“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
The outspoken anti-Trump lawyer is in custody for Domestic Violence against an unidentified woman.
Anti-Trump lawyer Michael Avenatti, best known for representing Stormy Daniels and Brett Kavanaugh-accuser Julie Swetnick, was arrested Wednesday after a felony report of Domestic Violence was filed by an unknown woman.The incident allegedly took place Tuesday night, with another altercation occurring on Wednesday at a Century City apartment in the L.A. area. The woman in question was reported to be visibly upset and declaring, "I'm going to get a restraining order against you." Her face was "swollen and bruised" with "red marks" when building security escorted her to another area of the building and denied Avenatti access. TMZ reports that a source in law enforcement revealed that the lawyer "kicked her out of the apartment" on Tuesday, and the altercation in the building occurred on Wednesday when she attempted to retrieve her belongings.
"To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right," said Arizona senator Jeff Flake.
Lisa Murkowski (AK), called the president's remarks "wholly inappropriate, and, in my view, unacceptable."
The three Senate Republicans holding key swing votes on Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination
spoke out on Wednesday against comments the president made at a political rally in Mississippi the night before. "The president's comments are just plain wrong," said Susan Collins (ME).
"To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right,"
said Jeff Flake (AZ).
At the rally, Trump questioned the credibility of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified in front of the Committee last week that Kavanaugh forced himself on her, groped her, and attempted to silence her cries for help when they were teenagers. Mockingly reenacting the questioning, he said, "How did you get home? 'I don't remember.' How did you get there? 'I don't remember.' Where was the place? 'I don't remember.'"
The president's comments are a far cry from the days immediately after Ford's testimony, during which he called her "a very credible witness," and her testimony "very compelling." When asked by the Committee how sure she was that her assailant was Kavanaugh, Ford answered, "100%." Kavanaugh has denied all allegations.
The president then turned his attention to Kavanaugh, echoing the judge's own testimony that the accusations have "destroyed [his] family and good name," claiming, "A man's life is in tatters" and calling the Democratic party's attempts to investigate Ford's claims a smear campaign. President Trump has been vocal about the need for due process, lamenting that the criminal justice system has become one in which someone is "guilty until proven innocent." Rally attendees were enthusiastic about the president's remarks, despite having repeated their 2016 campaign battle cry, "Lock her up," hours earlier.
Ford isn't the only woman who's accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Julie Swetnick alleged that Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, who Ford claims to have been present during her assault, were among a group of friends who would target and drug girls at parties and take turns having sex with them. While Swetnick does not accuse Kavanaugh of participating in her own gang rape, she claims that he was at the party where it happened. Deborah Ramirez, in an interview with The New Yorker, said that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they both attended Yale.
In her opening statement, Ford noted that she was " terrified" to testify before the committee, despite having passed a polygraph test administered by the FBI. Still, both the president, Judge Kavanaugh, and many members of the GOP have dismissed Ford's accusations as false, despite the fact that false rape allegations are very rare.
Collins, Murkowski, and Flake have remained publicly undecided on whether they will vote to confirm Kavanaugh, though Flake called for an expanded background investigation of the nominee and the allegations against him. Controlled closely by the White House, the investigation was closed on Wednesday evening. A single copy of the investigation report was made available to Senate Judiciary Committee members on Thursday morning, and Collins and Flake have said that they were satisfied with the result. However, the FBI never contacted a number of potential sources and character witnesses who may have been able to corroborate such claims. While the agency did speak with Ramirez, they did not follow up with the roughly 20 people whom she said could provide more information. Over 40 people have contacted the agency to offer testimony, including Swetnick and Kerry Bercham, a former roommate of Ramirez's, but federal investigators never responded.
After the investigation was closed, majority leader Mitch McConnell filed a motion to cloture Kavanaugh's nomination, restricting the amount of time to debate before a floor vote to 30 hours and ensuring that a vote will take place this week.
Rebecca Linde is a writer and cultural critic in NYC. She tweets about pop culture and television @rklinde.
Brett Kavanaugh lacks restraint before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Brett Kavanaugh's open hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee commenced on Thursday.
Christine Blasey Ford, the first of three women to lodge allegations of sexual assault and/or misconduct against Kavanaugh, began testifying at 10 a.m. Republican Senators called upon prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to lead the questioning, hoping to eschew what would have been an imbalanced dynamic if 11 male Senators were to freely question Ford, a female alleging sexual assault by a man. All senators retained the right to interject their own questioning.
During a testimony that lasted nearly four hours, Ford's answers were consistent with the graphic account she has previously released. Despite being "terrified" to testify, Ford's opening statement contained a detailed description of the assault, for which Mark Judge was allegedly present. "Brett's assault on me drastically altered my life," Ford avowed. In her opening statement, she tearfully recalled the incident at the source of the charges, detailing how Kavanaugh cornered her during a house party that the two attended in their high school years.
"The stairwell, the living room, the bedroom, the bed on the right side of the room — as you walk into the room, there was a bed to the right — the bathroom in close proximity, the laughter, the uproarious laughter, and the multiple attempts to escape and the final ability to do so."
Kavanaugh began testifying late Thursday afternoon. He gave an emotionally charged denial of all allegations, often answering a short, vehement, "No" in response to questioning. Kavanaugh also directed attention to the damaging effects these allegations have had on his life:
He lamented: "I love teaching law, but thanks to what some of you on this side of the committee have unleashed, I may never be able to teach again...I love coaching more than anything I've ever done in my whole life, but thanks to what some of you on this side of the committee have unleashed, I may never be able to coach again."
A resolute answer was given on the issue of how the committee plans to interfere with Judge Kavanaugh's appointment as the next Supreme Court Judge. Chuck Grassley, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, asserted to Kavanaugh that the hearing's purpose is not to suspend the confirmation process, as "This committee is running this hearing, not the White House, not Don McGahn, not even you as a nominee."
Questioning continued late into Thursday evening, with tensions running high as the GOP-appointed prosecutor fell silent as Kavanaugh parried with the GOP and Democratic Senators questioning him.
According to Michael Avenatti, Brett Kavanaugh's assault of Christine Blasey Ford is just the tip of the iceberg.
The controversy surrounding Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh escalated after a third accuser alleged that the Supreme Court nominee took part in "gang rape" activities while in high school. Julie Swetnick, Washington resident and high school classmate of Kavanaugh, issued a sworn affidavit through her attorney Michael Avenatti alleging that she witnessed "Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh drink excessively and engage in highly inappropriate conduct, including being overly aggressive with girls and not taking 'No' for an answer. This conduct included the fondling and grabbing of girls without their consent."
Below is my correspondence to Mr. Davis of moments ago, together with a sworn declaration from my client. We demand an immediate FBI investigation into the allegations. Under no circumstances should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed absent a full and complete investigation. pic.twitter.com/QHbHBbbfbE
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) September 26, 2018
The three-page statement enumerates graphic details of inappropriate conduct by Kavanaugh between 1981 and 1982. Swetnick recollects her general impressions of Kavanaugh at the time as a "mean drunk," recalling behaviors including "speak[ing] in a demeaning manner about girls in general as well as specific girls by name." The central grievance of the new allegations, however, detail specific "efforts by Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh and others to 'spike' the 'punch' at house parties I attended with drugs and/or grain alcohol so as to cause girls to lose their inhibitions and their ability to say 'No.'"
Swetnick asserts, "I have a firm recollection of seeing boys lined up outside rooms at many of these parties waiting for their 'turn' with a girl inside the room. These boys included Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh." Unlike Kavanaugh's other accusers, Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, Swetnick is not directly accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Rather, she recounts that she did become a "victim of one of these 'gang' or 'train' rapes" in 1982, at which time Kavanaugh and Mike Judge were "present." She reports being "incapacitated" by "Quaaludes or something similar placed in what I was drinking" and "unable to fight off the boys."
Kavanaugh outright rejects the new allegations, stating, "This is ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone. I don't know who this is and this never happened."
President Donald Trump weighed in on the third allegation on Twitter with an ad hominem attack on Avenatti, calling the attorney, oft-noted for representing Stormy Daniels, a "lowlife" who is "just looking for attention."
Avenatti is a third rate lawyer who is good at making false accusations, like he did on me and like he is now doing on Judge Brett Kavanaugh. He is just looking for attention and doesn't want people to look at his past record and relationships - a total low-life!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2018
Avenatti responded with a spirited defense of Swetnick as a "sexual assault victim" who "risked her life to do the right thing."
.@realDonaldTrump @ChuckGrassley @LindseyGrahamSC - Are you three privileged, white men calling my client Julie a liar? How dare you attack a sexual assault victim. She has risked her life to do the right thing. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Your actions are disgraceful.
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) September 26, 2018
Officially, Avenatti has demanded that both the F.B.I. and Senate Judiciary Committee investigate the veracity of Swetnick's claims. One of Kavanaugh's attorneys, Beth Wilkinson, criticized Avenatti when speaking to CNN, "There must be a reason, as a lawyer, that he didn't take these allegations to the police himself," she said. "No one is stopping him."
These new allegations were released one day before Judge Kavanaugh is due in court to address sexual assault accusations by Christine Blasey Ford, who's due to testify against Kavanaugh in an open hearing on Thursday at 10 a.m. A third accuser is sure to heighten the stakes of how Ford's testimony will be received, as Ford is poised to set a powerful precedent for how Kavanaugh's other accusers can affect the appointment of the next Supreme Court Judge.
Amidst the chaos of confirmation, the real force behind right-wing policy is going unnoticed
When a storm hits, it can be difficult to remember everything that came before. After the revelations of the past week regarding allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, the relative calm that was the previous months of the confirmation process seem like hazy half-memories. Yet, in light of where the political gaze of the nation now finds itself directed, perhaps it's time to ask, in the spirit of The Talking Heads, "How did we get here?" How did a man accused of sexual assault end up receiving a lifetime nomination to one of the most powerful institutions in America? Answering that question will require traversing the interconnected and exclusive ranges of the right-wing political machinery, where dark money and faceless groups lay their hands on the scales of our civic life. Yet, in the end, the question of how we got here is one with a relatively simple answer and one that strikes at the heart of a vast range of the illnesses that seem to be ravaging the body politic. We are here, and we are here with Brett Kavanaugh because a small group of wealthy people wanted us to be.
On July 9th in the East Room of the White House, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the D.C. Circuit was officially unveiled as President Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court. It was a sedated Trump who showed up to emcee the big reveal that day –– the incarnation of the 45th President who is shuffled out to read a script at grand occasions of state such as this, lest his free-wheeling, ad-libbing alter-ego debase the few civic rituals that have survived his first year in office. Trump dutifully sang Kavanaugh's praises: "Judge Kavanaugh has impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications and a proven commitment to equal justice under the law," he assured the American people, squinting into the light of the teleprompter. His detachment seemed palpable, but not in the way that repeating the kind of boilerplate political language that comes so unnaturally to him usually appears. This was the detachment of a man uninvested in the grand spectacle of tension, power, and pomp that surrounded him, and, in a simpler previous life, would have been his to conduct. This was Donald Trump, trapped hosting a reality show he wasn't controlling, put on by producers he despises; a show where the contestants were pre-selected and the winner decided in advance.
Prior to the upending effect of the public disclosure of the sexual assault allegations levied at Judge Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford (the consequences of which, at time of writing, are yet to be fully borne out), the confirmation hearings had been mostly marked by the kind of aesthetic grandstanding that has come to form the majority of our contemporary political discourse. This was particularly true of the contribution of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, who struggled to form a single substantive counter-argument against what had appeared to be a confirmation secured on the strength of a brute mathematical reality. Despite bouts of laser-sharp questioning from Kamala Harris on women's rights and Mazie Hirono on the judge's view on Native Americans, as well as slightly less laser-sharp bouts of Cory Booker tweeting links to his Dropbox account, asserting, in the guise of a liberal Alex Jones, that he "has the documents", the broad Democratic counter-argument during the confirmation hearings was a simple one. Brett Kavanaugh is Donald Trump's justice, and, as Donald Trump is bad, he should be denied confirmation on account of being bad.
Yet, looking at the breadth of the Democrats' campaign against Kavanaugh's nomination, one can't help but think that the bulk of their strategy would not have changed regardless of who won this season of The Judicial Apprentice, as though there were already a hymn sheet prepared for everyone to sing from with a space to write the name of whoever was eventually nominated. The plan until the recent revelations appears to have been to attack Kavanaugh as an extension of Trump personally, rather than as someone who poses a specific and pressing threat to certain ideals. That one-size-fits-all communications strategy was made a little too publicly apparent immediately after the East Room unveiling when, in the proud Democratic tradition of reliable competence, the DNC tweeted out a rousing call to #StopKavanaugh that made one small error: the picture of the judge they used was of Thomas Hardiman (another rumored candidate for the seat). Yet, perhaps the Democrats can be forgiven for approaching Kavanaugh as a factory-made, hard-right jurist because, in fact, that's exactly what he is.
In early 2016 –– a time that now seems to belong to another political epoch –– then-candidate Donald Trump took the unusual step of publishing a list of his potential Supreme Court picks. The list, which, at the time, appeared unlikely to ever actually become relevant, was designed by then-campaign lawyer Don McGahn to assure the right-wing establishment that his ideologically erratic candidate could be relied upon to deliver them a justice who would swing the court in their preferred direction for generations. After the election, the list made the seamless transition from speculative fiction to official White House policy, as Neil Gorsuch jumped from paper to robe under the careful guidance of now White House counsel McGahn and became the newest Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The rest of the names on the list; which included DNC-canon justice Hardiman, evangelical Catholic cult aficionado Amy Coney Barrett, William Pryor –– a man who thinks that decriminalizing homosexuality was made a bit too hastily, as well as Kavanaugh, could not have been more palatable to the conservative donor base if they'd written it themselves. This is probably because, essentially, they did.
The Federalist Society, founded in 1982 at the height of the Reagan-era conservative fever dream, is a network of lawyers and jurists who work to combat the perceived 'liberal' tendencies of America's judicial system. They advocate the so-called 'originalist' and 'textualist' approaches to jurisprudence most famously espoused by former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the product of an ill-fated crossover between the Scarlet Letter and The Sopranos whose most famous contributions to the judicial corpus involved compromising the ability of states to regulate firearms and enshrining the rights of corporations to spend unlimited, unaccountable sums of money to influence elections. The group is backed by the kind of people one would expect would be interested in enshrining a judicial philosophy that can essentially be boiled down to 'Mad Max, but the NFL is still on'; the Koch brothers, Exxon Mobil, Google, and the Knights of Columbus are all donors. It should come as no surprise then that the Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo was the co-author of Trump's Supreme Court list, and that the shadowy organization has been one of the strongest lobbyists in Congress for both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh's confirmations.
In many ways, the establishment of the Republican party has gotten away with their role in enabling the Trump Presidency –– whether it be the donors like Islamophobic blob-fish Sheldon Adelson, who so quickly moved to pour resources into his campaign after condemning his lack of support for Israel; or the #NeverTrumpers like Jeff Flake, who has made himself a CNN-ebrity by shouting "how dare you, sir!" at the President on the floor of the Senate before sitting down and voting 83% of the time for his policies. For these people, the litany of horrors unleashed by the Trump administration is either their stated policy goals or acceptable casualties. Their primary objections to Trump are largely aesthetic –– they worry that the President's propensity for free-association bigotry is saying the quiet part of their ideology loud in a way that might attract undue attention and resistance. Yet they endure it and will continue to endure it for however long the President remains in office because he has signed up to give a life appointment to those who whistle at a much less audible pitch.
Brett Kavanaugh is the apotheosis of the right-wing, corporatist establishment's vision of a justice. In his confirmation hearings, he gave answers to direct questions that were so evasive they were practically quantum. He replied that he "could not provide his views" 53 times to written questions, providing a rationale of response that seemed to be limitless only in defining what he was not, not what he is. This is all that The Federalist Society and their boosters in Congress and the business world desired. Trump could morph into a cloud of sarin and visit a playground so long as their ideological aim of pushing the Supreme Court to the right is achieved, and so they have instituted a system that has ensured they have complete control over the trajectory of that process. This is the mechanism that resulted in such an inanimate Trump appearing in the East Room that day, a mechanism with one singular focus –– to place in the President's hand a cue card with "Brett Kavanaugh" written in big bold type. Considering the subsequent trajectory of the confirmation process, perhaps Donald Trump is glad he didn't take that producer's credit.
Seamus McGuigan is a writer and academic studying Critical Theory and Comparative Literature at NYU. Find him on Twitter: @seamusmcguigan.