Friday Reads: Supreme Court Mambo

Joaquin Sorollo, Bailaora Flemenco, 1923

Good Day Sky Dancers!

Tropical Storm Claudette is making its way towards New Orleans today. We’re fortunate to be on the dry side of it so mostly we’ve got cooler temperatures and light rain ever so often.  I’m actually happy to see the change since the heat was getting pretty relentless.

I was a bit out of it most of yesterday having spent part of the day Wednesday under anesthesia. The polyp is gone off to the lab so now I have to see if it’s worrisome or not.  I haven’t read much but I did tune in to see the President sign the bill making Juneteenth a Federal Holiday which was a joy.  We’ve recognized Juneteenth here annually.  Here’s the link to last year’s edition written by me.  BB gets the pleasure tomorrow.  However, I had to write about one thing.

I got all teary-eyed watching 94 year old Opal Lee’s excitement during the ceremony.  President Biden took a knee for her too. I wept again when I heard her story told by Rachel Maddow later that night.  The youtube below has that bit of her show.   Her story and her fight to get Juneteenth recognized as a federal holiday demostrate her greatness. This is from CNN.

As a little girl, Lee was the victim of a traumatic event, her first undeniable experience with racism.

One week after nine-year-old Lee moved with her family to an all-White neighborhood, a mob surrounded their home and threatened their lives.

“My dad came with a gun and the police told him if he busted a cap, they would let the mob have us,” she recalls.

Lee’s parents sent her to friends several blocks away “under the cover of darkness,” she tells CNN.”They burned furniture. They set the house on fire. It was terrible. It really was.”

Lee says outside newspapers in Texas reported the crime — but local papers from the community where the violence took place ignored it,

The date of the attack was Juneteenth.

Lee says her parents never spoke of the incident again.

“They buckled down, they worked hard. They bought another home, but we never discussed it,” she explains.

“I just know if we had had an opportunity to stay awhile they would have found out … we were just like them.”

“We wanted the same thing they wanted. A place to live,” she recalls.

“We wanted food, jobs that would pay a wage.”

Dance at Bougival by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1883, via The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

So, about the supreme court and its two decisions yesterday which were extremely narrow.  Here’s a little on that including the divine hissy fit that was Alito’s criticism of both.  This is from Politico: “‘Alito was just pissed’: Trump’s Supreme Court breaks down along surprising lines. Thursday’s decisions laid bare an emerging rift within the court’s conservative majority.”

The key fault line in the Supreme Court that Donald Trump built is not the ideological clash between right and left — it’s the increasingly acrimonious conflict within the court’s now-dominant conservative wing.

Those rifts burst wide open on Thursday with two of the highest-profile decisions of the court’s current term. In both the big cases — involving Obamacare and a Catholic group refusing to vet same-sex couples as foster parents in Philadelphia — conservative justices unleashed sharp attacks that seemed aimed at their fellow GOP appointees for failing to grapple with the core issues the cases presented.

Some liberal legal commentators noted that the most carefully dissected rhetorical sparring is now taking place among members of the new six-justice conservative majority, with the three remaining liberal justices often left as mere spectators.

“We’re arguing about the battles among the conservatives and when that coalition breaks and where it goes,” lamented Harvard Law School lecturer Nancy Gertner, a former federal judge. “It’s a dramatic difference from only two or three years ago.”

Leading the charge from the right in both cases Thursday was Justice Samuel Alito, who penned caustic opinions taking his colleagues to task for issuing narrow rulings that seemed to him to be aimed at defusing political tensions rather than interpreting the law.

“After receiving more than 2,500 pages of briefing and after more than a half-year of post-argument cogitation, the Court has emitted a wisp of a decision that leaves religious liberty in a confused and vulnerable state. Those who count on this Court to stand up for the First Amendment have every right to be disappointed—as am I,” Alito wrote in the foster-care case, notwithstanding the Catholic charity’s unanimous victory.

In the Obamacare dispute, Alito sarcastically accused the majority of repeatedly indulging in flights of legal sophistry to avoid the politically unpalatable step of striking down the landmark health care law.

“No one can fail to be impressed by the lengths to which this Court has been willing to go to defend the ACA against all threats,” Alito wrote. “A penalty is a tax. The United States is a State. And 18 States who bear costly burdens under the ACA cannot even get a foot in the door to raise a constitutional challenge. Fans of judicial inventiveness will applaud once again. But I must respectfully dissent.”

Dance in Baden-Baden Painting Max Beckmann

Well, that’s interesting.  Roberts, Kavanaugh and Barrett have seized the Supreme Court for now.”

Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh, demonstrated their collective power at America’s highest court on Thursday.

They fueled the Supreme Court’s limited opinions on Obamacare and religious liberty, in action that marks a twist for the conservative-dominated bench and adds to the suspense of the next two weeks as the court finishes its annual term.

An overriding question going into the session that began last October was whether Roberts would still wield significant control, after former President Donald Trump appointed Barrett to succeed the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and created a 6-3 conservative-liberal bench.
But the latest developments suggest a possible 3-3-3 pattern, with Roberts, Barrett and Kavanaugh at the center-right, putting a check on their more conservative brethren who regularly push to overturn precedent.

I’ll believe this when I see it continue.  My guess is they will not be so kind to anything dealing with women’s moral agency.

Tommervik Abstract Ballroom Dancers 

Still, many see a tendency to give people’s bigotry a pass when it comes to supposed “religious beliefs.”  This is an Op-Ed at the LA Times by Erwin Chemerinsky.

Under long-standing constitutional law, religious beliefs do not provide an exemption from civil rights laws and cannot be used as an excuse for discrimination.

Yet the Supreme Court on Thursday in Fulton vs. City of Philadelphiaruled in favor of the ability of Catholic Social Services to participate in the city’s foster care program even though that organization discriminates based on sexual orientation. Although the grounds for the court’s unanimous ruling were narrow, the implications are broad and indicate a court that is inclined to allow discrimination based on religious beliefs.

The Fulton case involves the city’s decision to refuse to contract with organizations that engage in forbidden discrimination. Philadelphia routinely contracts with private social service agencies to help place children in foster homes. Those agencies are “delegated” the power of the government in determining whether individuals satisfy state requirements for becoming foster parents. Every contract is explicit in prohibiting these agencies from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, religion and sexual orientation.

Catholic Social Services has long participated in this program, but in recent years has declined to do so because of the contractual requirement that it not discriminate based on sexual orientation. It says that its religious beliefs prevent it from providing inspections of same-sex couples or placing children with those couples.

The organization challenged the nondiscrimination requirement as violating its 1st Amendment rights. The federal district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit rejected these arguments, but the Supreme Court reversed those decisions and ruled in the agency’s favor.

In 1990, the court in Employment Division vs. Smith ruled that free exercise of religion does not provide an exemption from a generally applied law. In that case, the court rejected a claim by Native Americans — based on their religious beliefs — for an exemption from a state law prohibiting use of peyote. But the court also said that laws cannot discriminate against religion.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing in the Fulton case, said that the Philadelphia law allowed for exceptions and this discretion meant it was not a sufficiently general law. The possibility of discrimination in exercising this discretion, he wrote, made Philadelphia’s requirement a violation of the free exercise of religion.

But there was no evidence that Philadelphia actually treated Catholic Social Services differently from other social service agencies or used its discretion in an impermissible way. And it is interesting that even the liberal justices — Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — did not raise this point. Perhaps they were glad to go along with a narrow ruling rather than risk one that changed the law and opened the door even more to discrimination based on religious beliefs.

The Dance Hall in Arles Painting Vincent van Gogh

Read his concerns about the findings at the link.

I have on last thing from The Atlantic and writer George Packer. I’ve known a lot of people that came here as part of a War Diaspora. I had childhood friends whose parents came from the Korean War Diaspora. My mother-in-law was a Japanese War Bride. Many of my students are children of the Vietnamese War Diaspora. We also have a lot of folks from Somalia and other engagements that never quite made it to the official War title too.  I think this article is timely and correct.  It’s Not Too Late to Avert a Historic Shame. As the U.S. military prepares to leave Afghanistan, it’s running out of time to evacuate the Afghans who have helped the United States.”

We do way too many war dances that leave way too many victims.

In the past few weeks, the outlook for Afghans who helped the United States in Afghanistan has gone from worrying to critical. As U.S. and NATO troops leave the country with breathtaking speed, the Taliban are attacking districts that had long been in the Afghan government’s hands, setting up checkpoints on major roads, and threatening provincial capitals. Many of the 18,000 Afghans who, along with their families, have applied for Special Immigrant Visas will soon have nowhere to hide, no armed force standing between them and their pursuers.

Think on that and read the rest at the link.

I’m going to try to get Temple out for one good walk in this weather before we get the bigger soaking so I’ll leave this space to you now.  Enjoy listening to Mambo by Leonard Bernstein from Westside Story too!  Oh, enjoy watching it too because the orchestra gets all into it completely shouting, dancing and grooving while they play.  Plus, it includes cute little girls throwing flowers from a balcony.  You need this in your life today!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Tea break Sylvie Vanlerberghe

Tea break, by Sylvie Vanlerberghe

Yesterday President Biden wrapped up his European trip by meeting with Vladimir Putin. It was a very different spectacle than the one in 2018 in Helsinki when the former guy humiliated himself and our country by rolling over for the Russian president.

The New York Times: A tale of two summits: Trump at Helsinki, and Biden at Geneva.

Helsinki, Finland, was where President Donald J. Trump had his own first face-to-face meeting with the Russian president, and the moment was highly anticipated, given the investigations then taking place into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its reported ties to Mr. Trump’s campaign.

The meeting offered the American president a ripe opportunity to denounce the Kremlin on a public stage. He did not.

Instead, standing by Mr. Putin’s side, Mr. Trump dismissed the conclusions by U.S. intelligence agencies about Russian meddling and said, in essence, that he believed the Russian president’s denials as much as he believed his own intelligence advisers.

“They said they think it’s Russia,” Mr. Trump said. “I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.” For good measure, he said, “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Trump met alone with Russian president for 2 hours, and we still don’t know what happened between the two men. In contrast, Biden was open about his meeting with Putin.

“Where we have differences,” he said just moments into the news conference, “I wanted President Putin to understand why I say what I say, and why I do what I do, and how we’ll respond to specific kinds of actions that harm America’s interests.”

Mr. Biden said, “I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anyone else. It’s for the American people.”

The japanese mask (1884), painted by Gustave Claude Etienne Courtois

The Japanese Mask (1884), painted by Gustave Claude Etienne Courtois

And he declared: “I also told him that no president of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have in our view. That’s just part of the DNA of our country.”

To that end, he cited the jailing of the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, and the detentions of two Americans in Russia.

Mr. Biden also offered a warning on cyberattacks.

“I pointed out to him: We have significant cyber-capabilities — and he knows it,” the president said.

Edward Luce at The Financial Times: Biden politely reads riot act to Putin.

Summitry, contrary to a former British prime minister, is nothing like tennis. The outcome is rarely “game, set and match”. By the wide-eyed standards of Joe Biden’s last four predecessors, all of whom held ill-fated summits with Vladimir Putin, Biden went into this one with low expectations.

There were no illusions about his meeting of minds with the Russian leader, let alone souls. The modesty of Biden’s goal — to stabilise relations with America’s chief military adversary — conveyed a realism that eluded earlier presidents. 

All of which is far less exciting for the world media. Biden did not praise Putin’s ability to restore Russian freedom and prosperity, as Bill Clinton did in 2000 shortly after Putin was elected president. Nor did he get a sense of Putin’s soul, as George W Bush claimed in 2001, and trust what he saw. He did not aim for an ambitious “reset” of US-Russia relations, as Barack Obama fatefully did in 2009. Most notoriously Biden’s tone was a million miles from the one-man admiration society Donald Trump brought to Helsinki when he met Putin alone in 2018. 

After more than two decades in power, this Russian bear was unlikely to change its habits. Biden’s aim is to coax and cajole Putin into a moderately less dangerous stance. That goal is more difficult than it sounds. At home, Biden faces derision from Republican and some foreign policy specialists for even meeting Putin. The act of sharing a stage with America’s president is seen as an unearned reward for an adversary who sponsors regular cyber attacks on the US, not to mention waging information warfare on western democracy.

Read the rest at FT.

Woman with a book, Pablo Picasso

Woman with a book, Pablo Picasso

Max Boot at The Washington Post: Opinion: Biden wiped the smirk off Putin’s face.

Biden established an easy rapport with his fellow democratic leaders at meetings with the Group of Seven, the European Union and NATO. “I think it’s great to have the U.S. president part of the club and very willing to cooperate,” French President Emmanuel Macron said. As a congenial insider, Biden was able to accomplish far more than a testy outsider such as Donald Trump ever could. Biden got fellow leaders to agree on a 15 percent global corporate minimum tax, on sending 1 billion doses of covid-19 vaccines to the developing world (not enough, but a start), on speaking out about the challenge posed by China, and on settling a long-festering European-American trade dispute over aircraft subsidies….

The meetings with allies were, in some sense, merely a prelude for meeting with one of the United States’ most effective foes — Vladimir Putin. One cannot imagine a starker contrast between Biden and his predecessor than in their handling of the Russian strongman. At Helsinki in July 2018, then-President Trump simpered and cowered. In a low point of a presidency with more low points than Death Valley, Trump accepted at face value Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful” denials of complicity in the 2016 election attack. Putin emerged from that meeting smirking like the cat that swallowed the canary.

As the historian Michael Beschloss noted, there was no such grin on Putin’s lips when he did his solo press conference after meeting with Biden on Wednesday. While Putin engaged in his usual dishonesty and whataboutism — he compared his jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny with the prosecution of the Capitol rioters — his manner was subdued and far from triumphant. He attacked the United States but was careful not to insult Biden personally. He even compared the current president favorably to his predecessor: “President Biden is an experienced statesman. He is very different from President Trump.” (Ouch. That’s got to sting for Putin’s biggest fanboy in the United States.)

In his own remarks, Biden struck all the right notes. He made clear that he raised human-rights concerns with Putin. “How could I be the president of the United States of America and not speak out against the violation of human rights?” he asked. It is almost unimaginable — had we not just witnessed the Trump presidency. Biden said he told Putin that, if Navalny dies in a Russian prison, the consequences would be “devastating for Russia.” He said he also raised Russia’s complicity in cyberattacks, its interference with humanitarian aid in Syria, and its invasion of Ukraine (he expressed support for Ukraine’s “territorial integrity”), while holding out the hope of cooperation on the Iranian nuclear program, stability in Afghanistan, nuclear arms control and other issues.

Takehisa Yumeji, Woman reading a book on the sofa

Takehisa Yumeji, Woman reading a book on the sofa

Now that he’s back home, Biden will sign a bill to create a new national holiday. The Washington Post: Congress votes overwhelmingly to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. The day commemorates the end of slavery in Texas in 1865.

Congress on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday, elevating the day marking the end of slavery in Texas to a national commemoration of emancipation amid a larger reckoning about America’s turbulent history with racism.

It is the first new federal holiday created by Congress since 1983, when lawmakers voted to establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day after a 15-year fight to commemorate the assassinated civil rights leader.

The vote was heralded by the bill’s supporters as a milestone in the effort to foster a greater recognition of the horrors of slavery in the United States and the long history of inequality that followed emancipation and continues to this day.

“It’s a long journey, but here we are,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), the lead proponent of the holiday in the House. “That racial divide has fallen out of the sky and we are crushing it to the earth. . . . This bill and this day is about freedom.”

The bipartisan support for the federal holiday comes at a time when Congress remains in a partisan deadlock on more substantive priorities for Black leaders, such as a push to federally guarantee voting access in the face of Republican-led state laws restricting it, as well as an effort to pass a federal policing overhaul to deter incidents of brutality and violence by law enforcement against racial minorities.

On the voting rights bill, Sen. Joe Manchin appears willing to make some concessions. The New York Times: Manchin presents his wish list for a voting rights and ethics bill.

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, showing some flexibility on major voting rights legislation, indicated on Wednesday that he opposed the blanket prohibition on all voter identification laws in the Senate Democrats’ current version and would not support public financing of elections.

But he expressed support for statutory expansions of early and mail-in voting that would turn back dozens of voting restriction laws that have passed or are nearing passage in Republican legislatures in key states like Georgia, Florida and Texas.

Woman reading a book by Enach Dumitru Bogdan (Romania)

Woman reading a book by Enach Dumitru Bogdan (Romania)

He also suggested privately this week that he was working to alleviate pressure to end the legislative filibuster — a move that he has publicly promised to oppose — even though not even his version of a voting rights measure could overcome a Republican blockade.

For weeks, fellow Democrats have complained that Mr. Manchin would not say precisely what he needed — or needed to jettison — to get his signature as the 50th co-sponsor of the voting legislation, also known as S1. Instead, he simply said that he wanted a Republican to back the bill, thus making it bipartisan.

On Wednesday, he responded to that criticism with an exhaustive list of provisions for a voting rights, ethics and campaign finance bill that he could support. For Democrats, there was much to like. Mr. Manchin said he wanted Election Day to be a public holiday. He wants at least 15 consecutive days of early voting, including two weekends; a ban on partisan gerrymandering and the use of computer models to tailor House districts to a candidate’s political party; and a requirement that states send mail-in absentee ballots to eligible voters if they are unable to vote in person, among several other provisions to expand ballot access.

His provision would scale back the For the People Act’s mandated “no excuse” absentee ballot access, but remains broad.

On ethics, he would maintain many of S1’s efforts to address the abuses of President Donald J. Trump, including the mandatory release of presidential and vice-presidential tax returns, and the divestiture of all presidential business and financial interests within 30 days of taking office.

At Slate, election law expert Richard L. Hasan writes: Democrats Should Leap at the Chance to Take Joe Manchin’s Deal.

Yes, Democrats should jump at the opportunity to pass such a bill, but it is also fair to acknowledge it is far from perfect. Many of the darlings in the For the People Act are not on Manchin’s list, such as felon reenfranchisement, public financing of congressional elections, restructuring the often-deadlocked Federal Election Commission, and limiting state voter purges. Not only would the Manchin proposal continue to allow states to engage in voter purges, it also will require some form of voter identification for voting in federal elections, though in a more relaxed form than some of the strict rules some states have enacted. It also would weaken some of the standards for restoring preclearance under the John Lewis bill, making it harder to get a jurisdiction covered by the requirement and easier for a jurisdiction to get out from under its coverage.

Again, this is a good deal being offered to Democrats, and Democrats should grab it. Voter identification is not necessarily bad, if it is implemented fairly, has ways for people lacking ID to still vote, and is funded fully by the government. Many of the items on the Democratic wish list not here are much less urgent than what is being offered and can be pursued another time.

'The Artist's Wife, Evelyn, Seated, Reading, Gerald Gardiner, 1935

The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, Seated, Reading, Gerald Gardiner, 1935

Finally, a bit more good news, the Supreme Court today upheld the Affordable Care Act again. CNN: Supreme Court dismisses challenge to Affordable Care Act leaving it in place.

The Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the Affordable Care Act on Thursday in a decision that will leave the law intact and save health care coverage for millions of Americans. The justices turned away a challenge from Republican-led states and the former Trump administration, which urged the justices to block the entire law.

The justices said that the challengers of the 2010 law did not have the legal right to bring the case.

Justice Stephen Breyer penned the decision that was 7-2. Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented.

The court’s ruling comes as President Joe Biden — a firm supporter of the law that was passed while he served as President Barack Obama’s vice president — has expressed strong support for the law.

The justices noted that there is no harm to opponents from the provisions that they are challenging because Congress has reduced the penalty for failing to buy health insurance to zero.

“For these reasons, we conclude that the plaintiffs in this suit failed to show a concrete, particularized injury fairly traceable to the defendants’ conduct in enforcing the specific statutory provision they attack as unconstitutional,” Breyer wrote. “They have failed to show that they have standing to attack as unconstitutional the Act’s minimum essential coverage provision.”

More stories to check out today:

William Saletan at Slate: Trump Made the GOP More Friendly to Putin. It’s Sabotaging Biden.

The New Republic: Republicans Are on the Brink of Embracing the Capitol Rioters.

The Washington Post: GOP congressman refuses to shake hands with D.C. police officer who protected the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Politico: GOP hands Dems a new line of attack: They’re for ‘Trump over the cops.’

Talking Points Memo: Inside Tom Cotton’s Insane World Of DNA Theft, Olympic Athletes, And Anti-China Conspiracies.

David R. Lurie at The Daily Beast: Liberals Need To Stop Whining About Merrick Garland Defending Trump.

Raw Story: ‘They have it’: Mueller prosecutor says if DA has documents and Trump’s comptroller — it’s over for Weisselberg.

That’s it for me today. I hope you all have a great Thursday!

 


Tuesday Reads: Prosecutors Get Their Hands On Trump’s Tax Returns

CtHnyTzVIAEIzboGood Morning!!

As you know, yesterday the Supreme Court refused to keep Trump’s tax records secret any longer; they will finally be turned over to New York prosecutors who are investigation Trump and his businesses. The New York Times: Supreme Court Denies Trump’s Final Bid to Block Release of Tax Returns.

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a last-ditch attempt by former President Donald J. Trump to shield his financial records, issuing a brief, unsigned order that ended Mr. Trump’s bitter 18-month battle to stop prosecutors in Manhattan from poring over his tax returns as they investigate possible financial crimes.

The court’s order was a decisive defeat for Mr. Trump, who had gone to extraordinary lengths to keep his tax returns and related documents secret, taking his case to the Supreme Court twice. There were no dissents noted.

From the start, Mr. Trump’s battle to keep his returns under wraps had tested the scope and limits of presidential power. Last summer, the justices rejected Mr. Trump’s argument that state prosecutors cannot investigate a sitting president, ruling that no citizen was above “the common duty to produce evidence.” This time, the court denied Mr. Trump’s emergency request to block a subpoena for his records, effectively ending the case.

The ruling is also a big victory for the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a Democrat. He will now have access to eight years’ worth of Mr. Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns, as well as other financial records that Mr. Vance’s investigators view as vital to their inquiry into whether the former president and his company manipulated property values to obtain bank loans and tax benefits….

Prosecutors in Manhattan now face a monumental task. Dozens of investigators and forensic accountants will have to sift through millions of pages of financial documents. Mr. Vance has brought in an outside consulting firm and a former federal prosecutor with significant experience in white-collar and organized crime cases to drill down into the arcana of commercial real estate and tax strategies.

The Supreme Court’s order set in motion a series of events that could lead to the startling possibility of a criminal trial of a former U.S. president. At a minimum, the ruling wrests from Mr. Trump control of his most closely held financial records and the power to decide when, if ever, they would be made available for public inspection.

byrnestaxesBut the tax returns are not all prosecutors will get their hands on. Mike McIntire at The New York Times: Trump’s Tax Returns Aren’t the Only Crucial Records Prosecutors Will Get.

The New York Times last year provided more or less a preview of what awaits Mr. Vance, when it obtained and analyzed decades of income tax data for Mr. Trump and his companies. The tax records provide an unprecedented and highly detailed look at the byzantine world of Mr. Trump’s finances, which for years he has simultaneously bragged about and sought to keep secret.

The Times’s examination showed that the former president reported hundreds of millions of dollars in business losses, went years without paying federal income taxes and faces an Internal Revenue Service audit of a $72.9 million tax refund he claimed a decade ago.

Among other things, the records revealed that Mr. Trump had paid just $750 in federal income taxes in his first year as president and no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years. They also showed he had written off $26 million in “consulting fees” as a business expense between 2010 and 2018, some of which appear to have been paid to his older daughter, Ivanka Trump, while she was a salaried employee of the Trump Organization.

The legitimacy of the fees, which reduced Mr. Trump’s taxable income, has since become a subject of Mr. Vance’s investigation, as well as a separate civil inquiry by Letitia James, the New York attorney general….

The tax returns represent a self-reported accounting of revenues and expenses, and often lack the specificity required to know, for instance, if legal costs related to hush-money payments were claimed as a tax write-off, or if money from Russia ever moved through Mr. Trump’s bank accounts. The absence of that level of detail underscores the potential value of other records that Mr. Vance won access to with Monday’s Supreme Court decision.

In addition to the tax returns, Mr. Trump’s accountants, Mazars USA, must also produce business records on which those returns are based and communications with the Trump Organization. Such material could provide important context and background to decisions that Mr. Trump or his accountants made when preparing to file taxes.

John D. Fort, a former chief of the I.R.S. criminal investigation division, said tax returns were a useful tool for uncovering leads, but could only be fully understood with additional financial information obtained elsewhere.

“It’s a very key personal financial document, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle,” said Mr. Fort, a C.P.A. and the director of investigations with Kostelanetz & Fink in Washington. “What you find in the return will need to be followed up on with interviews and subpoenas.”

NYT investigative reporter Suzanne Craig posted a thread with links to more stories about possible criminal activities by the Trump crime family. 

Trump is not happy. He released a statement, which you can read here

Bess Levin at Vanity Fair: Trump Lashes Out At Supreme Court Tax Returns Call Like A Man Who Knows Prison Is In His Future

In a statement on “The Continuing Political Persecution of President Donald J. Trump,” Trump rants that he is the victim of “the greatest political Witch Hunt in the history of our Country.” Referring to the case the court ruled on, which concerns a subpoena of Trump’s accountants by Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance, who has opened a criminal investigation into the ex-president, Trump says, “This is something which has never happened to a President before,” naturally failing to mention the fact that, among past POTUSes, only Trump has a reputation as a notorious con man. Nevertheless, he incomprehensibly continues:

“[This] is all Democrat-inspired in a totally Democrat location, New York City and State, completely controlled and dominated by a heavily reported enemy of mine, Governor Andrew Cuomo. These are attacks by Democrats willing to do anything to stop the almost 75 million people (the most votes, by far, ever gotten by a sitting president) who voted for me in the election—an election which many people, and experts, feel that I won. I agree!

The new phenomenon of “headhunting” prosecutors and AGs—who try to take down their political opponents using the law as a weapon—is a threat to the very foundation of our liberty. That’s what is done in third world countries. Even worse are those who run for prosecutorial or attorney general offices in far-left states and jurisdictions pledging to take out a political opponent. That’s fascism, not justice—and that is exactly what they are trying to do with respect to me, except that the people of our Country won’t stand for it. In the meantime, murders and violent crime are up in New York City by record numbers, and nothing is done about it. Our elected officials don’t care. All they focus on is the persecution of President Donald J. Trump. I will fight on, just as I have, for the last five years (even before I was successfully elected), despite all of the election crimes that were committed against me. We will win!”

So, just to reiterate, Trump—a person who incited a violent riot in the hopes of overturning the election—believes that crimes have been committed against him, and, despite the fact that he literally tried to use the Justice Department to investigate enemies, that he is the victim of political “persecution.”

cg57f32916bd5e0Jonathan Chait: Donald Trump Is Extremely Mad Prosecutors Will See His Tax Returns.

Donald Trump’s yearslong quest to prevent the public, Congress, or law-enforcement officials from seeing his tax statements came to a resounding end with a unanimous Supreme Court ruling. He did not take the defeat in stride. Instead, the former president released a statement that, even by Trumpian standards, brims with anger.

Trump’s response bears every hallmark of an authentically Trump-authored text, as opposed to the knockoff versions produced by his aides. It is meandering, filled with run-on sentences, gratuitous insults, and exclamation points. Trump’s position on the tax returns rests on a series of assertions, ranging from his false claim that Robert Mueller found “No Collusion” to his insistence that he actually won the 2020 election to his extremely ironic complaint that prosecutors targeting their political opponents is “fascism, not justice.” (Trump, of course, spent his presidency publicly demanding his Attorneys General investigate his political rivals.)

The statement does contain one unambiguously true point: “This is something which has never happened to a president before.” That’s correct, because every president for the past several decades has voluntarily released his financial information. Only Trump refused….

His outpouring of rage that Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance will finally have access to his financial documents suggests the only plausible reason for Trump’s evident dismay: He is very scared of being charged with crimes.

Here’s a little comedy interlude:

More stories to check out today:

Axios: Hillary Clinton to publish political thriller with author Louise Penny.

Raw Story: George Clooney to produce docuseries about abuse scandal that Jim Jordan was accused of covering up.

Politico: ‘A double standard going on’: Democrats accuse GOP and Manchin of bias on Biden nominations.

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Opinion: Now Republicans are offended by mean tweets?

Axios: Scoop: Biden’s OMB Plan B.

CBS News: Biden commemorates 500,000 U.S. lives lost to COVID-19.

Slate: Clarence Thomas Promotes Trump’s Voter Fraud Lies in Alarming Dissent.

Politico: Congress finally gets first chance for answers about the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The New York Times: Bipartisan Senate Inquiry on Capitol Riot Will Begin With Scrutiny of Security Failures.

The Washington Post: At stake in Senate hearing Tuesday: The story of the Capitol riot, and who is responsible.

That’s it for me. What stories are you following? Are you watching the Senate hearing on the Capitol riot?


Monday Reads: Rule of Law! What a Concept!

Good Day Sky Dancers!

I’ve been watching the Merrick Garland confirmation and have been just so overwhelmed with wonky joyness over the discussion between Senator Amy Klobucher from Minnesota and the Judge up for the AG position.  I’ve been hearing basic American Economic liberty concepts like tougher Merger & Analysis scrutiny and trust law enforcement for huge, monopolistic companies including all the usual suspects in social media.

Then, I  watched him worddance with glee around some Republican Senator obsessed that their gun fetish and penis enhancer opportunities would be stolen in the name of protecting citizens from armed terrorists and criminals.  He waltzed around them like a professional ballroom dancer.

I feel ready to bring out my Nina Simone again!   It’s a new dawn! It’s a new day! 

Merrick Garland: “I would not have taken this job if I thought that politics would have any influence over prosecutions and investigations.”

More on that in a minute.  Here’s a bit of good news via the Supreme Court with the exception of Uncle Clarence Thomas who still is looking to convince every one he’s just a melatonin-capable version of wipipo.  They did, however, reject Stormy Daniel’s appeal of her defamation of character suit against Trump.

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal by adult film star Stormy Daniels in a defamation suit she brought against former President Trump.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, sued Trump in 2018 after he suggested on Twitter that Daniels had lied about being threatened by an unknown man in 2011 in relation to her alleged affair with the former president.

Daniels appealed to the Supreme Court after her case was dismissed in the lower courts. The justices on Monday denied her petition without comment.

Oh,  and I’m not quite done with Ted Cruz memes either.  I think JJ, BB, and I have all had a lot of fun with them this week but not quite enough.  But anyway, here’s the other SCOTUS decision for NYC.

More  from Scotus Blog from Amy Howe: “Justices will not block New York grand jury subpoena for Trump’s records.”

The Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for a New York grand jury to obtain former President Donald Trump’s financial records. Over four months after Trump asked them to intervene, the justices turned down a request by the former president to stay a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that permits Cyrus Vance, the district attorney for Manhattan, to enforce a subpoena to Mazars USA, the president’s longtime accountant. Monday’s order means that Vance and the grand jury likely will finally acquire eight years of Trump’s tax returns and other related records, although grand jury secrecy laws may preclude them from becoming public.

The court’s order came in a dispute that began in 2019, when Vance issued a subpoena to Mazars as part of a state grand jury’s investigation into criminal violations of New York law. The investigation includes a probe into hush-money payments that were made to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump. A federal district court in New York and the 2nd Circuit rebuffed the president’s request to quash that subpoena, prompting Trump to appeal to the Supreme Court. The justices ruled in July that the president is not categorically immune from state criminal subpoenas, but they sent the case back to the lower courts to allow the president to challenge the subpoena on other grounds.

When the case returned to the district court, the president again asked the judge to quash the subpoena, arguing that it was a “fishing expedition” issued in “bad faith” to harass him. But the judge rejected the president’s contention and granted Vance’s motion to dismiss the president’s claims, prompting the president to appeal to the 2nd Circuit, which upheld that ruling.

So, this is where the Trump family crime syndicate gets its fortunes, freedom, and time ate up by courts, lawyers, and fees.  And this is where he looks to use Republicans again for fundraising and personal gain.  From Axios and Mike Allen: “Scoop: Trump to claim total control of GOP.”  Couldn’t happen to a better group of insurrection enablers.

In his first post-presidential appearance, Donald Trump plans to send the message next weekend that he is Republicans’ “presumptive 2024 nominee” with a vise grip on the party’s base, top Trump allies tell Axios.

What to watch: A longtime adviser called Trump’s speech a “show of force,” and said the message will be: “I may not have Twitter or the Oval Office, but I’m still in charge.” Payback is his chief obsession.

Axios has learned that Trump advisers will meet with him at Mar-a-Lago this week to plan his next political moves, and to set up the machinery for kingmaking in the 2022 midterms.

  • Trump is expected to stoke primary challenges for some of those who have crossed him, and shower money and endorsements on the Trumpiest candidates.
  • State-level officials, fresh off censuring Trump critics, stand ready to back him up.

Why it matters: Trump’s speech Sunday at CPAC in Orlando is designed to show that he controls the party, whether or not he runs in 2024.

  • His advisers argue that his power within the GOP runs deeper and broader than ever, and that no force can temper him.
  • “Trump effectively is the Republican Party,” Trump senior adviser Jason Miller told me. “The only chasm is between Beltway insiders and grassroots Republicans around the country. When you attack President Trump, you’re attacking the Republican grassroots.”

The big picture: The few Republicans who have spoken ill of Trump since the election — including House members who voted to impeach him, and senators who voted to convict — have found themselves censured, challenged and vilified by the parties in their home states.

What’s next: Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America, has $75 million on hand, and he has a database of tens of millions of names.

The long game: Many Trump confidants think he’ll pretend to run but ultimately pass. He knows the possibility — or threat — gives him leverage and attention.

A Trump source said some Republicans have told him: “If you endorse me, I’ll run.”

Hope he keeps their nuts in cracker for a few years at least a few years. So, back to the Merrick.  Garland Hearing and Senator Klobucher whom I still love from the presidential primaries.

This is the sort of thing economists live for …  And of course the Republican think he’s going to make the DOJ a hotbed of political activism and gunhating.  They’re just the part of white outrage and hypocrisy any more with Tax Cuts for the rich thrown in.

Additionally, there was a strong statement on the current state of Domestic Terrorism which is probably why the gun nut senators were out in force today.  From Chris Strohm at Bloomberg:

“We are facing a more dangerous period than we faced in Oklahoma City,” said Garland, who led the prosecution of the worst domestic attack in the U.S., the truck bombing of the federal building there in 1995.

Garland, who’s now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, appears headed for a bipartisan vote of approval in the Senate. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s top Republican, called Garland “a good pick to lead the Department of Justice,” and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he’s “very inclined” to support him.

As the Justice Department pursues criminal cases stemming from the Capitol riot, Garland pledged to lead the effort. “If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government,” he said.

Garland also signaled he’ll make decisions independently from Biden. “The president nominates the attorney general to be the lawyer — not for any individual, but for the people of the United States,” he said.

All of this is still very much breaking news as the hearing continues/

So, I’ll let us continue the discussion down thread as we continue to learn more about Garland and his views.  Sen. Lindsey Graham  asked Judge Merrick Garland the single most idiotic question I’ve seen so far .

“Do you promise to defend the Portland courthouse against anarchists?”

Next he’ll be asking to check the Biden Dog Beds for hidden communists I suppose.

So, hope everything is okay with y’all and you’re up for the vaccine or done with them by now!  It’s warming up down here so I’m feeling much better just with that!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: Trump is Delusional and Republicans Are Enabling His Madness.

http://www.art-vangogh.com/

Vincent van Gogh, Winter scene with Arles in the background

Good Morning!!

I don’t even know how to think or write about what Trump is doing right now. He has somehow convince 17 state attorney generals to join a stupid lawsuit that asks the Supreme Court to overturn the 2020 election. The man behind the suit is Texas AG Ken Paxton, who is currently under investigation by the FBI.

Mark Joseph Stern at Slate: Texas AG Ken Paxton, Under FBI Investigation, Asks SCOTUS to Overturn the Election.

On Tuesday morning, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the Supreme Court to effectively declare Donald Trump the winner of the 2020 election. Paxton’s lawsuit falsely accuses Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin of counting invalid votes in violation of the Constitution. It asks the justices to remedy this alleged misconduct by forcing all four states’ legislatures to throw out every vote and appoint electors who support Trump. Many Republican lawmakers have already endorsed such a scheme, but Paxton is the first to ask SCOTUS to facilitate it. If the Supreme Court took up his invitation, it would commit the single biggest act of vote nullification in American history, voiding millions of ballots to hand Trump an unearned second term.

The Supreme Court, however, is not going to take up Paxton’s invitation. It has asked for a response from the four defendant states by 3 p.m. on Thursday; in light of the court’s hasty disposition of similarly laughable complaints, we can safely assume that the justices intend to dispatch this case promptly. Paxton’s suit is shot through with conspiracy theories and constitutional claims with no basis in law. Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, who typically authors the office’s lawsuits, did not sign on to this one, nor did his deputies; instead, Paxton brought in a “special counsel” from outside the agency. His suit is so ridiculous that it led some commentators to wonder whether the attorney general might have another motive for filing it. Paxton, after all, is reportedly under investigation by the FBI for alleged bribery and abuse of office. Trump, meanwhile, has been distributing pardons to his allies like candy. Paxton’s suit makes more sense as pardon-bait than it does as a legal document. And he may need presidential clemency to escape the federal criminal charges that could be imminent.

So this may just be an attempt by Paxton to get a pardon from Trump, but 17 other Republican-controlled states are going along with this assault on the democracy. In the article, Stern enumerates Paxton’s long history of criminal conduct and corruption. Read about it at the link.

Caspar David Friedrich, Winter Landscape

Caspar David Friedrich, Winter Landscape

Trump has also joined the lawsuit. CNN: Trump asks Supreme Court to invalidate millions of votes in battleground states.

President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday to block millions of votes from four battleground states that voted for President-elect Joe Biden.

Trump’s request came in a filing with the court asking to intervene in a lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to invalidate millions of votes cast in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The President is being represented by a new attorney, John Eastman, who is known for recently pushing a racist conspiracy theory questioning whether Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was eligible for the role because her parents were immigrants….

“Our Country is deeply divided in ways that it arguably has not been seen since the election of 1860,” the petition states. “There is a high level of distrust between the opposing sides, compounded by the fact that, in the election just held, election officials in key swing states, for apparently partisan advantage, failed to conduct their state elections in compliance with state election law.”

Echoing arguments made by Texas, Trump says the battleground states used the pandemic “as an excuse” and “ignored or suspended the operation of numerous state laws designed to protect the integrity of the ballot.”

He asks the court to block the states from using “constitutionally infirm 2020 election results” unless the legislatures of the states “review the 2020 election results.”

Instead of actually doing the job of POTUS in the midst of an out-of-control pandemic and economic disaster, Trump is spending all of his time claiming he actually won the election that he lost and trying to convince judges and lawmakers to help him with execute a coup and turn the U.S. into an authoritarian state.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Skaters in the Bois de Boulogne

Pierre-Auguste Renoir – Skaters in the Bois de Boulogne

The Washington Post: On record day for covid-19 deaths, Trump falsely proclaims at packed Hanukkah party, ‘We’re going to win this election.’

At the end of the nation’s deadliest day so far during the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump on Wednesday night emerged at an indoor Hanukkah party to speak with a crowd mostly wearing masks but not adhering to social distancing in the East Room of the White House.

Then, the president falsely said again that he won the election, boasting that victory was on the horizon in the form of long-shot legal efforts that have been repeatedly defeated in multiple states.

“All I ask for is people with wisdom and with courage, that’s all,” Trump told the crowd, according to a video of the event shared by Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh. “Because if certain very important people, if they have wisdom and if they have courage, we’re going to win this election in a landslide.”

The crowd responded by breaking into a chant of, “Four more years!”

The moment highlighted a consistent theme of Trump’s actions in the past month, as he has declined to address a dramatically worsening pandemic while focusing instead on his thus-far failed efforts to overturn the election results.

Wednesday’s White House holiday party came on the same day that 3,140 people died of covid-19 in the United States, a single-day record for deaths, according to a Washington Post analysis. Nationwide, 106,000 people were hospitalized with covid, another record.

The Hanukkah party was among at least 25 indoor parties planned in a packed holiday season at the White House, which ignored warnings from the Trump administration’s own public health experts to avoid large groups and limit travel.

Also from The Washington Post: Trump pressures congressional Republicans to help in his fight to overturn the election.

President Trump is shifting his focus to Congress after the courts roundly rejected his bid to overturn the results of the election, pressuring congressional Republicans into taking a final stand to keep him in power.

Trump’s push is part of a multipronged approach as he also seeks to lobby state and federal lawmakers to give him cover for his unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud, as well as rally support for a last-gasp legal challenge in the Supreme Court that election law experts almost universally dismiss.

The president has been calling Republicans, imploring them to keep fighting and more loudly proclaim the election was stolen while pressing them on what they plan to do. He spoke to Arizona GOP Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward and Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, on Wednesday, and is expected to meet Thursday at the White House with several state attorneys general. Meanwhile, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer and point man in the legal fight, has been making similar calls from the hospital, where he is being treated for covid-19.

Claude Monet, Snow Scene at Argenteuil, 1875

Claude Monet, Snow Scene at Argenteuil, 1875

The president also has enlisted Vice President Pence to reach out to governors and other party leaders in key states to see what else can be done to help the president. A person familiar with the calls said Pence has not exerted pressure on lawmakers to take specific actions and sees them as “checking in.” [….]

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Trump’s conservative allies in the House have been privately buttonholing GOP senators, seeking to enlist one to join in objecting to slates of electors on Jan. 6, according to multiple people familiar with their effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss their plans.

On that day, Congress will meet in a joint session to count the electoral votes and declare Joe Biden as the 46th president — with Pence presiding. But if a member of the House and a member of the Senate challenge a state’s results, the whole Congress would vote — and the GOP plotting all but assures the routine process could take a dramatic turn, forcing Republicans to choose between accepting the election results or Trump’s bid to overturn the outcome.

Unbelievable. Read much more about the Republican efforts to support Trump’s power grab. 

I can’t understand why journalists are not writing that Trump’s behavior is simply insane. He is insane, and that needs to be discussed publicly. 

According to CNN’s Manu Raju, GOP senators ready to acknowledge Biden won but struggle with Trump’s refusal to concede.

A growing number of Senate Republicans are ready to publicly acknowledge what’s been widely known for weeks but what they’ve refused to say: Joe Biden won the presidency and will be sworn in on January 20.

What they’re less certain about: What President Donald Trump will do after the Electoral College votes on Monday and how they plan to respond if he won’t concede after Biden is the official winner.

“Trump’s going to do what Trump is going to do,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who has asserted that Biden will be the President-elect once the Electoral College votes on Monday, but told CNN that it’s Trump’s call on conceding the race. “That’s the only answer I’m going to give you.”

Ivan Shishkin, In the Wild North, 1891

Ivan Shishkin, In the Wild North, 1891

For weeks, Republicans in the House and Senate have refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory, arguing that Trump has a right to pursue his case in court and staying mostly silent as the President wages a rhetorical assault on a foundation of democracy by arguing baselessly that the election was “stolen” and “rigged.”

And after interviews with more than two dozen Republican senators, many of them have pointed to December 14 as the defining moment — when electors meet in their state capitals to make the results official. Yet they are also confronting a new reality: Biden will officially clinch the necessary electoral votes to assume the presidency and the President is showing no signs of letting up.

Many Republicans won’t say if they’ll acknowledge the electoral reality next week. But others are ready to move on and acknowledge Biden won.

Finally, The Washington Post Editorial Board warns that Trump’s behavior could encourage his delusional supporters to act out violently: The danger is growing that Trump’s lies about the election will lead to violence.

PRESIDENT TRUMP’S lying about the election has become dangerous — and not just in the sense that it damages democratic norms. It also increasingly threatens to spur physical violence against Americans who have done their duty to oversee a free and fair vote.

Officials in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin have reported receiving threats or harassment. The Arizona Republican Party asked its Twitter followers Tuesday if they were willing to give their lives to overturn the election and “die for something.”

Armed “protesters” menaced Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) and her family in their home over the weekend. “Someone’s going to get killed,” said Gabriel Sterling, a senior Georgia election official, as he detailed last week the death threats he and others have received. Yet, Mr. Trump continues to pour gasoline on the fire, tweeting Wednesday that “We will soon be learning about the word ‘courage’, and saving our Country.” Kim Ward, the majority leader of the Pennsylvania state Senate, told the New York Times that if she refused to cooperate with efforts to challenge the election result, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.” [….]

…passions are not dissipating; they are exploding. Republicans across the country, from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) down to county GOP chairs, are inflaming them with their encouragement or their acquiescence. Violence seems ever more possible when President-elect Joe Biden’s victory becomes official — if not before. Short of that, Mr. Trump is creating a new playbook for failed candidates: Rile the base; delegitimize your opponent’s victory; pressure state officials to flip the results. This strategy could be far more potent in a closer election. It threatens the foundations of U.S. democracy.

There’s plenty of other news, so please use the comments to share the stories you are following today.