Notorious D.J.T. on Trial ~ NYT


Fidget spinners and spinning Republicans make the best of a bad case for Donald John Trump.


Opinion Columnist

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times


Republicans know very well who they are.

That’s why it was such a juicy moment when Hakeem Jeffries, the congressman from Brooklyn and Democratic impeachment manager, quoted a lyric by fellow B-town native son Biggie Smalls to rebut Jay Sekulow when the president’s lawyer disingenuously wondered, “Why are we here?”

Referring to the Democrats’ crystal-clear case that Donald Trump abused his power and corrupted the highest office in the land, Jeffries proclaimed, “And if you don’t know, now you know.”

I went to the press gallery one afternoon to check out the tableau vivant. The visitors’ gallery was only half full, and there was none of the passion and titillation that infused the Clinton impeachment, which also, oddly enough, revolved around a power disparity between two people.

One Democratic Senate staffer mourned the apathy. “Our phones aren’t ringing,” he told me. “Nobody cares. It’s the saddest thing ever.”

One side of the room seemed to be smirking.

Mitch McConnell is resorting to his Merrick Garland playbook. He’ll let the Democrats make all their noble points, but it’s Kabuki. Republicans have perfected the dark art of “There’s nothing to see here, just keep moving.” McConnell long ago choreographed the end, with Democrats losing the argument and the acquitted scoundrel triumphantly sweeping into the Capitol to make his State of the Union address.

At night, tipsy Republican staffers treated Senate office buildings as a pub crawl, roaming the halls with celebratory bottles of wine.

Some Republicans were paying attention at the trial — or wanted to be seen paying attention. Susan Collins was glued to the proceedings, as was the senator to her left in a magma-colored shawl, Lisa Murkowski. Republicans like Collins who are vulnerable in 2020 have to be alert and figure out how to find their way out of the hearings without doing more political harm. A Trump confidant told CBS News that Republican senators were warned, “Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.”

Seated at the back of the class, Mitt Romney looked dutiful, and the thought must have crossed his mind that’s he’s in a position to inflict payback on Trump for calling him “a pompous ass” and tricking him into an interview for secretary of state only to humiliate him. (Revenge is a dish best served with milk.)

But more senators on the Republican side were telegraphing boredom.

Lindsey Graham yawned and rearranged his yellow pencil and went on walkabouts, later telling reporters, “About the fourth time you tell me the same thing is twice too much.” He cleaved to his lap-dog role, saying preposterously of Trump: “What he wants to do is get to the truth.”

Tom Cotton played with the fidget spinner Richard Burr had handed out to all the Republicans. Marsha Blackburn and others left to trash the proceedings on Fox News.

The senators in the Democratic presidential race could not have been happy to be stuck there, either. Bernie Sanders, accustomed to making like Leonard Bernstein at big rallies and upset he’s not in Iowa to relish his surge, had a hard time keeping his hands still, moving them restlessly, silently clapping, and finally holding them together on his chest over his blue sweater.

But heads on both sides did snap to attention whenever that unholy, jangly, self-impeaching peal, so inescapable in the last three years, rang out in the hallowed chamber. Trump’s voice was impossible to ignore when the House impeachment managers played incriminating video clips of the human fidget spinner himself, sometimes howling over the blades of his chopper on the South Lawn.

So many people in this very room had tried and failed, or are now trying, to vanquish the guy. Romney, Cruz, Rubio, Graham, Klobuchar, Sanders, Bennet, Booker, Gillibrand, Warren, Harris. Trump had savaged all his fellow Republicans and yet here they were listening to an unending recitation of his crimes and coming out to be his Praetorian guard.

Adam Schiff tried to warn the former nemeses turned defenders of Trump that if the president is not removed, he could turn on them the way he had turned on Marie Yovanovitch and Joe Biden, using the power of the presidency to cheat, lie and smear. (Now Rudy’s buddy Lev Parnas says he has forked over to congressional Democrats a 2018 recording of Trump personally ordering Yovanovitch to be fired.)

“The next time, it just may be you,” Schiff told the Republican senators. “Do you think he wouldn’t ask you to be investigated? Do you think for a moment that he wouldn’t?”

Schiff also reminded Republicans that Trump had inverted their dogma, embracing the Evil Empire and authoritarianism and trusting Crazy Rudy’s conspiracy theories over his own intelligence services.

“You don’t realize how important character is in the highest office in the land until you don’t have it,” Schiff said.

But the more impressive the Democrats’ case is, the more depressing the reality becomes. They want to convince themselves that character matters. But many Americans knew they were voting for a thug. They wanted a thug who would bust up Washington, and they got one.

The Democrats are relying on facts, but the Republicans are relying on Fox.

And if you don’t know, now you know.

1st Amendment threatened but still holding strong … listen

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Pompeo, NPR reporter comment after contentious exchange

National Public Radio host Mary Louise Kelly says Secretary of State Mike Pompeo screamed obscenities and demanded she prove she could find Ukraine on an unmarked map after an interview.

‘Saturday Night Live’ Spoofs Trump’s Impeachment Trial ~ NYT




It’s been almost 22 years since “Saturday Night Live” last found itself satirizing a presidential impeachment proceeding, but as the show turned its attention to President Trump’s trial in the Senate, it quickly reverted to its tried-and-true formula: a smidgen of factual detail, a dollop of celebrity cameos and a whole bunch of cultural references that may or may not be germane to the topic.

This weekend’s broadcast, hosted by Adam Driver and featuring the musical guest Halsey, began with a sketch set on Capitol Hill, where Susan Collins (played by Cecily Strong) and Mitch McConnell (Beck Bennett) reflected on the trial to date.

“We all know this impeachment proceeding is a sham and a hoax,” Bennett said. “Republicans are simply requesting a fair trial — no witnesses, no evidence. That way we can acquit President Trump and focus on the real criminals in this country: teenagers who try marijuana.”

Strong said, “The evidence against Trump is pretty damning so I’m still on the fence,” then made an exaggerated wink.

The Republican senators welcomed the lawyer they said would be their star defense attorney in the coming days: Alan Dershowitz, played here by Jon Lovitz, the “S.N.L.” alumnus.

“It’s wonderful to be here,” Lovitz said, “ ‘cause I’m not welcome anywhere else.” He was repeatedly admonished for mentioning past clients he has represented, including Jeffrey Epstein, O.J. Simpson and Claus von Bülow.


Then, abruptly, Lovitz acted out an apparent heart attack and the screen filled with smoke. When it cleared, he found himself in hell, where he was welcomed by Kate McKinnon, playing the devil.

“I used to let nobodies into hell but now it’s all influencers,” McKinnon said.

Among the notorious guests she introduced to Lovitz were Epstein, who was played by Driver.

“Great to see you,” Lovitz exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

Driver seemed ever-so-slightly mortified as he replied, “Eh, just hangin’.”

Other visitors to Hades included Bowen Yang as the composer of “Baby Shark”; Heidi Gardner as Flo, the Progressive Insurance mascot; and someone playing Mr. Peanut, the recently deceased brand icon. (As Mr. Peanut explained, “I took out a lot of first graders with peanut allergies. Plus, I never wore pants.”)

Finally, Alex Moffat appeared in his recurring role as Mark Zuckerberg, identified here as hell’s I.T. guy. “I just want everyone to know that I don’t endorse evil,” Moffat said. “I just help millions of people share it.

Tim Lane Goes Into Deep Depression In Chile

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Remembering the FBI’s Vilification of Martin Luther King ~ Consortium News


In 2017, when the FBI hailed the civil rights leader for PR reasons in a tweet, Ben Norton issued a reminder about the agency’s ugly history.  


By Ben Norton

“First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you,” declared socialist leader and union organizer Nicholas Klein in 1914 (in a quote often misattributed to Mahatma Gandhi). Klein added, “In this story you have a history of this entire movement.”

In 2017, nearly 50 years after his murder, Martin Luther King Jr. was lionized by the very forces that ridiculed, attacked, and wanted to burn him. The same government institutions that threatened King’s life and called him the “most notorious liar in the country” and a “filthy, abnormal animal” applauded him.

The radical legacy of the civil rights icon — who not only valiantly fought Jim Crow, but also harshly condemned capitalism and spoke out bravely against the U.S. war in Vietnam, alienating the vast majority of the liberal establishment — has been so thoroughly whitewashed that the very same government institutions that wished death on King are now heaping praise on his memory.

In 2017, on Martin Luther King Day, the Federal Bureau of Investigation posted a tweet honoring “Rev. Martin L. King Jr. and his incredible career fighting for civil rights.”

What the FBI did not mention in its tweet is that King, who was arrested 30 times in his life, was a primary target of COINTELPRO — the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program that spied on, threatened, and even assassinated revolutionary leaders in the black liberation, socialist, and anti-imperialist movements.

The FBI relentlessly harassed and threatened King. It listened to his phone calls. It spied on his romantic affairs. It taunted him and repeatedly called his house.

After he gave his famous “I have a dream” speech in 1963, the FBI dubbed King the “most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.” FBI department heads held a meeting to discuss “a complete analysis of the avenues of approach aimed at neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader.”

In the name of fighting communism, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference to be surveilled. The FBI placed dozens of microphones in places King frequented and wiretapped his phones, with the approval of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. In order to gauge “the communist influences upon him,” the FBI tracked “all instances of King’s travels and activities.”

When King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1964, the FBI was incensed. In an infamous November press conference, the FBI’s Hoover slammed King as “the most notorious liar in the country.” Off the record, Hoover also called the civil rights icon “one of the lowest characters in the country.”

A few days after the press conference, the FBI sent King a chilling anonymous letter, blackmailing him and telling him to kill himself. The FBI called King an “evil, abnormal beast” and a “complete fraud and a great liability to” black Americans. “Your end is approaching,” the FBI wrote, describing him as “not a leader but a dissolute, abnormal moral imbecile.”

Through its surveillance, the FBI gathered evidence of King’s sexual dalliances, and threatened to expose them to the world. “You are done… I repeat you are done… You are finished… King you are done… You are done,” the letter reiterated.

“King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what that is,” the FBI concluded, strongly hinting at suicide. “You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

King persevered for three more years until his assassination in 1968. In 1999, a jury decided in a Tennessee civil suit that the U.S. government was complicit in the killing of King.

A March 1968 FBI memo, from the month before King’s death, discussed ways to “prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement.” The memo, which is redacted, hinted that a leader like King “could be a real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed ‘obedience’ to ‘white liberal doctrines’ (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism.”

“Through counter-intelligence it should be possible to pinpoint potential trouble-makers and neutralize them,” the memo added. The next year, the FBI was involved in the murder of Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and another potential “black messiah” the agency had targeted.

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A Story of the 1974 American Pamirs / USSR Expedition ~ CNN

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It was June 1974. The Cold War was verging on détente, though the Watergate scandal overshadowed the Moscow Summit between President Richard Nixon and his Soviet Union counterpart, Leonid Brezhnev.

A month later, thousands of miles away in what is now Tajikistan, close to the Himalayas in the shadow of Peak Lenin, another meeting took place between an American and a Russian.


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Molly Higgins first saw Elvira Shatayeva as she came around a bend in the High Pamirs mountain range, sometimes known as “the roof of the world.”

An Outward Bound instructor traveling the Colorado Rockies, living out of a faded white sedan, Higgins had been asked to a month-long international mountaineering gathering hosted by the Russians.

Nineteen Americans, including two women, attended as part of the 1974 American Pamirs / USSR Expedition. Higgins, then 24, was a last-minute invitee when organizers, many unsure or uneasy about quite where women fit in on expeditions, realized that one woman did not seem like enough.

“I was ambitious and very self-confident, and I thought I was very strong,” recalls Higgins, now a clinical laboratory scientist in Whitefish, Montana.

Climbers rest at Camp II. Pictured clockwise from bottom left: Jed Williamson, Marty Hoey, Peter Lev, John Evans, Molly Higgins, Fred Stanley, Bruce Carson (white hat), and Chris Kopczynski. Credit: Frank Sarnquist


She was with a crew carrying loads up to Camp II — Crevasse Camp — toward Krylenko Pass on the shoulder of Peak Lenin, the country’s second-highest mountain, when an earthquake shook the slopes.

Higgins remembers a creaking sound. Then an avalanche roared overhead, launching off the top of an ice tower above camp.

The avalanche darkened the air, scattered gear, and partially buried one person, with at least two others jumping into the crevasse to escape. Four among the crew had descended earlier to resupply, and for hours those in both groups dreaded that the others had died.

Yet all had survived, though in the lower group Allen Steck, a pioneering climber from Berkeley, California, was buried up to his neck. The two groups joyfully reunited at Camp 1, on the Krylenko moraine, and retreated, shaken, to base camp in an alpine meadow.

Molly Higgins, Marty Hoey and Arlene Blum together at basecamp after the storm. Credit: Arlene Blum

Some 170 climbers from 10 Western countries occupied a huge mountaineering camp, with another 60 Eastern European and Russian climbers and officials across a stream.

This was the first major American expedition allowed in the Soviet Union, which has some of the highest and most remote mountains in the world. The gathering was held to showcase the region and the skills of the host climbers and, it seemed, develop relationships with Cold War rivals. It was seen as a means to bring up young mountaineers and foster mountaineering relations between countries.

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To Father from Daughter ~ Alpinist Magazine

This is a fine story about a daughter’s love and admiration for her father.  Alexandra has really captured Peter’s nature.   Who he was and who he is through the eyes of a daughter.  rŌbert

Alexandra Lev

Posted on: December 2, 2018

[This Climbing Life story first appeared in Alpinist 64, which is now available on newsstands and in our online store. Only a small fraction of our many long-form stories from the print edition are ever uploaded to Be sure to pick up Alpinist 64 for all the goodness!—Ed.]



Peter and Alexandra Lev, City of Rocks, 1990. [Photo] Lev family collection

MY DAD HAD A BOOKSHELF in our house that was as wide as one of the walls in our dining room and reached all the way to the ceiling. It was lined with heavy hardcover volumes and worn-edged paperbacks—books on topics that ranged from climbing to Buddhism, Judaism and histories—along with souvenirs from his travels around the world. There was a gold-plated menorah, which we lit with flickering candles each Hanukkah. A colorful elephant stood next to a hand-carved wooden figurine of the Buddha. On another shelf was an old Russian ushanka: a black fur cap with earflaps and a gold-embroidered Russian emblem on the front. Nearby, two delicately painted Matryoshka dolls offered frozen, comforting smiles. I played with the dolls often as a young child, opening each one to find the increasingly smaller inner dolls, and then unstacking and assembling them in a row along the edge of the shelves.

When I was twenty years old, in my first year of college, I stumbled upon a large-format book while cleaning the shelves one day. The notebook seemed older than I was, with frayed edges and faded pages. The writing was in German. Taped on the inside cover, there was a photo of a woman with long, dark hair that cascaded down her shoulders. She looked rugged and beautiful to me. A message appeared scrawled in German in unfamiliar cursive handwriting. As I turned the pages, I found pictures of climbing routes and descriptions of the Pamir Mountains, as well as printed and hand-drawn maps with notes scribbled along the sides. Folded up and stuffed between two pages was an article recounting a 1974 expedition. I looked through all these materials with confusion—back then I didn’t even know where the Pamirs were. I immediately called my dad and asked him about the notebook. He told me that the woman in the picture had died while on an expedition with him. At first, he didn’t give me many details, but once I pushed him he gave in, as he usually did to my requests.

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‘The Longing for Less’ Gets at the Big Appeal of Minimalism


Credit…Sonny Figueroa/The New York Times


When you purchase an independently reviewed book through our site, we earn an affiliate commission.

As a millennial who graduated from college in 2010, in the lingering wake of the financial crisis, the cultural critic Kyle Chayka haltingly admits to being a minimalist, but only “by default.”

When he began writing “The Longing for Less,” he was put off by how minimalism had become commodified — a smug cure-all that countered late-capitalist malaise with self-help books by Marie Kondo and seasonal pilgrimages to The Container Store. His own minimalism was a consequence of living as an underpaid writer in New York: No basements and no closets meant no storage space for stuff.

But those two kinds of minimalism — sleek lifestyle branding and enforced austerity — don’t quite convey the enormousness of the subject Chayka explores in this slender book. Delving into art, architecture, music and philosophy, he wants to learn why the idea of “less is more” keeps resurfacing. He sees it as a shadow to material progress, a reaction to abundance, a manifestation of civilization’s discontents. He remembers growing up in a three-story house with a two-car garage in rural Connecticut and feeling mildly oppressed by “detritus scattered at random all over the place.”

The book itself is like an exercise in decluttering, as Chayka cycles through different ideas in order to find those he wants to keep. An inevitable section on Kondo doesn’t find much to commend in her approach, deeming it a force for homogeneity and, like comparable books in the genre, “an exercise in banality.” For Chayka, Kondo’s method clearly doesn’t spark joy.

More generative for him are the examples of artists who became known as Minimalists even as they disavowed the term. Experiencing their work sharpens his senses; in place of the dull hum of overstimulation, Chayka gains a heightened existential awareness. Walter De Maria’s “The New York Earth Room,” a pile of loose soil that takes up the expanse of a second-floor loft in SoHo, evokes vivid memories of the woods near Chayka’s childhood home. Donald Judd’s aluminum boxes in Marfa, Tex., suggest an “absolute freedom” that the author finds “implacable, aggressive and intimidating.” Chayka is moved when he considers how Agnes Martin created her ghostly grid paintings by paying assiduous attention to each and every line, repeating her actions over and over again, a process as mindful as prayer.

But the vulgarity of the real world keeps threatening to intrude. “Art becomes retail surprisingly quickly,” Chayka writes of Marfa, where Judd’s work turned the remote town into a place where upscale tourists can easily procure a vegan sandwich or a glass of rosé. Driving on the highway nearby, Chayka gets waved through an immigration checkpoint; his Marfa trip in 2018 coincided with the first reports that border guards a mere 60 miles away were separating migrant parents from their children.

President Trump, with his steaks and his golf courses and his gilded rooms, is like the anti-minimalist: opulent, ostentatious, overwhelming. Chayka, who mentions Trump at several points in the book, hopes minimalism might provide an antidote or a balm. He compares an exhibit of Martin’s paintings to a “visual spa treatment” after the November 2016 election; he recalls how the new administration’s “reckless enthusiasm” made him want to hide. “I had subconsciously started wearing all-gray clothing,” Chayka writes, as if he were trying to blend into the city’s unnatural landscape of concrete and steel.

What’s most striking about Chayka’s minimalist gestures is how frail they seem next to the larger upheavals that are taking place. And he knows this. Discussing the renunciatory philosophy of the Stoics and Henry David Thoreau, he discerns “a strategy of avoidance, especially in moments when society feels chaotic or catastrophic.” There’s a strain of this in contemporary lifestyle minimalism, which offers self-protection and retreat: “Your bedroom might be cleaner, but the world stays bad.”

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