Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: ‘The art of the steal’

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We start this morning with Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post detailing how New York Attorney General Letitia James’s lawsuit against Number 45 and his kids used Number 45’s boasting against him.

“Claiming to have money that you do not have does not amount to the art of the deal,” she said Wednesday, announcing a $250 million civil lawsuit against Trump, his company and members of his family for a decade-long pattern of alleged fraud. “It’s the art of the steal.”

I honestly wonder which aspect of James’s 222-page complaint will rankle Trump more: the threat of potential fines and restrictions that could essentially mean the corporate death penalty for the Trump Organization? Or the damage to his fragile ego from the suit’s detailed allegations about how he wildly inflated his net worth?

Judging by Trump’s declaration that James is a “racist” on a “witch hunt,” and his lawyer’s insistence that James, a Democrat, filed the suit to launch her own political career, the announcement stung the former president, even if it has not yet fatally wounded his business empire.

Jennifer Rubin, also of The Washington Post, says that contrary to the mainstream media pundits, the lawsuit by AG James proves that Number 45 remains a loser.

Since this is a civil suit, James need only prove her case by a preponderance of the evidence. Trump’s decision to invoke the Fifth Amendment more than 400 times during a court-ordered deposition with James last month can also be used against him. The suit effectively points a dagger at the entire Trump operation, putting at risk the thing that he holds most dear: his wealth. James has also made a referral to the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York.

For months, swarms of mainstream media pundits — same ones who seem to have overestimated the likelihood of a red wave in the midterms and declared President Biden was a failed president — repeatedly declared that the investigation into Trump’s hoarding of documents was strengthening his grip on the party. This was the ultimate false balance: Sure, he’s stirring up violence, but he is more popular than ever with the base!

In fact, Trump’s standing with the GOP looks weaker than ever. USA Today reports on a recent poll it conducted with Suffolk University: “In a hypothetical 2024 presidential primary in the Sunshine State, [Florida GOP Gov. Ron.] DeSantis leads Trump 48%-40%. That’s a reversal from a poll of Florida in January, when Trump led DeSantis 47%-40%.” That poll was taken between Sept. 15 and 18, just after DeSantis’s appalling ploy to send asylum seekers to Massachusetts. A recent national poll from Politico-Morning Consult also shows Trump leading DeSantis 52 to 19 percent, a 5-point drop for Trump since August.

Trump’s primary endorsees are also crashing — from Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania’s Senate and governor races to Blake Masters in the Arizona Senate race to Tudor Dixon in the Michigan gubernatorial race.

Number 45 has been on the losing end of two national popular votes. Trump also never enjoyed majority support (50% + 1) in any national polling for the entirety of his presidency (including, for the most part, the notoriously conservative Rasmussen Poll). Bu you would never know that from listening or reading mainstream media even now that Number 45 has been out of office for nearly two years.

Of course, Number 45’s “art of the steal” is also applicable to the classified documents stolen from the American people and taken to Mar-a-lago for unknown reasons. Michael Macagnone of Roll Call reports that a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court Appeals has overturned Judge Aileen Cannon and ruled that the criminal probe into the stolen classified documents can continue.

The ruling from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit found U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon likely erred when she ordered that the DOJ could not continue its criminal probe of Trump using the 100 or so classified documents found in the search.

The ruling succinctly cuts down some claims from the former president, particularly a suggestion he had any personal interest in classified documents or that he had declassified them as president. And the opinion concludes Cannon — who Trump appointed to the job — likely had abused her discretion.

The panel found it “self-evident” that the public interest favored a government investigation into the national security risks from the documents found in the search.

“An injunction delaying (or perhaps preventing) the United States’s criminal investigation from using classified materials risks imposing real and significant harm on the United States and the public,” the ruling said.

Ouch. 11th circuit destroys Trump’s entire argument in one paragraph.

— Angry Staffer 🌻 (@Angry_Staffer) September 21, 2022

Emily Schwing of Alaska Public Radio reports that areas of Alaska largely populated by Indigenous peoples have declared a state of emergency due to damage sustained from Typhoon Merbok.

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The Chevak Native Village and the City of Chevak declared a state of emergency Tuesday night, during a joint meeting in response to widespread damage from last weekend’s Western Alaska storm.

The emergency declaration comes after the remnants of Typhoon Merbok destroyed dozens of boats local residents use for fishing and hunting. Many people in the Cup’ik community around 136 miles west of Bethel also reported losing fishing nets, dry houses and racks and other equipment essential to the Indigenous subsistence life in Western Alaska. The fate of dozens of fishing and hunting camps used in summer and fall months is unknown.

Residents in the village of nearly 1,000 people are advised to boil their drinking water, four days after floodwaters from the storm inundated the community’s drinking water system.

Erin McCormick, Aliya Uteuova, Taylor Moore and photographer Jamie Kelter Davis report for the Guardian that the toxic levels of lead in some of Chicago’s water far exceed federal limits.

One in twenty tap water tests performed for thousands of Chicago residents found lead, a neurotoxin, at or above US government limits, according to a Guardian analysis of a City of Chicago data trove.

And one-third had more lead than is permitted in bottled water.

This means that out of the 24,000 tests, approximately 1,000 homes had lead exceeding federal standards. Experts and locals say these results raise broader concerns, because there are an estimated 400,000 lead pipes supplying water to homes in the city, and the vast majority were not tested as part of the program.

Moreover, they say the city is not moving fast enough to eliminate the potential danger.

The Guardian worked with water engineer Elin Betanzo – who helped uncover the Flint water crisis that resulted in many, mostly Black residents being poisoned by lead in the Michigan city – to review the results of water tests conducted for Chicago residents between 2016 and 2021. Chicago itself has never released an analysis of the results.

Nathaniel Rakich of FiveThirtyEight notes that people of color are not proportionally represented in Congress or the nation’s governor’s mansions.

In 2022, 30 percent of the candidates who ran in Democratic or Republican primaries for Senate, House or governor were people of color, according to new data collected throughout the primary season by political scientists Bernard Fraga and Hunter Rendleman.1 And the data shows that only 28 percent of the candidates appearing on the November ballot will be people of color. In other words, in all likelihood, 2023 will not be the year that people of color are proportionally represented in the halls of government.

Unsurprisingly, as has been the case for decades, Democrats had a more diverse candidate pool. At least 46 percent of their candidates this cycle were people of color, as opposed to only 19 percent of Republican candidates. But, in 2022 — possibly because white candidates were more likely to have advantages like incumbency and fundraising, possibly because of racism on the part of voters, possibly for other reasons — candidates of color from both parties had a harder time winning their primaries. As a result, when we mapped Fraga and Rendleman’s data onto the primary results, we found that people of color will constitute just 39 percent of Democratic general-election candidates and 16 percent of Republican general-election candidates.

Of course, several distinct racial groups are included in those numbers, and some are better represented than others. Here is the full breakdown by race for all candidates who ran in this year’s primaries:

In recognition of Banned Books Week, Kimberly Atkins Stohr of The Boston Globe writes about her encounters with the work of noted (and occasionally banned) author Toni Morrison and the first Black bookstore in the United States.

Books are powerful. So much so, they can be deemed a threat, particularly to those who seek to protect their own power. And in the opinion of some, Morrison’s centering of Blackness, power, pain, and truth is too much. That is why “The Bluest Eye,” “Beloved,” and other novels by the author are disappearing from school libraries and curricula. And it’s not just Morrison: All kinds of books that reflect the lived experiences of people of color, or those that center gender and sexual identity, or racism increasingly are being targeted.

Book banning is back.

Banned Books Week is being observed nationwide this week to reclaim the place of books of all kinds in our imaginations and our lives.

The practice, really a power grab, isn’t new. Throughout our history, book banning efforts have sprung up during times of societal change, particularly when the status quo was being challenged. The practice heightened during the turbulent era of the 1960s, but its history is far longer.

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Consider David Ruggles, the abolitionist and writer who opened the nation’s first Black bookstore and print shop in New York City in 1834, a time when in parts of the nation, it was illegal for Black people to learn to read.

I can always use a clip of the late, great Toni Morrison, especially the following clip which illustrates Mrs. Atkins Stohr’s points.

Jana Wendt: “You don’t think you’ll write books that incorporate white lives into them more substantially?” Toni Morrison’s answer to this “powerfully racist” question is delivered so beautifully. (February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019) 🕊

— Dionne Grant (@DionneGrant) February 18, 2022

Jen Bartholomew of Columbia Journalism Review reports on the different types of politically motivated news outlets in the US that are now corrupting local news.

There are two broad categories of politically motivated outlets in the US: First, what’s become known as “pink slime” journalism. These are networks of local newspapers that deploy algorithmic stories and display a lack of funding transparency as well as a casual attitude to reporting conventions such as bylines or mastheads. They have trumpeted conservative talking points across all fifty states.

Second, partisan newsrooms. The question of their value is much more complex: Some produce original reporting, some less so. These sites typically do have connections to their localities and produce solid journalism, but their news coverage tends to be steered by politics—they sometimes receive funding from candidates or political action committees (pacs).

The danger is that readers—who often encounter these newsrooms on the flattening interfaces of social media—are being served up emotive, partisan, divisive news disguised as community reporting, conflating the two.

WATCH: Large protests in Russia against Putin’s attempt to call up 300,000 more soldiers for his failing invasion of Ukraine. They’re chanting “no to war.”

— Tristan Snell (@TristanSnell) September 21, 2022

Andrey Pertsev writes for the Russian independent media outlet Meduza about the logistics of the “mobilization” called for by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A source close to the Putin administration told Meduza that the basic procedure for the upcoming mobilization has already been determined. According to the plan, many Russians will be summoned to their enlistment offices in a just a matter of days.

“[First,] they’ll call them in to verify their data. [Then] they’ll insistently propose that people sign contracts voluntarily. They’ll successfully manage to pressure quite a few people by mentioning the new articles in the Criminal Code, among other things. Not everyone is legally literate. And those who don’t agree will be released and then mobilized later — and that time, it won’t be voluntary,” said the source.

In addition, according to Meduza’s sources, the Kremlin intends to use mobilization to fix personnel shortages in the “military civil administrations” they’ve set up in Ukraine’s occupied territories. While many ambitious officials from Russia’s regions were willing to travel to the Donbas, the Kherson region, and the Zaporizhzhia region earlier in the war, the number of volunteers “greatly diminished” after Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive and the deaths of multiple Russian-backed occupation officials…

#Breaking: just in – The traffic jam at the border with #Russia/#Finland has pilled up to 35KM and is rising by the hour, it is the only border who is still open for Russian civilians with shengen visas, after #Putin announced he will send 300.000 new troops to #Ukraine.

— Sotiri Dimpinoudis (@sotiridi) September 21, 2022

Lost amid Putin’s call for “mobilization” is Turkish President Erdoğan’s call for Russia to return all Russian-occupied lands in Ukraine to Ukraine, including Crimea, reports Wilhelmine Preussen for POLITICO Europe.

The Black Sea peninsula should be returned to its “rightful owners,” Erdoğan told PBS NewsHour on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, in comments likely to provoke ire in Moscow.

Asked whether Russia should be allowed to keep Crimea in a negotiated end to the war, Erdoğan said, “These are our descendants at the same time, the people who are living there. If you were to take this step forward, if you could leave us, you would also be relieving the Crimean Tatars and Ukraine as well. That’s what we have always been saying.”[…]

The remarks make him the latest world leader with continuing ties to Russia to deal Putin a rhetorical blow in recent days. India’s Narendra Modi raised concerns last week about the Russian president’s ongoing war on Ukraine, and Putin himself admitted China’s Xi Jinping expressed “concerns” as well.

Crimean Tatars have ethnic, linguistic and historic ties to Turkey, and it was a protectorate of the Ottoman empire until it was annexed by the Russian empire in 1783.

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There are layers to this piece by Robin Givhan of The Washington Post; layers that primarily begin with the ascension of King Charles III.

Charles follows a sovereign who reigned for 70 years, one of the most famous women in the world, a confidante of a long procession of prime ministers and often the sole woman with a voice in a room full of male leaders. Perhaps she did not say enough or do enough over her life. But still, there she was. She was widely admired for stepping up to a task for which she was only minimally prepared. And she endured. By the time she was an eminence grise, President Biden said she reminded him of his mother. More than a few of her subjects thought of her as the country’s grandmother. These characterizations, perhaps, say more about our relationship with distinguished older women — and our need to distill them into a warm and fuzzy stereotype — than it does her maternal nature.[…]

But what is a king? What is this king? Charles is a grandfather many times over, but rarely is grandfatherliness considered a man’s defining or most memorable characteristic. He is not the unlikely hero of a fairy-tale or an example of someone who has won a hard-fought professional victory. He hasn’t challenged any stereotypes or gone where no one has gone before. He has had a lifetime to prepare for a role that he was given and so there is little reason to marvel at his readiness, only to be dismayed by any failures.

What we saw on Monday was a man walking solemnly in his ceremonial uniform behind the queen’s coffin. He looked pale and burdened, whether by grief, the lifetime of duty that he’d pledged to uphold or the simple physical challenge of getting through the day. Perhaps, his pained expression reflected all those things.

Reading Ms. Givhan’s essay, I didn’t even think so much about King Chuckie or the late Queen Elizabeth II or anyone else in the royal family; I thought of my own grandmother and grandfather.

And while it may be true that “grandfatherliness” might not be “a man’s defining or most memorable characteristic” for most people, gradfatherliness is, perhaps, the only memorable characteristic that any grandchild can see in a grandparent. I have a suspicion that’s as true for King Charles III’s five grandchildren as it is for me

Finally today, The Grammarian writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer about the imprecision of the term “human trafficking” to describe the actions Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shipping of asylum seekers to Massachusetts.

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis loaded 50 people onto planes and dropped them on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts last week, he participated in an activity in which human beings were treated as possessions to be controlled and exploited — and that’s, as Hillary Clinton said on MSNBC, “literally human trafficking.”

Or is it?

Merriam-Webster’s definition of the term adds a few words, calling it “organized criminal activity in which human beings are treated as possessions to be controlled and exploited (as by being forced into prostitution or involuntary labor)” [emphasis added]. […]

How about another dictionary?

The Oxford English Dictionary calls human trafficking “the action or practice (esp. as an organized criminal activity) of subjecting people to forcible relocation or coercion in order to benefit from their work or service, typically in the form of forced labour or sexual exploitation; trade in or procurement of human beings for the purposes of exploitation.” This time “organized criminal activity” appears in the parenthetical, which we can again dismiss as an example that won’t apply in every situation. But “in order to benefit from their work or service” is an essential phrase, inextricable from the rest of the definition. This sounds like an apt description of what DeSantis’ Florida colleague Rep. Matt Gaetz allegedly sought a pardon for, but not what DeSantis asked of his migrant political props.

Have a good day, everyone.

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