Thursday Reads

Girl with Sunflowers, 1941 (oil on masonite), Diego Rivera (1886-1957)

Good Morning!!

As usual, there is way too much news this morning. How have we survived nearly four years of this? The U.S. is leading the world in cases and deaths during a historic global pandemic that has killed more than 170,000 Americans. The U.S. economy is a raging dumpster fire that has been a disaster for all but the wealthiest Americans.

The so-called “president” couldn’t care less about the death and destruction that his neglect of his duties has caused. He’s far too busy trying to steal the 2020 election and achieve his goal of becoming a dictator.

More evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia and his idol Vladimir Putin has emerged in recent days, and it really looks as if he has been getting lessons from Putin in how do to the U.S. what Putin did to Russia. Meanwhile Putin appears to have poisoned his primary political opponent. Is he telling Trump how to do that too?

Today is the fourth day of the virtual Democratic National Convention. Last night was pretty dramatic. Kamala Harris accepted the nomination for Vice President. She is first woman of color and the first Asian-American to do so. Before Harris spoke, former President Obama gave a merciless critique of Trump’s failed leadership and issued a dire warning about the future of our democracy. Tonight Joe Biden will accept the nomination for President.

On the breaking news from Russia

The Daily Beast: Putin Critic Alexey Navalny Allegedly Poisoned by Toxin in His Tea.

Edvard Munch, The Sun

MOSCOW—Vladimir Putin’s nemesis, corruption fighter Aleksey Navalny, is fighting for his life in a Siberian hospital after allegedly being poisoned at an airport while travelling to Moscow.

Navalny’s closest aide, Kira Yarmysh, said Navalny was poisoned after drinking a cup of tea at Tomsk airport early Thursday morning. He then boarded a flight to the Russian capital but fell violently ill en route. Taken from the aircraft on a stretcher after it was diverted to the city of Omsk, the opposition leader is in intensive care, relying on a respirator to breathe.

A Russian DJ who was on the same flight recorded a video that showed medical help arriving after the plane landed in Omsk. Navalny’s screams could be heard in the background.

Yarmysh said she knew immediately what had happened to her colleague: “A year ago, when Aleksey was in a detention center, he was poisoned. Obviously, now they’ve done the same thing to him again,” she wrote on Twitter.

Navalny’s friend, former lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov is convinced this was yet another assassination attempt on an opponent of Putin. “Ever since Boris Nemtsov was murdered by the wall of the Kremlin, all of us knew who was going to be their next target—but Aleksey and I avoided talking about that,” Gudkov told The Daily Beast.

Read more at BBC News: Alexei Navalny: Russian opposition leader ‘poisoned’

On the Democratic National Convention

DECLARING “LET’S fight with conviction, let’s fight with hope, let’s fight with confidence,” Kamala D. Harris made history on Wednesday night in accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for vice president. The California senator’s address was the nation’s first broad introduction to the first Black woman ever on a major party presidential ticket.

Impression, Sunrise, Claude Monet, 1872

The daughter of immigrants, she described her family’s only-in-America story. She also highlighted racial inequities that continue to plague American society, including the disproportionate suffering communities of color have endured during the covid-19 pandemic. But Ms. Harris, who has won several elections in the nation’s most populous state and boasts an impressive record as a prosecutor, state attorney general and U.S. senator, did not serve merely as an avatar of one demographic group or another. The vision she offered was of universal values — and the need to restore them after the presidency of Donald Trump. She lamented that “the constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone.” She offered an alternative in which “we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect.”

In other elections, such sentiments might feel trite. In this one, they draw a clear distinction with the incumbent president. Former president Barack Obama drove that point home before Ms. Harris spoke. “Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” he said. “The consequences of that failure are severe: 170,000 Americans dead; millions of jobs, gone, while those at the top take in more than ever; our worst impulses unleashed; our proud reputation around the world badly diminished.”

Politico: ‘Our worst impulses unleashed’: Obama assails Trump as a threat to democracy.

Former President Barack Obama delivered his sharpest broadside yet against President Donald Trump, blasting his successor as unserious and self-centered and cautioning that core democratic institutions have been imperiled by the Trump presidency.

“I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies,” Obama said in his remarks at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday. “I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously. But he never did.”

Alexander Calder, Sunrise on Pyramids, 1070

“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Obama continued. “And the consequences of that failure are severe: 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”

Obama portrayed the president as a catastrophically ineffective leader who has used the office only to benefit himself and his friends and spoke with an urgency not often seen from a man who has largely declined to weigh in on the Trump outrage du jour. Trump, he said, views the presidency as no more than a “reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

He dismissed Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, asserting that “our ability to work together to solve big problems like a pandemic depends on a fidelity to facts and science and logic and not just making stuff up.”

Also see Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Obama’s Convention Speech Is the First Time I Have Seen Him Scared.

On the Senate Intelligence Committee’s latest report on Trump and Russia

Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: Russiagate Was Not a Hoax.

Rereading the Mueller report more than a year after its publication is an exercise in disappointment. One gets the feeling that Robert Mueller didn’t press his inquiry to its end. Instead of settling the questions that haunt the 2016 campaign, he left them dangling, publishing a stilted document riddled with insinuation and lacunae. He rushed his work, closing up shop before finishing his assignment.

While Mueller received all the hype, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence kept its head down. Yesterday, having avoided cable speculation almost entirely, the SSCI released the fifth and final volume of a report on Russia’s attempt to sway the last election in Donald Trump’s favor. It finally delivered what Mueller either could not or would not: a comprehensive presentation of the evidence in the matter of “collusion.” The report confirms that Russiagate is no hoax. Whether or not the Trump campaign illegally coordinated with the Kremlin, Trump has no grounds for proclaiming vindication, much less that he’s the victim of a witch hunt….

The Wheat Field, Sunrise, Vincent Van Gogh

Mueller’s team referred to Manafort’s Kyiv-based aide-de-camp, Konstantin Kilimnik, as an active Russian agent. Manafort had clearly spoken with Kilimnik during the campaign, and had even passed confidential campaign information to him, with the understanding that the documents would ultimately arrive in the hands of oligarchs close to the Kremlin….

The committee…reports that Manafort and Kilimnik talked almost daily during the campaign. They communicated through encrypted technologies set to automatically erase their correspondence; they spoke using code words and shared access to an email account. It’s worth pausing on these facts: The chairman of the Trump campaign was in daily contact with a Russian agent, constantly sharing confidential information with him. That alone makes for one of the worst scandals in American political history.

The significant revelation of the document is that Kilimnik was likely a participant in the Kremlin scheme to hack and leak Clinton campaign emails. Furthermore, Kilimnik kept in close contact with the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a former client of Manafort’s. The report also indicates that Deripaska was connected to his government’s hacking efforts. This fact is especially suggestive: Deripaska had accused Manafort of stealing money from him, and Manafort hoped to repair his relationship with the oligarch. Was Manafort passing information to him, through Kilimnik, for the sake of currying favor with an old patron?

Also see The New York Times Editorial Board: The Trump Campaign Accepted Russian Help to Win in 2016. Case Closed. Too bad the NYT can’t admit how wrong they were in 2016 and issue a long-needed apology to Hillary Clinton and the American people.

On Trump’s efforts to steal the 2020 election:

Joanne Lipman and Edward B. Foley at The Washington Post: If we don’t dispel the falsehood of an election ‘delay’ now, we risk chaos in November.

Leonid Afremov, The Sweetness of the Sun

President Trump is ramping up his attacks on mail-in voting by insisting election results “must” be known on election night. “No more big election night answers?” he tweeted last month. “Ridiculous! Just a formula for RIGGING an Election . . .”

The news media have pushed back on his baseless claims of fraud. But they agree with him on one point: There is likely to be a “delay” in election results because of a surge in mail-in votes.

But that’s wrong. If results aren’t known on election night, that doesn’t mean there’s a delay. The fact is, there are never official results on election night. There never have been.

Predictions of a delay rest on a misunderstanding of the vote-counting process — a misunderstanding that is both dangerous and hugely consequential. If election-night results are considered the norm, and what happens this year is described as a “delay,” it will be easy to paint the result as problematic — and for Trump to continue to spread suspicions about the entire process.

Concerns about a supposed delay stem from a coronavirus-fueled interest in absentee and mail-in ballots. In a July survey of more than 19,000 Americans, 41 percent of those who plan to vote said they were “very likely” to vote by mail this year, and another 23 percent said they would be “somewhat likely” to do so. That compares with 21 percent who voted by mail in 2016, “which itself was a historic high,” the survey, conducted by a consortium of universities, noted. Counting those ballots could potentially take days or weeks, which means projecting a winner on election night may not be possible.

Yet even if counting takes several weeks, that wouldn’t constitute a delay — because by law, election results aren’t official until more than a month after the election.

I will highlight more important stories in the comment thread.

Take care of yourselves today Sky Dancers! We will survive because we must. Take care of yourselves and those you love today and every day.


Lazy Caturday Reads: A Bit of News and Some Fascinating Long Reads

The cat’s lunch, Pierre Bonnard, circa 1906

Good Afternoon!!

I’m sick to death of politics right now, but I don’t want to completely ignore it either. So today I’ll begin with a few of today’s news stories and then I’m going to recommend some interesting long reads that I’ve enjoyed this week.

Harry Litman at The Washington Post: Release the Mueller team’s summaries. Now.

In the (so far) quiet war of words between the Barr and Mueller camps, we have learned that the special counsel’s report was prepared with summaries of each section that were designed purposely for quick delivery to Congress. These summaries have been scrubbed of all or nearly all controversial material and, therefore, consist of Mueller’s analyses and conclusions without disclosing the supporting, potentially confidential, evidentiary material.

‘Company’ by English painter & illustrator Ophelia Redpath (b.1965)

The summaries should be released to the Congress and the public. While some at the Justice Department assert that the materials are marked as containing grand jury material, we know from Mueller’s team that they were prepared for the purpose of quick release. It, therefore, stands to reason that any problematic material they contain could be removed in short order. They are core explanations of Mueller’s work, which the public has been hungry to learn about — and which Mueller intended the public to have.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the Judiciary Committee chairman, should set to the side for one day the maneuverings over grand jury material and other redactions. The Justice Department should similarly reserve its prerogative to fight over these materials in court. For today, all parties should agree immediately to produce the summaries of Mueller’s work that would greatly illuminate the currently obscured special counsel’s report.

Marcy Wheeler at The Washington Post: We already knew Barr’s summary was too easy on Trump. Public records prove it.

When Attorney General William P. Barr released a four-page memo two weeks ago opining that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,” we already knew enough to be sure that Barr was spinning the contents of the report his memo claimed to summarize, as multiple reports now say he did.

Girl with Cat, by Lotte Laserstein, 1898-1993, was a German-Swedish painter and portraitist

That’s because there was already public evidence at the time that undermined Barr’s conclusions. Barr’s letter may have been accurate, technically speaking. But based on what it omitted about two key associates of President Trump — his longtime adviser Roger Stone and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort — it was obvious that the attorney general had left whole areas of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings out of the summary. That Mueller’s team thinks Barr made the investigation’s findings look less damaging to Trump should not come as a surprise.

For example, the indictment of Roger Stone, who isn’t mentioned in Barr’s “summary.”

When Attorney General William P. Barr released a four-page memo two weeks ago opining that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,” we already knew enough to be sure that Barr was spinning the contents of the report his memo claimed to summarize, as multiple reports now say he did.

That’s because there was already public evidence at the time that undermined Barr’s conclusions. Barr’s letter may have been accurate, technically speaking. But based on what it omitted about two key associates of President Trump — his longtime adviser Roger Stone and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort — it was obvious that the attorney general had left whole areas of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings out of the summary. That Mueller’s team thinks Barr made the investigation’s findings look less damaging to Trump should not come as a surprise.

Read more examples at the WaPo.

Think Progress: Lawsuit alleges utterly flabbergasting sexism at law firm closely associated with Donald Trump.

By Suzanne Valadon (French, 1865-1938) Jeune Fille au Chat

A $200 million lawsuit filed against a law firm closely associated with President Donald Trump alleges that the firm fostered a “fraternity culture” featuring heavy drinking, an overbearing male leader, and sexism that was often so absurd it reads like something out of a gross-out comedy from the 1980s.

The suit against Jones Day, a 2,500 lawyer firm that played a significant role in placing Trump in the White House — the Trump campaign paid Jones Day $3.3 million in legal fees according to a 2017 report — alleges a culture where women attorneys were denied promotions despite exemplary work, excluded from mentoring opportunities afforded to male associates, asked to leave the firm after taking maternity leave, and subjected to cruel and sexist jokes by male colleagues.

Trump appointed numerous Jones Day lawyers to high-level positions within his administration, including Solicitor General Noel Francisco, former White House Counsel Don McGahn, and the two highest ranking attorneys in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Trump also appointed two former Jones Day partners to federal appellate judgeships.

At one event hosted by a Jones Day partner, the complaint alleges that a male summer associate (“summer associate” is the title typically given to highly paid law students who work at a firm during their summer vacation) pushed a female colleague into the partner’s swimming pool while the woman was wearing a white dress. According to the complaint, “the male summer associate who pushed her was applauded and high-fived by the Firm’s summer associate committee and leadership rather than reprimanded.”

In another incident, a partner allegedly “demanded that three female summer associates sing and dance to a Care Bears song (an event captured on video).” These three summer associates were allegedly told that they must humiliate themselves in this way “to receive verbal offers to join the Firm as associates.”

During a limo ride to a firm event, male Jones Day lawyers allegedly played a game called “Fuck, Marry, Kill,” in which they “named coworkers from the office and proposed to whom they would do each of these things.” At the event itself, a male associate allegedly “called several of his female colleagues ‘cunts,’” yet the lawsuit claims that he remains employed by the firm.

More disgusting allegations at the link.

Now for those longer reads:

This one is political. The New York Times, April 3: Attacks by White Extremists Are Growing. So Are Their Connections.

Léonard Tsugouharu Foujita (aka 藤田 嗣治, Fujita Tsuguharu) 1950s Self Portrait

In a manifesto posted online before his attack, the gunman who killed 50 last month in a rampage at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, said he drew inspiration from white extremist terrorism attacks in Norway, the United States, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

His references to those attacks placed him in an informal global network of white extremists whose violent attacks are occurring with greater frequency in the West.

An analysis by The New York Times of recent terrorism attacks found that at least a third of white extremist killers since 2011 were inspired by others who perpetrated similar attacks, professed a reverence for them or showed an interest in their tactics.

The connections between the killers span continents and highlight how the internet and social media have facilitated the spread of white extremist ideology and violence.

In one instance, a school shooter in New Mexico corresponded with a gunman who attacked a mall in Munich. Altogether, they killed 11 people.

Please go read the whole thing. I think this is an important story. How are these white supremacist networks any different from the on-line “radicalization” of Islamic terrorists? The interest has made it much easier for crazy people to find and communicate with others like them.

The New Yorker: The Day the Dinosaurs Died, by Douglas Preston

I loved this article! I can’t possibly do it justice with a few excerpts. It’s about a paleontology grad student, Robert De Palma, and his discovery of a rich fossil bed in North Dakota that may shed light on the rapid extinction of dinosaurs. Here’s a taste:

By Zviad Gogolauri

On August 5, 2013, I received an e-mail from a graduate student named Robert DePalma. I had never met DePalma, but we had corresponded on paleontological matters for years, ever since he had read a novel I’d written that centered on the discovery of a fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex killed by the KT impact. “I have made an incredible and unprecedented discovery,” he wrote me, from a truck stop in Bowman, North Dakota. “It is extremely confidential and only three others know of it at the moment, all of them close colleagues.” He went on, “It is far more unique and far rarer than any simple dinosaur discovery. I would prefer not outlining the details via e-mail, if possible.” He gave me his cell-phone number and a time to call.

I called, and he told me that he had discovered a site like the one I’d imagined in my novel, which contained, among other things, direct victims of the catastrophe. At first, I was skeptical. DePalma was a scientific nobody, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Kansas, and he said that he had found the site with no institutional backing and no collaborators. I thought that he was likely exaggerating, or that he might even be crazy. (Paleontology has more than its share of unusual people.) But I was intrigued enough to get on a plane to North Dakota to see for myself.

DePalma’s find was in the Hell Creek geological formation, which outcrops in parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming, and contains some of the most storied dinosaur beds in the world. At the time of the impact, the Hell Creek landscape consisted of steamy, subtropical lowlands and floodplains along the shores of an inland sea. The land teemed with life and the conditions were excellent for fossilization, with seasonal floods and meandering rivers that rapidly buried dead animals and plants.

Ludwig Kohrl (1858-1927)

The Hell Creek Formation spanned the Cretaceous and the Paleogene periods, and paleontologists had known for at least half a century that an extinction had occurred then, because dinosaurs were found below, but never above, the KT layer. This was true not only in Hell Creek but all over the world. For many years, scientists believed that the KT extinction was no great mystery: over millions of years, volcanism, climate change, and other events gradually killed off many forms of life. But, in the late nineteen-seventies, a young geologist named Walter Alvarez and his father, Luis Alvarez, a nuclear physicist, discovered that the KT layer was laced with unusually high amounts of the rare metal iridium, which, they hypothesized, was from the dusty remains of an asteroid impact. In an article in Science, published in 1980, they proposed that this impact was so large that it triggered the mass extinction, and that the KT layer was the debris from that event. Most paleontologists rejected the idea that a sudden, random encounter with space junk had drastically altered the evolution of life on Earth. But as the years passed the evidence mounted, until, in a 1991 paper, the smoking gun was announced: the discovery of an impact crater buried under thousands of feet of sediment in the Yucatán peninsula, of exactly the right age, and of the right size and geochemistry, to have caused a worldwide cataclysm. The crater and the asteroid were named Chicxulub, after a small Mayan town near the epicenter.

De Palma was fascinated by bones even as a child, and he has been finding fossils for his entire life. If you have any interest in prehistory and dinosaurs, please read this article. You won’t be sorry.

The Washington Post, April 3: The last survivor of a slave ship has been identified, and her story is remarkable.

by Suzan Visser

She was captured at about the age of 12 in West Africa and forced aboard the Clotilda, the last slave vessel to arrive in the United States in 1860.

Now researchers have identified Redoshi as the last known African-born survivor of the transatlantic slave trade when she died in 1937, according to a statement released Tuesday by Newcastle University in Great Britain. Renamed Sally Smith in Alabama, she may have been 110 years old at the time of her death.

Until now, researchers believed the last survivor of the transatlantic slave trade was Oluale Kossola, also known as Cudjo Lewis. But, according to research by Hannah Durkin, a lecturer at Newcastle University, Redoshi lived two years longer than Cudjo, who died in 1935.

Durkin said she first saw a reference to Redoshi in the writings of Zora Neale Hurston and began researching her life story from other writings.

In 2018, HarperCollins published Hurston’s manuscript, “Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo,’” 90 years after she wrote it. “Barracoon” detailed the life of Kossola, or Cudjo Lewis, who was just a teenager when he was captured in what is now Benin. Kossola and more than 100 Africans were forced to board the Clotilda in 1860, even though the United States had banned the importation of enslaved people in 1808.

Read the rest at the link.

One more from NBC News: Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski might have been a woman or intersex.

Casimir Pulaski, hero of the Revolutionary War and the pride of the Polish-American community, may need a new pronoun — he may have been a she, or even a they.

By Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938)

Researchers who used DNA to identify Pulaski’s bones are convinced the gallant Pole who died fighting for America’s freedom was either a biological woman who lived as a man, or potentially was intersex, meaning a person whose body doesn’t fit the standard definitions of male or female.

That’s the eye-opening takeaway from a new Smithsonian Channel documentary titled “The General Was Female?,” which premieres Monday and is part of the “America’s Hidden Stories” series.

“One of the ways that male and female skeletons are different is the pelvis,” Virginia Hutton Estabrook, an assistant professor of anthropology at Georgia Southern University, told NBC News. “In females, the pelvic cavity has a more oval shape. It’s less heart-shaped than in the male pelvis. Pulaski’s looked very female.”

While the Pulaski skeleton showed tell-tale signs of extensive horseback riding and a battle wound on the right hand that the general is known to have suffered, the facial structure and jaw angle were decidedly female, Estabrook said.

Read the rest at NBC News.

I hope you’ll find something here that appeals to you. Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great weekend!


Wednesday Reads: Strange Creatures then and now

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

JJ is spending time with her mother this week so BB and I will be taking her days so she can focus entirely on her journey at hand.  Please keep JJ, her mother, and their family in your kind thoughts as they go through this difficult transition.

Delphyne posted the work of this artist on JJ’s page earlier in the week. I loved it so much and I knew JJ’s day was the perfect day to post it.  So, thank you Delphyne for the great visual find on My Modern Met.  Links to Robert Benavidez’s pinata art, his shows and his gallery are in the article.  More can be found at the link clear at the end.  This is Mr. Benavidez’s site.  He also makes some gorgeous sugar skulls.

Contemporary artist Roberto Benavidez finds inspiration in imagery and literature from hundreds of years ago. Influenced by works like Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, he manages to fuse the famous source materials with elements that are significant to his own life. Benavidez grew up in rural southern Texas where the party piñata is commonplace. He uses the crepe paper creations as the basis for his sculptures. In the past, Benavidez recreated the strange beasts found in Bosch’s triptych but has more recently turned to the Luttrell Psalter, a famous medieval manuscript.

Among the writing in the Luttrell Psalter are illustrations of saints and Bible stories. They go beyond everyday scenes, however, and depict many fantastical hybrid creatures—a fact that Benavidez chooses to highlight. He calls this series Illuminated Piñata, and he crafts the three-dimensional beasts contained within the pages. They include oddities like a hare with a giraffe-like neck and hooved feet, as well as a dotted rodent with only one back leg and a tongue that looks like a tree branch.

The Trump Family Crime Syndicate and Paul Manafort’s jail time are squarely on page one.   ABC news has the information on today’s sentencing of Manafort in the DC court. This is reported by Allison Pecorin: “Paul Manafort’s sentence in DC case means he faces 81 months total behind bars.”

Paul Manafort was sentenced to 73 months in his Washington, D.C., unregistered foreign lobbying and witness tampering case on Wednesday.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced him to 60 months on the first count, running concurrently to 30 months of the 47-month sentence imposed in his Virginia case last week.

She also sentenced him to 13 months on the witness tampering count to be served consecutively with the count one sentence and his Virginia sentence.

That would mean an additional 43 months overall, bringing the total time he faces behind bars, including the nine months that he has already served in Virginia, to 81 months.

Put another way, the combined sentences of 90 months amount to seven-and-a-half years.

The judge also ordered Manafort to pay one-time restitution of $6.16 million to the Internal Revenue Service, the same amount he was sentenced to pay in the Virginia case.

The sentencing in the D.C. case is the latest chapter in the former Trump campaign chairman’s year-and-a-half-long legal battle.

The truly exciting headline comes from the New York Times where we learn that New York state is going after Manafort.  This is great because he cannot be pardoned by Trump in these crimes and if Trump does pardon him he will lose his 5th amendment privileges in these matters.  This is the headline from William K Rashbaum.  New York Charges Manafort With 16 Crimes. If He’s Convicted, Trump Can’t Pardon Him.”

Paul J. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, has been charged in New York with mortgage fraud and more than a dozen other state felonies, the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., said Wednesday, an effort to ensure he will still face prison time if Mr. Trump pardons him for his federal crimes.

News of the indictment came shortly after Mr. Manafort was sentenced to his second federal prison term in two weeks; he now faces a combined sentence of more than seven years for tax and bank fraud and conspiracy in two related cases brought by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

The president has broad power to issue pardons for federal crimes, but has no such authority in state cases.

While Mr. Trump has not said he intends to pardon his former campaign chairman, he has often spoken of his power to pardon and has defended Mr. Manafort on a number of occasions, calling him a “brave man.”

The new state charges against Mr. Manafort are contained in a 16-count indictment that alleges a yearlong scheme in which he falsified business records to obtain millions of dollars in loans, Mr. Vance said in a news release after the federal sentencing.

“No one is beyond the law in New York,” he said, adding that the investigation by the prosecutors in his office had “yielded serious criminal charges for which the defendant has not been held accountable.”

The indictment grew out of an investigation that began in 2017, when the Manhattan prosecutors began examining loans Mr. Manafort received from two banks.

Last week, a grand jury hearing evidence in the case voted to charge Mr. Manafort with residential mortgage fraud, conspiracy, falsifying business records and other charges. A lawyer for Mr. Manafort could not immediately be reached for comment.

Another Manafort tale–showing the activities of a perpetual thug–has come across the desk of Betsy Woodruff writing for The Daily Beast. “The Wacky Tale of Paul Manafort, Anne Hathaway’s Fraudster Ex-Boyfriend, and a Vatican Land Scam. Manafort and his then-partner talked about their plans to do business with the Italian who lured in investors with phony claims about sweetheart deals on the church’s real estate.”

According to two people with knowledge of the conversations, Manafort and then-business partner Rick Davis said numerous times that they planned to go into business with a handsome Italian businessman named Raffaello Follieri, and that they expected to use his purported access to the Vatican to get a sweetheart deal on the Catholic Church’s real estate.

In 2008, Follieri pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering, as well as one conspiracy count. He was sentenced to more than four years in prison. The access he claimed to have to the Vatican was part of an elaborate, intercontinental scam that made international news and generated a tabloid feeding frenzy. Federal prosecutors said the Italian businessman, who dated actress Anne Hathaway for four years before his arrest, claimed to investors that he was the CFO of the Vatican and that he would use his connections in Rome to arrange lucrative real estate deals. He claimed the Vatican was eager to sell off unused properties to raise quick cash to help offset the costs related to its ballooning child sex abuse scandals, as New York magazine noted.

A host of political power-brokers got roped into Follieri’s scheme. The Wall Street Journal reported that he became close with Clinton ally Doug Band, and offered to help Hillary Clinton court Catholic voters in the lead-up to her 2008 presidential bid. Bill Clinton even invited him on stage at a Clinton Foundation event, per New York, to thank him for a donation commitment on which he never delivered. The Italian newspaper L’Immediato reportedthat American super-lobbyist Tony Podesta called him “un visionario.” And Sen. John McCain drew considerable heat after celebrating his 70th birthday aboard a yacht Follieri had rented, as The Nation reported. Hathaway was on hand for the festivities.

And according to New York, Follieri was staying at his parents’ apartment in Trump Tower when he got arrested.

Now, people with knowledge of Manafort’s businesses say he and Davis also looked to get in on Follieri’s purported Vatican real-estate fire sale.

The Vatican–and its bank–have been at the center of international crimes for about as long as it was invented by the Romans.

Boeing stock is not going to be worth much for awhile given the tragedy that occured in Ethiopia earlier in the week and the apparent cover up of problems with its newest version of the 737 max.  Politico has this headline with the story written by Kathryn A. Wolfe: “Pilots complained at least 5 times about Boeing 737 MAX problems, records show”.

Pilots in the U.S. complained at least 5 times in recent months about problems controlling their Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets during critical moments of flight, federal records show, adding to questions raised by deadly crashes involving that model of jetliner in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

Some of the incidents appear to involve the same anti-stall system that has come up as a potential cause of October’s Indonesia crash, according to a review of a Federal Aviation Administration incident database that lets pilots self-report trouble. Investigators have not said whether the same technology had emerged as a possible cause of Sunday’s crash in Ethiopia, although both involved airliners that mysteriously plunged to the ground minutes after takeoff.

For one U.S. incident in November 2018, a commercial airline pilot reported that during takeoff, the autopilot was engaged and “within two to three seconds the aircraft pitched nose down,” in a manner steep enough to trigger the plane’s warning system, which sounded “Don’t sink, don’t sink!”

After the autopilot was disengaged, the plane climbed as normal, according to the report.

The reports are submitted anonymously to help improve reporting of safety problems and so do not include any information about which airline was involved. In addition, though the reports have a spot to note what airport was involved, often pilots do not fill out that field.

The Trump Administration and its appointees have really done a job on this.  The FAA doesn’t have a real director and the Secretary of Transportation is best known for being Mitch McConnell’s beard. Plus, Trump evidently took a phone call from the head of Boeing who asked he not ground the jetline. Boeing’s CEO has recently become a Mar a Loga crony along with the Maraloga Day Spa Madam and other grifters.

This is from WAPO:  “FAA doubles down on decision not to ground the Boeing 737 Max, as counterparts around the world have done” with several bylines.

U.S. aviation safety officials found themselves virtually alone Tuesday, after their counterparts in Europe and around the world ordered hundreds of Boeing aircraft grounded while investigators work to find the cause of an Ethio­pian Airlines crash that killed 157 this week.

The Trump administration resisted bipartisan calls to temporarily suspend use of the Boeing 737 Max 8, even as President Trump consulted by phone with the besieged company’s CEO.

With the European Union and others following China’s move to bar flights by some of the American aviation giant’s most important airplanes, former transportation safety officials said the Federal Aviation Administration risked losing its status as the world’s aviation safety leader. India became the latest country to ground the aircraft late Tuesday, declaring that none of the planes will be allowed to enter or transit airspace starting Wednesday afternoon. Hong Kong, New Zealand and United Arab Emirates have followed suit.

Is this quid pro quo and pay for play or what?

Mr. Trump jumped into the fray on Tuesday morning, posting Twitter messages deploring what he described as the technological complexities of modern commercial aircraft. “Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT,” Mr. Trump said. Much of what he asserted, however, was misleading or lacked context, aviation experts said.

The Boeing chief, Mr. Muilenburg, in his conversation with the president reiterated that the plane was safe, outlining the company’s position. He also updated Mr. Trump on the status of the 737 Max models. The call came after the Mr. Trump’s tweets, but was in the works the night before, according to one of the people.

Mr. Muilenburg has worked to cultivate a relationship with the president, although it has sometimes been uneasy.

Shortly after he was elected president, Mr. Trump assailed Boeing for the estimated cost of its program to build new Air Force One planes that serve as mobile command centers for the president.

The “costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter a month after winning the election but before he took office. A couple of weeks later, Mr. Muilenburg visited Mr. Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., to try to smooth things over.

“It was a terrific conversation,” Mr. Muilenburg told reporters after the meeting, explaining that he had given Mr. Trump “my personal commitment” that Boeing would build new Air Force One planes for less than the $4 billion estimate. Weeks after the conversation, Boeing donated $1 million to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee. The company had donated the same amount to help finance President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2013.

The Senate may actually act on this.  Elizabeth Warren is acting presidential.  Let’s hope she can elbow out Sanders and Biden so the she and the others can run without these two old leather bags in the way.

In the United States, calls to ban the plane are mounting.

Several senators, including Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, and the Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have called on the F.A.A. to ground the Boeing planes until the investigation into the Ethiopia crash is completed.

“The world has now witnessed the second tragic crash of one of these planes in less than six months. While we do not know the causes of these crashes, serious questions have been raised about whether these planes were pressed into service without additional pilot training in order to save money,” Ms. Warren, who is running for president, said in a statement. “Today, immediately, the F.A.A. needs to get these planes out of the sky.”

So, these are the two stories that seem to be defining today.  I’m waiting to hear from my mechanic and doing grading and prep work for my lecture tonight.

All of our love and thoughts are with you, JJ!  Just take care of yourself!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?  And again, check out these pinatas!!


Friday Tightie Whitie Snow Blindness: “He has otherwise lived a blameless life.”

It’s Mueller Friday!

We live in a Thugocracy these days. I have a series of headlines that should not be normal headlines for any news items applying to the United States of America.  This includes a federal judge giving a rich white guy a pass on a career of selling out his country to the Russians for incredible sums of money.  People that smoke and sell small bags of weed have done more time for that crime than Paul Manafort will  for the absolute malice with which he treated the elections and the people of our country.  Of course, he’s white, he’s rich, and he just bilked us out of money and freedom. It wasn’t like he lifted a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter from a convenience  store to feed himself.  If he were caught doing that while black he likely would’ve been shot dead.

Franklin Foer–writing for The Atlantic--provides this lede:  “The ‘Otherwise Blameless Life’ of Paul Manafort. Trump’s former campaign chair has always acted with impunity, as if the laws never applied to him.”    The judge in the Virginia Court proved Manafort’s assumption correct.

In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of land mines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees.

In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort was kicked out of the lobbying firm he co-founded, accused of inflating his expenses and cutting his partners out of deal

In an otherwise blameless life, he spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine. This clique hoped to capture control of the state so that it could enrich itself with government contracts and privatization agreements. This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power—thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.

In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort came to adopt the lifestyle and corrupt practices of his Ukrainian clients as his own.

In an otherwise blameless life, he produced a public-relations campaign to convince Washington that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was acting within his democratic rights and duties when he imprisoned his most compelling rival for power.

In an otherwise blameless life, he stood mute as Yanukovych’s police killed 130 protesters in the Maidan.

In an otherwise blameless life, he found himself nearly $20 million in debt to a Russian oligarch. Instead of honestly accounting for the money, he simply stopped responding to the oligarch’s messages.

In an otherwise blameless life, he tried to use his perch atop the Trump campaign to help salvage his sorry financial situation. He installed one of his protégés as the head of the pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America. His friend allegedly funneled $125,000 from the super PAC to pay off one of Manafort’s nagging debts.

There’s more on this list at the link.  And there are more “this isn’t normal” headlines in every paper.  Let’s sample a few.

More on this story that BB covered yesterday: Congress, DHS investigating if U.S. border agents targeted journalists NBC News and KNSD revealed Wednesday that U.S. border agents in California had a list of reporters, lawyers and activists to be questioned at the border.

The list includes 10 journalists, seven of them U.S. citizens, a U.S.-based attorney and others labeled as organizers and “instigators,” 31 of whom are American.

The Homeland Security Committee, led by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D.-Miss., asked CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to provide a copy of the list with the 59 names, a copy of any dossiers on the individuals, an explanation of why each person was included on the list, an account of who had been stopped for screening and an account of any cell phone seizures.

“The appearance that CBP is targeting journalists, lawyers, and advocates, and particularly those who work on immigration matters or report on border and immigration issues, raises questions about possible misuse of CBP’s border search authority and requires oversight to ensure the protection of Americans’ legal and constitutional rights,” the letter said.

CBP said Thursday the DHS Inspector General is investigating the list. CBP is part of DHS.

From the Daily Beast: “CLEAN-CUT KIDS, ‘Whiter Every Election Cycle’: How Identity Evropa, a Far-Right Hate Group, Joined the GOP. According to leaked chat logs, the white-supremacist group has actively reinvented itself as a ‘respectable’ group in order to entice Republicans.”

The white nationalist group Identity Evropa is so cozy with the Republican Party that members led their College Republican clubs and campaigned in support of GOP congressional candidates.

At least one Identity Evropa fan, who is not a member of the group, attended CPAC last weekend where he demanded an autograph from a leftist podcaster who, tripping on acid, signed the book “eat shit.”

Identity Evropa is a fascist organization. Its members have been involved in violent street brawls, including 2017’s deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. While other white supremacist organizations imploded after the rally, Identity Evropa attempted to cast aside the alt-right’s tarnished image and rebrand as a “clean-cut” organization. The makeover was an attempt to appeal to the mainstream Republican Party, according to chat logs released Wednesday by the media collective Unicorn Riot.

But despite its new face, the group stayed true to its fascist heart, the leaked conversations reveal.

From  Axios:  “Scoop: White House leak to House Dems on Jared and Ivanka’s clearances.”   I still can’t believe we let this pair of grifters represent us abroad and we let them near the White House Silver.

From a White House source, the House Oversight Committee has obtained documents related to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s security clearances that the Trump administration refused to provide, according to a senior Democratic aide involved in handling the documents.

Why it matters: The Trump administration’s problems with leaks will now benefit Congress, making it harder for the White House to withhold information from Democratic investigators.

The news: The White House this week rejected the committee’s request for documents on the process for granting security clearances to staffers.

  • The twist: But the House Oversight Committee in early February had already obtained the leaked documents that detail the entire process, from the spring of 2017 to the spring of 2018, on how both Kushner and Trump were ultimately granted their security clearances.

  • The senior Democratic aide who was involved in handling the documents told Axios that two staffers on the Oversight Committee said the documents are “part of the puzzle that we would be asking for” from the White House, “so we appreciate having this upfront.”

     

And we got more folks …

From the Miami Herald this morning: “Trump cheered Patriots to Super Bowl victory with founder of spa where Kraft was busted.

Seated at a round table littered with party favors and the paper-cutout footballs that have become tradition at his annual Super Bowl Watch Party, President Donald Trump cheered the New England Patriots and his longtime friend, team owner Robert Kraft, to victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Feb. 3.

Sometime during the party at Trump’s West Palm Beach country club, the president turned in his chair to look over his right shoulder, smiling for a photo with two women at a table behind him.

The woman who snapped the blurry Super Bowl selfie with the president was Li Yang, 45, a self-made entrepreneur from China who started a chain of Asian day spas in South Florida. Over the years, these establishments — many of which operate under the name Tokyo Day Spas — have gained a reputation for offering sexual services.

Nineteen days after Trump and Yang posed together while rooting for the Patriots, authorities would charge Kraft with soliciting prostitution at a spa in Jupiter that Yang had founded more than a decade earlier.

From The New Yorker today and Susan B. Glasser:  “The “Enemies of the People” Have a Few Questions for the President. The White House press briefing is dead. It was awful, but we should still mourn it.”

The Administration, of course, never formally announced that it was killing off the White House press briefing—that would have caused too great an outcry. But that is nonetheless what it has done, as Trump himself admitted in a January tweet, saying that “the reason Sarah Sanders does not go to the ‘podium’ much anymore is that the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately.” The last official briefing by Sanders was on January 28th; it was the first such briefing in forty-one days. All told, there was one press briefing in November, one in December, two in January, and none at all in February, or, so far, in March. This is not just a White House policy. The State Department, which used to give a near-daily press briefing that was considered significant by journalists from around the world, had six “department press briefings” briefings in November, two in December, none in January, two in February, and one so far in March.

This is not how it should work in a democracy, and there is no explanation other than a bad one for why this is happening. The Administration’s elimination of regular on-the-record press briefings is part of a broader war on truth and transparency by a President who will go down as the most publicly mendacious American leader we’ve yet had. (Trump’s epic speech at cpac over the weekend was both the longest and, according to the Washington Post Fact Checker, the most untruthful of his tenure, clocking in at more than two hours and approximately a hundred lies, misstatements, and falsehoods.)

That highlighted sentence part is one I keep repeating daily right after I say “What Fresh Hell is this?” “This is not how it should work in a democracy …”

In news related to the disappearance of the White House Briefing we now have the disappearance of Bill Shine who is the ex Fox Executive acting as the de facto White House Communications Director.  We got a really nice bunch of background on Shine in Jane Mayer’s article at the beginning of the week.  This is from CNN.

White House deputy chief of staff and de facto communications director Bill Shine has stepped down to join the Trump campaign, press secretary Sarah Sanders announced in a statement Friday.

Shine, a former Fox News executive, joined the White House in July 2018, the sixth person to fill or be tapped for the top communications role. Jason Miller, Sean Spicer, Mike Dubke, Anthony Scaramucci and Hope Hicks all came before him.

He offered his resignation to President Donald Trump on Thursday but was spotted on the White House South Lawn on Friday ahead of the President’s trip to Alabama. He will be joining the 2020 re-election campaign as a senior adviser.

“Serving President Trump and this country has been the most rewarding experience of my entire life. To be a small part of all this President has done for the American people has truly been an honor. I’m looking forward to working on President Trump’s re-election campaign and spending more time with my family,” Shine said in a statement.

Shine has been shuttled over to the Trump  version of CREEP to probably wine and dine Fox news so it can continue to act as a State propaganda outlet for Trump.  The Why is not known but Fox lost any right to a Democratic Campaign debate over the news. 

I seriously can’t take much more of this.  We’ve just devolved into a Banana Republic so quickly that I feel we should all be wearing Panama hats and smoking cigars while we wait in our bread lines.

So, what’s on your reading and blogging list today?  I’m hoping for some better results from Manafort in the DC court  which is U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman to whom I dedicate all these beautiful tarot card illustrations of justice.  Come on Mueller!  Come on Amy!!  Come on Democratic Congressional Hearings!  Who will rid us of these meddlesome kleptocrats?

 


Thursday Reads: A Mish-Mash of Stories

By Maugham Casorati, born 1897 in London, UK died 1982 in Turin, Italy

Good Morning!!

I wish we could go back to the days when we weren’t overwhelmed with breaking news every single morning. I’ve got a mish-mash of articles for your this morning.

The biggest news today will probably be what happens at Paul Manafort’s sentencing hearing at 3:30 this afternoon in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Courthouse News: Manafort Faces Decades in Prison at Virginia Sentencing.

Manafort, 69, faces up to 24 years in prison when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. During his trial last August, spread over 12 rigorous days, prosecutors unfurled a complex web of fraud he coordinated in multiple countries with the help of his business associate, Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty to charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and testified against Manafort as the star witness.

Accused of failing to report roughly $16.5 million in income from his political lobbying work on behalf of Ukraine and its onetime President Viktor Yanukovych, the jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud after four days of deliberations….

By Bego Tojo

Though none of the charges Manafort faced in Virginia directly involved any of his work on President Donald Trump’s campaign, Mueller’s underlying task – to unearth American activity connected to Russian meddling in the election – placed the spotlight firmly on the president’s onetime campaign chairman….

Manafort will go before Judge Ellis on Thursday afternoon for his sentencing.

Federal sentencing guidelines in the Virginia case suggest Manafort should serve 19 to 24 years in prison but Judge Ellis can impose any sentence he sees fit – including one well below the guidelines. Mueller has recommended Manafort be sentenced in the upper range of the guidelines.

As you probably recall, Judge Ellis is kind of eccentric and usually makes very blunt remarks. Remember, he asked prosecutors whether they had considered charging Mike Flynn with treason and told him “You sold your country out.” Read Ellis quotes at CNN: Baked Alaska and birthday cake: Memorable lines from the Manafort trial judge, T.S. Ellis.

I really dislike the conservative site Axios, but they have a good piece today: The biggest political scandal in American history.

Historians tell Axios that the only two scandals that come close to Trump-Russia are Watergate, which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, and the Teapot Dome scandal of the early 1920s, in which oil barons bribed a corrupt aide to President Warren Harding for petroleum leases.

Mueller has already delivered one of the biggest counterintelligence cases in U.S. history, author Garrett Graff points out — up there with Aldrich Ames (a former CIA officer convicted in 1994 of being a KGB double agent), or Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (executed in 1953 for spying for the Soviets).

By Guillermo Marti Ceballos (Barcelona 1958)

Watergate yielded more charges than Mueller has so far: A total of 69 people were charged in Watergate; 48 people and 20 corporations pleaded guilty. Mueller so far has indicted 27 people; seven have been convicted or pleaded guilty.

But historians say that both Watergate and Teapot Dome were more limited because a foreign power wasn’t a central player, and a much narrower band of potential offenses was under investigation.
A fourth notable scandal, the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s — in which arms were traded for hostages held by Iran, with the money usRed to fund rebels in Nicaragua — also involved a more limited range of issues.

Read the rest at Axios. It’s actually quite a bit more comprehensive than most of their stories.

J.T. Smith, who was executive assistant to Attorney General Elliot Richardson under Nixon, has an op-ed at The New York Times today: What if the Mueller Report Demands Bold Action?

Most people take for granted that both Mr. Mueller and the new attorney general, William Barr, accept the current Justice Department legal position — reached in a 2000 opinion — that a sitting president cannot be indicted. In a June 2018 memo, Mr. Barr said that under “the Framers’ plan,” the “proper mechanism for policing the president’s” actions “is the political process — that is, the People, acting either directly, or through their elected representatives in Congress.”

Yet since 1973, the Justice Department has revisited its position five times on the question of indicting a sitting president and reached different conclusions. In fact, as executive assistant to President Richard Nixon’s attorney general, Elliot Richardson, I can speak to the circumstances that delivered that first opinion: The principal purpose of the 1973 Watergate-era legal opinion — which concluded that a sitting president cannot be indicted — was to aid in removal from office of a criminally tainted vice president, who, the memo concluded, could be indicted.

But it was not intended to set an ironclad precedent that would forever shape how a president might be treated.

By Jerry Weiss

My experience makes me believe that Attorney General Barr should reconsider Justice Department policy. If the evidence gathered by the Mueller investigation on the actions of the president and his advisers indicates a crime, an indictment might be the proper course to hold the president accountable. Further, the indictment policy does not stand in isolation: It has repercussions for a Mueller report and access to it for Congress and the American public.

As Rachel Maddow reported recently, the 1973 policy was written when Nixon’s VP Spiro Agnew was being investigated for “bribery, extortion and tax evasion.” (he was subsequently indicted and forced to resign). You can read more details about the history at the link. Smith’s conclusion:

Mr. Mueller’s investigation has brought us to face similar questions of institutional integrity and transparency for the American public. If Mr. Barr determines that Mr. Mueller’s findings compel legal action, he should reconsider the policy against indictment of a sitting president.

But if Mr. Barr holds to the view that a president’s actions should be policed by the political and not criminal process, it will be imperative that he share a Mueller report with Congress and, to the extent practicable, with the public, redacting only information that is classified or otherwise prohibited by statute.

In light of the gravity of our circumstances, it would be timely and appropriate for the Justice Department to reconsider the shaky policy regarding indictability of a sitting president and provide Congress and the public with the Mr. Mueller’s full findings and conclusions. Only through sunlight and transparency can we preserve confidence in our national institutions and leadership.

Yesterday the DNC announced that they will not hold a primary debate in conjunction with Fox News, citing Jane Mayer’s New Yorker Article. This is nothing unusual; the Democrats have refused to work with Fox News since 2007, but mainstream journalists are criticizing the decision.

Now media critic Margaret Sullivan has weighed in at The Washington Post: It’s time — high time — to take Fox News’s destructive role in America seriously.

Chris Wallace is an exceptional interviewer, and Shepard Smith and Bret Baier are reality-based news anchors.

By Dibujo de Eduardo Estrada

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the overall problem of Fox News, which started out with bad intentions in 1996 and has swiftly devolved into what often amounts to a propaganda network for a dishonest president and his allies.

The network, which attracts more viewers than its two major competitors, specializes in fearmongering and unrelenting alarmism. Remember “the caravan”?

At crucial times, it does not observe basic standards of journalistic practice: as with its eventually retracted, false reporting in 2017 on Seth Rich, which fueled conspiracy theories that Hillary Clinton had the former Democratic National Committee staffer killed because he was a source of campaign leaks.

Fox, you might recall, was a welcoming haven for “birtherism” — the racist lies about President Barack Obama’s birthplace. For years, it has constantly, unfairly and inaccurately bashed Hillary Clinton.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Jared Kushner recently traveled to the Middle East and met privately with Saudi prince MBS. Now he won’t tell anyone what went on in his meetings. The Daily Beast: Embassy Staffers Say Jared Kushner Shut Them Out of Saudi Meetings.

Officials and staffers in the U.S. embassy in Riyadh said they were not read in on the details of Jared Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia or the meetings he held with members of the country’s royal court last week, according to three sources with knowledge of the trip. And that’s causing concern not only in the embassy but also among members of Congress.

By Henry McGrane

On his trip to the Middle East, Kushner stopped in Riyadh. While there, he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman to discuss U.S.-Saudi cooperation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and economic investment in the region, according to the White House.

But no one from the embassy in Riyadh was in the meetings, according to those same sources. The State Department did have a senior official in attendance, but he was not part of the State Department team in Saudi. He is a senior member of the department focused on Iran, according to a source with direct knowledge of the official’s presence in Riyadh.

“The Royal Court was handling the entire schedule,” one congressional source told The Daily Beast, adding that officials in the U.S. embassy in had insight into where Kushner was when in Saudi Arabia. “But that is normal for his past trips.”

Click the link to read the rest. A related article from the WaPo editorial board: Trump is covering up for MBS. The Senate must push for accountability.

New York Times gossip columnist Maggie Haberman relays former WH Chief of Staff John Kelly’s attempted cleanup of his mangled reputation following the revelations about Jared and Ivanka’s security clearances: John Kelly, Out of White House, Breaks With Trump Policies.

The former White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, on Wednesday declined to answer questions about the existence of a memo he wrote saying that President Trump had ordered officials to give his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a security clearance in May 2018.

By Mario Tozzi 1920

Mr. Kelly also broke with Mr. Trump on key aspects of his approach to immigration and the NATO alliance, and said that his top concern about decisions made by the president was whether they were objectively right for the country when divorced from political concerns.

Mr. Kelly, who kept his voice level during a 90-minute question-and-answer session at Duke University, would not specifically address Mr. Kushner’s clearance being ordered by Mr. Trump, which The New York Times reported last week.

“I couldn’t — and I’m not dodging — I couldn’t comment on that for a couple of reasons,” Mr. Kelly said, citing clearances being among the things that he could not discuss, and that conversations with the president “at that level would certainly” be kept confidential under executive privilege.

Some of what Kelly did talk about:

Mr. Kelly, who left at the end of December, also made clear he did not consider himself working for Mr. Trump, but doing his civic duty to serve. If Hillary Clinton had won, he said, he probably would have worked for her as well.

Mr. Kelly defended the utility of the NATO alliance, which Mr. Trump has often criticized as an unfair financial drain on the United States.

On a wall at the border with Mexico, Mr. Kelly said that there were specific areas where it could be effective but constructing one “from sea to shining sea” was a “waste of money.”

The issuance of the zero-tolerance policy for border crossings that resulted in family separations “came as a surprise” to him and to other officials, Mr. Kelly said, defending his replacement as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, from criticism. He appeared to place most of the blame on the former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who announced the policy.

I have a few more links to share, but this post is getting long. I’ll put them in the comment thread. What stories have you been following?