Tuesday Reads

sb111720dapr

Good Morning!!

We have to survive 57 more days of Trump insanity–along with the out-of-control coronavirus pandemic–between now and January 20, 2021. At least Trump finally agreed to let the official presidential transition begin–but he’s still refusing to give Joe Biden access to the government’s vaccine plans.

The New York Times: Trump Administration Approves Start of Formal Transition to Biden.

President Trump’s government on Monday authorized President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to begin a formal transition process after Michigan certified Mr. Biden as its winner, a strong sign that the president’s last-ditch bid to overturn the results of the election was coming to an end.

Mr. Trump did not concede, and vowed to persist with efforts to change the vote, which have so far proved fruitless. But the president said on Twitter on Monday night that he accepted the decision by Emily W. Murphy, the administrator of the General Services Administration, to allow a transition to proceed.

In his tweet, Mr. Trump said that he had told his officials to begin “initial protocols” involving the handoff to Mr. Biden “in the best interest of our country,” even though he had spent weeks trying to subvert a free and fair election with false claims of fraud. Hours later, he tried to play down the significance of Ms. Murphy’s action, tweeting that it was simply “preliminarily work with the Dems” that would not stop efforts to change the election results.

Still, Ms. Murphy’s designation of Mr. Biden as the apparent victor provides the incoming administration with federal funds and resources and clears the way for the president-elect’s advisers to coordinate with Trump administration officials.

cbr111320daprTrump had to be talked into allowing the transition to begin.

Mr. Trump had been resisting any move toward a transition. But in conversations in recent days that intensified Monday morning, top aides — including Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff; Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel; and Jay Sekulow, the president’s personal lawyer — told the president the transition needed to begin. He did not need to say the word “concede,” they told him, according to multiple people briefed on the discussions….

Some of the advisers drafted a statement for the president to issue. In the end, Mr. Trump did not put one out, but aides said the tone was similar to his tweets in the evening, in which he appeared to take credit for Ms. Murphy’s decision to allow the transition to begin.

“Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good fight, and I believe we will prevail!” he wrote. “Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

This morning, NBC News published an op-ed by Sen. Chris Murphy: As Trump’s GSA begins election transition, Biden needs access to Covid-19 vaccine plans.

At the very moment President-elect Joe Biden will take the reins of government, the federal government will be in the early stages of implementing the most complicated, most expensive and most important mass vaccination program in our nation’s history. On Monday, General Services Administration signaled that it is ready to begin the formal transition process. There is not a moment to lose….

cbr111220dapr…vaccines don’t protect people; vaccinations do. And the effort to make sure that every person in America, as soon as possible, gets vaccinated, is a logistical project on par with than anything the American health care system has ever accomplished. Trump’s teams at Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have begun to develop and implement this system, but it will be barely up and running by Jan. 20. That means that there must be an errorless transition of responsibility from Trump’s team to Biden’s team. And yet for weeks, Trump’s team refused to allow Biden’s transition team access to the plan. Hopefully, the GSA’s announcement means this will change. But we cannot just assume it will happen.

As leaders of Operation Warp Speed, the coalition of federal agencies overseeing the plan for vaccine distribution, told the Senate last week, Trump had been blocking them from communicating at all with the Biden-Harris transition team. Why? Because of Trump’s petulant crusade against reality. Indeed, Trump is still refusing to accept the election results, hoping that desperate lawsuits and the bullying of local elections officials will somehow allow him to remain in office despite the fact that he lost the election convincingly.

Murphy believes the Trump plans are inadequate and Biden will need to make changes. Read Murphy’s detailed recommendations at NBC News.

Trump may have been talked into allowing the formal transition to begin, but he’s still obsessed with proving the election was fraudulent. Now that his many lawsuits have been thrown out of court for lack of evidence, he is becoming concerned that his crazy legal team is making him look bad. As if he hadn’t already done that to himself.

NBC News: Behind the scenes, Trump frustrated with his legal team’s maneuvers.

While President Donald Trump has publicly praised his legal team’s efforts, he has privately expressed frustration with the slapdash nature of his election defense fight, according to several people familiar with the discussions.

20201121edhan-aThe president has been complaining to aides and allies about his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and recently-removed lawyer Sidney Powell’s over-the-top performances at a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters last week, these people said. Both Giuliani and Powell have continued to make conspiratorial and baseless claims about widespread voter fraud, for which they have provided no evidence.

The president is concerned his team is comprised of “fools that are making him look bad,” said one source familiar with the thinking. Asked why he would not fire them, this person replied, in essence, who knows?

The president grew less impressed with Powell over the weekend, as she continued to make outlandish comments, including falsely accusing Georgia’s Republican governor and its secretary of state of being part of a scheme to alter votes.

That ultimately led to the terse statement the Trump campaign put out Sunday night on behalf of Giuliani and senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis: “Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump legal team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity,” it read.

Trump was also not pleased with the optics of the brown substance, presumed to be hair dye or a makeup product, dripping down Giuliani’s face during the nearly two-hour news conference Thursday, according to one of the sources familiar with the president’s reaction.

Even Rush Limbaugh is complaining about the “legal team.” Earth to Trump: you chose these morons. Only the best people, right?

Elie Honig at CNN: Trump’s bizarro-world ‘elite strike force’ legal challenge is about to implode.

20201120edhoc-aJust moments after a federal judge issued a blistering rebuke of their evidence-free, legally-confused effort to contest President-elect Joe Biden’s win in Pennsylvania, President Donald Trump’s legal team flailed to spin the crushing loss as some sort of bizarro-world victory. Trump campaign attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis claimed in a statement that the dismissal “turns out to help us in our strategy to get expeditiously to the US Supreme Court.”

But if the Trump campaign’s legal team is counting on the Supreme Court to save them, they’re delusional. In this case, and in the larger effort to contest the outcome of the 2020 election, Trump’s team is just about out of runway.

In a news conference laden with false statements and incomprehensible legal claims, Ellis labeled Trump’s legal team an “elite strike force.” But their utter failure to uncover evidence of widespread voter fraud, or to articulate a coherent legal theory, suggests otherwise. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — a staunch Trump political ally — more aptly called Trump’s legal team a “national embarrassment.” The Trump team later distanced itself from Sidney Powell, an attorney on Trump’s legal team, after she spread conspiracy theories about the election.

Indeed, Saturday’s ruling by federal judge Matthew Brann — an appointee of President Barack Obama who previously held various positions in Pennsylvania’s Republican party — is one of the harshest rebukes I’ve ever seen from any judge. Brann heaped scorn on the Trump campaign’s “strained legal arguments” which, he noted, are “without merit … and unsupported by evidence.” He ridiculed one of the Trump team’s primary constitutional claims as a “Frankenstein monster.” And Brann noted that the Trump campaign position, if adopted, would “disenfranchise almost seven million voters.”

There’s much more at the CNN link. I seriously doubt that even the most extreme SCOTUS justices are going to want to touch the Trump cases with a ten-foot pole.

And then there’s Trump’s crazy pal Roger Stone. The Daily Beast: Roger Stone-Tied Group Threatens GOP: If Trump Goes Down, So Does Your Senate Majority.

sbr112020daprConservative operatives and a super PAC with ties to infamous GOP dirty trickster Roger Stone are calling for Trump supporters to punish Republicans by sitting out Georgia’s crucial Senate runoffs or writing in Trump’s name instead. And though their efforts remains on the party’s fringes, the trajectory of the movement has Republicans fearful that it could cost the GOP control of the Senate.

The most aggressive call to boycott or cast protest ballots in the two runoff races has, so far, come from a dormant pro-Trump super PAC with ties to Stone, which unveiled a new initiative to retaliate against the Republican Party’s supposed turncoats by handing Democrats control of the U.S. Senate.

The group, dubbed the Committee for American Sovereignty, unveiled a new website encouraging Georgia Republicans to write in Trump’s name in both of the upcoming Senate runoff elections, which could determine the party that controls the upper chamber during President-elect Joe Biden’s first two years in office. The PAC argued that doing so will show support for the president in addition to forcing Republicans to address the wild election-fraud conspiracy theories floated by Trump supporters and members of his own legal team.

“If we can do this, we have a real chance at getting these RINO senators to act on the illegitimate and corrupt election presided over by a Democrat party that is invested in the Communist takeover of Our Great Nation,” the group wrote on its new website, writeintrumpforgeorgiasenate.com. “We will not stop fighting for you, the American Patriot, against the evils of Socialism and inferior Religions.”

The effort is representative of a broader push among some of President Trump’s most devoted supporters to withhold support for the two Georgia Republican senators facing competitive runoff challenges, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, in the hope of leveraging the party’s fear of losing the U.S. Senate to get more establishment backing for their drive to change the result of the election. The goal, those operatives say, is to expose a supposed vast election fraud conspiracy abetted by high-level Republicans in Georgia’s state government, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Can we survive 57 more days of this insanity? I guess if we got through four years of it, we can hang on a bit longer–but it won’t be easy.

Take care, Sky Dancers! Enjoy your Tuesday in whatever way works best for you. I plan to read a novel and take a nap this afternoon. Please check in with us in the comments if you have the time and inclination. 


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

NOTE: Today’s illustrations are from the Baroque Bohemian Cats Tarot Deck.

Have you heard the news?

Trump “aced” a cognitive “test” that is typically given to people who may have dementia or other cognitive deficits. He is very proud of his performance and claims the doctors couldn’t believe how well he did.

Maggie Haberman at The New York Times: Trump Says He ‘Aced’ Cognitive Test, but White House Won’t Release Details.

President Trump on Thursday volunteered to Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, that he “very recently” took a test at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center measuring his mental acuity and “aced” it, but the White House would not say when he took it or why.

Mr. Trump boasted that his success on the test surprised his doctors as he continued his attempt to make a campaign issue of whether his presumptive Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., was mentally fit.

“I actually took one when I — very recently, when I — when I was — the radical left were saying, is he all there? Is he all there? And I proved I was all there, because I got — I aced it. I aced the test,” Mr. Trump, 74, said in his interview with Mr. Hannity.

He went on to say that Mr. Biden should also take the test.

“And he should take the same exact test, a very standard test. I took it at Walter Reed Medical Center in front of doctors,” Mr. Trump said. “And they were very surprised. They said, that’s an unbelievable thing. Rarely does anybody do what you just did. But he should take that same test.”

Mr. Trump described taking the test after Mr. Hannity mentioned that Mr. Biden had said he had taken several cognitive tests. The president insisted that Mr. Biden must have meant tests he took for the coronavirus and that his rival “couldn’t pass” a cognitive test.

What kind of “test” did Trump take? Mediaite: What’s on the Cognitive Test That Trump Brags He ‘Aced?’ Drawing a Cube, Correctly Identifying a Camel, and More!

[T]he Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MOCA), the test that Trump first took as president in 2018 according to then-White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson.

At a now-infamous press conference, Dr. Jackson told reporters that Trump had scored a “30 over 30” on the MOCA, and that the test was not “clinically indicated,” but Trump insisted on taking it.

The test is used to screen for mild cognitive issues, and consists of 8 sections with a total of 12 tasks, successful completion of which are awarded points. Those tasks are:

— Connecting lettered and numbered dots in order– Drawing a cube

— Drawing a clock (These tasks are worth up to five points)

— Correctly identifying pictures of a lion, a rhinoceros, and a camel (up to 3 points)

— Recalling a list of five words (no points)

— Reading a list of numbers (2 points)

— Reading a list of letters (1 point)

— Counting backwards from 100 by sevens (3 points)

— Repeating the phrases “I only know that John is the one to help today” and “The cat always
hid under the couch when dogs were in the room. (2 points)

— Explaining the similarities between objects like “train – bicycle” and “watch – ruler”
(2 points)

— Recalling the five words from earlier in the test, in any order (5 points)

— Knowing where you are, and what the date, time, and day of the week are. (6 points!)

According to Dr. Jackson, Trump is the first president to take the MOCA test, which means there’s no way of knowing whether President Barack Obama could play connect-the-dots or recognize a camel. But according to Trump, he’s done it at least twice now.

Sample page:

One more bit of humiliating news for Trump from NBC News:

Concern over turnout was factor in postponing Trump rally, GOP advisers say.

Well before the call was made to postpone President Donald Trump’s Saturday re-election rally in New Hampshire, the warning lights were flashing red.

There were no signs of the typical throngs of supporters camped out days in advance for a good spot; the Republican governor said he would skip it, advising anyone at high risk to stay home over coronavirus concerns; fears of a repeat of Tulsa’s disappointing turnout weighed heavily; and then came the stormy weather reports, which could have further stifled attendance.

By the time the campaign announced that the Portsmouth event was off, citing “safety concerns” over a tropical storm barreling toward the Northeast on Friday afternoon, people close to the campaign said fears over low turnout also motivated the decision to scrap the event.

The coastal town is not currently expected to be hit directly by the storm, but the decision to reschedule over bad weather is a “convenient excuse” for the Trump 2020 team, one outside adviser told NBC News.

Unfortunately there actually is some serious news and comment to check out today.

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s sentence is an unforgivable betrayal of his office.

THERE ARE no doubt thousands of people in federal prison who deserved a presidential commutation more than Roger Stone. But after President Trump’s intervention on Friday, Mr. Stone will serve none of his prison sentence. The president may have had the power to help his longtime friend. But that does not make it any less a perversion of justice — indeed, it is one of the most nauseating instances of corrupt government favoritism the United States has ever seen.

There is no doubt about Mr. Stone’s guilt. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he tried to play intermediary between WikiLeaks, which had become a front for the Kremlin, and the Trump campaign, which reaped the benefits of WikiLeaks’s publication of stolen Democratic emails. A jury concluded that Mr. Stone obstructed Congress, lied to investigators and tampered with a witness in the investigations that followed the 2016 race — “covering up for the president,” as the judge in his case noted.

Though Attorney General William P. Barr moved to reduce Mr. Stone’s sentencing recommendation after conviction, even he called the case against Mr. Stone a “righteous” prosecution. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison and was due to surrender on Tuesday — thus prompting Mr. Trump’s Friday night action.

As Mr. Trump discussed granting clemency to his criminal friend, Mr. Barr publicly defended the sentence, perhaps to prevent a mutiny among Justice Department staff who signed up because they believe in the rule of law, not the arbitrary rule of an unusually petty man in the White House.

Now, the department’s career investigators and prosecutors must absorb yet another insult to their profession from political leaders who abuse their trust. We can only sympathize with their impossible position.

The Washington Post: Coronavirus update: U.S. death toll rises as new infections reach record levels.

The daily coronavirus death toll in the United States increased this week after months of decline, as new infections soared to record levels and hospitals in the South and West faced a crush of patients.

More than 4,200 deaths were reported nationally in the past seven days, and experts warn that the trend could continue to get worse. Texas, Arizona and South Carolina have all seen their death toll rise by more than 100 percent in the past four weeks. Four more states — Mississippi, Tennessee, California and Louisiana — have seen at least a 20 percent jump in that time span.

Here are some significant developments:

The United States reported its largest single-day caseload increase — more than 67,000 new infections — on Friday.

More than 131,000 people have died of coronavirus in the United States since the pandemic began, and at more than 3.1 million confirmed cases have been reported.

Republican governors who have opposed or even blocked orders mandating mask-wearing are watching from the sidelines as local officials impose strict measures to contain the spread.

More details at the link.

In Texas, Gov. Abbot is finally coming around to taking the virus seriously, not that it’s too late. The Texas Tribune: Gov. Greg Abbott warns if spread of COVID-19 doesn’t slow, “the next step would have to be a lockdown”

With Texas continuing to break records for new coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations this week, Gov. Greg Abbott reiterated Friday afternoon that things will continue to get worse. And if people keep flouting his new statewide mask mandate, he said, the next step could be another economic lockdown.

“Things will get worse, and let me explain why,” he told KLBK TV in Lubbock. “The deaths that we’re seeing announced today and yesterday — which are now over 100 — those are people who likely contracted COVID-19 in late May.

“The worst is yet to come as we work our way through that massive increase in people testing positive.”

Texans will also likely see an increase in cases next week, Abbott said, and people abiding by his face mask requirement might be the only thing standing between businesses remaining open and another shutdown.

“The public needs to understand this was a very tough decision for me to make,” Abbott told KLBK of his face mask mandate. “I made clear that I made this tough decision for one reason: It was our last best effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. If we do not slow the spread of COVID-19 … the next step would have to be a lockdown.”

Trump won’t like what Angela Merkel had to say about the pandemic. CNN: ‘You cannot fight the pandemic with lies’ — Angela Merkel knows how to insert a dagger.

Angela Merkel may not scream down the phone at President Donald Trump — but she knows how to insert a dagger.

Trump, as well as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, must have felt his ears burning when the German Chancellor demolished their approaches to the coronavirus in a speech Thursday. “As we are experiencing firsthand, you cannot fight the pandemic with lies and disinformation any more than you can fight it with hate or incitement to hatred,” Merkel said. “The limits of populism and denial of basic truths are being laid bare.”

Merkel and Trump were destined to clash. A former scientist, she is cool, cautious, self-contained, fact-oriented and quiet despite her toughness. Trump is … none of those things. Late in 2016, the outgoing US President, who Merkel sometimes referred to as “Liebe (dear) Barack,” flew to Berlin on a mission — to convince her to run for another term. Once Trump was in the Oval Office, Obama reasoned, Merkel would need to lead the liberal international order.

One more from investigative journalist and novelist Jonathan Greenberg at The Washington Post: Twelve signs Trump would try to run a fascist dictatorship in a second term.

I first reported on Trump in 1982, when he conned me into putting him on the Forbes 400 rich list. That Trump was just a younger version of this Trump, and now I worry that what happened in June was a mere prelude; he’s certainly capable of a far worse Reichstag-fire-like event that would allow him to steal the 2020 election. And if he does win a second term, legitimately or not, his words and actions of the past four years provide 12 indicators that he would seek to replace our democracy with a fascist dictatorship.

Here are the twelve signs–head over to the WaPo to read more details.

1. Trump uses military power and federal law enforcement to suppress peaceful political protest.

2. Trump persistently lies about voter fraud, setting the stage for him to use emergency powers to seize control of the election or challenge the results if he loses.

3. Trump has repeatedly suggested that he might remain in office after a second term and has offered reason to doubt he’d leave peacefully after this first term.

4. Trump appears to believe he has the power to outlaw speech critical of him, and he calls the free press “the enemy of the people.”

5. With Fox News promoting Trump’s lies as truth, the president controls one of the most powerful propaganda machines ever created.

6. Trump believes that he has the power to do what he wants, regardless of Congress or the courts.

7. Trump acts as if he owns our government and can fire any official who defends the law.

8. Trump uses federal prosecutorial powers to investigate his opponents and anyone who dares scrutinize him or his allies for the many crimes they may have committed.

9. Trump viciously attacks his critics and has publicly implied that the Ukraine whistleblower should be hanged for treason.

10. Trump has messianic delusions that are supported with religious fervor by millions of his supporters.

11. Trump subscribes to a doctrine of genetic superiority and incites racial hatred to scapegoat immigrants and gain power.

12. Trump finds common ground with the world’s most ruthless dictators while denigrating America’s democratic allies.

Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers! What stories have you been following?


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

We seem to have lost many of our regular commenters. I hope it wasn’t something I said or did. Maybe, like me, you’re just exhausted and burned out by the awful things that are happening in our country. I just want to say that I miss you all and hope to see you again soon.

I can’t stop doing my posts. It has become a habit and a way for me to sort through the daily shocking events in Trump world.  Will we ever recover from his destructive attacks on the Constitution and on democracy itself? I really don’t know.

Today is the day of Trump’s super-spreader rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His deplorable supporters will travel from other states, stand or sit close together, and shout at the top of their lungs; and if they are infected, they’ll spread the virus to other people near them. And then the rallyers will travel back to their homes and spread the virus there. Trump is actively working to kill Americans.

Jonathan Swan at Axios: Trump: Expect “wild evening” in Tulsa, mask optional.

President Trump defended his decision to move ahead with a controversial large-scale Tulsa rally this weekend amid the pandemic, saying in an interview Friday with Axios that “we have to get back to living our lives” and “we’re going to have a wild evening tomorrow night at Oklahoma.”

Pressed on why he wasn’t using his presidential bully pulpitto encourage rally attendees to wear masks, Trump described masks as “a double-edged sword.” When asked if he recommended people wear them, he added: “I recommend people do what they want.”

Why it matters: Ahead of the rally expected to draw tens of thousands of supporters and protesters, the president’s comments underscore his skepticism of the effectiveness of strict enforcement of masks and social distancing to combat the virus that has killed more than 118,000 Americans and devastated the U.S. economy.

And his advice flies in the face of warnings from Trump’s own government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Later in the interview, talking about China’s renewed trouble with coronavirus, Trump said: “It’s hard to stop it. It’s the most contagious virus anyone’s ever seen. I could look at you, and all of a sudden you have the virus. Or vice versa.”

Trump doubled down on his tweeted threat against protesters.

The president stood by his tweet earlier Friday suggesting protesters in Tulsa should prepare to face physical force from Oklahoma law enforcement, saying, “That’s got to be the least controversial of my tweets.”

“Oklahoma’s much tougher on law and order” than some parts of the country, he said, and insisted that protests are packed with anarchists, agitators and looters. “They’re all together.”

He relished the lifting of a health and safety curfew in Tulsa for his supporters and said he has no intention of wearing a mask at the rally and that people should do what they want.

“I don’t feel that I’m in danger,” he said. “I’ve met a lot, a lot of people, and so far here I sit.” (Everyone who meets with Trump, including this reporter, is tested beforehand.)

That’s right. Around 9:30 last night, Barr tried to fire U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York. The New York Times: Barr Tries to Fire U.S. Attorney in Trump-Related Cases, but He Won’t Go.

Attorney General William P. Barr on Friday night abruptly tried to fire the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, Geoffrey S. Berman, who has investigated several of President Trump’s closest associates, but Mr. Berman said he would not leave.

The clash focused new attention on the efforts by Mr. Trump and his closest aides to rid the administration of officials whom the president views as insufficiently loyal. It also touched off a crisis within the Justice Department over one of its most prestigious jobs, at a time when the agency has already been roiled by questions over whether Mr. Barr has undercut its tradition of independence from political interference.

Mr. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, and his team have been at the forefront of corruption inquiries in Mr. Trump’s inner circle. They successfully prosecuted the president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who went to prison, and have been investigating Mr. Trump’s current personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani.

“I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position,” Mr. Berman said in a statement, adding that he had learned that he was “stepping down” from a Justice Department news release.

Meanwhile, the virus is continuing to spread, especially in Trump-supporting states. NPR: Coronavirus Spread Hits 1-Day High, World Health Organization Says.

The coronavirus pandemic reached a new one-day high Thursday with 150,000 new confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization.

Almost half of those cases were reported in the Americas, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference.

“The world is in a new and dangerous phase,” Tedros said. “Many people are understandably fed up with being at home. Countries are understandably eager to open up their societies and economies, but the virus is still spreading fast. It is still deadly, and most people are still susceptible.”

Tedros urged countries and organizations to continue to focus on the basics of prevention, including proper sanitation and social distancing. He also pointed to an increased concern about the spread of the coronavirus in refugee communities across the world as well as refugees’ precarious economic situations.

Trump just managed to destroy another U.S. institution–Voice of America. The Washington Post: How Trump’s obsessions with media and loyalty coalesced in a battle for Voice of America.

On Monday, President Trump’s long-deferred pick to head the U.S. Agency for Global Media finally started work after a bruising, two-year Senate confirmation battle.

By the end of Wednesday, Michael Pack had achieved a clean sweep of the top offices of every division he oversees — including venerable news outlets like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.

The swift purge of former appointees has increased the worry among Democrats and press freedom advocates that the Trump administration is attempting to gain control over an independent but federally funded media organization with among the largest audiences in the world. On its own, the Voice of America delivers television and radio programs to 236.6 million people — and in some countries dominated by state media, it is the only free and unshackled news source.

“USAGM’s role as an unbiased news organization is in jeopardy,” Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday in a statement. Pack, he added, “needs to understand that USAGM is not the Ministry of Information.”

Yet the machinations of recent weeks also epitomize Trump’s knack for turning a relatively obscure issue or backwater agency into fodder for a culture war — with little more than a tweet.

The president first nominated Pack, who is in his mid-60s, for the USAGM job in 2018. Pack is revered in Republican circles as something of a unicorn — a documentary filmmaker with solid conservative credentials (he served as president of the Claremont Institute, a prominent think tank) who could also make PBS-quality work. His projects have included “God and the Inner City,” about three faith-based organizations; a film on the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress; and an appreciative documentary about the life of Clarence Thomas, featuring extensive interviews with the Supreme Court justice.

More of the redacted sections of the Mueller report have become available. Two takeaways:

Buzzfeed News: Roger Stone Told Trump In Advance WikiLeaks Would Release Documents Harmful To Clinton Campaign, Aides Claimed.

Donald Trump was told in advance that Wikileaks would be releasing documents embarrassing to the Clinton campaign and subsequently informed advisors that he expected more releases would be coming, according to newly unredacted portions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

In July 2016, political consultant Roger Stone told Trump as well as several campaign advisors that he had spoken with Julian Assange and that WikiLeaks would be publishing the documents in a matter of days. Stone told the then-candidate via speakerphone that he “did not know what the content of the materials was,” according to the newly unveiled portions of the report, and Trump responded “oh good, alright” upon hearing the news. WikiLeaks published a trove of some 20,000 emails Russians hacked from the Democratic National Committee on July 22 of that year.

Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen told federal investigators that he overheard the phone call between Stone and Trump. Agents were also told by former campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates that Stone had spoken several times in early June of something “big” coming from WikiLeaks. Assange first mentioned having emails related to Clinton on June 12.

The new revelations are the strongest indication to date that Trump and his closest advisors were aware of outside efforts to hurt Clinton’s electoral chances, and that Stone played a direct role in communicating that situation to the Trump campaign. Trump has publicly denied being aware of any information being relayed between WikiLeaks and his advisors.

CNN: Mueller raised possibility Trump lied to him, newly unsealed report reveals.

Special counsel Robert Mueller examined whether President Donald Trump lied to him in written answers during the Russia investigation, a possibility House Democrats have said they continue to look into even after Trump’s impeachment….

A key part of the re-released report Friday highlights how Trump didn’t disclose to Mueller the extent of his conversations with Stone.
Trump was careful to work with his lawyers on any responses he gave to the special counsel. The President ultimately responded under oath in writing to Mueller’s questions, though Mueller conceded in his final report some of the answers were insufficient.
Trump answered that he hadn’t remembered discussing WikiLeaks with Stone. But Mueller found that Trump had had conversations with Stone and others about WikiLeaks, the newly unsealed report says.

Much more on the newly released information from the report at CNN.

Those are the stories that caught my eye this morning. What are you reading and thinking about?


Thursday Reads: Can American Democracy Survive Trump’s and Barr’s Assaults?

Good Afternoon!!

Are we in a Constitutional crisis yet? I think we are. Trump is acting as if he has dictatorial powers and it appears that some of our institutions are crumbling under his attacks.

The State Department and the Justice Department are going along with Trump’s undemocratic demands. Bill Barr has turned the DOJ into Trump’s private law firm. Trump is now attacking the judicial system, demanding that judges treat his cronies leniently and punish his enemies harshly.

The Defense Department has acquiesced to his taking funds appropriated for other purposes to build his idiotic border wall. The GOP-controlled Senate has refused to rein him in through his impeachment trial, and in the process they have damaged their own legislative and oversight powers.

Can we survive Trump’s attack on our democracy? It looks like our only hope is to defeat him in November, but Republicans in the Senate are doing their damnedest to prevent any attempts to protect election security. In acquitting him in the impeachment  “trial,” GOP Senators endorsed Trump’s efforts to get foreign governments to help in his reelection. Finally, Trump could very well win enough electoral votes to win even if he loses the popular vote again.

We definitely need massive protests in the streets. Will it happen? We also need the media to wake up and take this crisis seriously. Yes Trump is a moron and does all kinds of moronic things, but this is no laughing matter. Investigative reporters need to continue revealing Trump’s corruption and his power grabs and political reporters need to focus more on vetting the Democratic candidates and writing about their policy proposals and less on the horse race.

Stories to check out today

Michael Gerhardt at The Atlantic: Madison’s Nightmare Has Come to America.

The Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is over, ending with all but one Republican voting to acquit. But the effort to make sense of its constitutional ramifications is only beginning.

Almost a half century ago, President Richard Nixon’s resignation was thought to have proved that the constitutional system worked, with the House, the Senate, and a special prosecutor each having conducted long, painstaking investigations into his misconduct; the Supreme Court having directed President Nixon to comply with a judicial subpoena to turn over taped conversations; and the House Judiciary Committee having approved three articles of impeachment shortly before Nixon resigned.

In sharp contrast, few think that the acquittal of President Trump is a triumph for the Constitution. Instead, it reveals a different, disturbing lesson, about how the American political system—and the Constitution itself—might be fundamentally flawed.

Since the writing of the Constitution, three developments have substantially altered the effectiveness of impeachment as a check on presidential misconduct. The first is the rise of extreme partisanship, under which each party’s goal is frequently to vanquish the other and control as much of the federal government as possible. This aim is fundamentally incompatible with the system that James Madison designed, premised as it was on negotiation, compromise, and a variety of checking mechanisms to ensure that no branch or faction was beyond the reach of the Constitution or the law.

Read the rest at the link. It’s not very long.

Stephen Collinson at CNN: The President’s decision to expand his power post-trial has stunned Washington.

It’s time to stop asking whether President Donald Trump will learn lessons from the controversies he constantly stokes — of course he does. But far from stepping back or opting for contrition as his critics and appeasers hope, Trump draws darker political conclusions.

The result is that he expands his own power by confounding institutional restraints and opening a zone of presidential impunity — while at the same time delighting his political base.

Trump’s interference in the sentencing of his long-time associate Roger Stone and a post-impeachment retribution splurge reflect a lifetime’s lessons of a real estate baron turned public servant.

On Wednesday, Trump publicly praised the Justice Department for reversing its call for a stiff jail term for Stone after his own critical late night tweet that laid bare fears of blatant interference in bedrock US justice.

“I want to thank the Justice Department for seeing this horrible thing. And I didn’t speak to them by the way, just so you understand. They saw the horribleness of a nine-year sentence for doing nothing,” the President told reporters.

He noted that the four prosecutors who quit the Stone case “hit the road,” raising the prospect that their protests failed to introduce accountability to the administration and only served to further hollow out the government and make it more pliable to the President.

Trump denied that he crossed a line. But his tweet left no doubt about what he wanted to happen. And his strategy, in this case and others, actually worked.

Just as he used US government power to smear Joe Biden in the Ukraine scandal, he succeeded in getting favorable treatment for a friend in the Stone case — though the final sentence will be up to a judge.

Chuck Rosenberg at The Washington Post: This is a revolting assault on the fragile rule of law.

Something extraordinary and deeply troubling happened at — and to — the Justice Department this week. Four federal prosecutors properly, and as a matter of conscience, withdrew from the Roger Stone case. They had shepherded that case through the criminal-justice system but in an alarming development were ordered to disavow a sentencing recommendation they filed with the federal judge overseeing the matter….

We all understand that the leadership at the top of the department is politically appointed, and we make peace with that (in addition to my work as a career federal prosecutor, I served in political positions under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama in the Justice Department and worked for thoughtful appointed leaders of both parties), but being asked by that leadership to allow politics to corrode our work is not remotely normal or permissible. And it is treacherous.

The rule of law is a construct. It was made by people — and is nurtured and preserved by people. It can also be destroyed by people. And unlike the law of gravity, which works everywhere and all the time (at least on this planet), the rule of law is precious and fragile. As citizens and prosecutors, we either safeguard it or we surrender it. That’s the choice. What political leadership did here — mandating a favor for a friend of the president in line with the president’s publicly expressed desire in the case — significantly damages the rule of law and the perception of Justice Department fairness.

Principled resignations by career federal prosecutors highlighted this dangerous stunt. I am proud of them for that.

But I find it revolting that they were pushed into that corner (one resigned his job; three others resigned from the case) and saddened by their sacrifice. This is not normal and it is not right,and it is dangerous territory for the rule of law.

Safeguard or surrender. You choose.

Bob Bauer at The New York Times: Trump and Barr Are Out of Control.

Jonathan Kravis

The resignation of a Justice Department prosecutor over the sentencing of Roger Stone is a major event. The prosecutor, Jonathan Kravis, apparently concluded that he could not, in good conscience, remain in his post if the department leadership appeared to buckle under White House pressure to abandon a sentencing recommendation in the case of Mr. Stone, the associate of President Trump who was convicted of obstructing a congressional inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Three of his colleagues quit the Stone case but remain with the department: Mr. Kravis left altogether. Even though the president for years has derided federal law enforcement officials, accusing them variously of conflicts of interest and criminality and weakness in not pursuing prosecution of his political opposition, Mr. Kravis’s is the first resignation in the face of these assaults.

Dramatically forceful responses to Mr. Trump’s assaults on rule-of-law norms have been all too rare. A resignation can set off an alarm bell for an institution whose failings an official might be unable to bring to light in no other way, or as effectively. It upholds rule of law norms in the very act of signaling that they are failing. It makes its point with power and transparency, and stands a chance of rallying support from those who remain in place and compelling other institutions like the press and Congress to take close notice.

The government official who resigns for these reasons is, paradoxically, doing his or her job by leaving it.

Read more at The NYT.

Natasha Bertrand and Daniel Lippman at Politico: ‘Really shocking’: Trump’s meddling in Stone case stuns Washington.

President Donald Trump’s post-impeachment acquittal behavior is casting a chill in Washington, with Attorney General William Barr emerging as a key ally in the president’s quest for vengeance against the law enforcement and national security establishment that initiated the Russia and Ukraine investigations.

In perhaps the most tumultuous day yet for the Justice Department under Trump, four top prosecutors withdrew on Tuesday from a case involving the president’s longtime friend Roger Stone after senior department officials overrode their sentencing recommendation—a backpedaling that DOJ veterans and legal experts suspect was influenced by Trump’s own displeasure with the prosecutors’ judgment.

“With Bill Barr, on an amazing number of occasions … you can be almost 100 percent certain that there’s something improper going on,” said Donald Ayer, the former deputy attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration.

The president has only inflamed such suspicions, congratulating Barr on Wednesday for intervening in Stone’s case and teeing off hours later on the prosecutors, calling them “Mueller people” who treated Stone “very badly.”

The president said he had not spoken with Barr about the matter, but Ayer called the attorney general’s apparent intervention “really shocking,” because Barr “has now entered into the area of criminal sanction, which is the one area probably more than any other where it’s most important that the Justice Department’s conduct be above reproach and beyond suspicion.”

What will today bring? I haven’t turned on the TV yet, but I’m very fearful of what Trump will do next. Courage, Sky Dancers! This is an open thread.


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!