, when Joe Biden was elected president, the win seemed to validate not just his decision to enter this race but his entire career in politics. He has been grieving in public since he was sworn in to the United States Senate in 1973 from the hospital where his two young sons were recovering from the car crash that killed his first wife, Neilia, and their one-year-old daughter, Naomi. He married Jill five years later. Toward the end of his second term as vice president, in 2015, one of those sons, Beau, died of brain cancer. He resolved to launch this bid—his third in three decades—after watching white nationalists march on Charlottesville in 2017. The nation was sick and divided. He wanted to heal it.
Pierre Bonnard, Andree Bonnard with her dogs
When the ballots were tallied, Biden was declared the winner. But in the meantime, America had further deteriorated. It was battling one novel virus and several older ones. The pandemic had exposed long-festering discrimination and hate. Hundreds of thousands of people had died. Biden had the kind of credentials no one envies; few in politics could claim more experience with sorrow.
Pundits wrote that Joe Biden had met his moment. But Jill Biden—a patient educator in an era of rampant misinformation, a woman so determined to be present for her people that she spent one weekend in March straining the limits of the space-time continuum—was there to greet it too.
Now the moment has changed. The pandemic stretches on, with new variants making quick work of the Greek alphabet. Health-care workers are burnt out. Teachers are exhausted. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is devastating—and driving up the cost of fuel amid rampant inflation. Biden’s approval numbers have sunk into the low 40s. Several polls ahead of the midterm elections predict dire losses for Democrats, with both the House and the Senate threatening to slip into Republican control.
It’s not the kind of environment that sets an obvious course for the nation’s most scrutinized political spouse—let alone for one who describes herself as an introvert and was so lukewarm on the rites and rituals of the Washington horse race that she spent her husband’s entire Senate career at their home in Delaware. But perhaps that’s for the best. In the absence of a guidebook, Jill Biden is writing her own.
Trump gave another train wreck of a press conference yesterday during which he lied, obfuscated, and set a terrible example for his followers by shaking hands with all and sundry, touching the microphone, and refusing to self quarantine or get tested for the COVID19, despite multiple exposures. He is a danger to everyone in the White House and at his private businesses.
At one point during the question and answer session, Trump suggested that he probably would get tested, but last night the White House released a letter from his “doctor” saying he doesn’t need to. The New York Times reports:
As Mr. Trump introduced a line of chief executives and public health officials, praising their efforts and those of his administration, the mystery was the president’s own health. Would Mr. Trump, 73, be tested after interacting with a Brazilian official who tested positive for the virus just days after meeting with him in Florida?
On an issue that seemed cut and dry, yes or no, Mr. Trump hedged.
First he insisted that he did not have any symptoms, and noted that getting tested might set a bad example. “We don’t want people without symptoms to go and do the test,” he said.
By Kazuaki Horitomo Kitamura
Then a reporter questioned whether Mr. Trump was disregarding the advice of Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the public health official standing directly to his right, who has recommended tests and self-quarantining for anyone who stood next to someone who had tested positive….
But hours later, just before midnight, the White House physician released a statement saying Mr. Trump would not be tested — nor would he self-quarantine — even as it became apparent that he had interacted with not one but with at least two infected members of the Brazilian delegation that visited his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida last weekend.
Mr. Trump’s interactions with the infected individuals qualified as “LOW risk,” wrote Sean P. Conley, the White House physician, so quarantine was not recommended. He added that because the president continued to show no symptoms of the virus, “testing for Covid-19 is not currently indicated.” Other medical experts have recommended testing for asymptomatic people who could still spread the virus to others.
On Friday, the Brazilian Embassy in Washington said that its ambassador, Nestor Forster — who sat at Trump’s table during a dinner Saturday night at Mar-a-Lago — had tested positive for the coronavirus. Forster is the second Brazilian official who visited Mar-a-Lago that night and then was diagnosed with the fast-spreading virus: Fabio Wajngarten, the communications secretary for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, tested positive on Wednesday. Wajngarten had posed for a photo with Trump; Forster, the newly diagnosed ambassador, seems to have been in even more prolonged close contact with the president.
By Kazuaki Horitomo Kitamura
On Friday, Republican officials also said a guest of a donor who attended a Sunday luncheon at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club had later tested positive for the virus.
“As you may have had contact with this individual, please contact your medical provider if you or any of your loved ones is ill” or shows symptoms like fever or shortness of breath, donors were told, according to a copy of the warning obtained by The Washington Post.
Earlier this week a disturbing new development occurred on the coronavirus front when it was reported that Jared Kushner had paused his efforts solving the opioid crisis, bringing peace to the Middle East, and “reinventing the entire government” to work on the administration’s response to the crisis. While you might not know it based on the many top-level assignments Donald Trump has entrusted his son-in-law with, Kushner is not actually a boy genius capable of succeeding where others have failed. He’s neither a public health expert nor a doctor. In fact, some might argue that he’s a barely functioning adult. Still, perhaps we were being too hard on the guy? Maybe he would be the one to finally get it through to Trump that this is an extremely serious issue? And that the government needs to get its act together, and fast? And that we’re literally talking about a matter of life and death here?
By Kazuaki Horitomo Kitamura
Of course, as it turns out, that hasn’t happened at all, and Kushner, if anything, is reportedly making the situation worse by feeding into the president’s impression that this whole thing is much ado about nothing….
According to the Wall Street Journal, despite the fact that Kushner was in charge of Trump’s Wednesday prime-time address to the nation, he hasn’t “attended a single task force meeting,” where he might’ve, y’know, gleaned some insight on the issue. (The task force, you may recall, is waiting for Kushner to finish his own “research” on the virus before making a recommendation to the president re: declaring a national emergency.)
To be fair, Kushner apparently is consulting with experts…via Facebook.
Focus for a moment on this extremely important fact: President Donald Trump shut down the White House Pandemic Office in 2018, and less than two years later America and the world are struggling through a global health emergency that Trump’s own administration says could kill 5.1 million people in this country alone.
Friday afternoon PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor asked President Trump about shutting down that office.
His response was not just offensive and unpresidential, it was filled with lies.
By Kazuaki Horitomo Kitamura
“You said you don’t take responsibility [for slow response to coronavirus] but you did disband the White House Pandemic Office,” Alcindor asked President Trump. “So, what responsibility do you take to that? And the officials that worked in that office said that you — that the White House lost valuable time because that office was disbanded? What do you make of that?”
“Well, I just think it’s a nasty question,” Trump responded, weaponizing a word he regularly uses when speaking about women. “What we’ve done is — and Tony had said numerous times that we saved thousands of lives because of the quick closing. And when you say me, I didn’t do it. We have a group of people.”
“It’s your administration,” Alcindor reminded the president.
“I could ask, perhaps — my administration, but I could perhaps ask Tony about that, because I don’t know anything about it,” Trump claimed. “I mean, you say we did that. I don’t know anything about it.”
President Donald Trump announced Friday that the US government’s coronavirus testing apparatus, which has lagged badly behind other developed nations, would soon get an assist from Google. The search and advertising giant will create a website, Trump said, that would help Americans figure out if they need a test for the virus, and if so where they can find one.
The only problem: There is no nationwide site like the one Trump described. And Google had no idea the president was going to mention one.
By Kazuaki Horitomo Kitamura
A source at Google tells WIRED that company leadership was surprised that Trump announced anything about the initiative at the press conference. What he did say was also almost entirely wrong. There will be a coronavirus testing site, not from Google but from Alphabet sister company Verily. “We are developing a tool to help triage individuals for Covid-19 testing,” Google tweeted in a statement. “Verily is in the early stages of development, and planning to roll testing out in the Bay Area, with the hope of expanding more broadly over time.”
Even that, though, was not the original plan. The Verge reported Friday afternoon that Verily had intended the site for health care workers only. After Trump unexpectedly publicized the effort, Verily decided it will let anyone visit it, but can still only provide people with testing site information in the San Francisco area.
As a longtime health care reporter, the unfolding coronavirus pandemic represents everything I’ve read about — from the early days of epidemiology to the staggering toll of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic — but had not covered in my lifetime.
And still, I have been caught off guard by the pushback from top elected officials and even some friends and acquaintances who keep comparing it to the flu.
“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu,” President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter on March 9. “It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”
By Kazuaki Horitomo Kitamura
By Friday, Trump had declared coronavirus a national emergency, freeing up resources and removing hurdles for a faster response.
In the meantime, not one public health expert I trust — not one — has said this flu comparison is valid or that we’re overdoing it. Every single one, from former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to Harvard professor Ashish Jha, has said we’re not doing enough, that this is far more serious than it is being taken.
Click on the link above and read the rest.
At Vanity Fair, Joe Pompeo writes about how the pandemic is transforming the media: “The Biggest Story Since 9/11″ How Covid-19 is Rewriting the Rules of Media.
Around mid-afternoon on Wednesday, CBS News executives got word that two of their employees had tested positive for COVID-19. A little after 3 p.m., the information was shared widely within the company, and employees were instructed to evacuate the network’s Manhattan headquarters so they could be disinfected. New York–based producers who were working on that night’s installment of the CBS Evening News, which is broadcast out of Washington, cleared out, and the team in D.C. scrambled to produce the show entirely out of the bureau. Meanwhile, Anthony Mason, Tony Dokoupil, and several other members of CBS This Morning raced down to Washington so they could air the following morning’s show out of the bureau as well, while the CBS Broadcast Center was being scrubbed down.
Back in New York, and now working from home, news division president Susan Zirinsky got on the Thursday morning editorial call and informed her team that a third employee, someone who worked closely with the other two, had also tested positive. Then, working with her leadership team and parent company ViacomCBS, she spent most of the day communicating with staff, putting together employee health guidance, determining who needed to be quarantined and informed of possible exposure, devising contingency plans for where people would work, and figuring out where the news broadcasts would originate from for as long as the New York building was shut down. As one person involved
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Thank goodness the “holidays” are almost over now, and soon a new year will begin. What will 2018 bring? Will Trump continue his goal of destroying democracy or will we somehow manage to keep it alive? First we have to get through the journalistic ritual of looking back over the year that is ending.
Grit your teeth. Persevere. Just a few more days and this awful, rotten, no-good, ridiculous, rancorous, sordid, disgraceful year in the civic life of our nation will be over. Here’s hoping that we all — particularly special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — have a better 2018.
Many of us began 2017 with the consoling thought that the Donald Trump presidency couldn’t possibly be as bad as we feared. It turned out to be worse.
Did you ever think you would hear a president use the words “very fine people” to describe participants in a torch-lit rally organized by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan? Did you ever think you would hear a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations thuggishly threaten that she would be “taking names” of countries that did not vote on a General Assembly resolution the way she wanted? Did you ever think the government of the world’s biggest military and economic power would reject not just science but also empiricism itself, preferring to use made-up “alternative facts” as the basis for major decisions?
We knew that Trump was narcissistic and shallow, but on Inauguration Day it was possible to at least hope he was self-aware enough to understand the weight that now rested on his shoulders, and perhaps grow into the job. He did not. If anything, he has gotten worse.
Donald Trump has been every bit as horrible as one might have expected; he continues, day after day, to prove himself utterly unfit for office, morally and intellectually. And the Republican Party — including so-called moderates — turns out, if anything, to be even worse than one might have expected. At this point it’s evidently composed entirely of cynical apparatchiks, willing to sell out every principle — and every shred of their own dignity — as long as their donors get big tax cuts.
Meanwhile, conservative media have given up even the pretense of doing real reporting, and become blatant organs of ruling-party propaganda….
What we’ve seen instead is the emergence of a highly energized resistance. That resistance made itself visible literally the day after Trump took office, with the huge women’s marches that took place on Jan. 21, dwarfing the thin crowds at the inauguration. If American democracy survives this terrible episode, I vote that we make pink pussy hats the symbol of our delivery from evil….
Let’s be clear: America as we know it is still in mortal danger. Republicans still control all the levers of federal power, and never in the course of our nation’s history have we been ruled by people less trustworthy.
This obviously goes for Trump himself, who is clearly a dictator wannabe, with no respect whatsoever for democratic norms. But it also goes for Republicans in Congress, who have demonstrated again and again that they will do nothing to limit his actions. They have backed him up as he uses his office to enrich himself and his cronies, as he foments racial hatred, as he attempts a slow-motion purge of the Justice Department and the F.B.I.
I count it as a good sign that journalists are coming right out and calling Trump a wannabe dictator. Also a good sign: both Robinson and Krugman acknowledge that if we are to survive Trump, women’s leadership will be the reason. How ironic that a woman had to be excoriated and mocked by abusive male journalists for this awakening of women’s power to happen.
Jan Van Eyck – Madonna with the Child Reading (1433)
It’s also a good sign that journalists finally recognized the Russian threat, although this only happened after a monster was installed as POTUS. Yesterday The Washington Post published a breathtaking analysis of what the Russians accomplished last year and the danger they still pose to our democracy: Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options. Here’s a brief excerpt; please go read the whole thing if you haven’t already.
The events surrounding the FBI’s NorthernNight investigation follow a pattern that repeated for years as the Russian threat was building: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin’s ambitions. Top U.S. policymakers didn’t appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions.
One previously unreported order — a sweeping presidential finding to combat global cyberthreats — prompted U.S. spy agencies to plan a half-dozen specific operations to counter the Russian threat. But one year after those instructions were given, the Trump White House remains divided over whether to act, intelligence officials said….
The miscalculations and bureaucratic inertia that left the United States vulnerable to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential electiontrace back to decisions made at the end of the Cold War, when senior policymakers assumed Moscow would be a partner and largely pulled the United States out of information warfare. When relations soured, officials dismissed Russia as a “third-rate regional power” that would limit its meddling to the fledgling democracies on its periphery.
Senior U.S. officials didn’t think Russia would dare shift its focus to the United States.
“I thought our ground was not as fertile,” said Antony J. Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state. “We believed that the truth shall set you free, that the truth would prevail. That proved a bit naive.”
Every first-year international-relations student learns about the importance of deterrence: It prevented a Soviet invasion of Western Europe during the height of the Cold War. It prevented North Korea from invading South Korea in the same time frame. Today, it keeps Iran from starting a hot war in the Middle East or other nations from initiating cyberattacks against our infrastructure.
The Reader, by Federico Zandomeneghi (Italian, 1841)
And yet, the United States has failed to establish deterrence in the aftermath of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. We know we failed because Russia continues to aggressively employ the most significant aspect of its 2016 tool kit: the use of social media as a platform to disseminate propaganda designed to weaken our nation.
There is a perception among the media and general public that Russia ended its social-media operations following last year’s election and that we need worry only about future elections. But that perception is wrong. Russia’s information operations in the United States continued after the election and they continue to this day.
This should alarm everyone — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. Foreign governments, overtly or covertly, should not be allowed to play with our democracy.
Read about the continuing threats from Russia at the WaPo link.
At the Columbia Journalism Review, Jonathan Peters reports on the work of NYT master’s student to examine Trump’s Twitter attacks on the media.
Trump’s prolificacy on Twitter is well documented, and some of his press-related tweets have captured vast public attention. For example, Trump tweeted in July a doctored video in which he wrestled a man whose head had been replaced by the CNN logo. It got hundreds of thousands of retweets.
Off Twitter, of course, Trump has waged a rhetorical war on the press, threatening to sue various newspapers and calling journalists “the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” all while characterizing as “fake news” any story he dislikes.
That’s what prompted an NYU master’s student to start tracking Trump’s tweets critical of the press. “I took it on as a labor of love and hate, and I suffered through his tweets every few days to log them,” says Stephanie Sugars, who is pursuing a joint MA in journalism and international relations. “It seemed important to maintain a record of what has appeared to be a deliberate and sustained campaign to discredit the media as an institution.”
By Zulia Gotay de Anderson
Sugars was working as a researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists last spring when she created the Trump-tweet spreadsheet that she recently shared with me. She was helping to launch a website that documents press freedom incidents in the US. (CJR is a partner.) Originally, she and others at CPJ thought it would include not only arrests and equipment seizures but also anti-press social media posts.
“That just wasn’t manageable,” Sugars says. “We decided to pare the site back and not focus on tweets. I kept up with the spreadsheet, though, and continued to add to it, even after leaving [CPJ] when my term as a researcher there ended.”
Peters then assigned his students a the University of Georgia to “review the spreadsheet and to help me identify notable items and trends in the data.” Read the rest at the CJR link to see the results.
Throw a dart at a map of the world and there’s a solid chance it will land near a spot where a Trump family business has allegedly gotten caught up in a money laundering scheme.
There’s Panama, where the Trump Ocean Club is said to have washed dirty cash for Russian gangsters and South American drug cartels. There’s Azerbaijan and the Trump Baku, where the money allegedly being laundered was said to belong to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. And of course, there’s the Trump Soho in Manhattan, a magnet for money from Kazakhstan and Russia, and a property that one former executive on the project now calls “a monument to spectacularly corrupt money-laundering and tax evasion.”
In each of those cases, the Trump Organization has denied any wrongdoing and has sought to distance itself—and the Trump family—from the property, saying they merely licensed the Trump name. But as it turns out, it’s not just Trump-branded real estate developments that perhaps have attracted the wrong kinds of money.
Thanks to an overlooked filing made in federal court this past summer, we can now add a jewelry business to the list of Trump family enterprises that allegedly served as vehicles to fraudulently hide the assets of ultra-rich foreigners with checkered backgrounds. In late June, the Commercial Bank of Dubai sought—and later received—permission to subpoena Ivanka Trump’s now-defunct fine jewelry line, claiming its diamonds were used in a massive scheme to hide roughly $100 million that was owed to the bank, according to filings at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Read the rest at GQ.
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Or what’s left of the morning and good in the world.
Drinking my morning coffee and reading the newspaper–now PC screen–is a habit I come by naturally. It’s a ritual my family followed for years. Then, there was the follow-up ritual of turning on the evening news and reading the evening paper after my dad and others depending on who we were staying with in Kansas City that weekend. It could also include a grandfather or an uncle. It was something my mother did too. I loved sitting on my Grandfather’s lap, smelling his cigar, and listening to him read the funnies to me in between pointing out all kinds of happenings. He was a Vice President of the Federal Reserve and ran the War Bond programs for a few states for both Wars. He was a huge news hound.
For many years, it’s been a comforting ritual even though much of what I saw on black and white, then color, news programs and read on newsprint now followed by the bytes of light on my computer has not been all good. There have been scary times like the Cuban Missile Crisis or watching Civil Rights Demonstrators being badly beaten and seeing Southern Sheriffs turn dogs and hoses on children my age. That was horrifying to me. I was profoundly impacted by the war porn of Vietnam with the ghastly body count numbers that came out nightly. There was Watergate, Shock and Awe, assassinations, and planes crashing into the Twin Towers. There were also men walking on the moon. All of these happened over decades. It did not happen over the span of just a few months. We have a 30 second news cycle. It’s full of awful, plentiful stories. You have to search to find the good.
Those of us in our twilight years can attest to being the generation that watched it all unfurl nearly live and then very live. Until the last two months, I thought that I’d seen enough chaos, corruption, cruelty, and stupidity that I was inured to just about anything. I watched the Nixon Watergate hearings and rantings in High School. I saw the McCarthy hearings on film in my 8th grade American History class. I’ve witnessed crazy Republicans, believe me. But, at the time, my nice staid Republican family–of which I was one for many years–felt that the few odds and sods that showed up ever so often were odd men out. They’re not odd men out any more. They’re very much in and it seems like the doors of bedlam were opened so they could all run for office.
Media was also part of school. We watched “Biography” frequently or any number of documentaries on the school’s collection of TVs, VCRS, films and projectors, and the early broadcasts of PBS. We had at least one day a week where we had to bring a newspaper article to discuss. Growing up in educated, upper middle class WASP America meant being educated and informed in my household. It meant voting and volunteering. It meant making sure that we did things that represented the basic value of “to whom much is given, much is asked”.
I may have learned the lessons of Jesus with a Presbyterian minister who drove an orange convertible fiat, spent a hell of a lot of time on the golf course at the local, very expensive and exclusive country club, and had the most jaunty outfits you could imagine to include leather driving gloves and tweed caps, but I was sent on summers to do all kinds of work in Rural New Mexico. I was taught the Beatitudes were the basis of my beliefs even though the Sunday sermons were usually illustrated by the pronouncement to think about these things when you’re in the locker room or the bridge room of the Country Club. Of course, that was the country club with no Jewish members, a rare number of Catholics, and black Americans only as employees.
I breathed rarefied air most of my life. But, I was not raised to be ignorant, cruel, or uniformed. Now, I have found myself in a country where ignorance, cruelty, and propaganda rule the day and it has just about turned me into something I barely recognize. I’m drained. I’m exhausted. I don’t want to be around people I don’t know extremely well.
Syrian military officials appeared to anticipate Thursday night’s raid on Syria‘s Shayrat air base, evacuating personnel and moving equipment ahead of the strike, according to an eyewitness.
Dozens of Tomahawk missiles struck the air base near Homs, damaging runways, towers and traffic control buildings, a local resident and human rights activist living near the air base told ABC News via an interpreter.
U.S. officials believe the plane that dropped chemical weapons on civilians in Idlib Province on Tuesday, which according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights killed 86 people, took off from the Shayrat airbase.
The attack lasted approximately 35 minutes and its impact was felt across the city, shaking houses and sending those inside them fleeing from their windows. Both of the air base’s major runways were struck by missiles, and some of its 40 fortified bunkers were also damaged.
Local residents say the Russian military had used the air base in early 2016 but have since withdrawn their officers, so the base is now mainly operated by Syrian and Iranian military officers. There is also a hotel nearby where Iranian officers have been staying, though it was not clear whether it was damaged.
The eyewitness believes human casualties, at least within the civilian population, were minimal, as there was no traffic heading toward the local hospital.
So, it was mostly an empty gesture. It was more likely another display of the decimation of Obama policy. It was more Branding of Kremlin Caligula as tough asshole. You will notice that no Syrian children are on their way to our hospitals and the safety of our communities after that costly gesture. There were a few crocodiles tears last night at Orange-Lago central where the Presidential announcement sounded like it came from a NAZI bunker at the end of the that long war.
The events of the past week, culminating in the decision by President Obama’s successor to launch a punitive strike on a Syrian air base in retaliation for Assad’s continued use of chemical weapons against civilians, prove a number of points, some that reflect well on Obama, and some that do not. The first is that the 2013 Obama-Putin deal to disarm Assad of his chemical weapons was a failure. It was not a complete failure, in that stockpiles were indeed removed, but Assad kept enough of these weapons to allow him to continue murdering civilians with sarin gas. The argument that Obama achieved comprehensive WMD disarmament without going to war is no longer, as they say in Washington, operative.
The events of the past week also prove that a core principle of the Obama Doctrine is dead. President Trump’s governing foreign policy doctrine is not easily discernible, of course. His recent statements about Syria—kaleidoscopic in their diversity—combined with his decision to order an attack, have half-convinced me that he is something wholly unique in the history of the presidency: an isolationist interventionist.
The first part asks whether the President has presumptive authority to use force unilaterally. For OLC, this authority turns on whether the “national interest” vindicated by the use of force sufficiently important? That sounds vague and easy to satisfy, but as we’ll see in a moment, OLC has (at least until the Syria strike) pointed to some objective limits. If the president perceives that “national interest” would be vindicated by a use of force, OLC says that he can presumptively use force abroad under his powers as “Commander in Chief and Chief Executive, for foreign and military affairs, as well as national security.”
However, OLC acknowledged “one possible constitutionally-based limit on this presidential authority to employ military force in defense of important national interests—a planned military engagement that constitutes a ‘war’ within the meaning of the Declaration of War Clause may require prior congressional authorization.” This second part of the test turns on the “anticipated nature, scope, and duration of the planned military operations.” The idea is that relatively short-term and small-scale operations abroad are not “war” and thus do not implicate the Declare War clause, but larger-scale, longer-term operations might be “war” and thus might implicate the clause.
Applying this test to Syria, consider the “scale of operations” prong first. The U.S. military last night fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Al Shayrat airfield in Syria. We don’t know whether or when it might strike again, and for now, at least, there appears to be no prospect of directing U.S. boots on the ground toward Syrian forces. From the perspective of Executive branch precedent, air campaigns—especially short-term ones, and especially ones (like those involving cruise missiles or drones) that present practically no chance of American casualties—easily satisfy the “anticipated nature, scope and duration” test for not impinging on congressional prerogatives. (As Matt Waxman and I explained, the Obama administration’s clarification of the president’s unilateral power to engaged in “limited” war from a distance was one of its central legal legacy’s related to war powers.) As long as the military intervention in Syria is short term and limited and does not involve ground troops against Assad forces, it breaks no new legal ground.
The same cannot be said of the other prong of the test, which asks whether the President has authority to strike in the first place. What is the important national interest in intervening in Syria? No U.S. persons or property are at stake. That fact alone distinguishes most executive branch precedents. In the Libya opinion, OLC argued that “at least two national interests that the President reasonably determined were at stake here—preserving regional stability and supporting the UNSC’s credibility and effectiveness.” The second interest—the “credibility and effectiveness” of a Security Council Resolution—is a controversial basis for justifying presidential unilateralism because it seems to substitute international institutional approval for congressional approval. This line of reasoning began with Truman’s unilateral initiation of the Korean war in response to North Korea’s international aggression. In that instance, in 1950, the State Department argued (among other things) that the President as Commander in Chief could deploy U.S. armed forces, consistent with the Constitution, for the purpose of upholding the “paramount United States interest” in the “continued existence of the United Nations as an effective international organization.” Moreover, the Kosovo precedent arguably extends this reasoning from the Security Council to NATO, which supported (and indeed conducted) the Kosovo strikes.
The administration continues to be unpredictable, contrarian of its own spoken or twittered words, and chaotic. How can a great country be ruled under these circumstances?
President Trump is considering a broad shakeup of his White House that could include the replacement of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the departure of chief strategist Steve Bannon, aides and advisers tell us.
A top aide to Trump said he’s contemplating major changes, but that the situation is very fluid and the timing uncertain: “Things are happening, but it’s very unclear the president’s willing to pull that trigger.”
Insiders tell me that the possibilities for chief of staff include:
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who developed a bond with Trump as one of the earlier congressional leaders to support him, and remains a confidant.
Wayne Berman of Blackstone Group, a Washington heavy-hitter who was an Assistant Secretary of Commerce under President George H.W. Bush, and a key adviser on eight presidential campaigns.
David Urban of the Washington advisory firm American Continental Group, and a former chief of staff to the late Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Urban helped Trump win an upset victory in Pennsylvania, and was in constant cellphone contact with the candidate throughout the campaign.
Gary Cohn, Trump’s economic adviser and the former #2 at Goldman Sachs, who has built a formidable team and internal clout.
The West Wing “Game of Thrones” has been raging ever since Trump took office. But the war between the nationalists and the moderates, led by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, burst into the open this week after Bannon was taken off the National Security Council, setting off a torrent of leaks against him.
Bannon called reports that he was ready to quit “100 percent nonsense.”
Twitter Inc on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit to block an order by the U.S. government demanding that it reveal who is behind an account opposed to President Donald Trump’s tough immigration policies.
Twitter cited freedom of speech as a basis for not turning over records about the account, @ALT_uscis. The account is claimed to be the work of at least one federal immigration employee, according to the lawsuit filed in San Francisco federal court.
The acronym U.S. CIS refers to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the account describes itself as “immigration resistance.” Trump has vowed to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and has promised to deport millions of illegal immigrants.
Following Trump’s inauguration in January, anonymous Twitter feeds that borrowed the names and logos of more than a dozen U.S. government agencies appeared to challenge the president’s views on climate change and other issues. They called themselves “alt” accounts.
Twitter spokesman Nick Pacilio declined to comment on whether the government had demanded information about other accounts critical of Trump.
Twitter, which counts Trump among its active users, has a record of litigating in favor of user privacy.
If you want to understand intra-GOP warfare, the decision-making process of our president, the implosion of the Republican healthcare plan, and the rest of the politics of the Trump era, you don’t need to know about Russian espionage tactics, the state of the white working class, or even the beliefs of the “alt-right.” You pretty much just need to be in semi-regular contact with a white, reasonably comfortable, male retiree. We are now ruled by men who think and act very much like that ordinary man you might know, and if you want to know why they believe so many strange and terrible things, you can basically blame the fact that a large and lucrative industry is dedicated to lying to them.
It’s the basic explanation that old school Republicans thought they could radicalize their base and not expect the base to eventually turn on them.
But the complete and inarguable disaster of the Bush administration—a failure of the conservative movement itself, one undeniable even to many consumers of the parallel conservative media—and his abrupt replacement by a black man, caused a national nervous breakdown among the people who’d been told, for many years, that conservatism could not fail, and that all Real Americans agreed with them.
Rather rapidly, two things happened: First, Republicans realized they’d radicalized their base to a point where nothing they did in power could satisfy their most fervent constituents. Then—in a much more consequential development—a large portion of the Republican Congressional caucus became people who themselves consume garbage conservative media, and nothing else.
That, broadly, explains the dysfunction of the Obama era, post-Tea Party freakout. Congressional Republicans went from people who were able to turn their bullshit-hose on their constituents, in order to rile them up, to people who pointed it directly at themselves, mouths open.
Now, we have a president whose media diet defines his worldview, interests, and priorities. He is not one of the men, like most of those Tea Party members of Congress, whose existing worldview determined his media diet—who sealed himself off from disagreeable media sources. He is, in fact, something far more dangerous: a confused old man who believes what the TV tells him.
My father spent many of his last years swallowing what Fox dished out and it took a lot of time on my part to disabuse of him of the notion that any one on FOX was worthy of shining the shoes of David Brinkly or Chet Huntley.
As dozens of cruise missiles laid waste to a Syrian military airfield late Thursday, MSNBC’s Brian Williams took a moment to wax poetic.
All evening, MSNBC and other news networks had been playing a reel of footage of the assault, which President Trump authorized in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed more than 70 civilians this week.
The footage, provided by the Pentagon, showed several Tomahawk missiles launching from U.S. Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea, illuminating the decks of the ships and leaving long trails of smoke in the night sky.
It was a sight that seemed to dazzle Williams, who described the images as “beautiful” in a segment on his show, “The 11th Hour.”
“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” Williams said. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”
“They are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them what is a brief flight over to this airfield,” he added, then asked his guest, “What did they hit?”
The remarks drew backlash on Twitter, where some users seemed disturbed by Williams’s flowery language.
At some point, I feel like I’ve crossed into the zone of the crazy cat lady who screams at the teenagers in the yard every time I close the screen on the latest news. I rarely venture on to the boob tube news zone at all unless it’s really something breaking. This week I sallied forth and am retreating.
Apparently he was displeased with last night’s television coverage of his praise of a vicious dictator who murders journalists and political opponents and and his claim that the U.S. is no better because our military has killed people in war. It also seems he hasn’t yet figured out that the Iran deal was brokered with five other countries–including Russia!
Tomorrow we’ll likely be bombarded with tweets about whatever the judges decide in the muslim ban case, which is scheduled to be argued tonight at 6PM Eastern time. BTW, the audio of the hearing will be live-streamed. You can listen at that link.
NBC News reports:
In an 11-page reply to arguments filed by opponents, the Justice Department restated earlier arguments that the president has “unreviewable authority” to suspend entry of “any class of aliens to protect the national interest” and that states (in this case, Washington and Minnesota) can’t challenge federal denial of entry by third-party aliens.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has rebutted that contention, saying on NBC’s “TODAY” that “we have a checks-and-balances system in our country, and the president doesn’t have totally unfettered discretion.”
Numerous businesses and public officials have weighed in against the baby-man’s executive order.
Almost 100 big tech companies asked the appeals court not to restore Trump’s order, arguing that the restriction “hinders the ability of American companies to attract great talent; increases costs imposed on business; makes it more difficult for American firms to compete in the international marketplace; and gives global enterprises a new, significant incentive to build operations — and hire new employees — outside the United States.”
Numerous other third-party filings — called amicus curiae briefs — were entered by pro-immigration and civil liberties groups opposing the president’s order.
And several former top federal officials — including former Secretaries of State John Kerry and Madeleine Albright, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser — filed their own statement of support for Washington and Minnesota.
Yesterday in a ridiculous “speech” at the U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL, the baby-man again bragged about winning and his support from the military and attacked the media, claiming that the press refused to cover terrorist attacks. From Talking Points Memo:
During his speech, Trump claimed that the media is not reporting on terrorist attacks, though he did not explain why.
“It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it,” he said. “They have their reasons and you understand that.”
No one seem to know WTF baby-man was talking about, but that’s nothing new. Later yesterday, the White House released a list of 78 terrorist attacks that they believe the media didn’t cover adequately. The list included the Paris and Nice attacks in France, the San Bernardino attack, and the Pulse Nightclub attack, all of which received wall-to-wall coverage. The Washington Post on the list:
It was bare-bones in nature and seemed to have been hastily assembled. The document contained numerous typos and several factual inaccuracies. Some of the attacks listed were so high-profile and thoroughly reported that anyone with Google would be hard-pressed to say they didn’t receive sufficient attention. Among them were the Pulse nightclub massacre, the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France, the coordinated shootings and explosions in Paris, and the holiday party shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.
The other attacks included on the list seemed to have been picked arbitrarily. More than half involved two or fewer deaths or injuries, so it’s no surprise that they didn’t receive front-page coverage.
Many significant attacks were missing from the list, and guess what they had in common:
Some of the countries most devastated by terrorism from Islamic extremists were left out entirely. Whether that suggests that the administration thinks they received adequate coverage is anyone’s guess. But it was a glaring omission either way.
In 2015, nearly three quarters of all deaths from terrorist attacks occurred in five countries — Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, according to the State Department. The White House chose not to include any attacks from Iraq, Nigeria and Syria on its list. The two others got a single mention each — a knife attack that wounded a U.S. citizen in Pakistan in 2015, and a suicide bombing that killed 14 Nepalese security guards in Afghanistan last year.
Similarly, between 2004 and 2013, about half of all terrorist attacks and 60 percent of fatalities from terrorist attacks took place in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, Erin Miller, of the Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, told the BBC.
It appears the baby-man’s administration doesn’t think attacks on muslim victims are important. I guess that’s why they ignored the recent attack on a Canadian mosque by a white supremacist tRump supporter.
On Monday, in a case little noticed by the national media, a man went on trial in federal court for plotting a potentially horrific terrorist attack in upstate New York. In 2015, this man allegedly planned to enlist accomplices to help him bomb a house of worship and open fire with assault rifles on any bystanders. “High casualty rates” was the goal. “If it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds,” he allegedly said, according to prosecutors.
Also on Monday, the Trump White House released a list of 78 attacks carried out in the US and abroad by “radical Islamic terrorists” since 2014, which it said were mostly “underreported,” following the president’s own claim earlier in the day that the media conspired to ignore such attacks. But had the upstate New York plotter succeeded, he would not have made the White House list. The individual charged with masterminding that plan was Robert Doggart, a 65-year-old white man from Tennessee who allegedly conspired to form a militia and attack a Muslim community in Islamberg, NY, on “behalf of American patriotism.” ….
After six people were killed and many others were injured while praying at a mosque in Quebec City on January 29, the White House and Fox News quickly ran with false claims that the suspected attacker was Moroccan. (That man was in fact interviewed as a witness.) Trump has not tweeted nor made any public remarks about the white nationalist (and Trump fan) who has been charged in the case.After avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine people at Mother Emanuel Church in in Charleston in June 2015, Trump tweeted that the attack was “incomprehensible,” and expressed his “deepest condolences to all.” But Trump has said nothing publicly about the case at any point since Roof went on trial in December.
After a white man went on a deadly rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado in November 2015—apparently motivated by an infamous video sting that falsely claimed Planned Parenthood was trafficking in “baby parts”—Trump described the perpetrator as a “maniac.” But after that, he went on at much greater length about Planned Parenthood’s alleged misdeeds.
The Navy SEAL raid in Yemen last week had a secret objective — the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who survived and is now taunting President Donald Trump in an audio message.
Military and intelligence officials told NBC News the goal of the massive operation was to capture or kill Qassim al-Rimi, considered the third most dangerous terrorist in the world and a master recruiter….
On Sunday, al-Rimi — who landed on the United States’ most-wanted terrorist list after taking over al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate in 2015 — released an audio recording that military sources said is authentic.
“The fool of the White House got slapped at the beginning of his road in your lands,” he said in an apparent reference to the Jan. 29 raid.
I have to agree that the baby-man in the White House is a “fool.”
More than being lampooned as a press secretary who makes up facts, it was Spicer’s portrayal by a woman that was most problematic in the president’s eyes, according to sources close to him. And the unflattering send-up by a female comedian was not considered helpful for Spicer’s longevity in the grueling, high-profile job in which he has struggled to strike the right balance between representing an administration that considers the media the “opposition party,” and developing a functional relationship with the press.
“Trump doesn’t like his people to look weak,” added a top Trump donor.
Trump’s uncharacteristic Twitter silence over the weekend about the “Saturday Night Live” sketch was seen internally as a sign of how uncomfortable it made the White House feel. Sources said the caricature of Spicer by McCarthy struck a nerve and was upsetting to the press secretary and to his allies, who immediately saw how damaging it could be in Trump world.
Could Spicer’s days as press secretary already be numbered?
A lawyer for first lady Melania Trump argued in a lawsuit filed Monday that an article falsely alleging she once worked for an escort service hurt her chance to establish “multimillion dollar business relationships” during the years in which she would be “one of the most photographed women in the world.”
The suit, filed Monday in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan against Mail Media, the owner of the Daily Mail, said the article published by the Daily Mail and its online division last August caused Trump’s brand, Melania, to lose “significant value” as well as “major business opportunities that were otherwise available to her.” The suit noted that the article had damaged Trump’s “unique, once in a lifetime opportunity” to “launch a broad-based commercial brand.”
“These product categories would have included, among other things, apparel accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed on Trump’s behalf by California attorney Charles Harder….
The suit filed Monday did not spell out a plan by Trump to market her products during her tenure as first lady, but mentioned that her reputation had suffered just as she was experiencing a “multi-year term” of elevated publicity. The suit says the Daily Mail article “impugned her fitness to perform her duties as First Lady of the United States.”
So . . . what stories are you following today? Please share in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday.
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