Posted: February 15, 2022 Filed under: morning reads | Tags: Canada, Christina Yuna Lee, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, John Durham, Justin Trudeau, Marcy Wheeler, Mazars, Michael A. Sussmann, NATO, NYC Chinatown murder, Rodney Joffe, Trucker convoy, Trump Organization, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin
Francine van Hove, Plasirs du Matin, “Morning Pleasures,” French, 1942
There may be some movement in the Ukraine crisis. The AP reported this morning that some Russian troops are being pulled back and returned to their bases. Later the story was updated to report that Putin wants to negotiate: Putin: Russia ready to discuss confidence-building measures.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Moscow is ready for talks with the U.S. and NATO on limits for missile deployments and military transparency.
Speaking after talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Putin said the U.S. and NATO rejected Moscow’s demand to keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out of NATO, halt weapons deployments near Russian borders and roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe.
They agreed to discuss a range of security measures that Russia had previously proposed.
Putin said that Russia is ready to engage in talks on limits on the deployment of intermediate range missiles in Europe, transparency of drills and other confidence-building measures but emphasized the need for the West to heed Russia’s main demands.
The statement followed the Russian Defense Ministry’s announced a partial pullback of troops after military drills, adding to hopes that the Kremlin may not be planning to invade Ukraine imminently. The Russian military gave no details on where the troops were pulling back from, or how many.
From The Washington Post: Russia says some troops withdrawing from Ukraine’s border; NATO chief notes ‘cautious optimism’ but sees no de-escalation yet.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday he sees reason for “cautious optimism” after Moscow signaled willingness to continue talks to resolve the crisis over Ukraine, and Russia said some of its troops were returning to base. But the NATO chief noted no signs of Russian de-escalation “on the ground.”
“There are signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels ahead of meetings with NATO defense ministers Wednesday. “There are grounds for cautious optimism. So far, we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground.”
After Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled Monday that he was open to diplomacy to resolve the crisis between Russia and NATO over Ukraine’s bid to join the alliance, Moscow sent a barrage of contradictory signals Tuesday — announcing that some Russian forces were being sent home after completing drills, even as major military exercises continued near Ukraine.
Putin met German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the Kremlin on Tuesday, the latest in a string of Western leaders urging the Russian president to de-escalate the most serious crisis in Russia’s relations with NATO since the end of the Cold War.
U.S. officials have warned that Putin has the final military pieces in position to launch a major attack within days if he chooses to do so.
“We have not seen any de-escalation on the ground, no signs of reduced Russian military presence on the border with Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said Tuesday. He said NATO is looking for a “significant and enduring” withdrawal of Russian forces, troops and heavy equipment from areas bordering Ukraine as a sign of real de-escalation.
Coffee, by Edward Hopper
The big news yesterday was about the Trump’s accounting firm Mazars dumping him as a client. The New York Times: Accounting Firm Cuts Ties With Trump and Retracts Financial Statements.
Donald J. Trump’s longtime accounting firm cut ties with him and his family business last week, saying it could no longer stand behind a decade of annual financial statements it prepared for the Trump Organization, court documents show.
The decision, which was disclosed to the company in a Feb. 9 letter from the accounting firm, comes amid criminal and civil investigations into whether Mr. Trump illegally inflated the value of his assets. The firm, Mazars USA, compiled the financial statements based on information the former president and his company provided.
The letter instructed the Trump Organization to essentially retract the documents, known as statements of financial condition, from 2011 to 2020. In the letter, Mazars noted that the firm had not “as a whole” found material discrepancies between the information the Trump Organization provided and the actual value of Mr. Trump’s assets. But given what it called “the totality of circumstances” — including Mazars’ own investigation — the letter directed the Trump Organization to notify anyone who received the statements that they should no longer rely on them.
The statements, which Mr. Trump used to secure loans, are at the center of the two law enforcement investigations into whether Mr. Trump exaggerated the value of his properties to defraud his lenders into providing him the best possible loan terms.
Mazars’ acknowledgment that the statements were fundamentally flawed was a potential blow to the Trump Organization as it attempts to fend off the long-running scrutiny of its finances. And for Mr. Trump, whose personal finances are intertwined with those of his family business and who has long faced questions about his taxes, Mazars is the latest in a long line of companies to break with him over the last year, following in the path of several banks, insurers and lawyers.
The disclosures about Mazars’ work for Mr. Trump appeared in new court documents filed by the New York attorney general, Letitia James, who is seeking to question the former president and two of his adult children under oath as part of her civil investigation.
A couple of expert reactions to this story:
I’m sure you’ve heard about the legal filing by John Durham, the special counsel appointed by Bill Barr to investigate the Russia investigation, that implied some kind of sinister activity by the Clinton campaign in 2016. The right wing media has been going nuts over this, but it’s basically meaningless. Charlie Savage explains at The New York Times: Court Filing Started a Furor in Right-Wing Outlets, but Their Narrative Is Off Track.
When John H. Durham, the Trump-era special counsel investigating the inquiry into Russia’s 2016 election interference, filed a pretrial motion on Friday night, he slipped in a few extra sentences that set off a furor among right-wing outlets about purported spying on former President Donald J. Trump.
But the entire narrative appeared to be mostly wrong or old news — the latest example of the challenge created by a barrage of similar conspiracy theories from Mr. Trump and his allies.
Upon close inspection, these narratives are often based on a misleading presentation of the facts or outright misinformation. They also tend to involve dense and obscure issues, so dissecting them requires asking readers to expend significant mental energy and time — raising the question of whether news outlets should even cover such claims. Yet Trump allies portray the news media as engaged in a cover-up if they don’t.
The latest example began with the motion Mr. Durham filed in a case he has brought against Michael A. Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer with links to the Democratic Party. The prosecutor has accused Mr. Sussmann of lying during a September 2016 meeting with an F.B.I. official about Mr. Trump’s possible links to Russia.
The filing was ostensibly about potential conflicts of interest. But it also recounted a meeting at which Mr. Sussmann had presented other suspicions to the government. In February 2017, Mr. Sussmann told the C.I.A. about odd internet data suggesting that someone using a Russian-made smartphone may have been connecting to networks at Trump Tower and the White House, among other places.
Mr. Sussmann had obtained that information from a client, a technology executive named Rodney Joffe. Another paragraph in the court filing said that Mr. Joffe’s company, Neustar, had helped maintain internet-related servers for the White House, and that he and his associates “exploited this arrangement” by mining certain records to gather derogatory information about Mr. Trump.
Mary Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed, 1897
The right wingers are thrilled by this story, but it’s complete bullshit.
The conservative media also skewed what the filing said. For example, Mr. Durham’s filing never used the word “infiltrate.” And it never claimed that Mr. Joffe’s company was being paid by the Clinton campaign.
Most important, contrary to the reporting, the filing never said the White House data that came under scrutiny was from the Trump era. According to lawyers for David Dagon, a Georgia Institute of Technology data scientist who helped develop the Yota analysis, the data — so-called DNS logs, which are records of when computers or smartphones have prepared to communicate with servers over the internet — came from Barack Obama’s presidency.
“What Trump and some news outlets are saying is wrong,” said Jody Westby and Mark Rasch, both lawyers for Mr. Dagon. “The cybersecurity researchers were investigating malware in the White House, not spying on the Trump campaign, and to our knowledge all of the data they used was nonprivate DNS data from before Trump took office.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Mr. Joffe said that “contrary to the allegations in this recent filing,” he was apolitical, did not work for any political party, and had lawful access under a contract to work with others to analyze DNS data — including from the White House — for the purpose of hunting for security breaches or threats.
Marcy Wheeler has been covering this story since the beginning. You can read what she has to say in these posts at her Emptywheel blog:
John Durham, Ask Not For Whom The Statute of Limitation Tolls…
John Durham Chose To Meet With John Ratcliffe Rather Than Witnesses Necessary To His Investigation.
Donald Trump Suggested Michael Sussmann Should Be Killed Because Rodney Joffee “Spied” On Barack Obama.
This is a horrific story about a possible hate crime from The New York Times: Screams That ‘Went Quiet’: Prosecutors’ Account of Chinatown Killing.
Police officers who responded to a 911 call about a disturbance in a Lower Manhattan building on Sunday heard a woman screaming when they reached the sixth floor, but the door to the apartment where the screams had come from was locked.
Morning Coffee, by Harry Roseland
As police struggled with the door, at first they still heard her calls for help, but “then she went quiet,” a prosecutor, Dafna Yoran, said in a Manhattan Criminal Court hearing on Monday night. Another voice emerged, sounding like a woman and telling them, “‘We don’t need the police here — go away.’”
When a specialized police unit arrived and broke down the door, they found Christina Yuna Lee, 35, dead in her bathtub with more than 40 stab wounds. The second voice, Ms. Yoran said, was actually that of Assamad Nash, who had followed the victim into the building on Chrystie Street in Chinatown, forced his way into her home and stabbed her.
When officers broke into the apartment, the police found Mr. Nash hiding under a bed and the knife believed to be the murder weapon hidden behind a dresser, prosecutors said.
It’s not yet clear why Ms. Lee was targeted, but the Asian community in New York is terrified.
Mr. Nash, 25, whose last known address was a men’s homeless shelter in the Bowery, was arraigned on first-degree charges of murder, burglary and sexually motivated burglary. A judge ordered him held without bail, and prosecutors said he was facing a sentence of up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
Though the authorities have not determined that Ms. Lee was targeted because of her ethnicity, her killing stoked fears in the city’s Asian community, which was already on edge after a rise in attacks during the pandemic.
Her killing also fit a pattern that has become an unsettlingly common feature of the pandemic in New York City: a seemingly unprovoked attack in which the person charged is a homeless man. In many neighborhoods in Manhattan, residents have expressed growing concern about homeless people, some of whom seem to be struggling with mental illness, menacing and harassing passers-by.
Ms. Lee, who graduated from Rutgers University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in art history, worked as a creative producer for Splice, an online music platform based in New York City. The company said in a statement that it was heartbroken over her “senseless” death.
Read the rest at the NYT.
One more story on the trucker blockade story from The Washington Post: ‘Freedom Convoy,’ police face off near U.S.-Canada border crossings as Trudeau invokes Emergencies Act.
Canadian police tried to clear protesters near crossings at the U.S.-Canada border, making arrests as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the country’s Emergencies Act on Monday.
The Morning Coffee, by Charles Hawthorne
Standoffs between police and protesters in Coutts, Alberta, and Surrey, B.C., persisted overnight after authorities had earlier reopened the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest land border crossing and a key trade artery connecting Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit.
Trudeau on Monday became the first Canadian leader to invoke the act, under pressure to quell the chaos that has spiraled from the self-styled “Freedom Convoy” demonstrations against vaccine mandates and coronavirus restrictions.
The law, passed in 1988, will give police “more tools” to bring order to areas where public assemblies “constitute illegal and dangerous activities,” he said. Financial institutions, meanwhile, will get sweeping powers to halt the flow of funding to the Freedom Convoy protests.
Critics of Trudeau’s move quickly spoke out against the Liberal government. The nonprofit Canadian Civil Liberties Association said using the law, which gives the federal government broad powers, such as the authority to freeze financial accounts without court orders, was unjustified. “Emergency legislation should not be normalized. It threatens our democracy and our civil liberties,” it said in a statement.
The protests that began with truckers in Ottawa in late January have rippled across the country, choking off several U.S.-Canada border crossings, and inspiring protests against pandemic restrictions across the world. The Ambassador Bridge blockade lasted nearly a week, disrupting U.S. supply chains and millions of dollars in trade.
There’s a lot happening in the news today. What stories have you been following?
Posted: June 29, 2021 Filed under: morning reads | Tags: Climate change, Donald Trump, heat domes, Manhattan District Attorney, Miami building collapse, Pacific Northwest heatwave, Portland OR, Seattle WA, Trump Organization
Collioure in the Summer, by Henri Matisse
We’re having another heatwave here in the Boston area–four days of 90 degrees or more–with a high temperature today of 99 degrees. Thunderstorms are expected to break the heat tomorrow night, with temperatures in the 80s on Thursday. But that is nothing compared to what is happening in the Pacific Northwest. I talked to my sister in Portland, OR, yesterday, and she said the temperature was supposed to hit 115 degrees! She said her garden is dying even though she is soaking her plants every morning.
The New York Times: How Weird Is the Heat in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver? Off the Charts.
Heat waves and the “heat domes” that can cause them aren’t rare, but the recent weather that’s been smothering the Pacific Northwest has little precedent in at least four decades of record-keeping….
The heat has been not only widespread, but also intense, in some places surpassing previous records by double digits.
In Vancouver, British Columbia, this past weekend’s temperatures were far above norms for this time of year, and a town in British Columbia reached nearly 116 degrees, the highest recorded temperature for any place in Canada in its history. In Seattle, there have been only two other days in the last 50 years with temperatures in the triple digits: in 2009 and 1994.
The heat has resulted from a wide and deep mass of high-pressure air that, because of a wavy jet stream, parked itself over much of the region. Also known as a heat dome, such an enormous high-pressure zone acts like a lid on a pot, trapping heat so that it accumulates. And with the West beset by drought, there’s been plenty of heat to trap.
In Seattle, Portland and other areas west of the Cascades, hot air blowing from the east was further warmed as it descended the mountains, raising temperatures even more.
Beach Scene by Martha Walter, American impressionist painter
Climate is naturally variable, so periods of high heat are to be expected. But in this episode scientists see the fingerprints of climate change, brought on by human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Karin Bumbaco, Washington’s assistant state climatologist, said that any definitive climate-change link could be demonstrated only by a type of analysis called an attribution study. “But it’s a safe assumption, in my view, to blame increasing greenhouse gases for at least some portion of this event,” she said.
On a global average, the world has warmed about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900. “When you have that warmer baseline, when you do get these extreme events it’s just going to get that much warmer,” she said.
This heat wave is also unusual because it occurred earlier than most. Those two previous triple-digits days in Seattle, for example, happened in late July, about 30 days later.
This one occurred just a few days after the summer solstice, which may have contributed to the extreme conditions. “The days are longer, and we’re not getting that cool-off at night,” she said.
Read more details at the NYT, with maps and charts.
The Washington Post: The Pacific Northwest heat wave is shocking but shouldn’t be a surprise.
More than three decades ago, in his seminal study predicting the course of human-caused climate change, NASA scientist Jim Hansen wrote that “temperature changes within several decades will become large enough to have major effects on the quality of life for mankind in many regions.”
Hansen used the analogy of “loaded dice” to describe how climate change would increase the likelihood of extremely hot weather in a given year while decreasing the chance of unusually cold weather.
Even before that, in 1979, the National Research Council published a study led by the late meteorologist Jule Charney that predicted serious global warming would evolve. “It appears that the warming will eventually occur, and the associated regional climatic changes so important to the assessment of socioeconomic consequences may well be significant,” the report said.
Since those prescient projections 30-to-40-plus years ago, heat waves all over the world have intensified. Heat domes, the sprawling zones of high pressure at high altitudes that essentially bake the air underneath them, have strengthened.
Claude Monet, The Beach at Sainte-Adresse
During the European heat wave in 2003, blamed for 70,000 deaths, the average temperature was higher than any year since at least 1851. A study published in 2004 found human influence “at least doubled the risk” of a heat wave of that magnitude.
By 2010, when a historically intense heat wave killed 50,000 people in Russia, the risk of such an event was tripled due to climate change, according to a study published in 2012.
In 2016, a report from the National Academies of Sciences concluded that of the connections between human-caused climate change and extreme weather events, heat waves had among the most straightforward ties.
See also this excellent piece at Axios that summarizes a great deal of information about the heat wave. It’s much longer and more detailed than the usual Axios post: Pacific Northwest heat wave reaches astonishing peak on Monday.
In other news, Axios analyzed traffic at “partisan” news sites and discovered big drops in clicks since Trump was ejected from the White House: Boring news cycle deals blow to partisan media.
In the months since former President Donald Trump left office, media companies’ readership numbers are plunging — and publishers that rely on partisan, ideological warfare have taken an especially big hit.
Why it matters: Outlets most dependent on controversy to stir up resentments have struggled to find a foothold in the Biden era, according to an Axios analysis of publishers’ readership and engagement trends.
By the numbers: Web traffic, social media engagement and app user sessions suggest that while the entire news industry is experiencing a slump, right-wing outlets are seeing some of the biggest plunges.
- A group of far-right outlets, including Newsmax and The Federalist, saw aggregate traffic drop 44% from February through May compared to the previous six months, according to Comscore data.
- Lefty outlets including Mother Jones and Raw Story saw a 27% drop.
- Mainstream publishers including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Reuters dropped 18%.
App visits tell a similar story. Both right-leaning (including Fox News, Daily Caller) and left-leaning (including Buzzfeed News, The Atlantic) saw considerable average drops in app user sessions over this time period at 31% and 26%, respectively, according to Apptopia data.
- Data from Sensor Tower shows that downloads of fringe-right social networking apps like MeWe, Rumble, Parler and CloutHub have also plummeted.
Engagement on social media has taken the biggest dive, according to data from NewsWhip.
- Left-leaning and right-leaning publishers have seen social interactions on stories drop by more than 50%, while mainstream publishers have experienced a slightly more modest drop of 42%.
The big picture: Opposition media traditionally relies on traffic booms when a new party takes office, but right-wing outlets have seen some of the most precipitous declines in readership since a Democratic president took office.
Untitled and undated painting by Harold Newton
Political news sites would get a big upsurge in hits if the Trump Organization is indicted in New York this week. The Washington Post: Trump attorneys meet with New York prosecutors to argue that his company should not be criminally charged over its business practices, By David Fahrenthold, Josh Dawsey, and Shayna Jacobs.
Attorneys for the Trump Organization met with New York prosecutors on Monday to argue that former president Donald Trump’s company should not be criminally charged over its business dealings, according to three people familiar with the meeting.
Previously, the prosecutors — working for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D) and New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) — had set Monday as the last day for the organization’s lawyers to make their case.
After Monday’s session, spokespeople for both Vance and James declined to comment. No charges were announced on Monday. Vance has convened a grand jury in Manhattan to vote on potential indictments in the investigation, but so far, no person or entity connected to Trump has been charged. It remains possible that none will be. Those familiar with the investigation spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meetings.
Trump issued a lengthy written statement Monday denouncing the prosecutors, saying they were seeking to punish him because of his politics. Trump did not specify what practices prosecutors were focused on, but said they were “things that are standard practice throughout the U.S. business community, and in no way a crime.” [….]
In interviews with Politico and the Associated Press on Monday, Trump’s attorney Ron Fischetti said he believed the charges would focus on whether the proper taxes were paid on benefits that the Trump Organization gave to its executives, such as free apartments or company cars. In a brief call with The Washington Post, Fischetti said he did not attend Monday’s meeting with prosecutors.
The Post previously reported that prosecutors view Weisselberg as a key potential witness in the ongoing investigations, but that they have become frustrated with what they view as a lack of cooperation from him. If Weisselberg was charged with crimes, he could face new pressure to offer testimony against his boss in exchange for a reduction in his legal risk.
I’ll end with two stories on the tragic building collapse in Florida.
John Singer Sargent, En Route pour la peche (Setting Out to Fish), 1878
CNN: Letter sent months before deadly Florida collapse warned damage to condo building was accelerating.
There was nothing unusual about the lobby and pool area at Champlain Towers South condo, which looked clean and well maintained to a commercial pool contractor who visited the building last Tuesday, just 36 hours before half of the building unexpectedly collapsed. Then, he saw the basement-level garage.
At The Beach by Edward Henry Potthast
“There was standing water all over the parking garage,” the contractor, who asked not to be named, told the Miami Herald. He noted cracking concrete and severely corroded rebar under the pool.
He also took photos, which he shared with the Herald.
The contractor visited the condo building last week to put together a bid for a cosmetic restoration of the pool as well as to price out new pool equipment — a small piece of the multimillion-dollar restoration project that just was getting underway at the 40-year-old building.
While he had worked in the industry for decades and had “gone in some scary places,” he said he was struck by the lack of maintenance in the lower level. The amount of water at Champlain Towers seemed so unusual that the contractor mentioned it to a building staff member, Jose, who was showing him around.
“He thought it was waterproofing issues,” the contractor said of the staff member. “I thought to myself, that’s not normal.” He said Jose told him they pumped the pool equipment room so frequently that the building had to replace pump motors every two years, but he never mentioned anything about structural damage or cracks in the concrete above.
There’s much more at the link.
That’s it for me today. Please take care if you’re in one of the areas experiencing extreme heat.
Posted: June 26, 2021 Filed under: morning reads | Tags: Allen Weisselberg, Bookstore cats, caturday, Coronavirus Delta variant, Donald Trump, Florida condo collapse, Insurrection Act, Trump Organization, World Health Organziation
Kat’s Book Nook, Bemidji, MN
Today is a pretty busy news day for a Saturday. The building collapse in Florida is looking worse the more we learn about it. The Delta variant is still in the news and looking more dangerous by the day. Trump will begin holding his revenge rallies tonight in Ohio and then continue his pity party in Florida over the Fourth of July Weekend. The Trump Organization may be criminally charged in New York next week. But the scariest news was broken last night in The New York Times by Trump whisperers Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman: Trump Aides Prepared Insurrection Act Order During Debate Over Protests
Responding to interest from President Donald J. Trump, White House aides drafted a proclamation last year to invoke the Insurrection Act in case Mr. Trump moved to take the extraordinary step of deploying active-duty troops in Washington to quell the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd, two senior Trump administration officials said.
The aides drafted the proclamation on June 1, 2020, during a heated debate inside the administration over how to respond to the protests. Mr. Trump, enraged by the demonstrations, had told the attorney general, William P. Barr, the defense secretary, Mark T. Esper, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, that he wanted thousands of active-duty troops on the streets of the nation’s capital, one of the officials said.
Mr. Trump was talked out of the plan by the three officials. But a separate group of White House staff members wanted to leave open the option for Mr. Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act to call in the military to patrol the streets of the capital.
They decided it would be prudent to have the necessary document vetted and ready in case the unrest in Washington worsened or the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, declined to take measures such as a citywide curfew, which she ultimately put in place….
the new details about internal White House deliberations on a pivotal day in his presidency underscore the intensity of Mr. Trump’s instinct to call on the active-duty military to deal with a domestic issue. And they help to flesh out the sequence of events that would culminate later in the day with Mr. Trump’s walk across Lafayette Park to St. John’s Church so he could pose in front of it holding a Bible, a move that coincided with a spasm of violence between law enforcement and protesters camped near the White House.
Dragon’s Lair Comics and Fantasy, Austin, TX
More details from the story:
…invoking the Insurrection Act, a rarely used authority allowing presidents to use active duty military for law-enforcement purposes, would have been a dramatic escalation. The act has only been invoked twice in the past 40 years — once to quell unrest after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and once during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
“We look weak,” Mr. Trump said, according to one of the officials. He complained about having been taken to the bunker below the White House on the night of May 29 when the barricade outside the Treasury Department was pierced. The New York Times had reported the bunker visit a day earlier, infuriating Mr. Trump….
Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Barr, Mr. Esper and Mr. Milley was marked by his rage at being embarrassed on the world stage, according to two of the officials.
Mr. Trump grudgingly went along with their counsel not to deploy active-duty troops, according to the officials. Immediately after the meeting, Mr. Trump joined a call with governors around the country, some of whom were seeing protests increase in their states. Mr. Trump urged them to “dominate” the protesters, as he said the National Guard in Minnesota had.
Mr. Esper told associates that he was so concerned that Mr. Trump would deploy active-duty troops that he echoed the need for them to get control of their states, hoping he could encourage governors to deploy the National Guard to head off federal action. Using Pentagon terminology that he later told associates he regretted, Mr. Esper told the governors to “dominate the battle space,” a sentiment stemming from concern about Mr. Trump’s intentions.
On the upcoming Trump rallies, Asawin Suebsaeng writes at The Daily Beast: Trump’s Underlying Rally Message Is Clear: Fear Me.
Early this month, as Donald Trump delivered his keynote address to the North Carolina Republican Party’s annual convention, the former U.S. president noticed something: His greatest crowd-pleaser of the night didn’t come when he attacked President Joe Biden, trashed Dr. Anthony Fauci, or repeated his lies about the 2020 election being stolen from him. It came when he railed against critical race theory, declaring that it should be banned from being taught to schoolchildren and government staff….
Clementine’s Books and Coffee, Halifax, Nova Scotia, where you can adopt a kitten
The coming days and months should prove no different, with Trump planning on delivering yet another red-meat-hurling speech on Saturday evening, with plenty of time devoted to dumping accelerant on the flames of the culture wars and asserting his continued, solidified sway over the GOP.
But his return to the rally circuit also serves another purpose: scaring off potential competition for holding dominant power over the Republican Party, and keeping himself positioned as the 2024 GOP frontrunner.
“In [recent] conversations that I’ve had with him, he has said that he wants to be everywhere to remind people, not just Republicans, that he’s still in charge,” a person close to the former president said, paraphrasing Trump. “The message is a pretty straightforward one: I am still leading this party, and if you want to try to challenge me for that, it will get ugly.”
More details at the link.
The condo collapse in Florida looks to be a horrific tragedy, as rescue workers are found no survivors yesterday. The New York Times: Frustration Mounts in Search for Survivors of Condo Collapse Near Miami.
After an initial two rescues, only bodies had been recovered, three of them overnight. The number of people unaccounted for rose to more than 150 — dozens more than officials had estimated a day earlier — and their families were losing their last threads of hope.
Family members of the missing were asked to provide DNA swabs in case they were needed to identify remains. President Biden said federal mortuary services would be available if needed.
Underneath the parking garage of the exposed building at 8777 Collins Ave., search-and-rescue teams drilled through concrete and inserted probes with cameras to peer through the rubble. Specialized hearing devices alerted them to any sounds that could indicate a person was waiting for help — tapping, scratching, falling debris, twisting metal.
On Thursday, crews briefly heard the voice of a woman trapped somewhere under the wreckage, but it went silent before they could find anyone. On Friday, crews were still using dogs trained to sniff out the scent of a living person; the dogs that come later find cadavers.
From the outside, in the stifling humidity and amid intermittent thunderstorms, little of the tunneling work going on below could be seen. Heavy machinery arrived at the site on Thursday night, but some of the families of the missing wondered why they could not see more action atop the mountain of rubble.
“We’re frustrated because we feel as if they are alive,” said Toby Fried, a family friend of Harry Rosenberg, a man missing from Unit 212. “We offered to bring more manpower — professional searchers. There’s nobody to talk to. We are waiting. We want to help out.”
Jack at Copperfield’s, Sonoma County, CA
More stories on this topic:
The New York Times: Engineer Warned of ‘Major Structural Damage’ at Florida Condo Complex.
The Washington Post: Before condo collapse, rising seas long pressured Miami coastal properties.
Could the Trump Organization really be indicted soon? CNN: Trump Organization could face criminal charges in New York as soon as next week.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office has informed lawyers for the Trump Organization that it could face criminal charges in connection with benefits it has provided to company employees, a Trump attorney confirmed Friday.
The charges, which could come as soon as next week, would likely involve allegations of a company effort to avoid paying payroll taxes on compensation it provided to employees, including rent-free apartments, cars and other benefits, a person familiar with the matter said….
Prosecutors are also likely to announce charges against Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization chief financial officer, as soon as next week, people familiar with the matter said.
Weisselberg’s lawyers recently informed prosecutors that he would not cooperate in the investigation, the people said, although that could change in the future.
Weisselberg is under scrutiny for benefits he received, including a company-funded apartment and car. Prosecutors are also looking into similar benefits given to Matthew Calamari, the chief operating officer of the company. One source familiar with the matter said it’s possible he could also face charges.
Finally, the Delta variant of Covid-19 is spreading rapidly, and WHO recommends that fully vaccinated people should continue wearing masks to protect against it. CNBC: WHO urges fully vaccinated people to continue to wear masks as delta Covid variant spreads.
The World Health Organization on Friday urged fully vaccinated people to continue to wear masks, social distance and practice other Covid-19 pandemic safety measures as the highly contagious delta variant spreads rapidly across the globe.
“People cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses. They still need to protect themselves,” Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products, said during a news briefing from the agency’s Geneva headquarters.
Posted: May 20, 2021 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Allen Weisselberg, Cyrus vance Jr., Donald Trump, January 6 commission, Jennifer Weisselberg, Letitia James, Matt Gaetz, Michael Cohen, Trump crime family, Trump Organization
By Arne Kavli
We appear to be inching closer to the possibility that Trump and his minions could actually be prosecuted. It hasn’t happened yet, but news has broken over the past few days that suggests that real accountability could be coming for the Trump crime family.
Bill Chappelle, Andrea Bernstein, and Ilya Marritz at NPR: What We Know So Far About The Trump Organization Criminal Investigation.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is investigating former President Donald Trump’s business, the Trump Organization, “in a criminal capacity,” her office says, ratcheting up scrutiny of Trump’s real estate transactions and other dealings.
The state attorney general is joining forces with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who has been conducting a separate criminal inquiry into Trump’s business practices and possible insurance or financial fraud as well as alleged hush money payments to two women who said they had affairs with Trump before he became president….
Dorothy Weir Young, “Seated Girl Reading Newspaper,” 1930
The new collaboration between the state and local offices is an unusual event in itself: In New York, the attorney general and the district attorney have historically been rivals. But in this case, they’re working together.
Two assistant attorneys general have now joined the district attorney’s team of prosecutors. They’re all trying to unravel troves of complicated information, including millions of pages of tax returns and other documents related to how the Trump Organization operates in the U.S. as well as its sprawling international enterprises.
With the shift in focus from James’ office, we now know that both of these prosecution teams are making a determined and coordinated effort to sift through evidence of possible crimes.
Read the whole article. It’s a good summary of where things stand right now. Here’s the latest breaking news on the investigations:
The New York Times: Top Trump Executive Under Criminal Investigation Over Taxes.
The New York attorney general’s office has been criminally investigating the chief financial officer of former President Donald J. Trump’s company for months over tax issues, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
The office of the attorney general, Letitia James, notified the Trump Organization in a January letter that it had opened a criminal investigation related to the chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, the people said. The investigators have examined whether taxes were paid on fringe benefits that Mr. Trump gave him, including cars and tens of thousands of dollars in private school tuition for at least one of Mr. Weisselberg’s grandchildren….
Auguste Macke, Woman reading
The focus on perks and Mr. Weisselberg overlaps with the Manhattan district attorney’s long-running criminal fraud investigation of Mr. Trump and his family business. The district attorney’s office has been investigating the extent to which Mr. Trump handed out fringe benefits to some of his executives, including Mr. Weisselberg, and whether taxes were paid on those perks, The New York Times previously reported.
In recent weeks, Ms. James’s office suggested to the company in a new letter that it had broadened the criminal investigation beyond the focus on Mr. Weisselberg, one of the people said. It was unclear how the inquiry had widened.
In general, fringe benefits — which can include cars, flights and club memberships — are taxable, though there are some exceptions. Companies are typically responsible for withholding such taxes from an employee’s paycheck….
In addition to the fringe benefits, Ms. James and the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., have examined whether Mr. Trump’s company inflated the value of his properties to obtain favorable loans and lowered the values to reduce taxes.
More details from CNN:
Posted: January 16, 2021 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Military, U.S. Politics | Tags: caturday, conspiracy theories, Donald Trump, impeachment, law enforcement and military involvement ininsurrection, New York prosecutors, Scotland, Trump Organization, Trump Tower
It’s raining cats and dogs outside my windows this morning, so I decided to illustrate this post with cats in and out of the rain.
In just four days, Trump will be out of the White House and headed to Florida; and, according to the Wall Street Journal (via Raw Story), even the people working in the White House can’t wait until he’s gone.
According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, the last days of Donald Trump’s tenure as president have found him still looking for any chance of remaining in office as demoralized staffers look forward to Inauguration Day bringing the era to a close.
The Journal notes that the president has asked for information on the Republicans in the House who voted for his impeachment last week and whether they are susceptible to being primaried in 2022 while still fuming about his election loss.
As regarding the ongoing articles of impeachment passed by the House, Trump is still searching for attorneys to defend him if it comes to a trial after White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and attorneys who represented him during his last impeachment have let it be known they won’t take part….
According to one aide close to the president, they just want it to be over.
“It’s complete shellshock,” they explained. “People are praying for the inauguration to come and to get Trump the hell out of there.”
So much winning.
Trump’s future business prospects aren’t looking so good either. Bloomberg: Trump’s Shambolic Empire Faces Long Odds for One More Comeback.
On the day Donald Trump was getting impeached in Washington, the lobby of his New York tower at 40 Wall St. was almost silent. Few footsteps smudged the shiny marble.
But up the dark and golden elevators, trouble was stirring in one of the billionaire’s most valuable properties. Inside one law office, two partners had clashed over whether to keep paying rent to a landlord who encouraged the Capitol’s deadly riot. On the 24th floor, a nonprofit that fights tuberculosis was exploring options for leaving. On the seventh, the Girl Scouts were figuring out how to break their lease.
And in the basement, vintage bank-vault doors that weigh more than 10 tons stood wide open. There, in a club room that Trump renovated, the news was playing on a jumbo television to an audience of empty armchairs just as Congress voted against him….
The Trump Organization, run by sons Eric and Don Jr., was struggling with the devastating consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic even before their father incited a raid on Congress. Efforts to sell his Washington hotel were shelved, his office buildings were losing value amid a glut of space in Manhattan, and his golf courses were facing the reality that younger generations aren’t so interested.
Trump entered office worth $3 billion. Despite soaring stock prices and his own tax cuts, he will leave about $500 million poorer, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
His buildings are saddled with more than $1 billion in debt, most of it coming due in the next three years and more than a third of it personally guaranteed. Refinancing would mean finding lenders and corporations willing to work with history’s only twice-impeached ex-president.
Prosecutors in New York are salivating over the chances to prosecute the disgraced “president.” AP: NY prosecutors interview Michael Cohen about Trump finances.
New York prosecutors conducted an hourslong interview Thursday of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, asking a range of questions about Trump’s business dealings, according to three people familiar with the meeting.
The interview focused in part on Trump’s relationship with Deutsche Bank, his biggest and longest standing creditor, according to the three people, who weren’t authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
The interview, at least the second of Cohen by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, comes amid a long-running grand jury investigation into Trump’s business dealings. District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. has been waging a protracted legal battle to get access to the president’s tax records.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on Trump’s request for a stay and a further appeal after he leaves office Jan. 20.
The New York investigation is one of several legal entanglements that are likely to intensify as Trump loses power — and any immunity from prosecution he might have as a sitting president — as he departs the White House….
The Republican president also faces a civil investigation, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, into whether Trump’s company lied about the value of its assets to get loans or tax benefits. Cohen also is cooperating with that inquiry.
He previously told Congress that Trump often inflated the value of his assets when dealing with lenders or potential business partners, but deflated them when it benefited him for tax purposes.
Even in Scotland, people are looking for ways to investigate Trump. Read about it at The Scotsman: Leading QC says Scottish ministers can seek ‘McMafia’ order into Donald Trump’s finances.
Meanwhile, every day we learn more about the violent insurrection that Trump incited last week. One of the most disturbing facts is how many law enforcement and active and former military people were involved. These are brief excerpts; I recommend following the links to read the full articles.
The Washington Post: Conspiracy theories and a call for patriots entice veterans at the Capitol.
A Washington Post analysis of individuals who breached the Capitol or were in the vicinity of the riots identified 21 people with some prior military service background. Of the 72 arrested or charged by state and federal authorities through Thursday morning, 11 have military backgrounds.
The military personnel and veterans involved in the demonstrations and riot at the Capitol range in age from 33 to 62. A handful of the veterans served in combat or with front-line infantry units in the Army and Marine Corps and spoke regularly of a coming revolution or the need for violent action to purge their country of unspecified enemies. Other veterans at the Capitol on Jan. 6 served for only short stints in the military or were focused more on clerical tasks than preparing for combat. Like many at the riots, they were swept up in conspiracy theories that have taken hold among some of Trump’s most fervent supporters and felt called to action by the president’s repeated insistence without evidence that the election had been stolen.
The Pentagon hasn’t said how many active-duty troops or reservists are under investigation for any role in the protest or the riots, but homegrown militants and white supremacist groups have long targeted veterans for recruitment.
And some analysts who track extremist groups warn that the military has been slow to recognize the problem.
“They are behind in having the capacity to investigate these issues,” said Michael Edison Hayden, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. “They don’t have the proper tools to identify symbols and tattoos and that kind of thing, so it has allowed it to fester for a really long time.”
The Los Angeles Times: Why veterans of the military and law enforcement joined the Capitol insurrection.
An Air Force veteran from Southern California and ardent conspiracy theorist bent on war against the government. An Army psychological operations officer at Ft. Bragg, N.C. A decorated, retired Air Force officer of 18 years from Texas who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The deadly riot in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 attracted a variety of far-right extremists who shared a devotion to President Trump and his insistence on a false belief that the November election had been stolen from him through fraud.
Many rioters also had something else in common as they sought to upend the government in an insurrection that bristled with Confederate flags, racist symbols and conspiracy theories: They were ex-members of the military and police or actively employed by the armed services and law enforcement.
“It’s an incredibly disturbing trend,” retired U.S. Army Col. Jeffrey D. McCausland, a professor of national security at Dickinson College and former dean at the U.S. Army War College, said in an interview. “These are people who are supposed to uphold the Constitution and the law, yet they were doing the exact opposite.”
Gizmodo: Leaked Parler Data Points to Users at Police Stations, U.S. Military Bases.
Location data gleaned from thousands of videos posted on the social network Parler and extracted in the days before Amazon restricted access to app this week, reveal its users included police officers around the U.S. and service members stationed on bases at home and abroad.
The presence on Parler of active military and police raises concerns, experts said, about their potential exposure to far-right conspiracy theories and extremist ideologies enabled by the platform’s practically nonexistent moderation and its stated openness to hate speech. Military officials have long considered infiltration and recruitment by white supremacist groups a threat. Groups that endorsed a wide range of racist beliefs appear to have been operating openly on Parler, the experts said, with the de facto permission of its owners. The FBI has likewise raised concerns over law enforcement agents adopting radical views and being recruited—viewing their access to secured buildings, elected officials, and other VIPs as a singular threat.
Slate: Sheriffs Helped Lead This Insurrection.
On Jan. 6, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb made a promise. Delivering a speech in Phoenix during the ongoing mob attack on the nation’s Capitol, Lamb accused former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of unnamed crimes and repeated President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud. “Now I’m limited to what I can do as the sheriff, but if you live in Pinal County, I assure you I can fight for your freedom,” he said before exhorting his followers to “be vigilant” and to “fight for the Constitution, freedom, and the American way of life.” (The video has since been deleted from social media.)
In the past week, it’s become clear that many members of law enforcement from across the country participated in the siege on the Capitol. That includes former and current sheriffs and their deputies. Ex–Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway was at the Trump rally but says he didn’t march to the Capitol. He described the crowd as “a cross between tailgating at a football game and a NASCAR race—families, dogs, children. Everyone being nice. I mean, it was like a family reunion without some of the hatefulness you can find at family reunions. It was a very good crowd.”
At least one current sheriff admits he was at the riot: Sheriff Chris West of Canadian County, Oklahoma, says he marched toward the Capitol building but did not enter. But long before Jan. 6, sheriffs have been helping to lay the groundwork for violence by the far-right movement. As political leaders in their communities, they have been sowing dissent at home, encouraging their own armed militias to prepare themselves to take back the government just as Lamb suggested.
Ninety percent of American sheriffs are white men, and in recent years they’ve become strongly affiliated with white supremacist groups. Across the country, sheriffs have declared that they will not enforce laws they deem “unconstitutional,” like COVID-19 public health orders or gun laws limiting weapons possession and permits. Their influence has only grown since the pandemic began, as mask wearing became affiliated with progressive liberals and a bare face was a sign of Trump support.
A few more reads about the Capitol attack:
David Graham at The Atlantic: We’re Just Finding Out How Bad the Riot Really Was.
The New York Times: Capitol Attack Could Fuel Extremist Recruitment For Years, Experts Warn.
Politico: Top FEMA official attended Trump’s ‘Stop the Steal’ rally.
NBC News: Online far-right movements fracture in wake of Capitol riot.
That’s all I have for you today. Have a nice long weekend, and please stop by and leave a comment if you have the time and inclination.