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Archive for October 23rd, 2019

The Trump Administration Says It Has Violated Its Own Ethics Pledge

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Derek Kravitz reports in ProPublica:

A governmentwide review has acknowledged for the first time that at least several Trump political appointees violated the administration’s ethics pledge, which was put in place to try to “drain the swamp” by imposing lobbying restrictions and penalties.

The details are tucked away in the Office of Government Ethics’ latest annual report, which attracted little notice when it was released this summer.

While President Donald Trump’s ethics pledge was weaker than previous rules, the government ethics office still found violations in 2018 at three federal agencies: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the National Labor Relations Board.

No federal agency reported a violation of the Trump ethics pledge in 2017.

At the National Labor Relations Board, Republican board member William Emanuel was found to have improperly voted on a case involving franchisee or contractor violations of labor laws. Emanuel’s former employer, the law firm Littler Mendelson, represents a company that was a party to the original ruling, ProPublica reported. Before he joined the board in September 2017, Emanuel was a shareholder at Littler, which represents corporations in labor disputes.

In December 2017, the labor board overturned the original union-friendly ruling, undoing years of precedent and making it tougher for employees to pursue federal complaints against parent or related companies if they indirectly control employee work conditions. Because of Emanuel’s conflict of interest with Littler, the ruling on the case was ultimately overturned a second time and the labor board’s inspector general called Emanuel’s vote a “serious and flagrant problem and/or deficiency.”

The National Labor Relations Board declined to comment on Emanuel’s ethics violation. Emanuel did not respond to requests for comment.

The report cites an ethics violation by an unnamed presidential appointee at the EPA. Agency officials familiar with the matter said the case involves Bill Wehrum, a former lobbyist and attorney who resigned in June as the agency’s assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. Wehrum is the subject of several internal EPA investigations and faced questions from the House Energy and Commerce Committee over his communications with his former law firm Hunton & Williams, now known as Hunton Andrews Kurth. The firm represented several EPA-regulated power plant operators.

Wehrum, the chief architect of the Trump administration’s rollback of the Clean Air Act, the EPA and Hunton Andrews Kurth did not respond to requests for comment.

At the Interior Department, government attorneys disclosed in the annual report that “Ethics Pledge violations may have occurred in 2018.” The Interior Department’s inspector general is looking at potential violations of the ethics pledge by six current and former Trump staffers. (The agency also acknowledged problems with its ethics office after an earlier ProPublica story.) . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2019 at 6:01 pm

4 Art Experts Analyze That Historic Nancy Pelosi vs. Donald Trump Photo

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Fascinating analysis. Just one aspect: the paired clocks on the mantle reflect the symmetry and divide the room:

That photo is from this twitter feed which is worth looking at.

Michelle Ruiz writes in Vogue:

Some see Renaissance influences; others, hints of Norman Rockwell. Have you noticed the Benjamin Franklin bust in the background and the clock on the mantle bisecting the frame? The instantly iconic photo of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi literally standing up to Donald Trump in a contentious cabinet-room meeting about Syria on Wednesday is sparking a great many takes, both about the political dynamics—Pelosi stood out, literally, as a woman at a table lined predominantly with men—and the photo’s artistry. It was snapped and released by an uncredited White House photographer.

Tellingly, the president perceived the photo of a powerful woman asserting herself as somehow incriminating: He tweeted it on Wednesday night with the cantankerous caption: “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown.” But it was quickly reclaimed as more evidence of the first and only female Speaker’s political courage; Pelosi herself made it her Twitter background photo.

Discourse soon raged about the photo’s composition, lighting, and even its likenesses to The Last Supper. To further examine what will surely go down as a historical Trump-era photo, Vogue asked an art history professor, a museum curator, and two former coeditors of the Tabloid Art History Twitter account for their close reads.

Nika Elder, Ph.D., assistant professor of American Art at American University

One of the things that stood out to me is that Nancy Pelosi is standing at the same height as the bust of Benjamin Franklin. It draws an equivalence between the two of them in terms of their impact. And her figure is actually being superimposed on the bust of George Washington—that’s who we would see if she were sitting down. Basically, the photo is replacing this sculpture of the first president with the living, breathing body of the first female Speaker of the House.

Pairing people with sculptural busts actually has a precedent in art history. It’s by no means an exact parallel, but Portrait of Citizen Belley, ex-Representative of the Colonies by a French artist named Girodet came to mind. It’s a portrait of a man named Jean-Baptiste Belley, who was involved in the Haitian Revolution and went on to become the first black deputy in the National Convention in France, and he’s standing next to a classic bust of a [white] philosopher named Raynal. The painting as a whole is speaking to ideas about black liberation. When I looked at the Pelosi photo, it’s using a similar strategy to make a point about female power.

Another important aspect of the photo is the painting hanging on the back wall: It’s by a French artist, Charles Édouard Armand-Dumaresq, and it depicts the Declaration of Independence. Paintings like this one are called history paintings. They were really popular at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th, and they depicted important political events, military events, and diplomatic events. [American artist] John Trumbull did all of these massive history paintings in the Capitol—Nancy Pelosi herself surely sees them often. The Pelosi photo reads like a modern-day equivalent of one of those paintings, but with one important difference: There is a woman in it, and she’s the most active and most powerful person in the image. This is a photo encapsulating the idea that the future is female.

Chloe Esslemont and Mayanne Soret, coeditors of the former Twitter account, Tabloid Art History

Chloe Esslemont: Part of what strikes me about this image is that the internet loves to shout “Accidental Renaissance” at compelling candid pics. Usually when that’s done, the pictures actually fit more into the Baroque category, with lots of dramatic movement. For once, this Pelosi/Trump image does actually seem to fit more into the Renaissance side of things, with less of the “in the moment” movement that characterized Baroque images; most of the figures here have more of the “stillness” quality that differentiates the two.

The background behind Pelosi is a white background that is radiating light—it makes her stand out, and the figure of her head/torso appears clearer than it would if it had been shot face on, which would have seen the people sitting behind her be the background. I think if it was head-on, that would definitely evoke even more of a Renaissance feel—think about the POV of The Last Supper, for example.

Mayanne Soret: The composition itself does have this stillness, which is very common in 18th-century historical paintings. It tends to focus on  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2019 at 4:35 pm

Republicans find a way to defend Trump: Become an unruly mob

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Lisa Lerer’s newsletter from the NY Times notes:

Yesterday, Republicans on Capitol Hill faced difficult questions about President Trump’s actions, after explosive testimony by the top American diplomat in Ukraine provided the most damning account to date in the impeachment inquiry.

Today, they came up with an answer

Storm the SCIF! Storm the SCIF!

“Let us in! Let us in!” shouted dozens of House Republicans, as they pushed past the doors of the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, a basement room in the Capitol where a Defense Department official had arrived Wednesday morning to testify in the inquiry.

Once inside, nearly 30 conservatives yelled, tweeted and ordered pizzas.

The frustrated Republicans, led by Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, one of Mr. Trump’s most loyal allies, were demanding that the Democrats open the closed-door sessions.

But closed hearings are common in sensitive congressional investigations, so it’s hard to see today’s insurrection as anything more than a political stunt. Republicans, after all, limited attendance at hearings into the 2012 attack on the United States Embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Yet, today’s protest tells us something fairly significant about the Republican strategy on impeachment moving forward.

As it becomes harder for Republicans to argue that a quid pro quo between Mr. Trump and the Ukrainians never happened — given that the American diplomat who testified yesterday, William B. Taylor Jr., described just such an arrangement — they are going to focus their fight on the process of the inquiry instead.

“Through those hidden closed doors over there, Adam Schiff is trying to impeach a president,” said Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, referring to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “Maybe in the Soviet Union this kind of thing is commonplace. This shouldn’t be happening in the United States of America.”

“Show your face where we can all see the travesty that you are trying to foist on America and the degradation of our Republic that you’re engaged in,” said Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama.

Note what Mr. Scalise and Mr. Brooks left out: discussion of the substance of the inquiry.

(Mr. Trump, for his part, went after Mr. Taylor on Twitter, calling him a “Never Trumper,” before complaining that the Democrats were providing “Zero Transparency.”)

The Republicans who entered the SCIF surely knew they’d eventually be kicked out. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mr. Schiff have limited the hearings to members of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform committees, which have jurisdiction over the impeachment investigations.

Scores of Republicans who sit on those committees have participated in the questioning so far. And scores of Democrats who are not on those committees have been kept out. Democrats are likely to hold public hearings later this fall.

But it was a stunt that showed a surprising lack of concern for security. The now-infamous SCIF is a secure room used for discussing classified information. As in all secure areas of the White House and of other government buildings, electronics are left in boxes outside the room.

The Republicans brought their cellphones, a significant breach given that security experts have long warned that phones can be turned into covert listening devices — even when they’re off.

The Republicans’ tweets from inside the room set off a flurry of criticism. That might be just fine with them, since they may prefer to spend more time defending their own actions than those of the president.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2019 at 3:55 pm

Trump Is Withholding Bill Taylor’s Detailed Ukraine Notes From Congress

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Trump seems to have an awful lot of things he feels he must hide from public scrutiny. Greg Walters reports in Vice News:

President Trump’s White House dismissed explosive testimony by Ambassador Bill Taylor on Tuesday as “triple hearsay.”

But Trump should know just how well documented Taylor’s account really is: He’s got Taylor’s notes.

Taylor’s detailed records, which informed his damning account of the Trump administration’s backdoor pressure campaign on Ukraine, were turned over to the State Department and were not handed over to Congressional impeachment investigators, a person familiar with the situation told VICE News on Wednesday.

The withholding of Taylor’s notes raises yet more questions about the lengths to which top Trump administration officials, notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have gone to shield the president from a detailed look at his own behavior. It also forces Democrats to either pry those files loose by fighting an uncooperative Pompeo in court, or to rely on the testimony and documents of others to back up their new star witness.

Democrats re-upped their demand for State Department documents on Wednesday, requesting “written readouts and write-ups of meetings and conversations that document activity and conduct under investigation by the Committees.”

Those who watched Taylor’s closed-door appearance on Tuesday praised his “excruciatingly detailed” narrative, in which he recalled top diplomats setting about fulfilling Trump’s demands to pressure Ukraine’s president into announcing investigations of Democrat Joe Biden and the 2016 election.

Read: The 5 Bombshells From Bill Taylor’s Testimony on Trump and Ukraine

“He had a very long opening statement,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, Democrat of Virginia. “And it was based on meticulous notes he had taken of meetings and phone conversations and the like.”

But the State Department has shown no sign of being willing to turn over those documents, or any others subpoenaed by House Democrats in late September — and legal experts say that any courtroom challenge could easily take so long that it would outlast the impeachment investigation, if not the entire Trump presidency. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2019 at 12:49 pm

For flavonoid benefits, don’t peel apples

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And eat the whole apple (except for the stem). The so-called “core” is totally edible.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2019 at 9:53 am

Phoenix Artisan Briar, iKon X3, and Thayers witch hazel

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My Rooney butterscotch Emilion did not make the headline, but it’s a superb brush, and the lather I got this morning was really first rate. The key is to load the brush fully, and today I had to add a little water a couple of times during loading to ensure the brush picked up ample soap.

The iKon X3 is a first-rate slant, with the X3 head here mounted on RazoRock’s excellent barberpole handle. This hand has the finial knob a larger diameter than the handle, something I wish other handles would mimic: the larger knob greatly facilitates the ATG pass. Three passess smoothed my face completely.

Thayers witch hazel with aloe vera is a well-established and highly regarded product. This one is an astringent, which means it is 10% alcohol. The lemon fragrance is light, and all the Thayers witch-hazel fragrances are short-lived but pleasant when applied.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2019 at 8:25 am

Posted in Shaving

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