Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

Artist Suzanne Valadon and her cat

The paintings in today’s post are by Suzanne Valadon. Here’s some background about this fascinating artist from The Great Cat.org:

Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938), was an illegitimate child of a French laundress and lived a rather rough life in her youth. She performed in a circus on the trapeze until she had a bad fall when she was 16.

After that, she decided to become an artist’s model, a safer profession. Artists such as Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir used her in some of their works. Renoir even painted her in The Bathers. Valadon began to study the methods and works of the artists she posed for, and started to paint on her own.

Encouraged by Toulouse-Lautrec, she continued and even caught the eye of Edward Degas, who was so taken by her work that he purchased several of her first paintings in 1893. A true Bohemian, in 1883 at age 18, she gave birth to an illegitimate son, Maurice Utrillo, who became a well known artist as well.

Read more about her life at the pdf link above. You may have to go to the Table of Contents and click on her name.

Now on to today’s news.

It’s been another her horror-filled week, as Dakinikat described in her post yesterday. I avoided TV for most of the week, but it’s impossible to completely escape the Trump chaos. I’ve been doing my best though, mainly by reading lotsYo of books. Anyway, let’s see what’s happening this morning.

Trump has asked for help winning the 2020 election from Ukraine, China, and I assume Russia, since he seems to talk on the phone to Putin constantly.

So how many countries has Trump actually asked for election help? Add Brazil to the list.

The New York Times: Lawmakers ‘Alarmed’ by Reports U.S. Envoy Told Brazil It Could Help Re-elect Trump.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Friday they were “extremely alarmed” by assertions that the American ambassador in Brazil had signaled to Brazilian officials they could help get President Trump re-elected by changing their trade policies.

In a letter sent Friday afternoon, Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel demanded that the ambassador, Todd Chapman, produce “any and all documents referring or related to any discussions” he has held with Brazilian officials in recent weeks about their nation’s tariffs on ethanol, an important agricultural export for Iowa, a potential swing state in the American presidential election.

The committee’s letter was sent in response to reports in the Brazilian news media this week saying that Mr. Chapman, a career diplomat, made it clear to Brazilian officials they could bolster Mr. Trump’s electoral chances in Iowa if Brazil lifted its ethanol tariffs.

Eliminating tariffs would give the Trump administration a welcome trade victory to present to struggling ethanol producers in Iowa, where the president is in a close race with his Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

The House committee said it was opening an inquiry into the matter.

The State Department denied the reports, but . . .

The O Globo newspaper published a story on Thursday saying Mr. Chapman had underscored “the importance to the Brazilian government of keeping Donald Trump” in office. Mr. Bolsonaro, a far-right leader, has made closer alignment with the Trump administration his top foreign policy priority.

A competing newspaper, Estadão, published an article Friday saying its reporters independently confirmed that the ambassador framed his argument against tariffs in partisan terms. The article said the Brazilian officials who met with Mr. Chapman rejected the appeal, declining to be drawn into the American presidential battle.

Neither article named its sources. But Alceu Moreira, a Brazilian congressman who heads the agricultural caucus, told The New York Times in an interview that Mr. Chapman had made repeated references to the electoral calendar during a recent meeting the two had about ethanol.

I guess we can assume Trump has asked for help from just about every country headed by a dictator.

Now Trump has helped Putin by ordering the withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Germany.

CNN: US to withdraw nearly 12,000 troops from Germany in move that will cost billions and take years.

The US is moving forward with President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw nearly 12,000 troops from Germany, a decision that has attracted bipartisan congressional opposition and roiled key allies who see the move as a blow to NATO.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper acknowledged the plan will cost billions to execute when he formally announced the decision on Wednesday from the Pentagon. US defense officials said it will take years to relocate the troops.

The plan to pull US troops from the long-time NATO ally has been met with broad bipartisan opposition amid concerns that it will weaken the US military’s position vis a vis Russia, however the Trump Administration has decided to proceed with the move.

Trump defended the decision Wednesday, saying the troop drawdown was taking place because Berlin was not spending the NATO target of 2% of its GDP on defense and because Germany was taking “advantage” of the US….

Defense officials, however, said Wednesday that the decision on where to house the US troops leaving Germany was not influenced by whether the new host country was meeting the 2% target.

Well, I’m sure Putin is thrilled. Will Trump pull us out of NATO next?

At The Daily Beast, Julia Davis reports on Russia’s reaction to Trump’s willful destruction of our country: ‘America’s Dying’: Russian Media Is Giddy at Chaos in the USA.

This week, U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated his intent to move forward with reducing the U.S. military presence in Germany, without any consultations with Berlin. And even as members of the U.S. Congress and America’s allies abroad expressed concerns about the drawdown, the Trump administration’s decision brought joy to the Kremlin and Russian media.

Back in June, 22 Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee urged Trump not to go ahead with the move, stating in a letter: “We believe that such steps would significantly damage U.S. national security as well as strengthen the position of Russia to our detriment … In Europe, the threats posed by Russia have not lessened, and we believe that signs of a weakened U.S. commitment to NATO will encourage further Russian aggression and opportunism.” [….]

Meanwhile, when the intent to reduce the U.S. contingent in Germany was first announced, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the Kremlin “would welcome any steps by Washington to scale down its military presence in Europe,” brazenly telling the United States to take home not only its troops, but also its tactical nuclear weapons.

The Kremlin-controlled Russian state media also sensed a precious propaganda opportunity. Sergey Brilyov, anchor of the news show Saturday Vesti on Russian state media channel Rossiya-1, pondered whether the controversial move by the Trump administration could be considered the proof that Russia no longer poses a military threat to Europe.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov used the same rationale today, when he claimed that Russia doesn’t present any threat to European countries and “the fewer U.S. soldiers are on the European continent, the calmer it is in Europe.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Don’t miss this must read piece at Vanity Fair about Trump and Kushner’s decision to scrap efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic because it was only affecting blue states: How Jared Kushner’s Secret Testing Plan “Went Poof Into Thin Air.”

A few choice excerpts:

Six months into the pandemic, the United States continues to suffer the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the developed world. Considerable blame belongs to a federal response that offloaded responsibility for the crucial task of testing to the states. The irony is that, after assembling the team that came up with an aggressive and ambitious national testing plan, Kushner then appears to have decided, for reasons that remain murky, to scrap its proposal. Today, as governors and mayors scramble to stamp out epidemics plaguing their populations, philanthropists at the Rockefeller Foundation are working to fill the void and organize enough testing to bring the nationwide epidemic under control.

Inside the White House, over much of March and early April, Kushner’s handpicked group of young business associates, which included a former college roommate, teamed up with several top experts from the diagnostic-testing industry. Together, they hammered out the outline of a national testing strategy. The group—working night and day, using the encrypted platform WhatsApp—emerged with a detailed plan obtained by Vanity Fair.

Rather than have states fight each other for scarce diagnostic tests and limited lab capacity, the plan would have set up a system of national oversight and coordination to surge supplies, allocate test kits, lift regulatory and contractual roadblocks, and establish a widespread virus surveillance system by the fall, to help pinpoint subsequent outbreaks.

But it never happened. Why?

By early April, some who worked on the plan were given the strong impression that it would soon be shared with President Trump and announced by the White House. The plan, though imperfect, was a starting point. Simply working together as a nation on it “would have put us in a fundamentally different place,” said the participant.

But the effort ran headlong into shifting sentiment at the White House. Trusting his vaunted political instincts, President Trump had been downplaying concerns about the virus and spreading misinformation about it—efforts that were soon amplified by Republican elected officials and right-wing media figures. Worried about the stock market and his reelection prospects, Trump also feared that more testing would only lead to higher case counts and more bad publicity. Meanwhile, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, was reportedly sharing models with senior staff that optimistically—and erroneously, it would turn out—predicted the virus would soon fade away.

Against that background, the prospect of launching a large-scale national plan was losing favor, said one public health expert in frequent contact with the White House’s official coronavirus task force.

Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,” said the expert.

That logic may have swayed Kushner. “It was very clear that Jared was ultimately the decision maker as to what [plan] was going to come out,” the expert said.

[Emphasis added.] This is a mind-blowing article. Please read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

More stories to check out today:

The New York Times: Trump Halts TV Advertising as He Struggles in Polls Against Biden.

Yahoo News: New Yahoo News/YouGov poll: Most Trump voters say they will not accept the 2020 results if Biden wins because of mail-in ballots.

John Avlon at CNN: Trump’s election tweet shows a frightened narcissist afraid of losing.

Politico: Barr Makes It Official—He’s Trump’s New “Fixer”

The Guardian: Portland sees peaceful night of protests following withdrawal of federal agents.

The Washington Post: DHS analyzed protester communications, raising questions about previous statements by senior department official.

Yahoo News: Exclusive: CDC projects U.S. coronavirus death toll could top 180,000 by Aug. 22.

Politico: Pelosi upbraids counterintel chief in private briefing over Russian meddling.

The New York Times: Lobbying Intensifies Among V.P. Candidates as Biden’s Search Nears an End.

Business Insider: Joe Biden’s vice presidential contender Rep. Karen Bass praised Scientology at a 2010 ceremony.

Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: Why would Biden pick a human lightning rod as VP?

That’s it for me. Have a terrific weekend everyone!