Lazy Caturday Reads: Two Wannabe Tyrants and A Struggling One

Happy Caturday!!

079258366aa3aa1cb71e700f59e9028dHillary Clinton dared to speak the truth about Trump in an interview yesterday. Mary Papenfuss wrote about it at HuffPo: Hillary Clinton Compares Trump To Hitler In Disturbing Interview.

In a stinging interview Friday one-time presidential candidate Hillary Clinton compared Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler, and his political rallies to Nazi gatherings.

She zeroed in on Trump’s rally last week in Youngstown, Ohio, where members of the crowd raised a stiff-armed, one-finger QAnon salute to the former president in a gesture chillingly reminiscent of the “heil Hitler” salute.

The QAnon gesture stands for WWG1WGA, or: “Where We Go One We Go All.”

“I remember as a young student, you know, trying to figure out how people get basically brought in by Hitler. How did that happen?” Clinton asked during an onstage interview at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin.

“I’d watch newsreels and I’d see this guy standing up there ranting and raving, and people shouting and raising their arms. I thought, ‘What’s happened to these people?’” she added.

“You saw the rally in Ohio the other night,” Clinton noted. “Trump is there ranting and raving for more than an hour, and you have these rows of young men with their arms raised. What is going on?”

She added: “I think it is fair to say we’re in a struggle between democracy and autocracy.”

Trump had another rally in North Carolina yesterday. He did plenty of ranting and railing, but his security people stopped audience members who raised their arms in the “heil Hitler”-like gesture. Either Trump or his advisers must have been paying attention to the negative public reaction.

From Eric Garcia, reporter at The Independent, who attended the rally: QAnon, the Big Lie and misogyny: Inside Trump’s Wilmington rally. Trump was supposedly there to support Republican candidates; but, as usual, the rally was all about him and his many grievances.

Former president Donald Trump held a rally in Wilmington on Friday, his first since New York attorney general Letitia James announced her civil lawsuit against him, his three eldest children, his business associates, and the Trump organisation this week….

Indeed, before Mr Trump took the stage, the two monitors on the sides of the stage played a segment from Fox News’ host Jesse Watters comparing Mr Trump’s storage of documents with that of the previous four former presidents.

But the former president also used the rally to air his grievances against Ms James’s lawsuit against him, his family and his business organization, which she called “The Art of the Steal” at a Wednesday press conference.

GettyImages-987491478“There’s no better example of the chilling obsession with targeting political opponents than the baseless, abusive and depraved lawsuit against me, my family, my company, by the racist attorney general of New York state,” he said, giving her the moniker “Letitia ‘Peekaboo’ James.” [….]

Mr Trump’s dislike of female public figures who challenge him – be they Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Meryl Streep or Rosie O’Donnell – is well-known. But throughout his speech, he repeatedly ridiculed Ms James, a Black woman, in incredibly personal terms, saying that she is more focused on attacking him than focusing on violent crime.

“This raging maniac campaign for office ranting and raving about her goal – her only goal is, we got to get Donald Trump,” he said about Ms James. “In fact, I was watching it and I said ‘boy, that woman is angry, I don’t think she likes me too much.’”

Garcia on the QAnon salute:

During his rally in Ohio last week, Mr Trump and rally goers confused many when he played dramatic music while attendees pointed one finger in the air. Mr Trump repeated the practice this time, albeit it looked like fewer people raised their fingers in the air during the rally.

A few people who attended the rally had QAnon memorabilia, with some attendees wearing QAnon hats and one truck having an image of Mr Trump with John F Kennedy Jr and former president John F Kennedy, prominent figures in the QAnon conspiracy theories.

Gay Gaines said she approved of the use.

“I loved it, it was very emotional, very touching, very inspirational, very uplifting, and hopeful,” she said. “Good way to end it.”

ShortStack_265125897_1_Carol_Ramsey_MLeditTrump has been “retruthing” QAnon messages regularly on his imitation Twitter website, but yesterday he really outdid himself. Insider: Donald Trump shares Truth Social photo proclaiming him as second only to Jesus.

Former President Donald Trump shared a post on his Truth Social account on Friday, declaring him as “second” only to Jesus.

The post by Truth Social user @austinnegrete said: “Jesus is the Greatest. President @realDonaldTrump is the second greatest.”

It accompanied an image of a painting of Jesus by artist Dan Wilson.

Trump “ReTruthed,” or reposted, the Jesus comparison to his 4.1 million Truth Social followers.

Of course this is ridiculous, as is the QAnon craziness; but we know from past experience that Trump’s ranting and his sway over his audiences is dangers. Mark Follman writes at Mother Jones: Trump Continues to Escalate His Dangerous Incitement.

As the ex-president faces advancing federal and state investigations ranging from Mar-a-Lago to New York to Georgia, he has escalated an insidious form of political incitement, behavior that seems to signal a growing desperation over his legal predicaments. As I first reported beginning two years ago, Trump has long honed a rhetorical method that security experts call “stochastic terrorism”: By continually demonizing his “enemies,” he stirs random violence from extremist supporters as a means to exert and try to maintain political power.

Investigation of the January 6 insurrection showed the consequences of this technique on a mass scale—and further revealed Trump’s explicit willingness to resort to it after attempts to overturn the 2020 election via Congress and the courts had failed. According to sworn testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide in the White House, Trump knowingly urged armed supporters to descend on the Capitol that day and had wanted to lead them there. Ever since, Trump has successfully spread the use of incitement among GOP leaders, as I documented recently.

Repetition across various media is key to the technique and increases the likelihood of violence, according to recently published research from threat assessment experts. Trump has delivered on that in recent weeks: He has continued to target various agencies and individuals using his Truth Social platform, speeches at political rallies, and interviews on Fox News and other more fringe media outlets.

ShortStack_265618904_1_Marguerite_Young_MLeditAnd he has used particularly grim rhetoric. At a Sept. 3 rally in Pennsylvania, Trump calledthe FBI and Justice Department “vicious monsters” and President Biden an “enemy of the state.” During an interview on a right-wing radio show on Sept. 15, he predicted there would be “big problems” in the country if he were to be charged by the Justice Department. “I don’t think the people of the United States would stand for it,” he told host Hugh Hewitt. On Truth Social, Trump promoted a QAnon meme featuring him as a heroic icon of the lunatic conspiracy-theory movement regarded by the FBI as a domestic terrorism threat. Soon thereafter, Trump gave an apocalyptic speech at an Ohio rally where he used music evoking a QAnon theme song, prompting fascistic salutes from the crowd.

Trump hammered home similar messages again on Wednesday in a lengthy sit-down at Mar-a-Lago with Fox News anchor Sean Hannity. Asked by Hannity to comment on a new lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James over alleged financial fraud by Trump, the ex-president laid into the state’s top lawyer and her staff: “They were demeaning me constantly, these people,” he said. “There’s something wrong with them. I really believe they hate our country.”

His effort specifically to provoke feelings of contempt among his supporters is no accident and furthers the risk for violence.

Read the rest at the link.

On MSNBC this morning, former Trump fixer Michael Cohen had a few choice words for his former boss. Raw Story: Cornered Trump ‘doesn’t care if he burns the country down’: former adviser.

Speaking with host Ali Velshi, Cohen said the former president has big legal troubles coming at him from different directions and painting him into a corner.

He then predicted the former president won’t go down quietly.

“What stands out to you, what’s the thing you’re most thinking about right now?” host Velshi asked.

“There are so many investigations and you wouldn’t believe — if this was a television show you would turn around and say, ‘it’s too stupid! I can’t watch this, it’s stupid, it can never happen,'” Cohen exclaimed. “But it is happening in real-time in our lives.”

“Our democracy is in peril because of one man; one man who goes ahead and weaponizes the United States Department of Justice against his critics, against the country against anybody who was not one of his supporters, he is willing to go after.”

“He doesn’t care if he burns the country down in doing it,” Cohen

0b834e1e3ab544c08f19500a8ffeccb6Enough about Trump. Let’s turn to the Trump wannabe in Florida who is also a danger to democracy could end up running for president in 2024–Ron DeSantis. Could he be facing a serious backlash from Florida voters?

Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: Ugly new details about Ron DeSantis’s stunt point to a deeper scam.

Who paid for the migrants to be transported from Texas to Florida?

That question emerges from new revelations about Gov. Ron DeSantis’s vile stunt, in which he transported two planeloads of migrants from Texas to Florida and on to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

The Florida Republican refuses to release the state contract that funded the flights. That suggests DeSantis is seeking to bury critical facts even as reporters fill in details about the flights — and their questionable legality.

This potentially points to a deeper scam. DeSantis — whose presidential ambitions emit a stench akin to Limburger rotting in an old sock — is gushing with own-the-libs bluster, vowing to keep shoving migrants in the faces of elite liberals everywhere. But the ones truly getting “owned” by this farce are right-wing voters and Florida taxpayers. The more information that comes out, the clearer this will become.

In a useful piece NBC News’s Marc Caputo reports that the outfit contracted to ship migrants — Vertol Systems Company Inc. — has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to super PACs backing Florida GOP candidates. One funded Matt Gaetz, a right-wing media troll who moonlights as a congressman.

That company has been paid $1.6 million so far, per NBC, and the contract totals $12 million, supposedly to cover future shipments of migrants to other states. NBC also reports:

“But the state budget authorizing the program specifies that “unauthorized aliens” are supposed to be flown from “this state” of Florida — not any other state — and Republicans who crafted the program this year said publicly that Venezuelans seeking asylum are not considered “unauthorized aliens” because they’re allowed to be in this country.”

So a big question is whether state funding of the transport of migrants from Texas to Florida violated that budgetary language. On this basis, a Democratic state senator filed a lawsuit Thursday to block further funding for the flights.

Read more at the WaPo.

bc848f30f3057dd0b612f28a08cce1c2Could DeSantis be facing serious backlash over his treatment of asylum-seekers? Check this out:

The Hill: DeSantis risks voter backlash in Florida with migrant flights.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is facing mounting scrutiny in his home state over his controversial decision last week to fly dozens of mostly Venezuelan migrants to the elite resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

While the move was lauded by conservatives as a powerful protest of the Biden administration’s approach to border security, it has sparked a wave of criticism from Democrats and members of Florida’s vast Hispanic community, a politically influential force in the Sunshine State.

“With this move, this stunt, obviously he made his base very happy,” said Adelys Ferro, the executive director of the Venezuelan American Caucus. “But there are many people more toward the middle and people who are independents that are very disgusted and that reject all of this.”

“We are Venezuelan Americans and we vote, and we’re going to vote in November,” she added. “And we’re never going to vote for somebody who does this.

DeSantis has been busy attacking teachers and mistreating immigrants, but will he be ready to deal with an approaching hurricane? CBS News: Tropical Storm Ian strengthens over Caribbean and could approach Florida as major hurricane.

Tropical Storm Ian strengthened as it moved over the Caribbean Saturday and could approach Florida early next week as a major hurricane, according to forecasters. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said early Saturday that Tropical Storm Ian was 270 miles south-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, moving west at 15 mph. It had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph.

“Early next week, Ian is forecast to move near or over western Cuba as a strengthening hurricane and then approach the Florida peninsula at or near major hurricane strength, with the potential for significant impacts from storm surge, hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall,” the National Hurricane Center said.

On Friday, DeSantis signed an executive order issuing a state of emergency for 24 Florida counties which could be in the storm’s path. The order also places the Florida National Guard on standby. DeSantis also put in a request for a federal “pre-landfall emergency declaration.”

Finally, what’ happening with Trump’s idol and mentor Vladimir Putin?

The Washington Post: As Russian Losses Mount in Ukraine, Putin Gets More Involved in War Strategy.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has thrust himself more directly into strategic planning for the war in Ukraine in recent weeks, American officials said, including rejecting requests from his commanders on the ground that they be allowed to retreat from the vital southern city of Kherson.

A withdrawal from Kherson would allow the Russian military to pull back across the Dnipro River in an orderly way, preserving its equipment and saving the lives of soldiers.

4306128e4d89a0be73cdb541c5e153fdBut such a retreat would be another humiliating public acknowledgment of Mr. Putin’s failure in the war, and would hand a second major victory to Ukraine in one month. Kherson was the first major city to fall to the Russians in the initial invasion, and remains the only regional capital under Moscow’s control. Retaking it would be a major accomplishment for President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.

Focused on victory at all costs, Mr. Putin has become a more public face of the war as the Russian military appears increasingly in turmoil, forcing him to announce a call-up this week that could sweep 300,000 Russian civilians into military service. This month, Moscow has demonstrated it has too few troops to continue its offensive, suffers from shortages of high-tech precision weaponry and has been unable to gain dominance of Ukraine’s skies.

Read more at the WaPo.

The New York Times: Putin’s Draft Draws Resistance in Russia’s Far-Flung Regions.

President Vladimir V. Putin’s surprise draft to reinforce his invasion of Ukraine ran into growing resistance across Russia on Friday as villagers, activists and even some elected officials asked why the conscription drive appeared to be hitting minority groups and rural areas harder than the big cities.

Some of the greatest anguish played out hundreds or thousands of miles away from the front line, in the Caucasus Mountains and the northeastern region of Yakutia, a sparsely populated expanse that straddles the Arctic Circle. Community leaders described remote villages where much of the working-age male population received conscription notices in recent days, leaving families that subsist off the land without men around to work ahead of the long winter.

“We have reindeer herders, hunters, fishermen — we have so few of them anyway,” Vyacheslav Shadrin, the chairman of the council of elders for a small Indigenous group known as the Yukaghirs, said in a phone interview. “But they are the ones being drafted most of all.”

Mr. Putin announced the call-up on Wednesday, describing it as a “partial mobilization” necessary to counter Ukraine and its Western backers, who he said were seeking Russia’s destruction. It was a move he had long delayed making, even as supporters of the war clamored for a draft in order to allow Russia to intensify its assault.

Russia will mobilize about 300,000 civilians, defense officials said, focusing on men with military experience and special skills, though some Russian media that now operate outside the country reported that the number could be much higher.

But by Friday, even some of the hawkish commentators who had been urging a draft were criticizing the sweeping and uneven way it appeared to be rolling out.

Read the rest at the NYT.

That’s it for me today. What’s on your mind? What stories have you been following?


Tuesday Reads: Yesterday’s Jan. 6 Committee Hearing

https___cdn.cnn.com_cnnnext_dam_assets_220610171003-01-jan-6-hearing-file-060922

Good Morning!!

Much of today’s news is about yesterday’s January 6 committee hearing, but before I get to that, this morning the committee announced that tomorrow’s scheduled hearing has been postponed. NBC News: Jan. 6 committee abruptly postpones Wednesday hearing.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol announced Tuesday that it was postponing its public hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

The next hearing will take place on Thursday instead.

The committee did not say why it was postponing Wednesday’s hearing.

The witnesses who were expected to testify at the hearing included former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue and Steve Engel, former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel….

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said last week that the third hearing would offer evidence about Trump’s unsuccessful plan to oust Rosen and replace him with another DOJ official who was more supportive of Trump’s fraud claims, Jeffrey Clark, according to Cheney. Clark drafted a letter to states that said the department “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election.”

“In our hearings, you will hear first-hand how the senior leadership of the department threatened to resign, how the White House Counsel threatened to resign, and how they confronted Donald Trump and Jeff Clark in the Oval Office,” Cheney said Thursday.

Committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren told Morning Joe that the postponement is “no big deal.”

Perhaps in anticipation of the committee’s scheduled topic for Wednesday, Michael Kranish wrote in The Washington Post: Inside the explosive Oval Office confrontation three days before Jan. 6.

Three days before Congress was slated to certify the 2020 presidential election, a little-known Justice Department official named Jeffrey Clark rushed to meet President Donald Trump in the Oval Office to discuss a last-ditch attempt to reverse the results.

Clark, an environmental lawyer by trade, had outlined a plan in a letter he wanted to send to the leaders of key states Joe Biden won. It said that the Justice Department had “identified significant concerns” about the vote and that the states should consider sending “a separate slate of electors supporting Donald J. Trump” for Congress to approve.

In fact, Clark’s bosses had warned there was not evidence to overturn the election and had rejected his letter days earlier. Now they learned Clark was about to meet with Trump. Acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen tracked down his deputy, Richard Donoghue, who had been walking on the Mall in muddy jeans and an Army T-shirt. There was no time to change. They raced to the Oval Office.

As Rosen and Donoghue listened, Clark told Trump that he would send the letter if the president named him attorney general.

1638408149077_n_reidout_jeffreyclark_211201_1920x1080-kgwc4i

Jeffrey Clark

Donoghue told Trump that Clark was “not competent” to serve as Attorney General, and if Trump appointed him there would be mass resignations at the DOJ. Kranish writes that January 6 Committee witness have revealed new information about what happened in that January 3 Oval Office meeting.

A reconstruction of the events by The Washington Post, based on the court filings, depositions, Senate and House reports, previously undisclosed emails, and interviews with knowledgeable government officials, shows how close the country came to crisis three days before the insurrection.

The evidence, which fills in crucial details about Clark’s efforts, includes an email showing he was sent a draft of a letter outlining a plan to try to overturn the election by a just-arrived Justice Department official who had once written a book claiming President Barack Obama planned to “subvert the Constitution.”

But larger mysteries could still be solved at a Jan. 6 committee hearing on Wednesday morning slated to examine Clark’s actions, including the crucial question of whether Clark and his allies were acting on their own initiative — or whether they were one piece of a larger, well-planned effort to keep Trump in power. That question gets to the heart of the committee’s professed mission: proving there was a “coordinated, multi-step effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.”

It’s a long read, so you’ll have to go to the WaPo to read all the details.

Now for some reactions to yesterday’s Committee presentation.

Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien at Bloomberg: Trump Knew Exactly What He Was Doing on Jan. 6.

“Jerry, just remember: It’s not a lie if you believe it.” — George Costanza, “Seinfeld”

Did Donald Trump believe he was telling the truth when he claimed that the 2020 election, which he lost, was rigged against him? I think not, but I’m just one person.

Fortunately, lots of other White House advisers, such as former Attorney General William Barr, told Trump in the days and weeks after the election that there was no fraud. Barr called the claims “bullshit,” “rubbish” and “idiotic.” Trump’s advisers were surprised, sometime stunned, that he plowed ahead anyway. Those were just some of the revelations from the second day of testimony of the select congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol.

One reason this matters is that the hearing’s most important audience isn’t voters or historians. It’s an audience of one: Attorney General Merrick Garland. If Garland’s Justice Department decides to charge Trump with electoral fraud, it will need to demonstrate to a jury that Trump intended to commit a crime when he staged an attempted coup — and that he knew what he was doing was wrong. The Jan. 6 committee is laying lots of persuasive evidence on Garland’s desk.

In addition to Barr, other White House and campaign advisers, including Jared Kushner, Bill Stepien, Eric Herschmann, Alex Cannon and Jeffrey Rosen, told Trump that there was no election fraud. Some advisers did insist otherwise, including Rudy Giuliani. But based on testimony at the hearing, the Giuliani crowd was telling Trump what he already wanted to hear. Barr testified that Trump had no interest in the “actual facts.” Stepien testified that Trump’s “mind was made up” that mail-in voting was a scam months before the election took place.

Barr went as far as to say that if Trump really did believe there was fraud, he had “become detached from reality.” But Trump’s never been detached from reality — he has simply created the narratives he wants to get what he wants. He’s been doing that for decades. You can call this modus operandi lying, or exaggerating, or prevaricating, or dissembling, or falsely speaking. Whatever the term, he knows exactly what he’s doing when he does it.

Read more at the link. Fortunately AG Garland says he’s following the Committee’s presentations.

Hugo Lowell at The Guardian: Garland says he is watching January 6 hearings amid pressure to investigate Trump.

“I am watching and I will be watching all the hearings, although I may not be able to watch all of it live,” Garland said shortly after the select committee concluded its second hearing. “I can assure you the January 6 prosecutors are watching all of the hearings, as well.”

The attorney general declined to address potential investigations into Trump or other individuals mentioned by the select committee at the hearings, saying that could undermine prosecutors’ work and would be unfair to people under scrutiny who might never be charged.

But Garland reiterated earlier promises that the justice department is exploring potential criminal conduct regardless of those people’s level, their positions in the government and proximity to Trump, or whether they were at the Capitol on 6 January 2021.

The justice department appears in recent weeks to have expanded its criminal investigation to examine top figures connected to Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, including government officials and Republican lawyers and operatives.

One grand jury in Washington is investigating the rallies that preceded the Capitol attack and whether any executive or legislative branch officials were involved in trying to obstruct Joe Biden’s election certification, according to a subpoena seen by the Guardian.

The justice department also appears to be investigating political operatives close to Trump, according to another grand jury subpoena seen by the Guardian, as well as some Trump lawyers involved in a scheme to send fake Trump electors to Congress.

Read the rest at The Guardian.

At The Daily Beast, Julia Davis reports: Team Putin in a Panic Over Jan. 6 Hearings ‘Lynching Trump.’

The House select committee’s primetime Jan. 6. hearings are causing conniptions in Moscow.

105146647-GettyImages-872801238rThe attempted insurrection was embraced by the Kremlin as cause célèbre, with Russian President Vladimir Putin himself calling for an investigation into the death of Ashli Babbitt, who was part of the crowd attacking the U.S. Capitol. Russia’s state-controlled media obsessively covered the notorious attack, praising the would-be insurrectionists as law-abiding protesters and criticizing the United States for prosecuting them. But now, propagandists seem to be concerned that the hearings may negatively impact the chances of re-election for their so-called “partner,” former U.S. President Donald J. Trump.

Kremlin-controlled state media has been relishing the faltering popularity ratings of President Biden, describing Trump as a shoo-in for re-election and openly hoping that a Republican takeover in the midterms would spell a change in America’s foreign policy towards Ukraine. The Jan. 6 committee hearings seem to be a fly in the ointment and now Putin’s propagandists are no longer certain of what the future elections might hold.

Assuming that a criminal prosecution against Trump is all but inevitable, state TV host Vladimir Solovyov seemed perturbed during his show The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov last Friday: “Look at what’s going on in America. A criminal prosecution against Trump and his followers is an obvious step towards a dictatorship.” Solovyov failed to mention the kind of penalties one might face in Russia for attempting a violent insurrection, where people get arrested for something so innocuous as holding up a sign that says “Peace,” or even a blank sheet of paper….

Dmitry Abzalov, Director of the Center for Strategic Communications, was equally agitated: “The most crucial point is as follows: we need to understand what’s going to happen in the electoral sense. The internal political component is extremely significant. The most important events on our political calendar are local elections in Great Britain as well as a very difficult situation in July and August, since the midterms in the U.S. actually start during summer months. Every Thursday they’ll be lynching Trump in prime time.”

Click the link to read the rest.

William Saletan at The Bulwark: If Trump Wasn’t Lying, That’s Worse. A delusional president is far more dangerous than a mendacious one.

On Monday, the House January 6th Committee presented evidence that Donald Trump, after losing the 2020 election, promoted allegations of voter fraud that his own advisers had told him were false. According to the committee, this evidence proves he was lying.

But the evidence actually points to a different conclusion: Trump wasn’t lying in the way that other presidents have done. He was simply impervious. He refused to accept unwelcome facts. And that degree of imperviousness, in a president, is much more dangerous than dishonesty.

Testimony at Monday’s hearing showed that many people around Trump—Mark Meadows, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and others—knew his claims were false. But the testimony about Trump himself was different. Nobody recalled the then-president privately admitting, in the style of Richard Nixon, that he was hiding the truth. Instead, everyone who had interacted with Trump described him as batting away information he didn’t want to hear.

Saletan then provides a four-part summary of the evidence, which you can read at the link above.

If Trump truly believed, despite all evidence, that the election was stolen, that might buy him some relief from criminal charges that require corrupt intent. But in terms of his fitness for office, the theory that he was deluded—not lying—is more alarming, not less.

In his testimony, Barr described a meeting with Trump on Dec. 14, 2020. Trump was still ranting about Dominion and other fantastic tales. “I was somewhat demoralized,” Barr told the committee, “because I thought, boy, if he really believes this stuff . . . he’s become detached from reality.” Barr speculated that Trump had “lost contact.” He recalled that each time he told Trump “how crazy some of these allegations were,” Trump brushed aside the information: “There was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.”

“I felt that before the election it was possible to talk sense to the President,” Barr testified. This sometimes required “a big wrestling match” with Trump, he explained, but “it was possible to keep things on track.” But “after the election, he didn’t seem to be listening.”

Detached from realityLost contactNo interest in facts.

We can’t have a president who thinks—or doesn’t think—this way. We can’t put the world’s most powerful armed forces and nuclear arsenal back in the hands of a man who believes, no matter what, that he has the mandate of the people—and is willing to use violence to stay in power. In the Oval Office, a madman is far more dangerous than a liar.

I’m not sure what to believe. I do think that Trump has shown himself to be delusional in many situations. On the other hand, if Trump truly believed his lies, it would be much more difficult to prosecute him.

Trump himself issued a response to the evidence provided by the committee. The Hill: Trump releases 12-page response to Jan. 6 hearing.

The 12-page document underscores how Trump has yet to move on from his false claims of fraud in the 2020 election and how the committee’s work may be central to a potential 2024 campaign….

Trump repeats a handful of disproven claims to assert the 2020 election was stolen from him and rigged in favor of Democrats, including some that were brought up during testimony by former Trump campaign and administration officials.

One section of Trump’s statement focuses on ballot trafficking claims, for which he cites the Dinesh D’Souza documentary “2000 Mules.” In testimony shown earlier Monday, former Attorney General William Barr laughed at the mention of the film, saying he was “unimpressed with it” and dismissed the idea that it proved widespread fraud.

Another section asserts that President Biden could not have won the states of Pennsylvania, Arizona or Georgia because he got more Black votes and Hispanic votes than former President Obama. Each of those states has performed audits and recounts and found no evidence of widespread fraud.

Trump in one section claimed states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan took additional time after Election Day to count ballots because it was part of an elaborate scheme to ship in fraudulent votes so Biden could erase Trump’s narrow leads in those states.

But former Fox News editor Chris Stirewalt testified in person on Monday to dismiss that very theory, known as the “red mirage.” Stirewalt explained that Republicans typically do better on Election Day, while Democrats perform better in early voting. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, do not count early votes or mail-in ballots until Election Day, meaning it takes additional time to finalize the count.

From Raw Story: ‘Admissible in any future trial’: Analysts nail Trump’s 12-page Jan. 6 response rant.

Former President Donald Trump is being mocked and attacked online after issuing a 12-page statement that is partly a typical Trump rant but follows with a case his campaign has made that questions nebulous things like “ballot stuff” and alleges that because ballots were counted after midnight they’re fraudulent.

As Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias noted, Trump’s lawyers should let him know that statements like these can be used against him in any forthcoming legal proceedings. Typically, lawyers advise their clients to stay quiet and refrain from speaking out.

That’s it for me today. What stories have captured your interest?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

landscape Boulders-with-Meconopsis-On Tuesday in Germany—at a meeting of the “Ukraine Defense Consultative Group” (a gathering of the countries from around the world that have pledged to support Ukraine’s war effort)—Secretary Austin said it was the U.S. belief that Ukraine can win the war with Russia. Austin’s spokesperson, John Kirby, stated: “We don’t want a Russia that’s capable of exerting that kind of malign influence in Europe or anywhere in the world.”

Boulders with Meconopsos and Rhododendrons, Amanda Richardson

For years now, it’s been difficult for me to shake the feeling that I’m living in a dystopian novel. We lived through 4 years under an insane “president” who tried to destroy the post-WWII alliances that have prevented another world war. He also ignored and exacerbated a global pandemic that has now killed close to a million Americans.

I had hoped that when Trump was defeated, he would go away and leave us alone; but instead he is still spreading his poisonous lies– and the Republican Party is still kowtowing to him. Even worse, powerful Republicans like Governors Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis are building on Trump’s legacy by enabling fascist policies in their states.

Unfortunately, despite popular opinion, the pandemic is not over, we’re not dealing effectively with climate change, and we are once more living under a threat of nuclear destruction.

Recommended Reads

The Washington Post: U.S. no longer in ‘full-blown’ pandemic phase, Fauci says.

The United States is finally “out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase” that has led to nearly 1 million deaths from covid-19 and more than two years of suffering and hardship, Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Wednesday.

“We’re really in a transitional phase, from a deceleration of the numbers into hopefully a more controlled phase and endemicity,” Fauci told The Washington Post.

Fauci’s comments came a day after he told PBS’s “NewsHour” that he believed the country is “out of the pandemic phase,” and he expanded on, and clarified, that view Wednesday, making clear that the pandemic is not over and the United States could still see new waves of infections as the virus continues to mutate and spin off highly transmissible variants. But Fauci and other infectious-disease experts are hoping that the population has built up enough immunity from previous infections and vaccinations to avoid another devastating surge in hospitalizations and deaths.

“The world is still in a pandemic. There’s no doubt about that. Don’t anybody get any misinterpretation of that. We are still experiencing a pandemic,” Fauci said.

Huh? We’re out of the “pandemic phase,” but the pandemic is not over? 

Camille Monet and child in the artist's garden in Argenteuil, 1875 Claude Monet

Camille Monet and child in the artist’s garden in Argenteuil, 1875 Claude Monet

His comments follow a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that roughly 3 in 5 people in the United States have already been infected by the coronavirus. About 1 in 4 people had a first-time infection during the winter wave caused by the omicron variant.

These startling numbers suggest the country has a much higher level of collective immunity than it did before omicron. What is far less clear is how long that immunity will persist, and to what extent it could be evaded by new coronavirus variants.

The omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 is the latest version to seize the attention of public health experts. It is rapidly gaining traction, and CDC estimated Tuesday that it accounted for about 30 percent of new infections. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said preliminary estimates suggest it is about 25 percent more transmissible than the omicron subvariant BA.2, itself more transmissible than the original omicron strain.

There’s also the problem that we are not testing as much these days; and many people are self-testing at home, so the results are not being reported. Meanwhile, Fauci is concerned enough that he is not going to attend the next possible DC super spreader event:

Fauci, meanwhile, has decided against going to the swank White House Correspondents’ Association dinner Saturday, which Biden reportedly plans to attend. Fauci this month attended the Gridiron dinner, at which scores of people became infected. On Wednesday, he declined to discuss his reasoning for skipping what’s often referred to as the “nerd prom,” saying simply, “It’s just my personal choice.

The WH correspondents organization has made a disturbing decision about their event. The Washington Post: A fight over coronavirus safety at journalists’ gala event.

More than 2,000 journalists, celebrities and politicians, including President Biden, are set to descend on the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner this weekend in what is shaping up to be a major test of whether large gatherings can be safely held at this stage of the pandemic.

Organizers say they are committed to holding an event that significantly reduces the risk of coronavirus infections, pointing to vaccine and testing requirements that were strengthened after a dinner hosted by Washington’s Gridiron Club this month was linked to at least 85 infections that sickened Cabinet members, reporters and other guests.

the-way-home-peder-monsted, Danish painter

The Way Home, Peder Monsted, Danish painter

Yet some White House officials and experts worry that those measures are insufficient and that this weekend’s events may become another high-profile superspreader event, said three administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue. Behind the scenes, one prominent coronavirus expert is scrapping with party organizers hesitant to install devices that disinfect the air using ultraviolet light because of concerns the devices might interfere with the program.

Don Milton, a University of Maryland environmental scientist who has advised the White House and others on airborne transmission, said his offer to have a company install the devicesat no charge was rebuffed by both the correspondents’ association and the Washington Hilton, which is hosting the event. “I enlisted a team of scientists and germicidal UV lighting companies to provide, as a demonstration project at no cost, a temporary installation to help protect the White House correspondents’ dinner,” Milton said. “Unfortunately, it has not worked out.”

In an interview, Steve Portnoy, a CBS News reporter who serves as the WHCA’s president,said the association had put safety protocols in place and Milton’s offer came too late.

“We’re interested in learning more about this technology,” Portnoy said. “We just aren’t in a position, with less than a week to go, to more fully understand the benefits or potential risks of what appears to be an experimental technology.”

What about the “potential risks” of the president getting Covid?

The New York Times: Climate Change Will Accelerate Viral Spillovers, Study Finds.

Over the next 50 years, climate change will drive thousands of viruses to jump from one species of mammal to another, according to a study published in Nature on Thursday. The shuffling of viruses among animals may increase the risk that one will jump into humans and cause a new pandemic, the researchers said.

Scientists have long warned that a warming planet may increase the burden of diseases. Malaria, for example, is expected to spread as the mosquitoes that carry it expand their range into warming regions. But climate change might also usher in entirely new diseases, by allowing pathogens to move into new host species.

“We know that species are moving, and when they do, they’re going to have these chances to share viruses,” said Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University and a co-author of the new study.

To understand what that sharing will look like, Dr. Carlson and his colleagues built a computer model of potential spillovers in a warming world. The researchers started by projecting how thousands of mammals might shift their ranges as the climate changes between now and 2070.

As temperatures increase, many species are expected to spread away from the blazing Equator to find more comfortable habitats. Others may move up the sides of hills and mountains to find cooler altitudes. When different species come into contact for the first time, the viruses may be able to infect new hosts.

Wind from the sea, Andrew Wyeth, 1947

Wind from the sea, Andrew Wyeth, 1947

To understand the odds of a successful new infection, the researchers began by building a database of viruses and their mammalian hosts. Some viruses have been found in more than one species of mammal, which means that they must have jumped the species barrier at some point in the past.

Using a computational technique called machine learning, the researchers developed a model that could predict whether two host species share a virus.

The more that two species overlap geographically, the researchers found, the more likely they were to share a virus. That’s because the hosts were more likely to encounter each other, giving their viruses more opportunities to move between them.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Zach Beauchamp at Vox: Ron DeSantis is Viktor Orbán’s true American disciple.

In June of last year, Hungary’s far-right government passed a law cracking down on LGBTQ rights, including a provision prohibiting instruction on LGBTQ topics in sex education classes.

About nine months later, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill banning “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” up through third grade. According to some knowledgeable observers on the right, these two bills were closely connected.

“About the Don’t Say Gay law, it was in fact modeled in part on what Hungary did last summer,” Rod Dreher, a senior editor at the American Conservative magazine, said during a panel interview in Budapest. “I was told this by a conservative reporter who … said he talked to the press secretary of Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and she said, ‘Oh yeah, we were watching the Hungarians, so yay Hungary.’” [….]

It’s easy to see the connections between the bills — in both provisions and justifications. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán described his country’s anti-LGBTQ law as an effort to prevent gay people from preying on children; Pushaw described Florida’s law as an “anti-grooming bill” on Twitter, adding that “if you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer” — meaning a person preparing children to become targets of sexual abuse, a slur targeting LGBTQ people and their supporters that’s becoming increasingly common on the right.

There’s more:

Oak Grove, 1887, Ivan Shishkin

Oak Grove, 1887, Ivan Shishkin

This is not a one-off example. DeSantis, who has built a profile as a pugilistic culture warrior with eyes on the presidency, has steadily put together a policy agenda with strong echoes of Orbán’s governing ethos — one in which an allegedly existential cultural threat from the left justifies aggressive uses of state power against the right’s enemies.

Most recently, there was DeSantis’s crackdown on Disney’s special tax exemption; using regulatory powers to punish opposing political speech is one of Orbán’s signature moves. On issues ranging from higher education to social media to gerrymandering, DeSantis has followed a trail blazed by Orbán, turning policy into a tool for targeting outgroups while entrenching his party’s hold on power….

DeSantis’s agenda in Florida is evidence that the Republican shift in this direction is continuing, maybe even accelerating. He has shown little interest in moderation or consensus-building instead centering his governing philosophy on using policy to own the libs. While Trump may have been an ideological catalyst for the GOP’s authoritarian lurch, DeSantis is showing how it could actually be implemented in practice. The consequences for democracy in Florida, and America in general, could be dire.

There’s much more at the Vox link.

Financial Times: The return of the 20th century’s nuclear shadow.

Vladimir Putin’s willingness to threaten nuclear weapons is in one respect a good sign: it means Russia is probably losing in Ukraine. It is also a potentially catastrophic one. If Putin’s aim is to scare the west, he is failing. Nato keeps stepping up its supplies to Ukraine. The question is what he would do if he thought Russian defeat was inescapable. Putin keeps implying he knows exactly what steps he would take. Is he bluffing? It is plausible even he does not know the answer.

Either way, the genie is out of the bottle. Putin has broken a post-Cuba taboo on threatening to go nuclear. That, in itself, puts us in new territory. Without most people being aware of it, the world is entering its most dangerous period since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The majority under the age of 50 have grown up thinking the nuclear spectre is a relic of the last century. In the past few weeks, the prospect of a nuclear exchange has become the most live threat to this century’s peace.

In terms of public awareness, the debate about Putin’s language is a good example of “those who don’t know talk, and those who know don’t talk”. It is easy to think of Putin as a poker addict trying to bluster his way out of a bad bet. Eventually he must fold. US civilian and military officials suffer from no such complacency. Many have taken part in war game exercises where the use of low-yielding tactical nuclear weapons as often as not escalates to strategic nuclear exchange — doomsday, in plain English.

windmills-in-the-ukrainian-steppe-at-sunset-1862, Ivan Aivazovsky

Windmills in the Ukrainian Steppe at Sunset, 1862, Ivan Aivazovsky

If there were a 5 per cent chance of Putin detonating a battlefield nuclear weapon, the world would be at more risk than at any point in most people’s lifetimes. In the past few days, Moscow’s signalling has arguably raised the chances to one in 10. Putin described last week’s test of the Sarmat hypersonic intercontinental ballistic missile as giving the west “food for thought”, which would not sound out of place from Blofeld, the 20th-century Bond villain. On Wednesday, Putin said: “We have all the instruments for this [responding to an existential threat to Russia] — ones nobody else can boast of. And we will use them, if we have to.”

The natural response is that Joe Biden and his European counterparts have made it plain Nato will not fight in Ukraine. The west, in other words, poses no “existential threat” to Russia — its threshold for use of nuclear weapons. But that is only how the west sees it. Putin’s threats, and those of his officials, have been made in the context of claiming Russia is already at war with Nato. Russians are being told every day that they are in a fight for national survival against western-backed Nazis. This level of rhetoric exceeds anything from the cold war.

One more from David Rothkopf at The Daily Beast: Putin Must Be Stopped Once and for All.

Defending Ukraine is not enough. Defeating Russia on the battlefield is not enough. We must ensure—using every means at our disposal—that Vladimir Putin may never again commit the kinds of atrocities that have marked his two decades in power.

Fortunately, this week, it was made absolutely clear that the Biden administration recognizes that necessity and has made it a strategic centerpiece of their foreign and national security policy efforts.

On Monday, after visiting Ukraine with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”

Although one senior U.S. official admitted to me (somewhat uneasily) that “Austin said the quiet part out loud,” it soon became clear that the U.S. was publicly willing to own the new goal of turning Russia’s unprovoked, brutal escalation of its ongoing eight-year war in Ukraine into a lasting and meaningful defeat for the Kremlin.

On Tuesday in Germany—at a meeting of the “Ukraine Defense Consultative Group” (a gathering of the countries from around the world that have pledged to support Ukraine’s war effort)—Secretary Austin said it was the U.S. belief that Ukraine can win the war with Russia. Austin’s spokesperson, John Kirby, stated: “We don’t want a Russia that’s capable of exerting that kind of malign influence in Europe or anywhere in the world.”

That’s all I have for you today. I hope the paintings help just a little bit.


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Yesterday we learned of the tragic death of journalist Eric Boelert in a bicycle accident. He was only 57. This is such a terrible loss.

The Washington Post: Liberal media critic Eric Boehlert dies in bicycle collision.

Eric Boehlert, a liberal critic who offered blistering takedowns and analysis of mainstream and conservative media, died Monday in a bicycle collision in his New Jersey hometown. He was 57.

“Through his journalism, social media, books, and appearances on CNN and MSNBC, Eric was a fierce defender of democracy, social justice and truth in media,” Boehlert’s family said in a statement released Wednesday. “He was fearless and brilliant in his investigation of hypocrisies and double standards in the media, and his contribution was priceless.”

Boehlert’s wife, Tracy Breslin, told the Bergen Record her husband was the cyclist that N.J. Transit said was struck by a train on Monday night. The couple have two adult children.

News of Boehlert’s death provoked an outpouring of grief online from friends and fans of his media criticism, which started appearing in liberal publications such as Media Matters for America, Daily Kos and Salon in the mid 2000s, before he later became prominent on social media and cable news….

Boehlert covered the music industry for Rolling Stone and Billboard early in his career, before he turned his attention to media criticism. He contributed to the liberal media watchdog Media Matters for more than a decade starting in the mid-2000s and also worked as a senior writer for Salon and a media critic at Daily Kos. He took aim at both right-wing media and mainstream outlets for what he saw as their failings, and in early 2020 he started his own liberal newsletter called Press Run because, as he wrote, “we can’t fix America if we don’t fix the press.”

“When a radical White House player is eagerly chipping away at our freedoms and the Constitution, we need the press to stand up to the unprecedented challenge at hand — a press corps that doesn’t wallow in ‘Both Sides’ journalism as a way to escape the wrath from Republicans,” he wrote in February 2020.

There’s much more at the WaPo link.

It’s not clear yet how Boelert could have been hit by a train, but someone from NJ posted this on Twitter:

News from DC

This is a strange story and I suspect it will get even stranger. AP News: US: 2 posed as agents, gave gifts to Secret Service officers.

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged two men they say were posing as federal agents, giving free apartments and other gifts to U.S. Secret Service agents, including one who worked on the first lady’s security detail.

The two men — Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 36 — were taken into custody as more than a dozen FBI agents charged into a luxury apartment building in Southeast Washington on Wednesday evening.

Prosecutors allege Taherzadeh and Ali had falsely claimed to work for the Department of Homeland Security and work on a special task force investigating gang and violence connected to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. They allege the two posed as law enforcement officers to integrate with actual federal agents.

Taherzadeh is accused of providing Secret Service officers and agents with rent-free apartments — including a penthouse worth over $40,000 a year — along with iPhones, surveillance systems, a drone, flat screen television, a generator, gun case and other policing tools, according to court documents.

He also offered to let them use a black GMC SUV that he identified as an “official government vehicle,” prosecutors say. In one instance, Taherzadeh offered to purchase a $2,000 assault rifle for a Secret Service agent who is assigned to protect the first lady.

Prosecutors said four Secret Service employees were placed on leave earlier this week as part of the investigation.

The First Lady?! Is anyone making sure the Biden’s are really being protected? I hope so.

More from The Washington Post: 2 men accused of posing as federal officers to get near Secret Service.

The charges against Ali and Taherzadeh were made public as FBI personnel were seen in the Navy Yard area Wednesday night and were photographed on social media going into an apartment building. In a statement, the FBI said personnel were conducting “court authorized law enforcement activity” in the 900 block of First Street SE.

The investigation into the pair began March 14 when a U.S. Postal Service inspector went to a D.C. apartment complex to respond to a complaint of an assault on a letter carrier at the building, where many people who work for the FBI, Secret Service, Department of Defense and Navy live. Residents told the inspector that Ali and Taherzadeh identified themselves to residents as Department of Homeland Security investigations special agents who may have witnessed the assault, the affidavit said.

They claimed they were “special police” officers involved in undercover gang-related investigations and probes related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the affidavit states. Other residents told the inspector the men used several apartments in the building, claiming the Department of Homeland Security paid the rent, and used an SUV equipped with emergency lights they identified as “their official DHS vehicle.”

The inspector learned the men were in contact with several members of the Secret Service and had provided gifts to them or their families and use of the SUV, the affidavit states. The document did not explain how the inspector learned about the gifts.

The affidavit included photos of the men in police tactical gear with “POLICE” emblazoned on their clothing. And in one instance, Taherzadeh sent a stock photo from the Internet to one witness and claimed to be in Homeland Security Investigations training, investigators alleged.

And who were these guys working for? Was it a foreign country? I guess we’ll be learning more in the days to come.

The Washington Post: House votes to hold ex-Trump aides Navarro, Scavino in contempt of Congress.

The House voted Wednesday to hold two former aides to President Donald Trump in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas related to the investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

The 220-to-203 vote results in criminal referrals to the Justice Department, which will decide whether to charge former trade and manufacturing director Peter Navarro and former White House communications chief Daniel Scavino Jr. with misdemeanors that can result in up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

During Wednesday’s floor debate, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, said Navarro and Scavino “must be held accountable for their defiance of the law.”

“Even if you do it on your own time, trying to overturn an election is still trying to overturn an election,” Thompson said, adding: “This kind of cynical behavior as we investigate a violent insurrection is just despicable. It can’t stand. Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro must be held accountable for their abuses of the public trust.”

Republicans countered by accusing Democrats of targeting their political opponents — despite the bipartisan nature of the Jan. 6 select committee.

A bit of comic relief:

The Daily Beast: Congresswoman Who Downplayed the Capitol Riot Is Very Concerned About a Slap Joke.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) downplayed the violence at the Capitol, voted against awarding congressional medals to Capitol Police officers injured in the insurrection, and ranted that the agency is like the “gazpacho” (presumably a reference to Nazi Germany’s Gestapo). But now she wants to them to devote resources to investigating comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s joke that Will Smith should slap her. “[T]his threat of violence against me by @jimmykimmel has been filed with the @CapitolPolice,” she tweeted Wednesday. Greene has, among other things, harassed a school shooting survivor, posted a mock-up pic of her holding a machine gun near lawmakers’ heads, and liked a Facebook post about executing Democrats.

Ukraine News and Commentary

The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence service, has acquired gruesome new insights into the atrocities committed by Russian military forces in the town of Bucha near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. DER SPIEGEL has learned that the BND intercepted Russian military radio traffic in which the murder of civilians in Bucha was discussed. Some of the intercepted radio traffic can apparently be directly linked to dead bodies that have been photographed in Bucha.

Following the withdrawal of the Russian military from the town over the weekend, a mass grave was discovered as well as the bodies of several dozen dead civilians left lying on the streets. The hands of some of the victims had been tied, while other bodies showed signs of torture. Numerous women and children are also reportedly among the victims.

The Russian government has vehemently denied that Russian forces are responsible for these war crimes. Several – completely unsubstantiated – claims have been made that the alleged war crimes have been staged by Ukraine. Those claims, however, are contradicted by the statements of numerous witnesses interviewed by reporters from DER SPIEGEL and other news outlets in the town of Bucha.

The intercepted comments now appear to completely refute Russia’s denials. DER SPIEGEL has learned that the BND briefed parliamentarians on Wednesday about its findings. Some of the intercepted traffic apparently matches the locations of bodies found along the main road through town. In one of them, a soldier apparently told another that they had just shot a person on a bicycle. That corresponds to the photo of the dead body lying next to a bicycle that has been shared around the world. In another intercepted conversation, a man apparently said: First you interrogate soldiers, then you shoot them.

Read more at the link.

The Washington Post: In Bucha, the scope of Russian barbarity is coming into focus.

BUCHA, Ukraine — The name of this city is already synonymous with the month-long carnage that Russian soldiers perpetrated here.

But the scale of the killings and the depravity with which they were committed is only just becoming apparent as police, local officials and regular citizens start the grim task of clearing Bucha of the hundreds of corpses decomposing on streets and in parks, apartment buildings and other locations.

As a team from the district prosecutor’s office moved slowly through Bucha on Wednesday, investigators uncovered evidence of torture before death, beheading and dismemberment, and the intentional burning of corpses.

Some of the cruelest violence took place at a glass factory on the edge of town.

On the gravel near a loading dock lay the body of Dmytro Chaplyhin, 21, whose abdomen was bruised black and blue, his hands marked with what looked like cigarette burns. He ultimately was killed by a gunshot to the chest, concluded team leader Ruslan Kravchenko. His body then was turned into a weapon, tied to a tripwire connected to a mine.

If you can stand to read more, click the link above.

Timothy Snyder at The Washington Post: By denying a Ukrainian culture, Putin flattens his own.

In his 1926 poem “Debt to Ukraine,” Vladimir Mayakovsky wrote: “It’s hard to crush people into one. Don’t raise yourself so high.” After all, the poet continued: “Do we know the Ukrainian night? No, we do not know the Ukrainian night.” But Vladimir Putin wants to crush people into one. He says God told him that Ukrainian souls are Russian. History revealed to him that Ukraine strives to be one with Russia; the very language he speaks entitles him to invade any country where Russian is spoken. An official Russian news service removed any ambiguity a few days ago, publishing a text advocating the complete elimination of the Ukrainian nation as such. And so Ukraine must be crushed, and anyone who thinks or speaks of Ukraine must be eliminated.

By way of these deep misunderstandings, Putin has placed the Ukrainian nation at the center of world history, for everyone to see. A Ukrainian actor, Volodymyr Zelensky, is now one of the most recognizable people on Earth. Putin’s invasion made visible not only that courageous, democratically elected president but also functional institutions, an impressive civil society, and journalists, activists and musicians who appear on our television screens and in our newspapers.

Matters are murkier in Putin’s Russia. A war based upon a big lie is also hard on its culture of origin. Everyone is looking at the Russian nation — or perhaps, rather, for it. What does it do to a society to invade a neighbor, which it claims to love, on the basis of bottomless self-deception? Americans have not yet recovered from the lies they told about Iraq two decades ago, and the Russian deception campaign runs far deeper. How are Russian parents altered when they deny to their children in Ukraine that any war is taking place? What sort of nation makes war and then forbids the use of the very word?

This is Putin’s war, but it is far too simple to say that it is only his war. It is made in the name of Russia, and the killing and maiming and abducting and deporting of Ukrainians are being done by tens of thousands of Russian citizens. As north-central Ukraine is liberated by its own citizens, hundreds of corpses of Ukrainian civilians are found in Bucha and other towns, in positions that suggest atrocities including rape, torture and execution. “This is how the Russian state will now be perceived,” Zelensky said. “Your culture and human appearance perished together with the Ukrainian men and women to whom you came.” Massacres seem to be a normal Russian occupation practice. Even as Russians are committing war crimes that violate Ukraine’s right to exist, Russians are told (and often seem to believe) that they are refighting the Second World War and resisting Nazis. That is a very big lie, and big lies do lasting damage.

I’ll end there. I’m grateful to live in a country that isn’t at war right now. Have a peaceful Thursday, Sky Dancers.

J


Tuesday Reads: Putin’s War and His GOP Fans

Good Afternoon!!

Aliza Nisenbaum

By Aliza Nisenbaum

It’s really difficult reading the news these days, between Putin’s genocidal attack in Ukraine and the Republicans’ attempts to end democracy here at home.

Last night I took a break from the cable news shows and watched the University of Kansas beat North Carolina in the NCAA basketball championship game. It turned out to be really exciting. K.U. was down 16 points at the end of the first half, but came back to win 72-69. It was a battle to the finish and fun to watch, so I’m glad I took a break from politics and war news.

I spent my early childhood years in Lawrence, Kansas, where my Dad was working on his Ph.D. I still have happy memories of those years and of the K.U. campus. When we moved away, I was heartbroken. In those days Wilt Chamberlain played for the Jayhawks before he decided to go pro after his junior year. Anyway, our family always rooted for K.U. in basketball for sentimental reasons.

Now on to today’s Ukraine war news.

This morning, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to the UN about Russian atrocities and Russia’s ludicrous claims that the torture and murders of Ukrainian citizens were committed by Ukrainians themselves: Yahoo News: Zelensky: Russia ‘will try to hide the traces of their crimes.’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused the Russian military of plotting to cover up the mass killing of his country’s civilians in a bid to “distort the facts.”

Speaking in an emotional address to the nation in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Zelensky warned that Kremlin-led forces were attempting to hide the atrocities that were committed in the areas still occupied by Moscow. His speech comes days after hundreds of Ukrainian civilians were reportedly found dead in Kyiv suburbs like Bucha in the aftermath of the recent withdrawal of Russian troops in the region.

In his 10-minute speech, Zelensky accused Russia of using the same propaganda tactics it used when a Malaysia Airlines passenger flight was shot down in 2014 over eastern Ukraine. An independent Dutch investigation found that Russian-backed rebels downed the plane with a surface-to-air missile, killing 298 people. Russia blamed the Ukrainian government for the tragedy.

Berthe Morisot, Girl Playing a Mandolin

Berthe Morisot, Girl Playing a Mandolin

“They used the same tactics when the occupiers shot down a Malaysian Boeing over Donbas,” Zelensky said. “They blamed Ukraine. They even came up with various conspiracy theories. They even went so far as to claim that the corpses were ‘thrown’ on board the plane before it crashed.”

Zelensky made his comments undoubtedly aware that the Russian government is already promoting implausible theories to explain the images and video of bodies littering the streets of Bucha. The Russian Defense Ministry suggested that some of the dead civilians were actually actors pretending to be dead, claiming that the video shows the bodies still moving. Independent media fact checkers and satellite images contradict Russia’s claims; the many journalists documenting the aftermath of the killings also undermine Russia’s case.

This is reminiscent of the conspiracy nuts here in the U.S. who claimed that victims of the Boston bombing were “crisis actors,” and the entire event was staged by the government. They made similar claims about the horrific murders of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Did they get their ideas from Russian propaganda?

You can read Zelensky’s response to the Russian lies at his official website: There is ample evidence that it is Russian troops who destroy peaceful cities, torture and kill civilians – address by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Yesterday The New York Times published an analysis of satellite images that disprove Russia’s ugly lies: Satellite images show bodies lay in Bucha for weeks, despite Russian claims.

When images emerged over the weekend of the bodies of dead civilians lying on the streets of Bucha — some with their hands bound, some with gunshot wounds to the head — Russia’s Ministry of Defense denied responsibility. In a Telegram post on Sunday, the ministry suggested that the bodies had been recently placed on the streets after “all Russian units withdrew completely from Bucha” around March 30.

Russia claimed that the images were “another hoax” and called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on what it called “provocations of Ukrainian radicals” in Bucha.

Girlfriends-1916-1917, Gustav Klimt

Girlfriends, 1916-1917, Gustav Klimt

But a review of videos and satellite imagery by The Times shows that many of the civilians were killed more than three weeks ago, when Russia’s military was in control of the town.

One video filmed by a local council member on April 1 shows multiple bodies scattered along Yablonska Street in Bucha. Satellite images provided to The Timtes by Maxar Technologies show that at least 11 of those had been on the street since March 11, when Russia, by its own account, occupied the town.

To confirm when the bodies appeared, and when the civilians were likely killed, the Visual Investigations team at The Times conducted a before-and-after analysis of satellite imagery. The images show dark objects of similar size to a human body appearing on Yablonska Street between March 9 and March 11. The objects appear in the precise positions in which the bodies were found after Ukrainian forces reclaimed Bucha, as the footage from April 1 shows. Further analysis shows that the objects remained in those position for over three weeks.

Read more at the NYT link.

Bloomberg on the latest sanctions on Russia: Russia’s Effort to Avoid Default Undermined by New U.S. Sanction.

Russia’s efforts to avoid a sovereign default took another blow after the U.S. Treasury halted dollar debt payments from the country’s accounts at U.S. banks.

The decision further complicates Russia’s attempts to keep meeting debt obligations amid the sanctions imposed after it invaded Ukraine. As the government tries to sidestep its first external default in about a century, those restrictions have hampered and delayed the process of transferring money to bond holders.

Friedrich von Amerling, The Young Eastern Woman

Friedrich von Amerling, The Young Eastern Woman

Other governments are also planning tougher sanctions after allegations that Russian troops massacred civilians in Bucha and other Ukrainian towns. The European Union is proposing to ban coal imports from Russia, which would be a major step-up for a region that’s so far shied away from targeting energy flows crucial to the bloc’s economy.

The U.S. announcement is intended to force Russia into either draining its domestic dollar reserves or spending new revenue to make bond payments, or else go into default, according to a spokesperson for the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, who discussed details on condition of anonymity.

“Clearly this latest announcement by the U.S. Treasury is designed to put additional pressure on the Russians,” said Gary Kirk, a portfolio manager at TwentyFour Asset Management. “The alternative payment methods are significantly more punitive and more challenging for Russia and hence it does increase the chances of a technical default.”

More Ukraine war stories:

The Washington Post: Ukrainian villagers describe cruel and brutal Russian occupation.

Cathy Young at The Bulwark: The Bucha Atrocities and the Kremlin Apologists.

BBC: Ukraine war: Biden calls for Putin to face war crimes trial after Bucha killings.

CNBC: U.S. warns Russia will intensify its military operations in Ukraine after weeks of stalled ground fighting.

Walter Russell Mead at The Wall Street Journal: Biden’s Ugly Options in Ukraine.

Republican authoritarians and Russia sympathizers

Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: This Republican about-face is so much worse than ‘cancel culture.’

The GOP no longer argues that free markets, rather than government, should choose “winners and losers.”

In today’s Republican Party, the primary economic role of the state is not to get out of the way. It is, instead, to reward friends and crush political enemies.

Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham expressed the new ethos in a recent monologue threatening companies that advocated for LGBTQ rights, ballot access, racial justice and sundry other political stances that are anathema in today’s GOP.

“When Republicans, they get back into power, Apple and Disney need to understand one thing: Everything will be on the table,” Ingraham warned. “Your copyright, trademark protection. Your special status within certain states. And even your corporate structure itself. The antitrust division at Justice needs to begin the process of considering which American companies need to be broken up once and for all for competition’s sake, and ultimately for the good of the consumers who pay the bills.”

This might have been an unusually eloquent articulation of Republicans’ punitive new approach to economic policy, but it is hardly unique to Ingraham.

A Romance by Santiago Rusinol

A Romance by Santiago Rusinol

A bit more:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is furious that Disney has publicly criticized his new law prohibiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity (nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” law); beyond using his bully pulpit to rail against Disney’s supposed indecency, he has threatened to cancel Disney’s half-century-old special status under Florida law that enables the company to effectively govern itself on the grounds of its theme parks. Similarly, last year, DeSantis signed a (likely unconstitutional) law to punish tech companies for privately determined content-moderation decisions, and another law that fines private companies that attempt to set vaccination requirements in their workplaces.

In other states, such as Georgia, GOP politicians have punished private companies for taking supposedly “woke” stands on issues such as gun violence. Republicans in Congress have likewise tried to use antitrust enforcement and other government levers to punish companies whose public stances on voting rights or internal policies on content moderation they dislike.

This approach to governance was expertly modeled by Donald Trump, who as president frequently used the power of the state to reward friends and punish perceived political enemies.

He did this through tax law, tariff policy and other proposed subsidies that chose winners and losers according to their political allegiances. He selectively enforced energy policies, such as allowing offshore drilling, to dole out favors to friends.

Another interesting read by Aaron Rupar about how DeSantis is following Trump’s example. In the article, Rupar interviews authoritarianism expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat. An authoritarianism scholar on DeSantis as “the ultimate agent for the normalization of extremism.”

DeSantis rode the Trump cult of personality to the Florida governor’s mansion in 2018, but he’s since forged his own brand of right-wing demagoguery. Last Friday, he was on Fox & Friends, which has celebrated him for the stands he’s taken against public health regulations to combat Covid, against the LGBT community, and against liberalism in general….

Henry Meynell Rheam, 1859-1920

By Henry Meynell Rheam, 1859-1920

More importantly, DeSantis’s Fox & Friends appearance gave him a platform to rail against Disney, Florida’s largest employer, for publicly speaking out against “Don’t Say Gay” legislation he signed into law that allows parents to sue teachers who bring up gender or sexual orientation in K-3 classrooms.

“This wokeness will destroy our country,” DeSantis declared.

Florida has a large LGBT population and Disney is a major economic driver for the state, so from one standpoint DeSantis picking a fight with Mickey Mouse doesn’t seem to make much sense. But he has his reasons. To better understand them, I reached out to Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert on authoritarianism and professor of history and Italian studies at NYU.

Ben-Ghiat has written about how DeSantis is following in Trump’s authoritarian footsteps for both CNN and MSNBC. Last month, she wrote on her blog (“Lucid”) about how he’s turning Florida “into his own mini-autocracy.”

“DeSantis is a particularly dangerous individual,” she wrote. “He may be up for re-election as governor in Florida, but he has designs on the White House as soon as two years from now. It’s not hard to see what he is doing in Florida as a rehearsal for illiberalism on a national scale.”

Read the interview at the link.

William Saletan at The Bulwark: Who’s Soft on Russia? Meet the Republican Anti-Ukraine Caucus!

After years of defending a pro-Putin American president and dismissing Russia’s interference in American elections, Republicans have returned to their old shtick: accusing Democrats of being soft on Russia. Their hypocrisy is galling, but the bigger problem is that their depiction of the two parties is backward. In polls, Republicans are more dovish on Russia and Ukraine than Democrats are. And in Congress, the purveyors of isolationism, appeasement, and Russian propaganda are on the right, not the left.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the House of Representatives has voted on three measures specific to the war. The first vote, taken on March 2, was on a resolution that endorsed sanctions against Russia, reaffirmed Ukrainian sovereignty over territory seized by Russia, advocated military aid to Ukraine, and pledged to support the Ukrainian resistance. All six members of the progressive “Squad”—Reps. Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib—voted for the resolution. So did Rep. Barbara Lee, the Democrats’ foremost opponent of military spending. Not one Democrat voted against the resolution. But three Republicans did: Reps. Paul Gosar, Thomas Massie, and Matt Rosendale.

La Musique, Henri Matisse

La Musique, Henri Matisse

On March 9, the House passed a bill to suspend oil and gas imports from Russia. Five of the seven Democratic leftists voted for the suspension. The two who voted against it—Bush and Omar—were joined by 15 Republicans who also voted no. In addition to Gosar and Massie, this time the list included Reps. Andy Biggs, Dan Bishop, Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn, Scott DesJarlais, Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Glenn Grothman, Clay Higgins, Bill Posey, Chip Roy, and Tom Tiffany.On March 17, the House passed a bill to end favorable trade relations with Russia and its accomplice in the war, Belarus. Eight Republicans voted against the bill. Every Democrat, including the seven leftists, voted for it.

Several Republicans have gone further. Cawthorn and Gosar are pushing legislation that would prohibit the U.S. military from deploying “by reason of the situation in Ukraine” any more troops than are stationed at the Mexican border. No sensible military planner would want more troops guarding a friendly border than deterring an imminent threat to our most important alliance, but that’s what this bill would do: It would block deployments to NATO countries in Eastern Europe. It’s a gift to Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, 10 Republicans have signed on to a bill that would bar any delivery of military aid to Ukraine until “a border wall system along the United States-Mexico border is completed.” The cosponsors include Reps. Bob Good, Jody Hice, Mary Miller, Ralph Norman, and Randy Weber. (Don’t bother trying to square this demand with Trump’s insistence that he has basically built the wall, except for a couple of tiny spots.)

That’s all I have for you today. Please let me know what you think, and feel free to use the comments to discuss any topics that interest you.