Lazy Caturday Reads: News Potpourri

Jones, Leslie, 1886-1967 (photographer) Date created 1938, Boston Public Library

Good Morning!!

I could hardly bring myself to read news this morning, but I forced myself to see what stories are out there. My offerings:

The biggest one is about Trump ignoring reports of Russians trying to kill American troops in Afghanistan.

The New York Times: Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says.

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

An operation to incentivize the killing of American and other NATO troops would be a significant and provocative escalation of what American and Afghan officials have said is Russian support for the Taliban, and it would be the first time the Russian spy unit was known to have orchestrated attacks on Western troops.

Any involvement with the Taliban that resulted in the deaths of American troops would also be a huge escalation of Russia’s so-called hybrid war against the United States, a strategy of destabilizing adversaries through a combination of such tactics as cyberattacks, the spread of fake news and covert and deniable military operations.

Read more about this at The Washington Post: Russian operation targeted coalition troops in Afghanistan, intelligence finds.

I wonder if GOP senators are going to do anything about this, or will they think it’s just fine for Trump to keep being pals with Putin no matter what he does?

The New York Times has another big story on how the coronavirus pandemic sneaked up on us: How the World Missed Covid-19’s Silent Spread.

Dr. Camilla Rothe was about to leave for dinner when the government laboratory called with the surprising test result. Positive. It was Jan. 27. She had just discovered Germany’s first case of the new coronavirus.

But the diagnosis made no sense. Her patient, a businessman from a nearby auto parts company, could have been infected by only one person: a colleague visiting from China. And that colleague should not have been contagious.

The visitor had seemed perfectly healthy during her stay in Germany. No coughing or sneezing, no signs of fatigue or fever during two days of long meetings. She told colleagues that she had started feeling ill after the flight back to China. Days later, she tested positive for the coronavirus.

Girl with her kitten, mid-1800s

Scientists at the time believed that only people with symptoms could spread the coronavirus. They assumed it acted like its genetic cousin, SARS.

“People who know much more about coronaviruses than I do were absolutely sure,” recalled Dr. Rothe, an infectious disease specialist at Munich University Hospital.

But if the experts were wrong, if the virus could spread from seemingly healthy carriers or people who had not yet developed symptoms, the ramifications were potentially catastrophic. Public-awareness campaigns, airport screening and stay-home-if-you’re sick policies might not stop it. More aggressive measures might be required — ordering healthy people to wear masks, for instance, or restricting international travel.

Dr. Rothe and her colleagues were among the first to warn the world. But even as evidence accumulated from other scientists, leading health officials expressed unwavering confidence that symptomless spreading was not important.

In the days and weeks to come, politicians, public health officials and rival academics disparaged or ignored the Munich team. Some actively worked to undermine the warnings at a crucial moment, as the disease was spreading unnoticed in French churches, Italian soccer stadiums and Austrian ski bars. A cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, would become a deadly harbinger of symptomless spreading.

Read the rest at the NYT.

More interesting Covid-19 articles:

The New York Times: New Numbers Showing Coronavirus Spread Intrude on a White House in Denial.

Bloomberg Opinion: A Horrifying U.S. Covid Curve Has a Simple Explanation.

Bloomberg Law: Virus Fatality Picture Is Obscured by Ultimate Lagging Indicator.

The Daily Beast: Here’s What It Looks Like When People Don’t Wear Masks.

CNBC: This chart shows the link between restaurant spending and new cases of coronavirus.

CNN Politics: Measures to protect Trump from coronavirus scale up even as he seeks to move on.

AP: Reporter at Trump’s Tulsa rally tests positive for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, as the virus rages through the South and West, Trump is trying to finally kill Obamacare. The Washington Post: Trump administration’s move to end Obamacare amid pandemic reignites political fight.

The Trump administration touched off another politically charged battle over the future of Obamacare with its latest maneuver to dismantle the law amid a pandemic — a move that Democrats immediately weaponized for competitive campaigns this fall and few Republicans defended.

The 82-page brief filed late Thursday to the Supreme Court in a high-profile case brought by GOP state attorneys general undercuts President Trump’s repeated pledges to ensure coverage for people with preexisting conditions as his administration and the broader Republican Party seek to wipe away that protection.

Trump vowed as recently as last weekend, at a campaign rally in Tulsa, that he would “always protect patients with preexisting conditions, always, always.” But his own administration’s position in court is that the 2010 Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is unconstitutional, and therefore so is the entire law — even its most popular provisions, such as coverage for those with preexisting conditions….

Republican officials and strategists working on competitive campaigns were privately aghast Friday at the administration’s decision to reignite the issue, particularly as health care is at the forefront of voters’ minds because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The ties between the pandemic and access to Obamacare were underscored this week with a new report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which found that 487,000 Americans used a special enrollment period for the health care law after losing their own coverage, probably due to job losses.

Trump wants to throw protesters in jail if they try to take down Confederate monuments. Politico: Trump issues executive order warning cities, protesters over destruction of monuments.

President Donald Trump on Friday ordered the Justice Department to prioritize prosecution of protesters who damage federal monuments and limit federal funding for local governments that are perceived to not be adequately protecting those monuments.

The executive order also emphasized strict sentencing, with a maximum of 10 years in prison, for those found guilty of such acts, a key plank of Trump’s law and order strategy the president has repeatedly tweeted and talked about in recent weeks.

Trump’s order comes as protests across the country against systemic racism and police brutality have resulted in the toppling of monuments to Confederate leaders, slave owners and European colonists.

The order characterizes protesters as actively seeking to undermine the integrity of the United States government — referring to them as “Anarchists and left-wing extremists” — and comes a day after Trump labeled demonstrators as “terrorists” who will face “retribution.”

Judge Amy Berman Jackson said yesterday that Roger Stone won’t get a 2-month delay before heading to jail. The Washington Post: Roger Stone ordered to report to prison July 14, as judge denies request for two-month delay.

A federal judge has ordered Roger Stone to report to prison July 14, granting him a two-week delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, but not the two months that President Trump’s confidant had requested with prosecutors’ assent.

Stone, 67, had been due to surrender June 30 to a federal prison in Jesup, Ga., while he appeals his November conviction on charges of lying and witness tampering in a congressional investigation.

In an order and sealed opinion late Friday, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson granted a two-week delay. Prosecutors had not opposed Stone’s request for a delay until Sept. 3, saying the Justice Department’s policy during the pandemic has been to grant up to a 60-day extension upon defendants’ request “without respect to age, health, or other COVID-19 risk factors.”

More stories to check out, links only:

The Washington Post: Barr forms task force to counter ‘anti-government extremists’

CNN: In Texas, questions grow about a lesser-known US Attorney ousted by Attorney General Barr.

Vox: “It’s ideologue meets grifter”: How Bill Barr made Trumpism possible.

Above the Law: Bill Barr Has Thoughts On ‘Blacks’

The New York Times: U.S. Must Release Children From Family Detention Centers, Judge Rules.

Los Angeles Times: Working-class white women are turning on Trump.

The New York Times: How Trump and the Black Lives Matter Movement Changed White Voters’ Minds.

Harry Enten at CNN: Candidates who recover from Trump-like deficits are rarely incumbents.

NBC News: Facebook just lost one of the biggest advertisers in the world for the rest of 2020.

Take care of yourselves and have a nice weekend everyone!


Tuesday Reads: Follow the Money

Marguerite Thompson Zoorach, 1887-1968, The Picnic, 1920s

Good Morning!!

Just as I suspected, Trump has financial motives for pushing an unproven drug with dangerous side effects during a global pandemic.

The New York Times reported yesterday:

If hydroxychloroquine becomes an accepted treatment, several pharmaceutical companies stand to profit, including shareholders and senior executives with connections to the president. Mr. Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine….

Some associates of Mr. Trump’s have financial interests in the issue. Sanofi’s largest shareholders include Fisher Asset Management, the investment company run by Ken Fisher, a major donor to Republicans, including Mr. Trump. A spokesman for Mr. Fisher declined to comment.

Claude Monet. Luncheon on the Grass

Another investor in both Sanofi and Mylan, another pharmaceutical firm, is Invesco, the fund previously run by Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary. Mr. Ross said in a statement Monday that he “was not aware that Invesco has any investments in companies producing” the drug, “nor do I have any involvement in the decision to explore this as a treatment.”

As of last year, Mr. Trump reported that his three family trusts each had investments in a Dodge & Cox mutual fund, whose largest holding was in Sanofi.

Ashleigh Koss, a Sanofi spokeswoman, said the company no longer sells or distributes Plaquenil in the United States, although it does sell it internationally.

And of course Jared is involved. I wonder if he stands to gain financial from this drug pushing?

Several generic drugmakers are gearing up to produce hydroxychloroquine pills, including Amneal Pharmaceuticals, whose co-founder Chirag Patel is a member of Trump National Golf Course Bedminster in New Jersey and has golfed with Mr. Trump at least twice since he became president, according to a person who saw them.

Mr. Patel, whose company is based in Bridgewater, N.J., did not respond to a request for comment. Amneal announced last month that it would increase production of the drug and donate millions of pills to New York and other states. Other generic drugmakers are ramping up production, including Mylan and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.

Roberto Mignone, a Teva board member, reached out to the team of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, through Nitin Saigal, who used to work for Mr. Mignone and is a friend of Mr. Kushner’s, according to people informed about the discussions.

Luncheon on the Grass, Pablo Picasso

Mr. Kushner’s team referred him to the White House task force and Mr. Mignone asked for help getting India to ease export restrictions, which have since been relaxed, allowing Teva to bring more pills into the United States. Mr. Mignone, who is also a vice chairman of NYU Langone Health, which is running a clinical study of hydroxychloroquine, confirmed on Monday that he has spoken with the administration about getting more medicine into the country.

Yesterday we also learned that Peter Navarro, Trump’s wacky trade adviser was warning about a pandemic back in January. Axios: Navarro memos warning of mass coronavirus death circulated in January.

In late January, President Trump’s economic adviser Peter Navarro warned his White House colleagues the novel coronavirus could take more than half a million American lives and cost close to $6 trillion, according to memos obtained by Axios.
The state of play: By late February, Navarro was even more alarmed, and he warned his colleagues, in another memo, that up to two million Americans could die of the virus.

Navarro’s grim estimates are set out in two memos — one dated Jan. 29 and addressed to the National Security Council, the other dated Feb. 23 and addressed to the president. The NSC circulated both memos around the White House and multiple agencies.

In the first memo, which the New York Times was first to report on, Navarro makes his case for “an immediate travel ban on China.”

The second lays the groundwork for supplemental requests from Congress, with the warning: “This is NOT a time for penny-pinching or horse trading on the Hill.”

Why it matters: The president quickly restricted travel from China, moved to delay re-entry of American travelers who could be infected, and dispatched his team to work with Congress on stimulus funds.

But Trump was far slower to publicly acknowledge the sort of scenarios Navarro had put in writing.

A couple of interesting psychological analyses of Trump catastrophic performance:

At the New York Times, Jennifer Senior writes: This Is What Happens When a Narcissist Runs a Crisis.

Picnic (1989), Fernando Botero

Since the early days of the Trump administration, an impassioned group of mental health professionals have warned the public about the president’s cramped and disordered mind, a darkened attic of fluttering bats. Their assessments have been controversial. The American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics expressly forbids its members from diagnosing a public figure from afar.

Enough is enough. As I’ve argued before, an in-person analysis of Donald J. Trump would not reveal any hidden depths — his internal sonar could barely fathom the bottom of a sink — and these are exceptional, urgent times. Back in October, George T. Conway III, the conservative lawyer and husband of Kellyanne, wrote a long, devastating essay for The Atlantic, noting that Trump has all the hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder. That disorder was dangerous enough during times of prosperity, jeopardizing the moral and institutional foundations of our country.

But now we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. The president’s pathology is endangering not just institutions, but lives.

Head over to the NYT to read the rest.

Alternet: Leading psychologists explain how Trump’s self-delusions and narcissism make him uniquely effective at predatory deception.

In practicing the art of lying while retaining a hold on the allegiance of his base, Trump utilizes a propaganda principle—the Big Lie—best explained by Hitler.  Now, please note that we are not equating Trump and Hitler; they are very different people.  However, like Hitler, Trump is involved in the business of selling himself as an angry, righteous savior to the masses, resulting in a growing number of cultic devotees.  So, it may behoove us to consider Hitler’s explanation of why the Big Lie is more successful than mere untruths. Here’s his explanation of the principle in Mein Kampf:

Francisco de Goya’s Picnic En La Ribera Del Manzanares (Picnic on the Banks of the Manzanares), 1776

[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.

Consider just two of many possible examples of the Big Lie:  Trump’s bizarre claim that the military was out of ammunition when he took office and his equally bizarre claim that the father of Ted Cruz was involved with the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, adding, “It’s horrible.”  It is the outrageousness of the Big Lie that a listener normally expects would create self-conscious awkwardness in the liar.  In turn, this results in a need for a great liar to hide any nervousness that might give away the fact that he is attempting to deceive his audience.  In poker, the failure to hide completely the lie inherent in a bluff is called a “tell,” the subtle behavior unwittingly exhibited when bluffing.

Click the link to read the rest. It’s a really interesting piece.

Republicans in Wisconsin have been working overtime to undermine democracy, and yesterday the Supreme Court gave them a big assist.

Slate: By a 5–4 Vote, SCOTUS L.ets Wisconsin Throw Out Tens of Thousands of Ballots.

On Monday, by a 5–4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court approved one of the most brazen acts of voter suppression in modern history. The court will nullify the votes of citizens who mailed in their ballots late—not because they forgot, but because they did not receive ballots until after Election Day due to the coronavirus pandemic. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in dissent, the court’s order “will result in massive disenfranchisement.” The conservative majority claimed that its decision would help protect “the integrity of the election process.” In reality, it calls into question the legitimacy of the election itself.

Still Life with Peonies and Seven Lovely Ladies by David Elsea – 2018

Wisconsin has long been scheduled to hold an election on April 7. There are more than 3,800 seats on the ballot, and a crucial state Supreme Court race. But the state’s ability to conduct in-person voting is imperiled by COVID-19. Thousands of poll workers have dropped out for fear of contracting the virus, forcing cities to shutter dozens of polling places. Milwaukee, for example, consolidated its polling locations from 182 to five, while Green Bay consolidated its polling locations from 31 to two. Gov. Tony Evers asked the Republican-controlled legislature to postpone the election, but it refused. So he tried to delay it himself in an executive order on Monday. But the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court reinstated the election, thereby forcing voters to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote.

Because voters are rightfully afraid of COVID-19, Wisconsin has been caught off guard by a surge in requests for absentee ballots. Election officials simply do not have time, resources, or staff to process all those requests. As a result, a large number of voters—at least tens of thousands—won’t get their ballot until after Election Day. And Wisconsin law disqualifies ballots received after that date. In response, last Thursday, a federal district court ordered the state to extend the absentee ballot deadline. It directed officials to count votes mailed after Election Day so long as they were returned by April 13. A conservative appeals court upheld his decision.

Now the Supreme Court has reversed that order. It allowed Wisconsin to throw out ballots postmarked and received after Election Day, even if voters were entirely blameless for the delay. (Thankfully, ballots postmarked by Election Day but received by April 13 still count, because the legislature didn’t challenge that extension.) In an unsigned opinion, the majority cited the Purcell principle, which cautions courts against altering voting laws shortly before an election. It criticized the district court for “fundamentally alter[ing] the nature of the election by permitting voting for six additional days after the election.” And it insisted that the plaintiffs did not actually request that relief—which, as Ginsburg notes in her dissent, is simply false.

Read more:

Vox: The Supreme Court’s disturbing order to effectively disenfranchise thousands of Wisconsin voters.

PoliticusUSA: Brett Kavanaugh Leads Conservative SCOTUS Majority In Blocking Extended Voting In Wisconsin.

According to the Roberts court, voters should have to choose between voting and possibly dying and protecting their health. And of course the Republican primary is meaningless, so only Democrats have to worry about that.

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads: Hugs Help

Good Morning!!

Besides being the official celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, yesterday was National Hugging Day. I’m using that as an excuse to post pictures of creatures hugging each other in today’s post. From Psychology Today: National Hugging Day: Five Scientific Facts About Hugging, by Sebastian Ocklenburg. Excerpts:

No one knows exactly when the first hug occurred between two human beings, but we do know that hugs have been in the human behavioral repertoire for at least several thousand years. In 2007, a team of archeologist discovered the so-called “Lovers of Valdaro” in a Neolithic Tomb near Mantua in Italy (Stewart, 2007). The lovers are a pair of human skeletons that have been buried holding each other in a tight embrace (see Figure 1). They have been determined to be approximately 6000 years old, so we know for sure that people already hugged each other in Neolithic times….

When we hug, we wrap our arms around another person. Typically, we lead the hug with one arm. A German study in which I was a co-author analyzed whether people preferentially hug with their left or their right arm (Packheiser et al., 2018). In this study, we observed hugging couples at the arrivals or departure lounges at international airports and also analyzed videos of people who blindfold themselves and let strangers hug them on the street. We found that overall, most people hugged to the right….

A study from the University of North Carolina investigated how hugging before a stressful event reduced the negative effects of stress on the body (Grewen et al., 2003). Two groups of couples were tested: In one group, partners were given 10 minutes time to hold hands and watch a romantic movie, followed by a 20 second hug. In the other group, the partners just rested quietly and did not touch each other. Afterwards one partner had to participate in a very stressful public speaking task and their blood pressure and heart rate were measured while they spoke. The results? Individuals who had received a hug from their partner prior to being stressed showed significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate than those who did not touch their partners before the public speaking task. Thus, hugging leads to lower reactivity to stressful events and may benefit cardiovascular health.

A study from the University of North Carolina investigated how hugging before a stressful event reduced the negative effects of stress on the body (Grewen et al., 2003). Two groups of couples were tested: In one group, partners were given 10 minutes time to hold hands and watch a romantic movie, followed by a 20 second hug. In the other group, the partners just rested quietly and did not touch each other. Afterwards one partner had to participate in a very stressful public speaking task and their blood pressure and heart rate were measured while they spoke. The results? Individuals who had received a hug from their partner prior to being stressed showed significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate than those who did not touch their partners before the public speaking task. Thus, hugging leads to lower reactivity to stressful events and may benefit cardiovascular health.”

Here’s another piece by Ocklenburg on the ways that hugging increases well being. It turns out that hugging can reduce your chances of getting a cold, lower your blood pressure, and improve your mood.

So as we go into day 4 of the MAGA teens story and day 32 of the government shutdown, remember that hugs can help.

The New York Times: Government Shutdown: Updates on Where Things Stand.

It has been a month since the first day of the government shutdown.

Furloughed federal employees have started part-time jobs with delivery and ride-hailing apps and applied for other opportunities, such as yoga-instructor positions, to try to make ends meet without a government paycheck.

Some of the most vulnerable Americans — including the homeless, the elderly and people one crisis away from the streets — are feeling the burden. Without payments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, nonprofit groups that support low-income renters are also struggling. Many other social safety net programs are facing similar crises.

As a bone-chilling flash freeze swept through the Midwest and Northeast over the holiday weekend, hundreds of thousands of federal workers remain furloughed, and some continued to work without pay, including forecasters at the National Weather Service. Veterans of the emergency management field are worried about longer-term trouble, too.

Government workers are suffering.

When it began, the shutdown left about 800,000 federal workers without pay, with just over half continuing to work, including members of the Coast Guard and food safety inspectors. The number of people working has grown as the Trump administration reinterprets longstanding rules, often to the benefit of the president’s base.

Some of the employees who still have to report to work during the shutdown spoke with The New York Times about their experiences….

Many federal workers have filed for unemployment benefits. In Washington, local programs have sprouted up to support the city’s large, struggling federal work force. Nationally, an informal network of businesses has also mobilized to ease the pain.

The article notes that we are approaching the point when the federal courts will run out of money, and the economy is beginning to feel effects. Frankly, with Trump calling even more people back to work without pay, this is starting to feel criminal–it’s forced labor.

The shutdown is impeding law enforcement. No wonder Trump likes it.

Just one story on the MAGA teen Nick Sandmann from The Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville PR firm played a key role in Covington Catholic controversy. The firm is Run/Switch, and one of its partners is Scott Jennings, who is a paid commentator on CNN and also writes a column for the Courier Journal! From the article:

Lion rescued as a cub hugs her rescuer.

RunSwitch partners Steve Bryant and Gary Gerdemann said that Sandmann family asked people they knew over the weekend about getting help with handling the media.

“They reached out to our firm, and we responded,” said Bryant, adding that the business specializes in crisis management “all over the country.”

Scott Jennings, a conservative political commentator and a columnist for the Courier Journal, is the third partner in RunSwitch.

I’ve seen Jennings on CNN and interestingly, he routinely wears a smirk just like the one we all saw on Nick Sandmann’s face. Jennings smirks as other people are talking, no matter what is being said, and then he smirks as he defends whatever Trumpian thing is being discussed during his appearance. I find him utterly repulsive and infuriating.

So why was Jake Tapper the first shitty media man to tweet out the poor little Nick’s PR statement?

So Jennings worked for Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell too. How not surprising. I remember when CNN was a serious news channel, but now it’s just a Fox News wannabe that hires people like Oliver Darcy and Kaitlin Collins away from right wing sites (The Blaze and The Daily Caller respectively).

But I’ll move on to other news. This depressing story broke this morning. The Washington Post: Supreme Court allows Trump restrictions on transgender troops in military to go into effect as legal battle continues.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed President Trump’s broad restrictions on transgender people serving in the military to go into effect while the legal battle continues in lower courts.

Rescued Kangaroo hugs rescuer.

The justices lifted nationwide injunctions that had kept the administration’s policy from being implemented.

It reversed an Obama-administration rule that would have opened the military to transgender men and women, and instead barred those who identify with a gender different from the one assigned at birth and who are seeking to transition.

The court’s five conservatives–Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh–allowed the restrictions to go into effect while tIhe court decides to whether to consider the merits of the case.

The liberal justices–Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan–would have kept the injunctions in place.

I feel nauseated.

From The New York Times last night: Deripaska and Allies Could Benefit From Sanctions Deal, Document Shows.

When the Trump administration announced last month that it was lifting sanctions against a trio of companies controlled by an influential Russian oligarch, it cast the move as tough on Russia and on the oligarch, arguing that he had to make painful concessions to get the sanctions lifted.

Sea hugs baby seal toy

But a binding confidential document signed by both sides suggests that the agreement the administration negotiated with the companies controlled by the oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, may have been less punitive than advertised.

The deal contains provisions that free him from hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while leaving him and his allies with majority ownership of his most important company, the document shows.

With the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election continuing to shadow President Trump, the administration’s decision to lift sanctions on Mr. Deripaska’s companies has become a political flash point. House Democrats won widespread Republican support last week for their efforts to block the sanctions relief deal. Democratic hopes of blocking the administration’s decision have been stifled by the Republican-controlled Senate.

From ABC News: US banker with ties to Putin’s inner circle sought access to Trump transition: Sources.

Nine days after Donald Trump won the presidency, as scores of supporters clamored for meetings with his transition team, the Hollywood producer of “The Apprentice,” Mark Burnett, reached out to one of Trump’s closest advisers to see if he would sit down with a banker who has long held ties to Russia.

The banker, Robert Foresman, never got the role he was seeking with the fledgling Trump administration. But he has recently attracted the attention of congressional investigators as one more name on an expanding list of Americans with established ties inside the Kremlin who appears to have been seeking access to the newly elected president’s inner circle, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Foresman, who is now vice chairman of the Swiss bank UBS’s investment arm, lived for years in Moscow, where he led a $3 billion Russian investment fund and was touted by his new company as someone who maintains connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Reached by phone, Foresman declined to comment. Attorneys he has hired, including one in Washington who was hired to deal with the congressional probe, also declined to discuss the matter.

One more and then I’ll wrap this up. Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: The GOP has become the Soviet party.

Once upon a time, Ayn Rand-reading, red-baiting Republicans denounced Soviet Russia as an evil superpower intent on destroying the American way of life.

My, how things have changed.

The Grand Old Party has quietly become the pro-Russia party — and not only because the party’s standard-bearer seems peculiarly enamored of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under Republican leadership, the United States is starting to look an awful lot like the failed Soviet system the party once stood unified against.

Supposedly middle-class workers — people who have government jobs that are supposed to be stable and secure — are waiting in bread lines. Thanks to government dysfunction and mismanagement, those employed in the private sector may also be going hungry, since 2,500 vendors nationwide are unable to participate in the food stamp program while the government is shuttered and unable to renew licenses for the Electronic Benefit Transfer debit card program.

Why? Because of the whims of a would-be autocrat who cares more about erecting an expensive monument to his own campaign rhetoric than about the pain and suffering of the little people he claims to champion.

And for now, at least, most of those little people are too frightened of the government’s wrath to fight back overtly. Instead, desperate to keep jobs that might someday offer them a paycheck again, the proletariat protest in more passive ways: by calling in sick in higher numbers.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Now, what stories have you been following? Please share in the comment thread below.


Thursday Reads: Women’s Righteous Rage

Good Morning!!

Two new books explore the power of women’s rage. One is already available and the other will be released on October 2. The first is Rage Becomes Her, by Soraya Chemaly. The second is Good and Mad, by Rebecca Traister. There couldn’t be a more appropriate time for these books and for women to embrace their righteous rage.

Just a short time ago, we saw Serena Williams viciously attacked for defending herself against an unfair tennis umpire in milder ways then men have been getting away with for decades. And now we have the spectacle of old white Republican men bullying a survivor of sexual abuse because she dared to speak out publicly about the man they desperately want to install on the Supreme Court.

Women are sick and tired of being pushed around–at least millions of us are. We are sick of being treated like property and being told we shouldn’t be able to make choices about our own bodies and our own futures. After hundreds of years of struggle, women are finally “allowed” to hold positions previously forbidden to us–doctors, lawyers, professors, Senators. But we still earn less money than men and we are still expected to accept being sexually harassed on the job, sexually assaulted, and beaten by our husbands and boyfriends. When we dare to speak out about male violence, we are expected to deal with death threats, rape threats and having our personal information posted on the internet.

On Tuesday I wrote about being triggered by the Brett Kavanaugh attempted rape controversy and the ugly reaction by the old white men of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Yesterday, my rage at this situation became so all-consuming that I felt as if I were having an out-of-body experience. Today, I’m a little calmer, but still angry as hell. I know I should try to detach from this controversy, but I can’t. It feels too important.

That’s all I can write for today. I’m going to list some important articles I’ve read yesterday and this morning. I just don’t have the strength to do excerpts, sorry.

Please don’t miss this one by Elizabeth Bruenig at The Washington Post: Twelve years ago, Amber Wyatt reported her rape. Few believed her.  Her hometown turned against her. The authorities failed her.

Isaac Chotiner at Slate: An Interview With the Psychiatrist Who Says White House Officials Called Her With Concerns About Trump.

The New York Times: From the Anonymity of Academia to the Center of a Supreme Court Confirmation.

The Washington Post: ‘These are the stories of our lives’: Prep school alumni hear echoes in assault claim.

Vanity Fair: The Toxic Politics of the GOP’s Plan to Save Brett Kavanaugh.

Sandra Newman at The Washington Post: Want to help prevent rape? Withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination.

HuffPost: Brett Kavanaugh Liked Female Clerks Who Looked A ‘Certain Way,’ Yale Student Was Told.

Thiru Vignarajah at The Washington Post: Kavanaugh’s accuser deserves a fair criminal investigation.

Washington Post Fact Checker: Brett Kavanaugh’s unlikely story about Democrats’ stolen documents.

The Boston Globe: Elizabeth Warren for president? New survey shows Mass. voters don’t love that idea.

Lili Loofbourow at Slate: Men Are More Afraid Than Ever. Why Kavanaugh advocates would rather defend malfeasance than deny it.

HuffPost: Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong.

Business Insider: ‘We’re in the fourth quarter’: James Comey says Mueller may be about to finish his investigation into Trump.

This is an open thread. Have a nice day and embrace your anger!


Tuesday Reads: Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings and Woodward’s New Book

Good Morning!!

I had difficulties with my internet connection this morning, so I watched the beginning of the Kavanaugh hearing. The Democrats raised quite a ruckus over the Republicans–and Trump’s–refusal to make documents available from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House. Democrats moved to adjourn the hearing until the documents could be reviewed. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley refused to hold a vote on the motion.

The committee has now begun opening statements by Senators. Awhile ago, Grassley said the committee would adjourn after the opening statements and resume tomorrow. The opening statements are limited to 10 minutes each.

Raw Story: Kavanaugh hearing spirals into chaos as Democrats refuse to let GOP chair read opening statement.

The confirmation hearing for Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, began in chaos as several Democratic senators interrupted the opening remarks.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) tried to welcome Kavanaugh and was immediately interrupted by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

“Good morning. I welcome everyone to this confirmation hearing on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to serve as associate justice,” Grassley said.

“Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman? I would like to be recognized for a question before we proceed,” Harris said.

“Mr. Chairman I would like to be recognized for a question before we proceed. Mr. Chairman. I would like to be recognized to ask a question before we proceed. The committee received [requested documents] just last night, less than 15 hours ago,” Harris said. “We believe this hearing should be postponed.”

Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) gave a long speech appealing to Grassley to stop the hearing.

“You are taking advantage of my decency and integrity,” Grassley said.

There was much more after that. I have to at least give the Democrats credit for speaking up.

More from NBC News: Fireworks as Kavanaugh confirmation hearings get underway.

Sen Kamala Harris (D-CA)

The Senate confirmation hearing for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh launched with chaotic scenes Tuesday morning as Democrats pushed to adjourn, and protesters repeatedly interrupted the proceedings.

The Senate confirmation hearing for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh launched with chaotic scenes Tuesday morning as Democrats pushed to adjourn, and protesters repeatedly interrupted the proceedings.

The complaints from Democrats on the panel and protester fireworks that lasted through the hearing’s first hour followed the late-night release of tens of thousands of documents related to Kavanaugh’s time in the George W. Bush White House.

“The committee received just last night, less than 15 hours ago, 42,000 pages of documents that we have not had an opportunity to read, review or analyze,” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said moments after the hearing opened. “We cannot possibly move forward with this hearing.”

Sen. Amy Kobuchar (D-MN)

Sen. Amy Klobluchar, D-Minn., chimed in, agreeing with Harris and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., then added, “Mr. Chairman, if we cannot be recognized, I move to adjourn…we had been denied real access to the real documents we need” and also said that Republicans have turned the hearing into a “mockery.”

Other Democrats began to add to the chorus of concerns, interrupting Grassley. “What are we trying to hide? Why are we rushing?” asked Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

“This process will be tainted and stained forever” if the proceedings were not delayed, said Blumenthal. Grassley eventually denied Blumenthal’s repeated request for a roll call vote to adjourn the hearing.

As the Democratic pushback stretched into the hearing’s second hour, Grassley expressed mounting frustration. “Do you want to go on all afternoon?” he asked the panel’s Democrats.

Much more with background at the link.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)

Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed reports on the withholding of documents on Kavanaugh’s time in the White House: The Justice Department Was Behind The Decision To Keep 100,000 Pages Of Kavanaugh’s Record Secret.

After two days of questions about how it was decided that more than 100,000 pages of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s White House work would be withheld from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s review, the Justice Department took responsibility for the decision on Monday night.

“The Department of Justice, which has advised both Democratic and Republican administrations on the application of the Presidential Records Act and constitutional privileges, was responsible for determining which documents were produced to the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said….

The news that the documents were being kept from the public and the committee was reported on Friday night, when the lawyer overseeing the review sent a letter to congressional leaders about the final status of his review. The development was just the latest step in a series of fights over the millions of documents from Kavanaugh’s time working in George W. Bush’s White House from 2001 until when he was confirmed to his seat on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

The office of former president Bush has been producing some of those documents to the committee in advance of the hearing — a decision that went outside of the usual process for congressional requests under the Presidential Records Act, which is handled by the National Archives.

Instead, lawyers for Bush, led by William Burck of Quinn Emanuel, reviewed the documents requested and then provided the presidential records they found to the Justice Department for review.

“[T]he White House and the Department of Justice have identified certain documents of the type traditionally protected by constitutional privilege,” Burck wrote. “The White House, after consultation with the Department of Justice, has directed that we not provide these documents for this reason.”

I don’t know what the basis is for a claim of “constitutional privilege” or “executive privilege” or why a lawyer who is not connected to the government would be able to make such a claim. Maybe someone else can enlighten me. Senator Dick Durbin said he’d never heard of it.

The mysterious and powerful William Burck of Quinn Emanuel.

The Bush lawyers released 42,000 pages of documents last night, too late for Senators to realistically review the material. Chuck Grassley ludicrously claimed that committee staff for the Republican had reviewed every page of the documents by this morning.

So we’ll see what happens. We know the Republicans are probably going to cram this nomination through, despite what the public wants. The biggest issue is that Kavanaugh would likely vote to overturn Roe V. Wade. According to Aída Chávez at The Intercept: There is No Grassroots Energy Rallying for Brett Kavanaugh. None.

LAST SUNDAY, SEVERAL hundred protestors rallied in Civic Center Park in Denver, Colorado, against President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh. Local reporters were on hand, and the protest earned a two-minute segment on that night’s local CBS broadcast. The “Unite for Justice” rally in Denver was just one of dozens held across the country that same day, and viewers of that evening’s news learned that the rally-goers were taking a stand against confirming a justice who would be the fifth vote to repeal Roe v. Wade.

The network’s attempt at balance, however, was foiled by advocates of Kavanaugh — or, more precisely, the lack of them. The anchor, at the end of the segment, deadpanned to the Denver metro viewership and said, “A pro-life rally was scheduled to run in opposition to the protest, but no one attended.”

Abortion opponents’ inability to gather even a handful of counter protesters in Denver made for an awkward aside, but it also underscored the near total absence of organic grassroots energy from a supposedly rabid anti-choice movement. As the Senate began confirmation hearings Tuesday, the politics of the nomination are being shaped by a myth that has been constructed over decades by a small minority of fervent abortion rights opponents: that the country is evenly divided when it comes to abortion.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)

In reality, the politics are lopsided. Voters want Roe protected by more than a 2-1 margin, and even oppose overturning it in states like North Dakota, where Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is up for re-election. The opposition that does exist, meanwhile, is concentrated among a minority of hardcore Republicans who consider it a moral travesty to vote for Democrats — not the kind of voter Heitkamp could win over by supporting Kavanaugh.

All of this has been evident for years, yet the sophisticated political antenna of Democratic leaders in Washington suddenly fail them when it comes to reading polls on the question of abortion. Instead, Democratic leadership is worried about the political consequences for Democrats in red states who vote no. If all Democrats vote no, Republicans would need to win Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, Republicans from Maine and Alaska, respectively, who publicly support abortion rights.

Click on the link to read the rest.

In other news, people are already talking about Bob Woodward’s book on the Trump White House, which is scheduled for release next Tuesday. The Washington Post: Bob Woodward’s new book reveals a ‘nervous breakdown’ of Trump’s presidency.

John Dowd was convinced that President Trump would commit perjury if he talked to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. So, on Jan. 27, the president’s then-personal attorney staged a practice session to try to make his point.

In the White House residence, Dowd peppered Trump with questions about the Russia investigation, provoking stumbles, contradictions and lies until the president eventually lost his cool.

Bob Woodward

“This thing’s a goddamn hoax,” Trump erupted at the start of a 30-minute rant that finished with him saying, “I don’t really want to testify.”

The dramatic and previously untold scene is recounted in “Fear,” a forthcoming book by Bob Woodward that paints a harrowing portrait of the Trump presidency, based on in-depth interviews with administration officials and other principals.

Woodward depicts Trump’s anger and paranoia about the Russia inquiry as unrelenting, at times paralyzing the West Wing for entire days. Learning of the appointment of Mueller in May 2017, Trump groused, “Everybody’s trying to get me”— part of a venting period that shellshocked aides compared to Richard Nixon’s final days as president.

A bit more:

A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.

“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.

After Trump left the meeting, Woodward reconts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’”

I’d say that’s being generous. a sixth grader would surely be able to understand that explanation. Read more at the WaPo.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?