The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

Score One for the Mouse

This afternoon Bob Iger of Disney announced the company is scrapping a plan to build a $1 billion office complex in Orlando, “costing the state more than 2,000 six-figure jobs,” it says here. One suspects Florida needs Disney more than Disney needs Florida.

More information has come out on Diane Feinstein’s recent medical issues. It wasn’t just shingles. I realize she’s being kept in her position for procedural reasons, but this points to just one more way Senate rules need to be changed. Keeping her in the Senate is bordering on grotesque.

Speaking of grotesque, Josh Hawley’s “manhood” book is out, and the reviews are brutal. I especially like Lloyd Green at The Guardian, Robin Abcarian at the Los Angeles Times, and Rebecca Onion at Slate.

Today’s News Bits

I am temporarily back in Missouri to wind up things here. And I’m trying to keep up with the news. Today CNN reports:

The National Archives has informed former president Donald Trump that it is set to hand over to special counsel Jack Smith 16 records which show Trump and his top advisers had knowledge of the correct declassification process while he was president, according to multiple sources.

In a May 16 letter obtained by CNN, acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall writes to Trump, “The 16 records in question all reflect communications involving close presidential advisers, some of them directed to you personally, concerning whether, why, and how you should declassify certain classified records.”

The 16 presidential records, which were subpoenaed earlier this year, may provide critical evidence establishing the former president’s awareness of the declassification process, a key part of the criminal investigation into Trump’s mishandling of classified documents.

The records may also provide insight into Trump’s intent and whether he willfully disregarded what he knew to be clearly established protocols, according to a source familiar with recent testimony provided to the grand jury by former top Trump officials.

I personally think the more incriminating thing was something he said in the infamous CNN “town hall” last week:

When asked why he took government documents from the White House, Trump answered: “I was there and I took what I took. … I had every right to do it. I didn’t make a secret of it. You know, the boxes were stationed outside of the White House.”

Yes, it’s very likely all kinds of people tried to educate him about the classification thing, and he just ignored them. And it appears he still hasn’t figured out why the documents aren’t “his.” Or else he’s trying to hide behind ignorance of the law, but that’s not supposed to be a legitimate defense.

The John Durham’s report on his investigation was released a couple of days ago. Paul Waldman explains that while the investigation was a total flop, the report is a propaganda triumph. It doesn’t matter that Durham didn’t find actual wrongdoing in the FBI investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia. But the Right has still been able to spin it to claim the FBI investigation was just political and never should have been started.

I don’t know what’s going on with the debt ceiling, and part of me doesn’t want to know. I just want the thing resolved. Apparently I’m not the only one.

Today’s News Bits, Mother’s Day Edition

For today’s readings, check out How to Raise $89 Million in Small Donations — And Make It Disappear at the New York Times. No paywall. The intro blurb:

A group of conservative operatives using sophisticated robocalls raised millions of dollars from donors using pro-police and pro-veteran messages. But instead of using the money to promote issues and candidates, an analysis by The New York Times shows, nearly all the money went to pay the firms making the calls and the operatives themselves, highlighting a flaw in the regulation of political nonprofits.

Here’s another bit:

About 90 percent of the money the groups raised was simply sent back to their fund-raising contractors, to feed a self-consuming loop where donations went to find more donors to give money to find more donors. They had no significant operations other than fund-raising, and along the way became one of America’s biggest sources of robocalls.

It is not clear why the groups plowed so much of what they raised back into more fund-raising calls; compared with other political nonprofits, their fund-raising expenditures were extraordinarily high.

But one other set of expenditures was especially notable: The groups also paid $2.8 million, or 3 percent of the money raised, to three Republican political consultants from Wisconsin who were the hidden force behind all five nonprofits, according to people who worked for the groups and who in some cases were kept in the dark by the consultants about the finances of the operations.

It’s all about the grift, folks. But those three guys may be feeling a tad exposed right now.

Rolling Stone has a story about Diane Feinstein’s apparent dementia.

Multiple sources tell Rolling Stone that in recent years Feinstein’s office had an on-call system — unbeknownst to Feinstein herself — to prevent the senator from ever walking around the Capitol on her own. At any given moment there was a staff member ready to jump up and stroll alongside the senator if she left her office, worried about what she’d say to reporters if left unsupervised. The system has been in place for years.

“They will not let her leave by herself, but she doesn’t even know it,” says Jamarcus Purley, a former staffer. …

… Purley described office meetings where an issue would be discussed for several minutes, only for Feinstein to bring up the same topic later in the same meeting. Senior staff would then run through the whole conversation again as if they were saying it for the first time, to the discomfort of everyone in the room except for Feinstein. Another witness corroborated this account. 

That last symptom is classic Alzheimer’s. Until it’s very advanced patients retain knowledge they’ve had for a long time, but they can’t remember what they were just told, or even if they were told something. It’s like the brain erases itself in reverse chronological order, most recent stuff first. Repeating the information doesn’t help. Seriously, I can’t believe she’s been allowed to go on like this.

In other news: Rep. James Comer (R-KY), chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee and tireless investigator of Hunter Biden’s laptop, admits he has lost an informant.

During an interview on Fox News, host Maria Bartiromo asked Comer about evidence he had of [President] Biden’s alleged corruption.

“You have spoken with whistleblowers,” she noted. “You also spoke with an informant who gave you all of this information. Where is that informant today? Where are these whistleblowers?”

“Well, unfortunately, we can’t track down the informant,” Comer replied. “We’re hopeful that the informant is still there. The whistleblower knows the informant. The whistleblower is very credible.”

“Hold on a second, Congressman,” Bartiromo said. “Did you just say that the whistleblower or the informant is now missing?”

“Well, we we’re hopeful that we can find the informant,” Comer said, explaining the informant was in the “spy business” and “they don’t make a habit of being seen a lot.”

“The nine of the ten people that we’ve identified that have very good knowledge with respect to the Bidens,” he added, “they’re one of three things, Maria, they’re either currently in court, they’re currently in jail, or they’re currently missing.”

Well, that certainly sounds credible.

On the Road

I’m still on the road in New York preparing to move. I still have business to wind up in Missouri and will be flying back next week, but I hope to be living in my new place by the end of this month.

I take it the two big bits of political news this week have been the ending of Title 42 at the border and the fallout from Trump’s Lie-a-palooza on CNN. I’m having a hard time working myself into a xenophobic meltdown over the border. And CNN deserves all the ridicule it has received over the “town hall.” Philip Bump has a good analysis of the “town hall” and whether CNN was justified in hosting it (no). No paywall. And I need a nap.

The World the NRA Wants You to Live In

Trump chickened out of testifying at the E. Jean Carroll trial, as expected.

This is life in St. Louis over the weekend:

Five people were shot to death and a number other people were wounded. I think they’re still counting, actually. It’s unlikely any of this will count as a “mass shooting” because these were several separate incidents. This is what happens with no gun control. Missouri laws don’t call for permits or licenses of any sort. People can buy any firearm they want and carry it nearly everywhere they want. It’s arguably a bigger hassle to get a new cell phone than an assault weapon here. This is the world the NRA wants us to live in.

This is a PayPal link to my “help me move back to New York” fundraiser. And here is the GoFundMe link for those who don’t want to deal with PayPal. Thanks for all donations so far!

Allen Texas Shooting and the Debt Limit

The latest news says there are nine people dead from the Allen, Texas, mass shooting. Gov. Greg Abbott will be in Allen today to utter pointless words that will fail to address anything real about mass shootings. Already he is blaming “mental health,” which he does after every mass shooting. Note that in 2021 Abbott cut more than $200 million from the Texas department that handles mental health services.

However, the Texas legislature recently passed a bill that provides a lot of funding for better mental health services in schools, so I can’t say they’ve done nothing. But the Texas mall shooter was a man in his 30s, which is about all that news stories have said about him as of this writing.

And note, one more time, that according to the American Psychological Association there is no clear link between mental illness and mass shootings. And this is from the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry:

The public tends to link serious mental illnesses, like schizophrenia or psychotic disorders, with violence and mass shootings. But serious mental illness—specifically psychosis—is not a key factor in most mass shootings or other types of mass murder. Approximately 5% of mass shootings are related to severe mental illness. And although a much larger number of mass shootings (about 25%) are associated with non-psychotic psychiatric or neurological illnesses, including depression, and an estimated 23% with substance use, in most cases these conditions are incidental.

I’ve read elsewhere that about a quarter of the U.S. population at any given time arguably has some kind of non-psychotic psychiatric or neurological illness, so the percentage of mass shooters with such conditions is about what you’d expect from any random sampling of people. And according to HHS, about 16.5 percent of Americans aged 12 and older have some kind of substance abuse problem, so drugs/alcohol might be a factor in some situations. But some shooters are stone cold sober at the time of the shootings.

And we go through all of this every time there’s a mass shooting, and the Greg Abbotts of America never get off the same talking points — mental illness, thoughts and prayers. Blah blah blah.

The Dumbest Response So Far award goes to Texas State Rep. Keith Self (R-Allen), who, in a mumbling defense of “thoughts and prayers,” more or less said that God lets shootings happen.

In other news: People are having fun with something Bill Barr said recently.

Digby: Now you admit it? Now?

By all accounts Bill Barr got himself into the Trump administration because he wanted to promote his long-held theory that the president has nearly unchecked power. Instead, he unwittingly held a national master class on why the unitary executive theory is a really, really bad idea.

Also: On the other hand, Lawrence Tribe is now on board with President Biden just declaring the debt ceiling irrelevant and authorizing the Treasury to borrow what it needs to borrow. I’m on board with that too, actually, and look forward to seeing the Chaos Caucus in the House devolve into a sputtering and toothless mass. We need to put a stop to this nonsense of allowing a handful of radicals hold the global economy hostage just to score political points. But here is a bit of what Tribe wrote (no paywall; do read the whole thing):

The question isn’t whether the president can tear up the debt limit statute to ensure that the Treasury Department can continue paying bills submitted by veterans’ hospitals or military contractors or even pension funds that purchased government bonds.

The question isn’t whether the president can in effect become a one-person Supreme Court, striking down laws passed by Congress.

The right question is whether Congress — after passing the spending bills that created these debts in the first place — can invoke an arbitrary dollar limit to force the president and his administration to do its bidding.

There is only one right answer to that question, and it is no.

And there is only one person with the power to give Congress that answer: the president of the United States. As a practical matter, what that means is this: Mr. Biden must tell Congress in no uncertain terms — and as soon as possible, before it’s too late to avert a financial crisis — that the United States will pay all its bills as they come due, even if the Treasury Department must borrow more than Congress has said it can.

The president should remind Congress and the nation, “I’m bound by my oath to preserve and protect the Constitution to prevent the country from defaulting on its debts for the first time in our entire history.” Above all, the president should say with clarity, “My duty faithfully to execute the laws extends to all the spending laws Congress has enacted, laws that bind whoever sits in this office — laws that Congress enacted without worrying about the statute capping the amount we can borrow.”

By taking that position, the president would not be usurping Congress’s lawmaking power or its power of the purse. Nor would he be usurping the Supreme Court’s power to “say what the law is,” as Chief Justice John Marshall once put it. Mr. Biden would simply be doing his duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” even if doing so leaves one law — the borrowing limit first enacted in 1917 — temporarily on the cutting room floor.


Also, too: This is a PayPal link to my “help me move back to New York” fundraiser. Thanks for all donations so far!

Update: Here is the GoFundMe link for those who don’t want to deal with PayPal.

Criminal Justice News, and a Horse Race

Have I mentioned I’m not exactly dealing with this moving to New York thing with stoic Zen equanimity? I’m barely functioning, in fact. I’ve also realized there’s not enough time to move Mahablog to a less expensive host before the next billing cycle.  And I don’t want to be offline when the jury delivers a verdict in the E. Jean Carroll trial. So I’m going to do a fundraiser instead. This is a PayPal link, and soon I’ll have a GoFundMe link up also.

I wanted to say something about Jordan Neely, the homeless man choked to death on a subway on May 1. One of my Facebook friends wrote that when he lived in the Village he used to see Neely on the A Train. He could sometimes be unpredictable but didn’t seem threatening.

This is life in NYC; sometimes you see people arguing with lampposts. On one train I used to ride a lot there would be an older guy who spoke long, nonsensical soliloquies about a teddy bear. In a better world there’d be some services for such people, so that they didn’t have to spend their days using subway cars for shelter. Errol Louis wrote at New York

To be Black, destitute, homeless, and mentally ill in our city is to be one of those outsiders, existing in a kind of internal exile from society’s circle of care and concern.

“I don’t have food, I don’t have a drink, I’m fed up,” Neely screamed in the final minutes of his life, according to Juan Alberto Vázquez, a freelance journalist on the train who recorded the incident. “I don’t mind going to jail and getting life in prison. I’m ready to die.” It seemed to be a complaint shouted to the heavens, aimed at nobody in particular. Neely “didn’t seem like he wanted to hurt anyone,” Vázquez later said. But the doomed man’s words were sadly accurate about the choices he believed New York offered: prison or death.

Yes, that’s how it is, and everybody knows it.

There’s a video of a Marine veteran named Daniel Perry choking Neely to death. There were several other people on the subway car who saw him do it. “Prosecutors had yet to make a decision on criminal charges in the case, although the city Medical Examiner ruled the death was a homicide,” says Larry McShane at the Daily News. I understand there have been protests. I take it Neely had been arrested in violent episodes in the past, but there is no evidence he was a danger to anyone when he was killed. The hesitation to bring charges is unjustified, from what I see. Somebody needs to step up.

In St. Louis, the circuit attorney (city prosecuting attorney) Kim Gardner resigned effective June 1. I have no personal experience with the St. Louis criminal justice system (thank you), but I have long suspected she was being stonewalled by the St. Louis PD. The state Attorney General who has been trying to get her out is a MAGAt, and I fear he and the governor (aka the Über-Goober) are fixin’ to appoint some other white goober who primarily just wants to cater to gun owners. And I give Gardner credit for getting Lamar Johnson’s conviction overturned.

But it has also been obvious that the St. Louis prosecutor office has been a huge mess. Lately there have been several trials called off because no prosecutor showed up to try them. The attorneys in the office have been resigning wholesale. People who have been victims of terrible crimes can’t get their phone calls returned. Then it turns out that while all this has been going on Gardner has been taking classes at the St. Louis University school of nursing. She says she’s been doing this on her “own time,” and maybe so, but with the crisis her office has been in I can’t imagine she has any “own time.” So it’s a bit hard to defend her.

In other news: Eight false Trump electors have accepted immunity deals, lawyer says, in the Fulton County, Georgia, election interference investigation.

It’s Derby Day. And it’s been 50 years since Secretariat began his Triple Crown run. He still owns the record in all three races.

Trump’s Entitlement Defense; Ginni Thomas Cashes In

Yesterday the Irish and British press were reporting that Trump is cutting his golf trip to Ireland short in order to go to New York to “confront” his accuser in the E. Jean Carroll case. And although both sides’ lawyers have rested their cases, the judge is giving Trump until Monday to choose to testify. Which I kind of hope he does, just for the entertainment value of the thing. If Trump doesn’t testify, the lawyers will give their closing arguments Monday morning.

Trump’s attorney Joe Tacopina has said all along that Trump will not testify. He also didn’t attempt to present a defense. Yesterday the jury saw Trump’s taped deposition, which may have clinched the verdict in E. Jean Carroll’s favor.

According to reports from inside the courtroom, the deposition features an agitated Donald Trump growing snarky and exasperated as Roberta Kaplan questioned him seven months ago. Trump has chosen not to attend the civil trial, but the jury saw the footage Thursday. Carroll is suing Trump for battery and defamation, alleging he raped her in a dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman in the 1990s.

Trump has denied the accusations since Carroll first came forward and his main defense has been claiming that Carroll is not his “type.” But during the deposition, Trump poked holes in his own defense. When Kaplan showed Trump a picture of himself talking to Carroll at a party in the past, Trump confused Carroll with Maples.

“It’s Marla,” he said, according to reports. “That’s Marla, yeah. That’s my wife.”

Later, Kaplan reportedly asked Trump questions about other women who have accused him of sexual assault. That’s when the former president grew heated, telling Kaplan “you wouldn’t be a choice of mine, either, to be honest.”

“I wouldn’t in any circumstances have any interest in you,” he said, bringing in the rejected dude at a bar defense.

It’s kind of awesome in its cluelessness. If I were a screenwriter I couldn’t have come up with dialogue that deluded. See also Bess Levin at Vanity Fair:

Yes, in an astonishing deposition—even for Trump—Carroll’s attorney Roberta Kaplan asked the former president about the infamous Access Hollywood tape in which he told Billy Bush in 2005: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” adding, “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” After watching the clip, Trump told Kaplan, “Well, historically, that’s true with stars.” When pressed on whether he stood by those statements—which he chalked up to “locker-room banter” in 2016, later suggesting the tape wasn’t real—Trump responded: “Well, I guess if you look over the last million years, that’s been largely true—not always true, but largely true, unfortunately or fortunately.” That’s right: When asked about his claim that it was okay to grab someone’s genitals without their permission, Trump said—while in the midst of a deposition about allegedly raping someone—that it was almost 100% true. “Unfortunately or fortunately”!

Also: See also Does Jack Smith have an insider source at Mar-a-Lago?

In other news: Best quote from social media today: “We’re about two days away from learning that Clarence Thomas is on Harlan Crow’s cell phone plan.” This is from someone called “JoJoFromJerz.”

The revelation from last night is, um, this (no paywall):

Conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo arranged for the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to be paid tens of thousands of dollars for consulting work just over a decade ago, specifying that her name be left off billing paperwork, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post.

In January 2012, Leo instructed the GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway to bill a nonprofit group he advises and use that money to pay Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the documents show. The same year, the nonprofit, the Judicial Education Project, filed a brief to the Supreme Court in a landmark voting rights case.

Leo, a key figure in a network of nonprofits that has worked to support the nominations of conservative judges, told Conwaythat he wanted her to “give” Ginni Thomas “another $25K,” the documents show. He emphasized that the paperwork should have “No mention of Ginni, of course.”

Then some more stuff about money funneled to Ginni Thomas, and then this:

In December 2012, the Judicial Education Project submitted an amicus brief in Shelby County v. Holder, a case challenging a landmark civil rights law aimed at protecting minority voters. The court struck down a formula in the Voting Rights Act that determined which states had to obtain federal clearance before changing their voting rules and procedures. Clarence Thomas was part of the 5-to-4 majority.

Thomas issued a concurring opinion in the case, arguing that the preclearance requirement itself is unconstitutional. Thomas’s opinionwhich was consistent with a previous opinion he wrote, favored the outcome the Judicial Education Project and several other conservative organizations had advocated in their amicus briefs. He did not cite the Judicial Education Project brief.

Remarkably, it says later in the article that “Legal ethics experts disagreed about whether the arrangement outlined by Leo and the payments from Conway should have led Thomas to recuse himself from the Shelby case.” I’m just done with this. They might as well stop pretending to be judges. Let the big money folks just pay them as their own agents. It would be more honest.

Today’s News Bits, Plus Announcement

Four Proud Boys members have been found guilty of seditious conspiracy.Enrique Tarrio, Joseph Biggs, Ethan Nordean, Dominic Pezzola and Zachary Rehl each faced nine counts. All but Pezzola were found guilty on the rare charge of seditious conspiracy under a Civil War-era statute. Tarrio, Biggs, Nordean and Rehl were also found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.” The jury is still debating charges for Pezzola.

There have now been fourteen seditious conspiracy convictions resulting from January 6. Andrew Weissmann on MSNBC says that this is piling a lot of pressure on Jack Smith.

See also Aaron Blake at WaPo, Trump is inviting Dems to make 2024 about Jan. 6. And they’re obliging. No paywall.

We also have more of the adventures of Clarence Thomas, from ProPublica: Clarence Thomas Had a Child in Private School. Harlan Crow Paid the Tuition.

See also Philip Bump at WaPo, The low cost (for a rich person) of sponsoring a Supreme Court justice. (No paywall.)

See also Emails Reveal ‘Jaw-Dropping’ Herschel Walker Money Scandal at The Daily Beast.

When Herschel Walker emailed a representative for billionaire industrialist and longtime family friend Dennis Washington in March 2022, he seemed to be engaging in normal behavior for a political candidate: He was asking for money.

But unbeknownst to Washington and the billionaire’s staff, Walker’s request was far more out of the ordinary. It was something campaign finance experts are calling “unprecedented,” “stunning,” and “jaw-dropping.” Walker wasn’t just asking for donations to his campaign; he was soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars for his own personal company—a company that he never disclosed on his financial statements.

Emails obtained by The Daily Beast—and verified as authentic by a person with knowledge of the exchanges—show that Walker asked Washington to wire $535,200 directly to that undisclosed company, HR Talent, LLC.

And the emails reveal that not only did Washington complete Walker’s wire requests, he was under the impression that these were, in fact, political contributions.

The Daily Standard (UK) is reporting that Trump says he is cutting his Ireland trip short in order to “confront” his accuser in the E. Jean Carroll case. If true, this would be huge news, as all previous indications were that he was not going to show up at trial. Of course, maybe by “confronting” he’s just going to bloviate to U.S. media. Maybe he’s realized he’s losing the trial.

Now, I have an announcement. When I left New York in 2016 I put my name on all kinds of wait lists for subsidized senior apartments, and one has finally come through. So it looks like I’ll be moving back to the state of New York in the very near future, which means blogging will be light. And it also means I absolutely have to park Mahablog in a cheaper spot, because even thought the rent is low I’ll still be living on a super tight budget. I have a place in mind, but step one means I’ll be tweaking the site a bit to reduce its size — it’s over a gigabyte now — before I move it, then it will be offline for about a week while being moved. I’m not sure when this will happen, but it will be pretty soon. I will warn you in advance. But I will be back, eventually!