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TBR News October 14, 2019

Oct 13 2019

The Voice of the White House Washington, D.C. October 14, 2019:

“Working in the White House as a junior staffer is an interesting experience.

When I was younger, I worked as a summer-time job in a clinic for people who had moderate to severe mental problems and the current work closely, at times, echos the earlier one.

I am not an intimate of the President but I have encountered him from time to time and I daily see manifestations of his growing psychological problems.

He insults people, uses foul language, is frantic to see his name mentioned on main-line television and pays absolutely no attention to any advice from his staff that runs counter to his strange ideas.

He lies like a rug to everyone, eats like a hog, makes lewd remarks to female staffers and flies into rages if anyone dares to contradict him.

It is becoming more and more evident to even the least intelligent American voter that Trump is vicious, corrupt and amoral. He has stated often that even if he loses the election in 2020, he will not leave the White House. I have news for Donald but this is not the place to discuss it.

Commentary for October 14:” ‘America’s Uncrowned King’ doesn’t know his left leg from a dead poodle. He has screwed up things in Syria so badly most people in DC who know anything are betting he will be either in Florida picking used condoms off the beach or St. Elizabeth’s Happy House wrapped in a wet sheet before the year is over. One hopes.”

The Table of Contents

 

  • Trump’s mounting troubles in Iowa could spell doom for Republicans
  • Unfit for Office
  • Syria moves troops toward Turkish offensive
  • Over 130,000 people displaced by fighting in northeastern Syria: U.N.
  • Furious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria

The most expensive art fraud in history

  • The Invention of the ‘Salvator Mundi’ Or, How to Turn a $1,000 Art-Auction Pickup Into a $450 Million Masterpiece.
  • The mystery of the missing Leonardo: where is Da Vinci’s $450m Jesus?
  • The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations
  • Encyclopedia of American Loons

 Trump’s mounting troubles in Iowa could spell doom for Republicans

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst is facing tough questions on impeachment and trade that have implications far beyond the mid-west

by Art Cullen

October 13, 2019

The Guardian

President Trump may have already lost Iowa and the rest of the midwest, but now he risks throwing the Senate into play.

Until last week, Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, was pretty safe, with high approval ratings and an ability to lie low in her re-election bid. Now, she is facing tough questions back home about trade and impeachment that are making her squir

Trump’s trade war with China caused John Deere, the largest employer in Iowa, to cut production by 20% and lay off 160 workers in the Quad Cities along the Mississippi River. Crop markets are in disarray as China was the largest consumer of soybeans until that market was shut down.

Farmers have been furious with Trump for waiving ethanol blending requirements, which the EPA has tried to smooth over with vague promises for the corn-based fuel. But the trust has been breached, and mothballed ethanol plants in north-west Iowa are unlikely to fire up again.

Farmers are anxious. So are rural communities, and so are union workers along the rivers. And it’s not just Iowa. It’s Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, too. Polls show Trump is tanking across those key swing states.

It doesn’t help when the secretary of agriculture, Sonny Perdue, went to Wisconsin, where independent dairy farmers are desperate in the face of consolidation, and laid down this cow chip: “In America, the big get bigger and the small get out.”

It’s tough for Senator Ernst to defend all that.

She showed up for a town hall meeting in Templeton, Iowa, a tiny burg in conservative western Iowa, as the Senate recessed and the House probed impeachment.

She told the crowd she hoped the trade war will cease, that whistleblowers deserve protection, that corruption must be investigated wherever it is, and that we need to move on to the next question.

If she votes for evicting Trump she could be seen as a maverick, like Grassley was as a younger man

That tack, hewing to the state’s senior senator, Chuck Grassley, will serve Ernst for now in a state that traditionally expects honesty first from its politicians. Eventually, she will be asked to vote on impeachment. She will not be able to duck that question.

If she votes for evicting Trump she could be seen as a maverick, like Grassley was as a younger man. Independent voters – the biggest Iowa bloc – like honest mavericks. If she votes with Trump, Ernst risks losing re-election to one of four Democrats seeking the nomination in a primary next June.

The trade war with China will not be resolved anytime soon. When Trump called on the Chinese to investigate his rivals, no doubt Beijing smiled as it continues to watch him twist. The Chinese do not like being told how much power Trump has over them.

That means continued stress on the midwest manufacturing sector. Harder times for Harley-Davidson in Wisconsin, striking GM workers in Michigan, unemployed Ohio auto workers, and steel forges cooling around Pennsylvania.

Ethanol’s demand problems will not be sorted out before the next election. That is a structural problem over which Trump has little control (too much production, as always, in a world awash in oil) but will take all the blame because he favored big oil over corn. Ethanol is the third rail of Iowa politics, and Trump already stepped on it. Perdue compounded the problem by joking about whining farmers – in front of wheat growers.

That spells real trouble for Ernst. In 1974, Berkley Bedell and Tom Harkin were swept into Congress in the Watergate wave as populist Democrats from deeply Republican western Iowa. Their performance helped John Culver win his US Senate seat. Voters were repulsed by President Richard Nixon’s lies and his contempt for Congress. Two years later, they elected Jimmy Carter president after he campaigned on honesty and ethanol. Likewise, voters in 2018 elected Democrats to Congress from across the midwest – and they nearly unseated Trump proxy Representative Steve King, a Republican from north-west Iowa who represents Templeton.

The people around Templeton are restless with politicians these days. It’s not easy making it go at $18 per hour, and healthcare premiums last year shot up 20% or more. Rural hospitals are threatened. The corn is not looking that great. The markets stink. Farmers probably will lose money for an unlucky seventh year in a row. And there is a proven liar in the Oval Office calling Kyiv to ask if they can slime his political rivals, plus Robert Mueller.

This is a cauldron for Ernst. She stood by Trump this long, but might fall by him if articles of impeachment land in the Senate over the holiday season. Even the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, hasn’t figured out a way to not bring this festering mess to the floor. It could be his undoing, as well.

Art Cullen is editor of the Storm Lake Times in north-west Iowa, where he won the Pulitzer prize for editorial writing. He is author of the book Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper (Viking 2018)

 

Unfit for Office

Donald Trump’s narcissism makes it impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires

October 3, 2019

by George T. Conway III

The Atlantic

In a third-down play last season, the Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith stood in shotgun formation, five yards behind the line of scrimmage. As he called his signals, a Houston Texans cornerback, Kareem Jackson, suddenly sprinted forward from a position four yards behind the defensive line

Jackson’s timing was perfect. The ball was snapped. The Texans’ left defensive end, J.J. Watt, sprinted to the outside, taking the Redskins’ right tackle with him. The defensive tackle on Watt’s right rushed to the inside, taking the offensive right guard with him. The result was a huge gap in the Redskins’ l

Special-teams players began taking the field for the punt. But Smith didn’t get up. He rolled flat onto his back, pulled off his helmet, and covered his face with his hands. He was clearly in excruciating pain. The slow-motion replay immediately showed the television audience why: As Smith was tackled, his right leg had buckled sharply above the ankle, with his foot rotating significantly away from any direction in which a human foot ought to point. The play-by-play announcer Greg Gumbel said grimly, “We’ll be back,” and the network abruptly cut to a break. There was nothing more to say.

Even without the benefit of medical training, and even without conducting a physical examination, viewers knew what had happened. They may not have known what the bones were called or what treatment would be required, but they knew more than enough, and they knew what really mattered: Smith had broken his leg, very badly. They knew that even if they were not orthopedists, did not have a medical degree, and had never cracked open a copy of Gray’s Anatomy. They could tell—they were certain—something was seriously wrong.

And so it is, or ought to be, with Donald Trump. You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and you don’t need to be a mental-health professional to see that something’s very seriously off with Trump—particularly after nearly three years of watching his erratic and abnormal behavior in the White House. Questions about Trump’s psychological stability have mounted throughout his presidency. But those questions have been coming even more frequently amid a recent escalation in Trump’s bizarre behavior, as the pressures of his upcoming reelection campaign, a possibly deteriorating economy, and now a full-blown impeachment inquiry have mounted. And the questioners have included those who have worked most closely with him.

No president in recent memory—and likely no president ever—has prompted more discussion about his mental stability and connection with reality. Trump’s former chief of staff John Kelly is said to have described him as “unhinged,” and “off the rails,” and to have called the White House “Crazytown” because of Trump’s unbalanced state. Trump’s former deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, once reportedly discussed recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, the Constitution’s provision addressing presidential disability, including mental disability.

Rosenstein denies that claim, but it is not the only such account. A senior administration official, writing anonymously in The New York Times last September, described how, “given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment”—but “no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis.” And NBC News last week quoted someone familiar with current discussions in the White House warning that there is “increasing wariness that, as this impeachment inquiry drags out, the likelihood increases that the president could respond erratically and become ‘unmanageable.’” In September, a former White House official offered a similar assessment to a Business Insider reporter: “No one knows what to expect from him anymore,” because “his mood changes from one minute to the next based on some headline or tweet, and the next thing you know his entire schedule gets tossed out the window. He’s losing his shit.”

Even a major investment bank has gotten into the mix, albeit in a roundabout way: JPMorgan Chase has created a “Volfefe Index”—named after Trump’s bizarre May 2017 “covfefe” tweet—designed to quantify the effect that Trump’s impulsive tweets have on interest-rate volatility. The bank’s press release understatedly observed that its “volatility fair value model” shows that “the president’s remarks on this social media platform [have] played a statistically significant role in elevating implied volatility.”

The president isn’t simply volatile and erratic, however—he’s also incapable of consistently telling the truth. Those who work closely with him, and who aren’t in denial, must deal with Trump’s lying about serious matters virtually every day. But as one former official put it, they “are used to the president saying things that aren’t true,” and have inured themselves to it. Trump’s own former communications director Anthony Scaramucci has on multiple occasions described Trump as a liar, once saying, “We … know he’s telling lies,” so “if you want me to say he’s a liar, I’m happy to say he’s a liar.” He went on to address Trump directly: “You should probably dial down the lying because you don’t need to … So dial that down, and you’ll be doing a lot better.”

That was good advice, but clearly wishful thinking. Trump simply can’t dial down the lying, or turn it off—even, his own attorneys suggest, when false statements may be punished as crimes. A lawyer who has represented him in business disputes once told me that Trump couldn’t sensibly be allowed to speak with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, because Trump would “lie his ass off”—in effect, that Trump simply wasn’t capable of telling the truth, about anything, and that if he ever spoke to a prosecutor, he’d talk himself into jail.

Trump’s lawyers in the Russia investigation clearly agreed: As Bob Woodward recounts at length in his book Fear, members of Trump’s criminal-defense team fought both Trump and Mueller tooth and nail to keep Trump from being interviewed by the Office of Special Counsel. A practice testimonial session ended with Trump spouting wild, baseless assertions in a rage. Woodward quotes Trump’s outside counsel John Dowd as saying that Trump “just made something up” in response to one question. “That’s his nature.” Woodward also recounts Dowd’s thinking when he argued to Trump that the president was “not really capable” of answering Mueller’s questions face to face. Dowd had “to dress it up as much as possible, to say, it’s not your fault … He could not say what he knew was true: ‘You’re a fucking liar.’ That was the problem.” (Dowd disputes this account.) Which raises the question: If Trump can’t tell the truth even when it counts most, with legal jeopardy on the line and lawyers there to help prepare him, is he able to apprehend the truth at all?

Behavior like this is unusual, a point that journalists across the political spectrum have made. “This is not normal,” Megan McArdle wrote in late August. “And I don’t mean that as in, ‘Trump is violating the shibboleths of the Washington establishment.’ I mean that as in, ‘This is not normal for a functioning adult.’” James Fallows observed, also in August, that Trump is having “episodes of what would be called outright lunacy, if they occurred in any other setting,” and that if he “were in virtually any other position of responsibility, action would already be under way to remove him from that role.”

Trump’s erratic behavior has long been the subject of political criticism, late-night-television jokes, and even speculation about whether it’s part of some incomprehensible, multidimensional strategic game. But it’s relevant to whether he’s fit for the office he holds. Simply put, Trump’s ingrained and extreme behavioral characteristics make it impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires. To see why first requires a look at what the Constitution demands of a president, and then an examination of how Trump’s behavioral characteristics preclude his ability to fulfill those demands.

The Framers of the Constitution expected the presidency to be occupied by special individuals, selfless people of the highest character and ability. They intended the Electoral College to be a truly deliberative body, not the largely ceremonial institution it has become today. Because the Electoral College, unlike Congress and the state legislatures, wouldn’t be a permanent body, and because it involved diffuse selections made in the various states, they hoped it would help avoid “cabal, intrigue and corruption,” as Alexander Hamilton put it in “Federalist No. 68,” and deter interference from “these most deadly adversaries of republican government,” especially “from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.”

Though the Constitution’s drafters could hardly have foreseen how the system would evolve, they certainly knew the kind of person they wanted it to produce. “The process of election affords a moral certainty,” Hamilton wrote, “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity,” might suffice for someone to be elected to the governorship of a state, but not the presidency. Election would “require other talents, and a different kind of merit,” to gain “the esteem and confidence of the whole Union,” or enough of it to win the presidency. As a result, there would be “a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.” This was the Framers’ goal in designing the system that would make “the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided.”

Hamilton’s use of the word trust in The Federalist Papers to describe the presidency was no accident. The Framers intended that the president “be like a fiduciary, who must pursue the public interest in good faith republican fashion rather than pursuing his self-interest, and who must diligently and steadily execute Congress’s commands,” as a recent Harvard Law Review article puts it. The concept is akin to the law of private fiduciaries, which governs trustees of trusts and directors and officers of corporations, an area that has been central to my legal practice as a corporate litigator. “Indeed,” as the Harvard Law Review article explains, “one might argue that what presents to us as private fiduciary law today had some of its genesis in the law of public officeholding.” The overarching principle is that a fiduciary—say, the CEO of a corporation—when acting on behalf of a corporation, has to act in the corporation’s best interests. Likewise, a trustee of a trust must use the assets for the benefit of the beneficiary, and not himself (a fundamental rule, incidentally, that Trump apparently couldn’t adhere to with his own charitable foundation).

In providing for a national chief executive, the Framers incorporated the very similar law of public officeholding into his duties in two places in the Constitution—in Article II, Section 3 (the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”), and in Article II, Section 1, Clause 8, which requires the president to “solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States.” That language—particularly the words faithfully execute—was in 1787 “very commonly associated with the performance of public and private offices,” the Harvard Law Review article points out, and “anyone experienced in law or government” at that time would have recognized what it meant, “because it was so basic to … the law of executive officeholding.” In a nutshell, while carrying out his official duties, a president has to put the country, not himself, first; he must faithfully follow and enforce the law; and he must act with the utmost care in doing all that.

But can Trump do all that? Does his personality allow him to? Answering those questions doesn’t require mental-health expertise, nor does it really require a diagnosis. You can make the argument for Trump’s unfitness without assessing his mental health: Like James Fallows, for example, you could just ask whether Trump would have been allowed to retain any other job in light of his bizarre conduct. At the same time, the presence of a mental disorder or disturbance doesn’t necessarily translate to incapacity; to suggest otherwise would unfairly stigmatize tens of millions of Americans. Someone battling a serious psychological ailment can unquestionably function well, and even nobly, in high public office—including as president. The country, in fact, has seen it: Abraham Lincoln endured “no mere case of the blues”; he suffered such “terrible melancholly,” said one of his contemporaries, that “he never dare[d] carry a knife in his pocket.” Many historians speculate that he suffered from what we would now diagnose as clinical depression. Yet Lincoln’s mechanisms for coping with his lifelong affliction may have supplied him with the vision, the creativity, and the moral fortitude to save the nation, to achieve for it a new birth of freedom. As a writer in this magazine once put it: Lincoln’s “political vision drew power from personal experience … Prepared for defeat, and even for humiliation, he insisted on seeing the truth of both his personal circumstances and the national condition. And where the optimists of his time would fail, he would succeed, envisioning and articulating a durable idea of free society.”

More than a diagnosis, what truly matters, as Lincoln’s case shows, is the president’s behavioral characteristics and personality traits. And understanding how people behave and think is not the sole province of professionals; we all do it every day, with family members, co-workers, and others. Nevertheless, how the mental-health community goes about categorizing those characteristics and traits can provide helpful guidance to laypeople by structuring our thinking about them.

And that’s where the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders comes into play. The DSM, now in its fifth edition, “contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders,” and serves as the country’s “authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders.” What’s useful for nonprofessionals is that, for the most part, it’s written in plain English, and its criteria consist largely of observable behaviors—words and actions.

That’s especially true of its criteria for personality disorders—they don’t require a person to lie on a couch and confess his or her innermost thoughts. They turn on how a person behaves in the wild, so to speak. If anything, a patient’s confessions in an office may disadvantage a clinician, because patients can and do conceal from clinicians central aspects of their true selves. If you can observe people going about their everyday business, you’ll know a lot more about how they act and behave.

And Donald Trump, as president of the United States, is probably the most observable and observed person in the world. I’ve personally met and spoken with him only a few times, but anyone who knows him will tell you that Trump, in a way, has no facade: What you see of him publicly is what you get all the time, although you may get more of it in private. Any intelligent person who watches Trump closely on television, and pays careful attention to his words on Twitter and in the press, should be able to tell you as much about his behavior as a mental-health professional could.

One scholarly paper has suggested that accounts of a person’s behavior from laypeople who observe him might be more accurate than information from a clinical interview, and that this is especially true when considering two personality disorders in particular—what the DSM calls narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These two disorders just happen to be the ones that have most commonly been ascribed to Trump by mental-health professionals over the past four years. Of these two disorders, the more commonly discussed when it comes to Trump is narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD—pathological narcissism. It’s also more important in considering Trump’s fitness for office, because it touches directly upon whether Trump has the capacity to put anyone’s interests—including the country’s and the Constitution’s—above his own.

Narcissus, the Greek mythological figure, was a boy who fell so in love with his own reflection in a pool of water that, according to one version of the story, he jumped in and drowned. Psychiatrists and psychologists now use the term narcissism to describe feelings of self-importance and self-love. As Craig Malkin, a clinical psychologist who has written extensively on the subject, has explained, narcissism is a trait that, to some extent, all human beings have: “the drive to feel special, to stand out from … other[s] … to feel exceptional or unique.”

A certain amount of narcissism is healthy, and helpful—it brings with it confidence, optimism, and boldness. Someone with more than an average amount of narcissism may be called a narcissist. Many politicians, and many celebrities, could be considered narcissists; presidents seem especially likely to “rank high in extroverted narcissism,” Malkin writes, although they have varied greatly in the degree of their narcissism. But extreme narcissism can be pathological, an illness—and potentially a danger, as it was for Narcissus. “Pathological narcissism begins when people become so addicted to feeling special that, just like with any drug, they’ll do anything to get their ‘high,’ including lie, steal, cheat, betray, and even hurt those closest to them,” Malkin says.

The “fundamental life goal” of an extreme narcissist “is to promote the greatness of the self, for all to see,” the psychologist Dan P. McAdams wrote in The Atlantic. To many mental-health professionals, Donald Trump provides a perfect example of such extreme, pathological narcissism: One clinical psychologist told Vanity Fair that he considers Trump such a “classic” pathological narcissist that he is actually “archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example” of the characteristics of the disorder he displays. “Otherwise,” this clinician explained, “I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He’s like a dream come true.” Another clinical psychologist said that Trump displays “textbook narcissistic personality disorder.”

Not everyone agrees that Trump meets the diagnostic criteria for NPD. Allen Frances, a psychiatrist who helped write the disorder’s entry in the DSM, has argued that a mental “disturbance” becomes a “disorder” only when, as the DSM puts it, the affliction “causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” The idea behind this threshold is to separate “mild forms” of problems from pathological ones, “in the absence of clear biological markers or clinically useful measurements of severity for many mental disorders.”

In Frances’s view, that dividing line disqualifies Trump from having a disorder, particularly NPD. Trump “may be a world-class narcissist,” he has written, “but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder. Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy.”

But from the perspective of the public at large, the debate over whether Trump meets the clinical diagnostic criteria for NPD—or whether psychiatrists can and should answer that question without directly examining him—is beside the point. The goal of a diagnosis is to help a clinician guide treatment. The question facing the public is very different: Does the president of the United States exhibit a consistent pattern of behavior that suggests he is incapable of properly discharging the duties of his office?

Even Trump’s own allies recognize the degree of his narcissism. When he launched racist attacks on four congresswomen of color, Senator Lindsey Graham explained, “That’s just the way he is. It’s more narcissism than anything else.” So, too, do skeptics of assigning a clinical diagnosis. “No one is denying,” Frances told Rolling Stone, “that he is as narcissistic an individual as one is ever likely to encounter.” The president’s exceptional narcissism is his defining characteristic—and understanding that is crucial to evaluating his fitness for office.

The DSM-5 describes its conception of pathological narcissism this way: “The essential feature of narcissistic personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts.” The manual sets out nine diagnostic criteria that are indicative of the disorder, but only five of the nine need be present for a diagnosis of NPD to be made. Here are the nine:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends)
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings or needs of others.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

These criteria are accompanied by explanatory notes that seem relevant here: “Vulnerability in self-esteem makes individuals with narcissistic personality disorder very sensitive to ‘injury’ from criticism or defeat.” And “criticism may haunt these individuals and may leave them feeling humiliated, degraded, hollow and empty. They may react with disdain, rage, or defiant counterattack.” The manual warns, moreover, that “interpersonal relations are typically impaired because of problems derived from entitlement, the need for admiration, and the relative disregard for the sensitivities of others.” And, the DSM-5 adds, “though overweening ambition and confidence may lead to high achievement, performance may be disrupted because of intolerance of criticism or defeat.”

The diagnostic criteria offer a useful framework for understanding the most remarkable features of Donald Trump’s personality, and of his presidency. (1) Exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements? (2) Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance? (3) Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and should only associate with other special or high-status people? That’s Trump, to a T. As Trump himself might put it, he exaggerates accomplishments better than anyone. In July, he described himself in a tweet as “so great looking and smart, a true Stable Genius!” (Exclamation point his, of course.) That “stable genius” self-description is one that Trump has repeated over and over again—even though he has trouble with spelling, doesn’t know the difference between a hyphen and an apostrophe, doesn’t appear to understand fractions, needs basic geography lessons, speaks at the level of a fourth grader, and engages in “serial misuse of public language” and “cannot write sentences,” and even though members of his own administration have variously considered him to be a “moron,” an “idiot,” a “dope,” “dumb as shit,” and a person with the intelligence of a “kindergartener” or a “fifth or sixth grader” or an “11-year-old child.”

Trump wants everyone to know: He’s “the super genius of all time,” one of “the smartest people anywhere in the world.” Not only that, but he considers himself a hero of sorts. He avoided military service, yet claims he would have run, unarmed, into a school during a mass shooting. Speaking to a group of emergency medical workers who had lost friends and colleagues on 9/11, he claimed, falsely, to have “spent a lot of time down there with you,” while generously allowing that “I’m not considering myself a first responder.” He has spoken, perhaps jokingly, perhaps not, about awarding himself the Medal of Honor.

Trump claims to be an expert—the world’s greatest—in anything and everything. As one video mash-up shows, Trump has at various times claimed—in all seriousness—that no one knows more than he does about: taxes, income, construction, campaign finance, drones, technology, infrastructure, work visas, the Islamic State, “things” generally, environmental-impact statements, Facebook, renewable energy, polls, courts, steelworkers, golf, banks, trade, nuclear weapons, tax law, lawsuits, currency devaluation, money, “the system,” debt, and politicians. Trump described his admission as a transfer student into Wharton’s undergraduate program as “super genius stuff,” even though he didn’t strike the admissions officer who approved his candidacy as a “genius,” let alone a “super genius”; Trump claimed to have “heard I was first in my class” at Wharton, despite the fact that his name didn’t appear on the dean’s list there, or in the commencement program’s list of graduates receiving honors. And Trump, through an invented spokesman, even lied his way onto the Forbes 400.

(4) Requires excessive admiration? Last Thanksgiving, Trump was asked what he was most thankful for. His answer: himself, of course. A number of years ago, he made a video for Forbes in which he interviewed two of his children. The interview topic: how great they thought Donald Trump was. When his own father died, in 1999, Trump gave one of the eulogies. As Alan Marcus, a former Trump adviser, recounted the story to Timothy O’Brien, he began “more or less like this: ‘I was in my Trump Tower apartment reading about how I was having the greatest year in my career in The New York Times when the security desk called to say my brother Robert was coming upstairs’”—an introductory line that provoked “‘an audible gasp’ from mourners stunned by Trump’s self-regard.” According to a Rolling Stone article, other eulogists spoke about the deceased, but Trump “used the time to talk about his own accomplishments and to make it clear that, in his mind, his father’s best achievement was producing him, Donald.” The author of a book about the Trump family described the funeral as one that “wasn’t about Fred Trump,” but rather “was an opportunity to do some brand burnishing by Donald, for Donald. Throughout his remarks, the first-person singular pronouns—I and me and mine—far outnumbered he and his. Even at his own father’s funeral, Donald Trump couldn’t cede the limelight.”

And he still can’t. Here’s a man who holds rallies with no elections in sight, so that he can bask in his supporters’ cheers; even when elections are near, and he’s supposed to be helping other candidates, he consistently keeps the focus on himself. He loves to watch replays of himself at the rallies, and “luxuriates in the moments he believes are evidence of his brilliance.” In July, after his controversial, publicly funded, campaign-style Independence Day celebration, Trump tweeted, “Our Country is the envy of the World. Thank you, Mr. President!” In February 2017, Trump was given a private tour of the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture, and paused in front of an exhibit on the Dutch role in the slave trade. He turned to the museum’s director and said, “You know, they love me in the Netherlands.”

(5) A sense of entitlement? (9) Arrogant, haughty behaviors? Trump is the man who, on the infamous Access Hollywood tape, said, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything you want”—including grabbing women by their genitals. He’s the man who also once said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” (8) Envious of others? Here’s a man so unable to stand the praise received by a respected war hero and statesman, Senator John McCain, that he has continued to attack McCain months after McCain’s death; his jealousy led White House staff to direct the Pentagon to keep a destroyer called the USS John S. McCain out of Trump’s line of sight during a presidential visit to an American naval base in Japan. And Trump, despite being president, still seems envious of President Barack Obama. (6) Interpersonally exploitative? Just watch the Access Hollywood tape, or ask any of the hundreds of contractors and employees Trump the businessman allegedly stiffed, or speak with any of the two dozen women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, sexual assault, or rape. (Trump has denied all their claims.)

Finally, (7) Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings or needs of others? One of the most striking aspects of Trump’s personality is his utter and complete lack of empathy. By empathy, psychologists and psychiatrists mean the ability to understand or relate to what someone else is experiencing—the capacity to envision someone else’s feelings, perceptions, and thoughts.

The notorious lawyer and fixer Roy Cohn, who once counseled Trump, said that “Donald pisses ice water,” and indeed, examples of Trump’s utter lack of normal human empathy abound. Trump himself has told the story of a charity ball—an “incredible ball”—he once held at Mar-a-Lago for the Red Cross. “So what happens is, this guy falls off right on his face, hits his head, and I thought he died … His wife is screaming—she’s sitting right next to him, and she’s screaming.” By his own account, Trump’s concern wasn’t the poor man’s well-being or his wife’s. It was the bloody mess on his expensive floor. “You know, beautiful marble floor, didn’t look like it. It changed color. Became very red … I said, ‘Oh, my God, that’s disgusting,’ and I turned away. I couldn’t, you know, he was right in front of me and I turned away.” Trump describes himself as saying, after the injured man was hauled away on a makeshift stretcher, “‘Get that blood cleaned up! It’s disgusting!’ The next day, I forgot to call [the man] to say is he okay … It’s just not my thing.”

And then there was 9/11. Trump gave an extraordinary call-in interview to a metropolitan–New York television station just hours after the Twin Towers collapsed. He was asked whether one of his downtown buildings, 40 Wall Street, had suffered any damage. Trump’s immediate response was to brag about the building’s brand-new ranking among New York skyscrapers: “40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest—and then when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second-tallest. And now it’s the tallest.” (This wasn’t even true—a building a block away from Trump’s, 70 Pine Street, was a little taller.)

That human empathy isn’t Trump’s thing has been demonstrated time and again during his presidency as well. In October 2017, he reportedly told the widow of a serviceman killed in action “something to the effect that ‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.’” (Trump later claimed that this account was “fabricated … Sad!” and that “I have proof,” but of course he never produced any.) On a less macabre note, on Christmas Eve last year, Trump took calls on NORAD’s Santa Tracker phone line, which children call to find out where Santa Claus is as he makes his rounds. Trump asked a 7-year-old girl from South Carolina: “Are you still a believer in Santa? Because at 7, it’s marginal, right?”

According to Woodward’s Fear, when Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, resigned, he found out about his replacement when he saw a tweet from Trump saying that he had appointed John Kelly as the new chief of staff—moments after Priebus and Trump had spoken about waiting to announce the news. Kelly was appalled, and that night apologetically told Priebus, “I’d never do this to you. I’d never been offered this job until the tweet came out. I would have told you.” His predecessor, though, wasn’t surprised. “It made no sense, Priebus realized, unless you understood … ‘The president has zero psychological ability to recognize empathy or pity in any way.’”

Priebus apparently isn’t the only White House staffer to have learned this; in February 2018, when Trump met with survivors of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting and their loved ones, his communications aide actually gave him a note card that made clear that “the president needed to be reminded to show compassion and understanding to traumatized survivors,” as The New York Times put it. The empathy cheat sheet contained a reminder to say such things as “I hear you.” One aide to President Obama told the Times that had she and her colleagues given their boss such a reminder card, “he would have looked at us like we were crazy people.”

Most recently, in July of this year, in a stunning scene captured on video, Trump met in the Oval Office with the human-rights activist Nadia Murad, a Yazidi Iraqi who had been captured, raped, and tortured by the Islamic State, and had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for speaking out about the plight of the Yazidis and other victims of genocide and religious persecution. Her voice breaking, she implored the president of the United States to help her people return safely to Iraq. Trump could barely look her in the eye. She told him that ISIS had murdered her mother and six brothers. Trump, apparently not paying much attention, asked, “Where are they now?” “They killed them,” she said once again. “They are in the mass grave in Sinjar, and I’m still fighting just to live in safety.” Trump, who has publicly said that he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, seemed interested in the conversation only at the end, when he asked Murad about why she won the prize.

Another equally unforgettable video documents Trump visiting Puerto Rico shortly after Hurricane Maria, tossing rolls of paper towels into a crowd of victims. He later responded vindictively to charges that his administration hadn’t done enough to help the island, prompting the mayor of San Juan to observe that Trump had “augmented” Puerto Rico’s “devastating human crisis … because he made it about himself, not about saving our lives,” and because “when expected to show empathy he showed disdain and lack of respect.”

In October 2018, a gunman burst into Shabbat morning services at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh and sprayed worshippers with semiautomatic-rifle and pistol fire. Eleven people died. Three days later, the president and first lady visited the community, and the day after that, the first thing Trump tweeted about the visit was this: “Melania and I were treated very nicely yesterday in Pittsburgh. The Office of the President was shown great respect on a very sad & solemn day. We were treated so warmly. Small protest was not seen by us, staged far away. The Fake News stories were just the opposite—Disgraceful!” Similarly, after gunmen killed dozens in the span of a single August weekend in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, Trump went on a one-day sympathy tour that was marked by attacks on his hosts and on political enemies, and an obsessive focus on himself.

What kind of human being, let alone politician, would engage in such unempathetic, self-centered behavior while memorializing such horrible tragedies? Only the most narcissistic person imaginable—or a person whose narcissism would be difficult to imagine if we hadn’t seen it ourselves. The evidence of Trump’s narcissism is overwhelming—indeed, it would be a gargantuan task to try to marshal all of it, especially as it mounts each and every day.

Yet pathological narcissism is not the only personality disorder that Trump’s behavior clearly indicates. A second disorder also frequently ascribed to Trump by professionals is sociopathy—what the DSM-5 calls antisocial personality disorder. As described by Lance Dodes, a former assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, “sociopathy is among the most severe mental disturbances.” Central to sociopathy is a complete lack of empathy—along with “an absence of guilt.” Sociopaths engage in “intentional manipulation, and controlling or even sadistically harming others for personal power or gratification. People with sociopathic traits have a flaw in the basic nature of human beings … They are lacking an essential part of being human.” For its part, the DSM-5 states that the “essential feature of antisocial personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.”

The question of whether Trump can serve as a national fiduciary turns more on his narcissistic tendencies than his sociopathic ones, but Trump’s sociopathic characteristics sufficiently intertwine with his narcissistic ones that they deserve mention here. These include, to quote the DSM-5, “deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others.” Trump’s deceitfulness—his lying—has become the stuff of legend; journalists track his “false and misleading claims” as president by the thousands upon thousands. Aliases? For years, Trump would call journalists while posing as imaginary PR men, “John Barron” and “John Miller,” so that he could plant false stories about being wealthy, brilliant, and sexually accomplished. Trump was, and remains, a con artist: Think of Trump University, which even Trump’s own employees described as a scam (and which sparked a lawsuit that resulted in a $25 million settlement, although with no admission of wrongdoing). There’s ACN, an alleged Ponzi scheme Trump promoted, and from which he made millions (he, his company, and his family deny the allegations of fraud); and the border wall that hasn’t been built and that Mexico’s never going to pay for. Trump is a pathological liar if ever there was one.

Other criteria for antisocial personality disorder include “failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors, as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest”; “impulsivity or failure to plan ahead”; and “lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.” Check, check, and check: As for social norms and lawful behaviors, there are all the accusations of sexual misconduct. Also relevant is what the Mueller report says about Trump’s efforts to derail the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian interference in the last presidential election. And given what federal prosecutors in New York said about his role in directing hush money to be paid to the porn star Stormy Daniels, a strong case can be made that Trump has committed multiple acts of obstruction of justice and criminal violations of campaign-finance laws. Were he not president, and were it not for two Justice Department opinions holding that a sitting president cannot be indicted, he might well be facing criminal charges now.

As for impulsivity, that essentially describes what gets him into trouble most: It was his “impulsiveness—actually, total recklessness”—that came close to destroying him in the 1980s. In “response to his surging celebrity,” Trump, “acquisitive to the point of recklessness,” engaged in “a series of manic, ill-advised ventures” that “nearly did him in,” Politico reported. His impulsiveness has buffeted his presidency as well: Think of his first ordering, then calling off, the bombing of Iran in June, and his aborted meeting with the Taliban at Camp David just last month. And remember the racist tweets he sent in mid-July in which he told four nonwhite representatives—three of whom were born in the United States—to “go back” to the “countries” they “originally came from.” Those tweets were apparently triggered by something he saw on TV.

Or consider his impetuous, unvetted personnel decisions, such as his failed selection of Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, the former White House physician, as Veterans Affairs secretary, and his choice of Representative John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence. It was just so on The Apprentice, where editors and producers found that “Trump was frequently unprepared” for tapings, and frequently fired strong contestants “on a whim,” which required them “to ‘reverse engineer’ the episode, scouring hundreds of hours of footage … in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense.” One editor remarked that he found “it strangely validating that they’re doing the same thing in the White House.” Trump sees none of this as a problem; to the contrary, he prides himself on following his instincts, once telling an interviewer: “I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody’s brain can ever tell me.”

And lack of remorse? That’s a hallmark of sociopathy, and goes hand in hand with a lack of human conscience. In a narcissistic sociopath, it’s intertwined with a lack of empathy. Trump hardly ever shows remorse, or apologizes, for anything. The one exception: With his presidential candidacy on the line in early October 2016, Trump expressed regret for the Access Hollywood video. But within weeks, almost as soon as the campaign was over, Trump began claiming, to multiple people, that the video may have been doctored—a preposterous lie, especially since he had acknowledged that the voice was his, others had confirmed this as well, and there was no evidence of tampering. “We don’t think that was my voice,” he said to a senator. The “we,” no doubt, was a lie as well.

Again, as with his narcissism, all this evidence of Trump’s sociopathy only begins to tell the tale. The bottom line is that this is a man who, over and over and over again, has indifferently mused about the possibility of killing 10 million or so people in Afghanistan to end the war there, while allowing that “I’m not looking to kill 10 million people”—as though this were a realistic but merely less preferred option than, say, raising import tariffs on chewing gum. As a 1997 profile of Trump in The New Yorker put it, Trump has “an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.”

In a way, Trump’s sociopathic tendencies are simply an extension of his extreme narcissism. Take the pathological lying. Extreme narcissists aren’t necessarily pathological liars, but they can be, and when they are, the lying supports the narcissism. As Lance Dodes has put it, “People like Donald Trump who have severe narcissistic disturbances can’t tolerate being criticized, so the more they are challenged in this essential way, the more out of control they become.” In particular, “They change reality to suit themselves in their own mind.” Although Trump “lies because of his sociopathic tendencies,” telling falsehoods to fool others, Dodes argues, he also lies to himself, to protect himself from narcissistic injury. And so Donald Trump has lied about his net worth, the size of the crowd at his inauguration, and supposed voter fraud in the 2016 election.

The latter kind of lying, Dodes says, “is in a way more serious,” because it can indicate “a loose grip on reality”—and it may well tell us where Trump is headed in the face of impeachment hearings. Lying to prevent narcissistic injury can metastasize to a more significant loss of touch with reality. As Craig Malkin puts it, when pathological narcissists “can’t let go of their need to be admired or recognized, they have to bend or invent a reality in which they remain special,” and they “can lose touch with reality in subtle ways that become extremely dangerous over time.” They can become “dangerously psychotic,” and “it’s just not always obvious until it’s too late.”

Experts haven’t suggested that Trump is psychotic, but many have contended that his narcissism and sociopathy are so inordinate that he fits the bill for “malignant narcissism.” Malignant narcissism isn’t recognized as an official diagnosis; it’s a descriptive term coined by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, and expanded upon by another psychoanalyst, Otto Kernberg, to refer to an extreme mix of narcissism and sociopathy, with a degree of paranoia and sadism mixed in. One psychoanalyst explains that “the malignant narcissist is pathologically grandiose, lacking in conscience and behavioural regulation with characteristic demonstrations of joyful cruelty and sadism.” In the view of some in the mental-health community, such as John Gartner, Trump “exhibits all four” components of malignant narcissism: “narcissism, paranoia, antisocial personality and sadism.”

Mental-health professionals have raised a variety of other concerns about Trump’s mental state; the last worth specifically mentioning here is the possibility that, apart from any personality disorder, he may be suffering cognitive decline. This is a serious matter: Trump seems to be continually slurring words, and recently misread teleprompters to say that the Continental Army secured airports during the American Revolutionary War, and to say that the shooting in Dayton had occurred in Toledo. His overall level of articulateness today doesn’t come close to what he exhibits in decades-old television clips. But that could be caused by ordinary age-related decline, stress, or other factors; to know whether something else is going on, according to experts, would require a full neuropsychological work-up, of the kind that Trump hasn’t yet had and, one supposes, isn’t about to agree to.

But even that doesn’t exhaust all the mental-health issues possibly indicated by Trump’s behavior. His “mental state,” according to Justin A. Frank, a former clinical professor of psychiatry and physician who wrote a book about Trump’s psychology, “include[s] so many psychic afflictions” that a “working knowledge of psychiatric disorders is essential to understanding Trump.” Indeed, as Gartner puts it: “There are a lot of things wrong with him—and, together, they are a scary witch’s brew.”

This is a lot to digest. It would take entire books to catalog all of Trump’s behavioral abnormalities and try to explain them—some of which have already been written. But when you line up what the Framers expected of a president with all that we know about Donald Trump, his unfitness becomes obvious. The question is whether he can possibly act as a public fiduciary for the nation’s highest public trust. To borrow from the Harvard Law Review article, can he follow the “proscriptions against profit, bad faith, and self-dealing,” manifest “a strong concern about avoiding ultra vires action” (that is, action exceeding the president’s legal authority), and maintain “a duty of diligence and carefulness”? Given that Trump displays the extreme behavioral characteristics of a pathological narcissist, a sociopath, or a malignant narcissist—take your pick—it’s clear that he can’t.

To act as a fiduciary requires you to put someone else’s interests above your own, and Trump’s personality makes it impossible for him to do that. No president before him, at least in recent memory, has ever displayed such obsessive self-regard. For Trump, Trump always comes first. He places his interests over everyone else’s—including those of the nation whose laws he swore to faithfully execute. That’s not consistent with the duties of the president, whether considered from the standpoint of constitutional law or psychology.

Indeed, Trump’s view of his presidential powers can only be described as profoundly narcissistic, and his narcissism has compelled him to disregard the Framers’ vision of his constitutional duties in every respect. Bad faith? Trump has repeatedly used executive powers, threatened to use executive powers, or expressed the view that executive powers should be used to advance his personal interests and punish his political opponents. Thus, for example, he has placed restrictions on disaster aid to Puerto Rico in apparent response to criticism of him and his administration; directed the Pentagon to reconsider whether to award a $10 billion contract to Amazon because its CEO owns The Washington Post, whose coverage he doesn’t like; threatened to take “regulatory and legislative” action against Facebook, Google, and Twitter, because of their supposed “terrible bias” against him; tried to get White House staff to tell the Justice Department to try to block the merger between AT&T and Time Warner in order to punish CNN for its coverage; attacked his first attorney general for allowing the indictment of two Republican congressmen who had supported him; and ordered the revocation of the security clearance of a former CIA director who had criticized him.

And now, in just the past two weeks, we’ve seen the pièce de résistance of bad faith, the one that’s brought Trump to the verge of impeachment: Trump’s efforts to use his presidential authority to strong-arm a foreign nation, Ukraine, into digging up or concocting evidence in support of a preposterous conspiracy theory about one of his principal challengers for the presidency, former Vice President Joe Biden. As one political historian has put it, Trump’s use of his Article II authority to pursue vendettas is “both a sign of deep insecurity … and also just a litany of abuse of power,” and something no president has done “as consistently or as viciously as Trump has.”

Profit? Self-dealing? Look at the way Trump is using the presidency to advertise his real-estate holdings—most notably and recently, his apparent determination to hold the next G7 summit at the Trump Doral resort in Florida. Ultra vires? Trump has made the outrageous claim that the Constitution gives him “the right to do whatever I want as president.” Consistent with that view, he has repeatedly suggested that, by executive order, he can overturn the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship—an utterly lawless assertion. His core constitutional obligations flow from Article II’s command that he faithfully execute the laws, yet he has told subordinates not to worry about violating the laws. According to one former senior administration official quoted in The New York Times, Trump’s “constant instinct all the time was: Just do it, and if we get sued, we get sued … Almost as if the first step is a lawsuit. I guess he thinks that because that’s how business worked for him in the private sector. But federal law is different, and there really isn’t a settling step when you break federal law.” Federal law is also different, one might add, because he’s in charge of upholding it.

Facing the approach of the 2020 election with not a single new mile of his border wall having been built, Trump, as reported in The Washington Post, has urged his aides to violate all manner of laws to expedite construction—environmental laws, contracting laws, constitutional limitations on the taking of private property—and “has told worried subordinates that he will pardon them of any potential wrongdoing” they commit along the way.

A duty of diligence and carefulness? Trump is purely impulsive, and incapable of planning or serious forethought, and his compulsion for lying has enervated any capacity for thoughtful analysis he may have ever had. He apparently won’t read anything; he himself has said, in regard to briefings, that he prefers to read “as little as possible”—despite occupying what David A. Graham calls “one of the most demanding jobs in the world” precisely because its “holder is expected to consume, digest, and absorb prodigious amounts of information via reading.”

And then there’s the question of honesty. Fiduciaries must be honest. The Framers understood, based upon the law of public officeholding in their time, that “faithful execution” of the laws requires “the absence of bad faith through honesty.” In the private realm, fiduciaries owe a duty of candor, of truth-telling; the standard of behavior was once memorably described by the renowned jurist Benjamin Cardozo as “not honesty alone, but the punctilio of an honor the most sensitive.” Today, in my own practice area of corporate litigation, corporate officers and directors, as fiduciaries, owe duties that include a duty to disclose material information truthfully and completely. Trump, whose lawyers wouldn’t dare allow him to speak to the special counsel lest he make a prosecutable false statement, couldn’t pass this standard to save his life.

Trump’s incapacity affects all manner of subjects addressed by the presidency, but can be seen most acutely in foreign affairs and national security. Presidential narcissism and personal ego have frequently displaced the national interest. Today, the most obvious—and stunning—example is his conduct toward Ukraine: While trying to pressure the Ukrainian president to restart an investigation against Biden, Trump ordered the withholding of vital military aid to that country, thus weakening its ability to withstand Russian aggression and undermining the interests of the United States. But the list goes on: Last summer, in a narcissistic effort at self-aggrandizement, Trump told the Pakistani prime minister about a conversation he had with the Indian prime minister—leading India to deny, indignantly, that any such conversation had ever taken place. Trump reportedly even lied about trade talks with China—announcing that phone calls had occurred that never occurred and that the Chinese denied took place—in an apparent attempt to pump up the stock market and take credit for it.

Trump’s penchant for vendettas also doesn’t stop at the water’s edge—American interests be damned. When confidential cables sent by the United Kingdom’s ambassador to his government were leaked, and were revealed to contain uncomplimentary (but obvious) observations about Trump’s ineptitude and emotional insecurity, and the dysfunction of his administration, Trump went on an extended Twitter tirade against the ambassador, calling him “wacky” and “a very stupid guy,” “a pompous fool,” and ultimately declared: “We will no longer deal with him.” When reports surfaced that Trump was interested in having the United States purchase Greenland from Denmark, and the Danish prime minister understandably described talk about such a purchase as “an absurd discussion” in light of Greenland’s position on the matter, Trump canceled a visit to Denmark, and then attacked the prime minister, calling her comments “nasty”; for good measure, he also attacked some of America’s NATO allies.

At the same time, Trump happily succumbs to flattery from America’s enemies; he received “beautiful … great letters” from North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, and therefore “fell in love” with him, and rewards him with kind words and meetings even as North Korea continues to develop new nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, Trump once said on television: “If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.”

Putin, of course, did more than say great things about Trump, which brings up what was, until the Ukraine scandal surfaced, the most significant way in which Trump’s extraordinary narcissism influenced his presidency—the Russia investigation. Trump made that investigation about himself, and in the course of doing so, committed what appear to be unmistakably criminal acts. At the outset, the Mueller investigation wasn’t about what Donald Trump had done during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. It was primarily an investigation about what the Russians had done to interfere with that election and to help the Trump campaign. At its core, it was a counterintelligence investigation—an effort to protect the country, to defend our democracy. An effort to find out exactly what a hostile foreign power had done to attack the United States, so that our nation could fight back, and so that it could take measures to ensure that such an attack never happened again.

But Trump didn’t see it that way. The Mueller report repeatedly describes Trump’s self-obsession, and his disregard for the national interest. Trump viewed “the intelligence community assessment of Russian interference as a threat to the legitimacy of his electoral victory.” He is said to have “viewed the Russia investigation as an attack on the legitimacy of his win.” He thought it would “tak[e] away from what he had accomplished.” The Washington Post has now reported, moreover, that in the Oval Office in May 2017, Trump told the Russian foreign minister and ambassador that he was unconcerned with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

And so, contrary to his obligation to act in the nation’s interests rather than his own, and contrary to the criminal code, he repeatedly tried to obstruct the investigation—and therefore, ironically, put himself in the crosshairs of the investigation. Thanks to Trump’s narcissism, the special counsel was forced to devote an entire volume of his report—some 182 pages of single-spaced text—to Trump’s repeated and persistent efforts to derail the investigation. And persistent, Trump was. He tried to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from the investigation, to violate ethics rules and unrecuse himself, so that he could get rid of the special counsel and limit the investigation to future election interference only. Trump tried to get his White House counsel to have the acting attorney general remove Mueller on a ridiculous pretext, prompting the counsel to threaten to resign. Trump tried to encourage witnesses to refuse to cooperate with the very government that Trump himself heads. As I’ve argued elsewhere, in his efforts to derail the Mueller investigation, Trump “did much more than this, but all of this is more than enough: He committed the crime of obstructing justice—multiple times.” Trump even obstructed justice about obstructing justice when he tried to get the White House counsel to write a false account of Trump’s efforts to remove Mueller.

All in all, Trump sought to impede and end a significant counterintelligence and criminal investigation—one of crucial importance to the nation—and did so for his own personal reasons. He did precisely the opposite of what his duties require. Indeed, he has shown utter contempt for his duties to the nation. How else could one describe the attitude Trump expressed when, sitting next to Vladimir Putin in late June, he was asked whether he would tell Putin not to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election? Trump smirked, wagged his finger playfully at Putin, and said, “Don’t meddle in the election.” Putin smirked too. The Russian president was in on the joke—the punch line being how Trump treats America’s interests versus his own.

What constitutional mechanisms exist for dealing with a president who cannot or does not comply with his duties, and how should they take the president’s mental and behavioral characteristics into account? One mechanism discussed with great frequency during the past three years, including within the Trump administration, is Section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. That provision allows the vice president to become “Acting President” when the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” But it doesn’t define what such an inability entails; essentially, it lets the vice president and the Cabinet, the president himself, and ultimately two-thirds of both houses of Congress decide.

Certainly it would cover a coma. Had the amendment been in effect in 1919 through 1921, it presumably could have been used to deal with President Woodrow Wilson. A severe stroke had rendered Wilson paralyzed on the left side, but he could still speak, and he could still sign documents with his right hand. Nevertheless, although Wilson had “relatively well preserved intellectual function,” the stroke rendered him “subject to ‘disorders of emotion, impaired impulse control, and defective judgment.’”

Sound judgment, of course, is what a president’s job is all about. And as Jeffrey Rosen has explained, “nothing in the text or original understanding of the amendment” would prevent the vice president, the Cabinet, or Congress from deciding that Trump has disorders of emotion, impaired impulse control, defective judgment, or other behavioral or psychological issues that keep him from carrying out his constitutional duties the way they were meant to be carried out.

The problem is one of mechanics. Section 4, quite understandably, was designed to be extremely difficult to implement. The vice president and a majority of the Cabinet can determine that the president isn’t able to carry out his duties; if so, the vice president immediately becomes acting president. But if the president doesn’t agree—and you know what Trump’s view will be, no matter what—then a constitutional game of ping-pong starts: The president can certify that he is capable, and he can reassume his authority after a four-day waiting period, unless the vice president and the Cabinet, within that period, recertify that the president can’t function. (As a new book on Section 4 explains, this waiting period exists in part because “a deranged President could do a lot of damage if he could retake power immediately,” and, in particular, he “would also be able to fire the Cabinet, which would prevent it from contesting his declaration of ability.”) If that happens, the vice president continues as acting president, and the whole matter gets kicked to Congress, which must assemble within 48 hours and decide within 21 days: If two-thirds of both houses agree that the president can’t function, then the vice president continues as acting president; if not, the president gets his authority back.

No matter how psychologically incapable of meeting his constitutional obligations Trump may be, that route is virtually certain not to work in this case. Would a vice president and department heads who have shamelessly slaked Trump’s narcissistic thirst at Cabinet meetings by praising his supposed greatness, and who of course owe their jobs to Trump, dare incur his wrath by sparking a constitutional crisis on the basis of what they must surely know about his unprecedented faults? Doubtful, to say the least. They would know full well that, if their decision weren’t sustained by Congress, the first thing that Trump would do after reassuming power would be to fire every department head who sought to have him sidelined. (He can’t fire Vice President Mike Pence, of course.) Which brings up the ultimate question upon which successful invocation of Section 4 would turn: whether two-thirds of both houses of Congress would vote to remove Trump. That’s harder than impeachment, which requires only a simple majority of the House in order to bring charges of impeachment to a trial in the Senate (which in turn can convict on a two-thirds vote).

And so it turns out that impeachment is a more practical mechanism for addressing the fact that Trump’s narcissism and sociopathy render him unable to comply with the obligations of his office. It’s also an appropriate mechanism, because the constitutional magic words (other than Treason and Bribery) that form the basis of an impeachment charge—high Crimes and Misdemeanors, found in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution—mean something other than, and more than, offenses in the criminal-statute books. High Crimes and Misdemeanors is a legal term of art, one that historically referred to breaches of duties—fiduciary duties—by public officeholders. In other words, the question of what constitutes an impeachable offense for a president coincides precisely with whether the president can execute his office in the faithful manner that the Constitution requires.

The phrase high Crimes and Misdemeanors was dropped into the draft Constitution on September 8, 1787, during the waning days of the Constitutional Convention. The discussion before the Convention’s Committee of Eleven was extremely brief. The extant version of what became Article II, Section 4 provided for impeachment merely for treason and bribery. George Mason objected, and proposed adding “maladministration.” Elbridge Gerry seconded Mason’s proposal, but James Madison objected that it was too vague. Gouverneur Morris chimed in, arguing that having a presidential election “every four years will prevent maladministration.” Mason moved to add, according to Madison’s notes, “other high crimes & misdemeanors (against the State).” The motion passed, eight to three. And so, as a result of that brief exchange, Article II of the Constitution of the United States provides that “the President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

As Yoni Appelbaum has observed in this magazine, “constitutional lawyers have been arguing about what counts as a ‘high crime’ or ‘misdemeanor’ ever since.” One of the most compelling arguments about the meaning of those words is that the Framers, in Article II’s command that a president faithfully execute his office, imposed upon him fiduciary obligations. As the constitutional historian Robert Natelson explained in the Federalist Society Review, the “founding generation [understood] ‘high … Misdemeanors’ to mean ‘breach of fiduciary duty.’” Eighteenth-century lawyers instead used terms such as breach of trust—which describes the same thing. “Parliamentary articles of impeachment explicitly and repetitively described the accused conduct as a breach of trust,” Natelson argues, and 18th-century British legal commentators explained how impeachment for “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” was warranted for all sorts of noncriminal violations that were, in essence, fiduciary breaches.

Just as the Framers viewed the presidency as fiduciary, they understood the offenses that might disqualify the incumbent as breaches of that fiduciary duty. And that may well be why the discussion of Morris’s suggestion was so brief—the drafters knew what the words historically meant, because, as a House Judiciary Committee report noted in 1974, “at the time of the Constitutional Convention the phrase ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors’ had been in use for over 400 years in impeachment proceedings in Parliament.” Certainly Alexander Hamilton knew by the time he penned “Federalist No. 65,” in which he explained that impeachment was for “those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”

What constitutes such an abuse or violation of trust is up to Congress to decide: First the House decides to bring impeachment charges, and then the Senate decides whether to convict on those charges. The process of impeachment by the House and removal by trial in the Senate is thus, in some ways, akin to indictment by a grand jury and trial by a petit jury. In other ways, it is quite different. As Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz explain in their recent book on impeachment, “the Constitution explicitly states that Congress may not end a presidency unless the president has committed an impeachable offense. But nowhere does the Constitution state or otherwise imply that Congress must remove a president whenever that standard is met … In other words, it allows Congress to exercise judgment.” As Tribe and Matz argue, that judgment presents a “heavy burden,” and demands that Congress be “context-sensitive,” and achieve “an understanding of all relevant facts.” A president might breach his trust to the nation once in some small, inconsequential way and never repeat the misbehavior, and Congress could reasonably decide that the game is not worth the candle.

So the congressional judgment in the impeachment process necessarily includes the number and seriousness of offenses, and even extends well beyond those calculations. Congress must also, in particular, weigh the chances of recidivism; that possibility is precisely why the Constitution provides for removal as the principal sanction upon conviction on impeachment charges. As Charles Black Jr. explained in his classic 1974 book on impeachment, “We remove him principally because we fear he will do it again.” Or as George Mason put it during the Constitutional Convention, “Shall the man who has practised corruption … be suffered to escape punishment, by repeating his guilt?”

In short, now that the House of Representatives has embarked on an impeachment inquiry, one of the most important judgments it must make is whether any identified breaches of duty are likely to be repeated. And if a Senate trial comes to pass, that issue would become central as well to the decision to remove the president from office. That’s when Trump’s behavioral and psychological characteristics should—must—come into play. From the evidence, it appears that he simply can’t stop himself from putting his own interests above the nation’s. Any serious impeachment proceedings should consider not only the evidence and the substance of all impeachable offenses, but also the psychological factors that may be relevant to the motivations underlying those offenses. Congress should make extensive use of experts—psychologists and psychiatrists. Is Trump so narcissistic that he can’t help but use his office for his own personal ends? Is he so sociopathic that he can’t be trusted to follow, let alone faithfully execute, the law?

Congress should consider all this because that’s what the question of impeachment demands. But there’s another reason as well. The people have a right to know, and a need to see. Many people have watched all of Trump’s behavior, and they’ve drawn the obvious conclusion. They know something’s wrong, just as football fans knew that the downed quarterback had shattered his leg. Others have changed the channel, or looked away, or chosen to deny what they’ve seen. But if Congress does its job and presents the evidence, those who are in denial won’t be able to ignore the problem any longer. Not only because of the evidence itself, but because Donald Trump will respond in pathological ways—and in doing so, he’ll prove the points against him in ways almost no one will be able to ignore.

 

Syria moves troops toward Turkish offensive

The Syrian military has mobilized soldiers toward the north of the country to face the Turkish incursion. A senior Kurdish politician said government forces and the SDF have held talks over a possible deal.

October 13, 2019

DW

Syrian military units have begun moving north to confront a Turkish offensive on Syrian territory, the official SANA news agency reported.

At the same time, a senior Kurdish politician said the mostly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were holding talks at a Russian airbase in Syria.

Ahmed Suleiman, a senior member of the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in Syria, which is not part of the SDF, said the talks were being held at Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in Latakia.

While the SDF responded “no comment” to Suleiman’s statement, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said his group would look all “all options that could spare our people ethnic cleansing,” in light of Turkey’s operation, dubbed Peace Spring.

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a deal has been reached through which Syrian government forces will protect the Kurdish-held towns of Kobani and Manbij.

Turkey takes control of border towns

US troops had been deployed in both towns since they were cleared of “Islamic State” (IS) militants in 2015. However, last week US President Donald Trump made the surprise announcement that he was pulling the US military out of Kurdish Syria, leaving a key US ally in the fight against IS vulnerable to the Turkish army.

Turkey, which has been fighting an off-and-on insurgency from armed Kurdish groups in its own country, says the offensive into Syria is to protect itself from “terrorists,” a word it uses to describe the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which makes up most of what is left of the SDF.

The SOHR on Sunday reported that at least nine people, including five civilians, were killed in Turkish airstrikes on Sunday. The strikes hit a convoy carrying anti-Turkish protesters, fleeing residents and journalists. The convoy was hit as it approached the town of Ras al-Ayn, a Syrian border town that is now under Turkish control.

Turkish forces also advanced into the center of another border town, Tal Abyad, and had gained “near full control of it” by Sunday evening, SOHR said.

Dozens of Kurdish fighters, several Turkish soldiers, and at least 10 civilians have been killed since Turkey began its operation earlier this week. Hundreds of IS supporters have been freed as the Kurds have had to focus on protecting their towns and cities. The UN estimates that more than 100,000 people have had to flee their homes.

 

Over 130,000 people displaced by fighting in northeastern Syria: U.N.

October 13, 2019

Reuters

VIENNA (Reuters) – More than 130,000 people have been displaced from rural areas around the northeast Syrian border towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain as a result of fighting between Turkish-led forces and Kurdish militia, the United Nations said on Sunday.

In a statement, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said OCHA and other relief agencies estimated up to 400,000 civilians in the Syrian conflict zone may require aid and protection in the coming period.

Turkish forces targeted areas around two Syrian border towns with fresh shelling on Sunday, pressing on with their offensive against Kurdish militia for a fifth day in the face of fierce international opposition.

Turkey’s stated objective is to set up a “safe zone” inside Syria to resettle many of the 3.6 million Syrian war refugees it has been hosting.

More and more displaced people were arriving at collection centers, and more than 400,000 were affected by a loss of running water supplies including 82,000 residents of two refugee camps in the region, OCHA said.

Public and private hospitals in Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad, the two main targets of the Turkish-led offensive, have been closed since Friday.

OCHA also said that a trauma stabilization south of Ras al Ain, set up to treat wounded from the conflict’s front lines, was reported to have come under attack. There was no immediate confirmation of the report.

Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Mark Heinrich

 

Furious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria

October 13, 2019

by Rebecca Kheel

The Hill

Congressional Republicans appear poised to hand President Trump a stinging rebuke of his Turkey and Syria policy when lawmakers return to Washington this week.

GOP lawmakers, furious over Trump’s decision to withdraw troops to make way for a Turkish offensive against Kurdish allies, are preparing legislation that would force the administration to impose sanctions on Turkey.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Friday that Trump would sign an executive order giving the Treasury Department “very significant” new sanctions authorities against Turkey, but it’s unclear whether the move will be enough to placate Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called the announcement “welcome news,” while Sen. Lindsey Graham

(R-S.C.) said the administration needs to “up their game.”

“We are witnessing ethnic cleansing in Syria by Turkey, the destruction of a reliable ally in the Kurds, and the reemergence of ISIS,” Graham tweeted after Friday’s announcement.

“The conditional sanctions announced today will be viewed by Turkey as a tepid response and will embolden Erdogan even more,” he added, referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “The Turkish government needs to know Congress will take a different path – passing crippling sanctions in a bipartisan fashion.

Graham, alongside Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), is expected to introduce harsh sanctions against Turkey this week as a punishment for its incursion into northern Syria against the Kurds, longtime allies of the U.S.

It’s not yet known whether their bill will get a floor vote; a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ,(R-Ky.) said Friday he had no “updates or guidance on this right now.”

But more and more Republicans are coming out in support of sanctions against Turkey, a NATO ally, as it bombs Kurds who were instrumental in the U.S.-led fight against ISIS, raising the possibility that Congress will pass veto-proof legislation rebuffing Trump’s foreign policy.

“I want to co-sponsor that resolution,” Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who is up for reelection next year, said in an interview with Fox News. “We cannot have a supposed ally who is continuing to go in the wrong direction under Erdoğan’s leadership, invading another country.”

“We got to do our part in the Senate in order to hold Turkey accountable,” she added.

As lawmakers craft bills, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley are scheduled to brief the Senate Armed Services Committee on Syria and “and the wider region” behind closed doors Thursday, according to a committee notice.

Republicans are fuming after Trump decided to withdraw U.S. troops from northeast Syria, paving the way for Erdogan to move forward with a long-threatened offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces.

Ankara considers the Syrian Kurds terrorists connected with a Turkish Kurdish insurgency. But the United States partnered with the Kurds in the fight against ISIS and relied on them to do the most dangerous ground fighting.

Lawmakers in both parties have called Trump’s decision a betrayal of the Kurds and one that will send a chilling signal to any country or group that might want to ally itself with the United States in the future. They have also expressed concern that ISIS will take advantage of the chaos to escape from Kurdish-guarded prisons and regroup.

While the condemnation has been bipartisan, the Republican criticism is particularly notable since it comes at a time when the GOP is vociferously defending Trump from House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

But Syria has riled up Republicans like no other issue during Trump’s presidency. When the president said in December he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, there was an outcry from Republicans, and the Senate passed an amendment warning against the withdrawal in a veto-proof 68-23 vote. Trump eventually walked back his plan.

Amid the latest backlash, Trump has sought to distance himself from Turkey’s actions. On Thursday, he raised the possibility of playing of mediator between Turkey and the Kurds, despite the fact that Trump’s retreat and Turkey’s incursion unraveled the previous U.S.-mediated plan for a safe zone.

“We can mediate. I hope we can mediate,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

His administration has also sought to change the narrative. A senior State Department official told reporters on a background call this past week that “we gave them a very clear red light,” while Esper told reporters Friday that “nobody greenlighted this operation” and insisted that “we have not abandoned the Kurds.”

While Trump approved expanding Treasury Department’s authority to slap sanctions on Turkey, he declined later on the day Friday to specify what would prompt him to follow through with the sanctions threat.

Congress may not give him any choice.

Syria-related legislation was not included in guidance from McConnell’s office about what will be taken up on the Senate floor this week. But Van Hollen has said he and Graham plan to introduce their bill as soon as Congress returns from recess and will push for an “immediate vote.”

The Graham-Van Hollen bill would sanction any U.S. assets of high-ranking Turkish officials, including Erdoğan, until the Trump administration certifies to Congress that Turkey has withdrawn from Syria. It would also place visa restrictions on Turkish leaders, sanction any foreign person supporting the Turkish military and ensure the previously congressionally mandated sanctions for Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system go into effect.

During an interview this past week with home-state radio station KBOI, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said there is “a growing feeling in the Congress that we ought to” sanction Turkey.

“The most important question I think on the table right now is … do we take a move against Turkey based on economic sanctions,” Risch said.

Risch has not said whether he will support the Graham-Van Hollen bill, and a spokesman told The Hill on Friday he did not have an update on Risch’s stance.

Sen. Susan Collins(R-Maine), who is up for reelection next year, told reporters in Maine she supports sanctions against Turkey.

“I think sanctions are a good idea,” she said. “I worry whether they will be effective at this point in stopping the Turks from the slaughter of our allies. I vehemently disagree with the president’s decision.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican, has unveiled a companion measure to Graham-Van Hollen in the House. Her bill is co-sponsored by nearly 30 Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas).

“President Erdogan and his regime must face serious consequences for mercilessly attacking our Kurdish allies in northern Syria, who incurred thousands of casualties in the fight against ISIS and helped us protect the homeland,” Cheney, who is weighing a 2020 Senate bid, said in a statement announcing her bill. “Turkey wants to be treated like an ally, it must begin behaving like one. They must be sanctioned for their attacks on our Kurdish allies.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the panel’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), also released a sanctions bill Friday that targets Turkish leaders involved in the Syria operation, as well as banks involved in Turkey’s defense sector. The measure would also prohibit arms sales to Turkey and sanction Ankara over its purchase of the Russian missile defense system.

The sanctions would apply until Trump certifies to Congress that Turkey has halted its Syria offensive.

A separate bipartisan resolution released by Engel on Friday includes language saying the Kurds “fought courageously” with the United States against ISIS and that a withdrawal from northeast Syria is “beneficial to adversaries” like Syria, Iran and Russi

The four-page resolution says the House “opposes the decision to end certain United States efforts” to prevent Turkey’s offensive. It also calls on Erdogan to “immediately cease” the operation, says the United States should continue supporting the Kurds and calls for the U.S. to “work to ensure that the Turkish military acts with restraint.”

In a letter to House Democrats on Friday, Hoyer said it is possible the chamber will take up Syria legislation during this work period.

“Both parties are outraged by the president’s reckless and dangerous decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria and abandon our Kurdish allies,” Hoyer wrote. “It is shameful that this president has betrayed a reliable ally, is enabling the return of ISIS and is putting our nation and other allies, including Europe and Israel, at risk. As Turkish forces push deeper into Syria and the Kurdish death toll rises, Congress ought to respond.”

The most expensive art fraud in history

The Invention of the ‘Salvator Mundi’ Or, How to Turn a $1,000 Art-Auction Pickup Into a $450 Million Masterpiece.

by Matthew Shaern

In 2005, an unusual painting appeared on the website of the New Orleans Auction Gallery, a small operation headquartered on the banks of the Mississippi River. Twenty-six inches tall and 18 and a half inches wide, the painting depicted Christ in Renaissance-era robes, one hand raised in benediction, the other cupping a diaphanous sphere. “After Leonardo da Vinci (Italian 1452–1519),” read the description. “Christ Salvator Mundi. Oil on cradled panel.”

Among the people to click on the listing for Lot 664 was a Rockland County art speculator named Alexander Parish. Parish has spent his entire career in the art world, first as an assistant, later as an adviser to a major European gallery, and now as what’s known as a picker — a dealer who purchases art from minor auction houses and antiques sales and resells it to wealthy clients at a profit. “A major part of what I do,” Parish told me, “is educated gambling. You get a good feeling about a piece of art, and you place a bet that you know more about it than the auctioneer does.”

Parish felt very good about Lot 664. In fact, although he had only a few postage-stamp-size JPEGS to work with, he thought he might be looking at a piece by a student of Leonardo’s — perhaps the Milanese painter Bernardino Luini. That same afternoon, he sent a link to his friend Robert Simon, the owner of an old-master gallery on the Upper East Side, who has a doctorate in art history from Columbia University with a specialty in the art of the Renaissance.

“My first reaction was that it was a very intriguing painting,” Simon recalled. As he knew, the original Salvator Mundi, painted by Leonardo around 1500, possibly for the French king Louis XII, had been one of da Vinci’s most copied works — dozens of replicas hang in museums around the world, but the original had been lost to history. It seemed possible that another period copy dating to the Renaissance would exist. Simon and Parish agreed to invest in the painting together, with a bid ceiling of $10,000; Parish would handle the bidding via phone. “My memory of the auction is that I just sat there waiting for the price to go up,” Parish said. “But it became apparent that no one else was interested.” His winning bid came in at $1,000.

Today, of course, the contents of Lot 664 are worth far more than that: The picture has since sold once for $127.5 million and again, in a record-setting auction at Christie’s, for close to half a billion dollars. It has been held up as the “male Mona Lisa” and the “Holy Grail of old-master paintings” and derided by this magazine’s art critic, Jerry Saltz, as a “two-dimensional ersatz dashboard Jesus.” It has been owned by a Swiss tycoon, a Russian oligarch, and Saudi royalty. Along the way, it has come to illustrate how the interests of dealers, museums, auction houses, and the global rich can conspire to build a masterpiece out of a painting of patchwork provenance and hotly debated authorship. Its rise is both an astonishing tale of restoration and historical sleuthing and — for those inclined to see the world less romantically — a parable of highbrow greed, P. T. Barnum–style salesmanship, and reputation laundering.

But on the day it arrived at Parish’s home in upstate New York, it was still just a painting of unknown origin and questionable condition. Gingerly, the dealer slid the picture from its cardboard container. He noted the gilded frame, likely a 19th-century addition, and the thick layers of paint that had been applied to Christ’s face by a past restorer. Then he placed it back in the box and drove it into Manhattan, where Simon was waiting.

The worth of their latest acquisition would be determined by the dealers’ ability to connect it to Leonardo’s inner circle. If the painting was by Luini or another Leonardo disciple, they could expect to get hundreds of thousands of dollars for it. In 1999, a decent period copy now believed to have come from Leonardo’s workshop had gone for $332,500 at auction at Sotheby’s. But before any real attribution efforts could take place, before the dealers could start piecing together the story of the oil painting and its putative author, it would have to be thoroughly restored.

On April 27, 2005, at 2 p.m., Simon wrapped a trash bag around the Salvator Mundi and took it to the apartment of Dianne Dwyer Modestini, a research professor at New York University and a lauded art restorer. As Simon waited, Modestini placed the painting on her easel. She was unimpressed. Christ’s face, which she’d later learn had been repainted in the 20th century, looked to her like a “clown’s mask”; as for the overall condition of the picture, she told me recently, “it was bad, even allowing for its age.”

“I could recommend a student restorer at NYU,” she said to Simon.

“I think this needs a grown-up,” the dealer shot back.

Opening her supply cabinet, Modestini produced a vial of acetone and mineral spirits and a cotton swab and conducted a preliminary cleaning of the picture. Two things immediately stuck out to her. One was that the original panel had fissured, resulting in two uneven “steps” near Christ’s face. A previous restorer, Modestini deduced, had attempted to address the problem by inserting a mixture of gesso and glue into the fissure.

“Unfortunately,” Modestini has since written, this was “not the only measure that had been taken to level the uneven surface: At some point in the past, the step had been shaved down from the front with a sharp plane.”

The second major discovery concerned Christ’s blessing hand. Before bringing the painting to her, Modestini says, Simon had used the infrared lens on his digital camera to take a few photographs of the picture. When he’d examined the resulting images, he had seen a ghostly shape behind the blessing hand. With a few swipes of a solvent-drenched cotton swab, Modestini revealed what she thought might be a trace — or a pentimento, derived from the Italian word for “repent” — of an earlier draft of the painting. In contrast to the curved digit in the finished work, and to every Renaissance-era replica of the Salvator Mundi Simon was aware of, this thumb appeared to be upright.

Modestini was not blind to the significance. “Pentimenti,” she told me, “are in general an indication a painting isn’t a copy, because the copier only observes the surface of a picture, not the skeleton underneath.” In other words, if you’re an imitator without access to an artist’s creative process, you’re going to imitate only what you can see. Still, neither she nor Simon said a word — Modestini for the simple reason that she was unfamiliar with the history of the Salvator, Simon out of prudence

Compared with his peers, Leonardo, an inventor and scientist as well as an artist, was a notably unprolific painter: Fewer than 20 known paintings can be attributed to his hand; the last to be discovered was the so-called Benois Madonna, or Madonna and Child With Flowers, which emerged out of a private collection in St. Petersburg in 1914. As of 2005, two paintings remained unaccounted for: Leda and the Swan, a large-scale mythological allegory, and the Salvator Mundi.

If Parish and Simon had somehow managed to stumble upon the latter, they’d be lucky — absurdly so. They’d also find themselves playing an entirely different game than the one they’d set out to play. After all, the bar for a genuine da Vinci would be miles higher than that for a genuine Luini, and clearing it would require time, money, and the support of some of the most powerful brokers in the art world.

 

The mystery of the missing Leonardo: where is Da Vinci’s $450m Jesus?

The Louvre has asked to loan Salvator Mundi for a major exhibition – but many doubt the much-disputed work will make an appearance

October 13, 2019

by Jamie Doward

The Guardian

Will it or won’t it appear? This is the question being asked across the art world about the Salvator Mundi – the first Leonardo to be discovered for more than a century – as the Louvre prepares for its blockbuster da Vinci exhibition.

With just under two weeks to go before the show opens, there are now serious doubts as to whether the star of the exhibition will be included, as the Paris museum had hoped.

The world’s most expensive painting, a depiction of Jesus in Renaissance dress, which sold at auction in 2017 for $450m, would draw huge crowds. Described as a devotional counterpart to the Mona Lisa, Leonardo’s most famous work, it is said to have an “extraordinary, communicative presence”.

But the arts world is awash with rumours that its appearance looks unlikely. The Art Newspaper goes further and claims the painting will not feature. A spokeswoman for the Louvre told the Observer: “I confirm the Louvre has asked for the loan of the Salvator Mundi. We don’t have the answer yet and thus, don’t have any further comment.”

A no show would be the latest twist in the extraordinary saga of a painting that has attracted as much controversy, intrigue and division as it has critical acclaim. Questions over its authenticity have raged among art historians for more than a decade.

Once attributed to the “school of Giovanni Boltraffio”, an early Renaissance painter who was a pupil of Leonardo, it was then upgraded to “a work by Boltraffio” when sold for £45 in 1958 at an auction in London.

A New York art historian and dealer, Robert B Simon, bought it from a New Orleans auction house for just $1,175 in 2005 and it was attributed to Leonardo in 2011.

There are a host of reasons why I believe 100% in Leonardo’s authorship of the Salvator Mundi – most of all the inimitable style, unique iconography and phenomenal quality of the painting,” Simon told the Observer. “To these one could add the peculiarities of Leonardo’s technique, the relationship of the painting to autograph drawings, and the evidence of the work’s history. However, for me the most compelling reason to believe in the painting is neither scholarly nor scientific: it comes from its sense of profound spirituality that is conveyed from artist to viewer across 500 years.”

Today, though, some still question the attribution although not, according to Simon, the Louvre. “I know that the painting was requested for the Louvre exhibition – and as a work by Leonardo,” he said. “But obviously the decision about whether to loan it is the owner’s to make. And I have no knowledge of his decision.”

Indeed, who actually owns the painting is another source of contention. It was rumoured to be in the hands of the Abu Dhabi royal family. More recently there has been speculation that it is on the super-yacht of Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince who has been forced to deny his involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The painting’s previous known owner was Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev who bought it on 3 May 2013 for $127.5m, following substantial restoration. Rybolovlev was later incensed to learn that his art adviser, a Swiss businessman, Yves Bouvier, had allegedly acquired the painting on 2 May 2013 from a consortium led by Simon in a private sale brokered by Sotheby’s. Court documents allege Bouvier paid Sotheby’s $83m before flipping the painting to Rybolovlev for a markup of more than 50%.

Rybolovlev alleges that Bouvier repeated the same trick with no fewer than 38 art masterworks he acquired, including paintings by Picasso, Gauguin, Klimt, Rothko and Modigliani. In a lawsuit launched against Sotheby’s for its part in what he alleges was “the largest art fraud in history”, Rybolovlev claims he was defrauded of more than $1bn.

Sotheby’s, which did not return requests for comment, contests the claims, as does Bouvier.

The extraordinary alacrity with which the painting’s value sky-rocketed, and the opaque circumstances surrounding its sale and ownership, have prompted calls for the art market to be more heavily regulated.

But Simon, who this week publishes a new book he has co-authored about the painting – Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi and the Collecting of Leonardo in the Stuart Courts – which examines evidence that its previous owners included English royalty, expressed scepticism.

“I don’t see how any art market regulation would have a bearing on the controversy surrounding the sale of the work. The sale of a valuable work of art like the Leonardo is governed by existing laws similar to and often the same as those that concern other valuable properties – whether art, gold, jewellery, land, a building, yacht, or an airplane.“

The Salvator Mundi was due to appear at the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi last year. Then, as now, its no show invited speculation as to where it was really hanging. It could be that the most expensive painting in history – and arguably the most controversial – is not on display anywhere.

“I do not know where the painting is,” Simon said. “Although I had heard that some months ago it was being kept in a secure art storage facility in Switzerland.”

 

The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations

October 14, 2019

by Dr. Peter Janney

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal, Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment.

Three months before, on July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.

After Corson’s death, Trento and the well-known Washington fix-lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever.

The small group of CIA officials gathered at Trento’s house to search through the Crowley papers, looking for documents that must not become public. A few were found but, to their consternation, a significant number of files Crowley was known to have had in his possession had simply vanished.

When published material concerning the CIA’s actions against Kennedy became public in 2002, it was discovered to the CIA’s horror, that the missing documents had been sent by an increasingly erratic Crowley to another person and these missing papers included devastating material on the CIA’s activities in South East Asia to include drug running, money laundering and the maintenance of the notorious ‘Regional Interrogation Centers’ in Viet Nam and, worse still, the Zipper files proving the CIA’s active organization of the assassination of President John Kennedy..

A massive, preemptive disinformation campaign was readied, using government-friendly bloggers, CIA-paid “historians” and others, in the event that anything from this file ever surfaced. The best-laid plans often go astray and in this case, one of the compliant historians, a former government librarian who fancied himself a serious writer, began to tell his friends about the CIA plan to kill Kennedy and eventually, word of this began to leak out into the outside world.

The originals had vanished and an extensive search was conducted by the FBI and CIA operatives but without success. Crowley’s survivors, his aged wife and son, were interviewed extensively by the FBI and instructed to minimize any discussion of highly damaging CIA files that Crowley had, illegally, removed from Langley when he retired. Crowley had been a close friend of James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s notorious head of Counterintelligence. When Angleton was sacked by DCI William Colby in December of 1974, Crowley and Angleton conspired to secretly remove Angleton’s most sensitive secret files out of the agency. Crowley did the same thing right before his own retirement, secretly removing thousands of pages of classified information that covered his entire agency career.

Known as “The Crow” within the agency, Robert T. Crowley joined the CIA at its inception and spent his entire career in the Directorate of Plans, also know as the “Department of Dirty Tricks. ”

Crowley was one of the tallest man ever to work at the CIA. Born in 1924 and raised in Chicago, Crowley grew to six and a half feet when he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in N.Y. as a cadet in 1943 in the class of 1946. He never graduated, having enlisted in the Army, serving in the Pacific during World War II. He retired from the Army Reserve in 1986 as a lieutenant colonel. According to a book he authored with his friend and colleague, William Corson, Crowley’s career included service in Military Intelligence and Naval Intelligence, before joining the CIA at its inception in 1947. His entire career at the agency was spent within the Directorate of Plans in covert operations. Before his retirement, Bob Crowley became assistant deputy director for operations, the second-in-command in the Clandestine Directorate of Operations.

Bob Crowley first contacted Gregory Douglas in 1993 when he found out from John Costello that Douglas was about to publish his first book on Heinrich Mueller, the former head of the Gestapo who had become a secret, long-time asset to the CIA. Crowley contacted Douglas and they began a series of long and often very informative telephone conversations that lasted for four years. In 1996, Crowley told Douglas that he believed him to be the person that should ultimately tell Crowley’s story but only after Crowley’s death. Douglas, for his part, became so entranced with some of the material that Crowley began to share with him that he secretly began to record their conversations, later transcribing them word for word, planning to incorporate some, or all, of the material in later publication.

 

 

Conversation No. 62

Date: Tuesday, February 4, 1997

Commenced:  8:45 AM CST

Concluded:  9:30 AM CST

GD: Feeling a little better, Robert?

RTC: Much, thank you. By the way, Gregory, I dug up the information on this Landreth person you asked me about. He used to work for CBS News and his father ran our offices in Havana. Edward Landreth. Used Sterling Chemical Company as a front. I wouldn’t trust this one, if I were you.

GD: No, I didn’t like him at first sight. And he got some hack named Willwirth at Time Magazine to promise to put me on the cover of their trashy rag if I cooperated.

RTC: What do they want?

GD: Anything and everything relating to Mueller’s CIA employment. Anything with his new name, that is. I have an old Virginia driver’s license, a pilot’s license, an old CIA ID card and things like that.

RTC: Don’t even show them to them and keep the new name to yourself. The first thing they will do, and the Army as well, will be to get out the burn bags and totally obliterate any trace of him. You see, Mueller came in at such a high level and so early that his name is not known. Once your book came out, there were frantic searches of the files but they ran up against the dismal fact that they could not identify his new personality. Beetle Smith knew it, but he’s dead. Critchfield is foaming at the mouth over all of this, but he doesn’t have the name either. Wonderful. But take my advice and don’t give out the name. They would obliterate any trace of it and then piously deny they knew anything about it. Why not try the Army records in Missouri? List five or six names plus the Mueller pseudonym and get a researcher to get the copies of the files. Don’t use your name because you are on the no-no list now. Then, you can take the real Mueller out and toss the rest.

GD: Robert, how brilliant of you. I did this a year ago but I’m glad to see you’re right up on things.

RTC: Well, I know the name, you know the name, but Tom Kimmel and Bill Corson do not know the name. I assume both of them have asked you?

GD: Of course they have.

RTC: Not surprising. I like Bill but he had gone over to the other side, lock, stock and barrel, so use discretion with him. And you can be polite to Kimmel but shut up around him. Anything either one of them get would go straight to Langley.

GD: And the burning would commence.

RTC: Clouds of smoke would blanket the eastern seaboard, Gregory. Help keep America pollution free and keep your mouth closed. No, that’s not what I meant. Your mouth is not a source of pollution. The smoke from the burning CIA records is what I had in mind. What kind of approaches do they use?

GD: Kindergarten level. ‘We are going to make you famous,’ is the main one followed by such stupidity as ‘you can tell me because I’m your friend.’ With friends like that, who needs any enemies? I wouldn’t let any of them into my house. My grandfather would have had them use the tradesman’s entrance. They don’t do that anymore. One great homogenous melting pot of proletariat idiots, ill-educated twits, liars and chronic violators of deceased prostitutes.

RTC: (Laughter) Such an accurate portrayal, Gregory.

GD: It’s been quite an unwanted education, Robert, listening to all the foolishness coming out of these creeps. But, good humored banter aside, I wanted to discuss the Kennedy thing with you.

RTC: Go ahead.

GD: I have been reading through all the major books on the subject, and here and there I find something interesting. Mostly, only personal opinion without facts. But in looking through my notes, I am positive that your collective motives were based on what you thought was good for the country and the CIA, in opposite order.

RTC: Passing secrets to the enemy is very serious, Gregory.

GD: Yes, but Kennedy sacked your top people and was going to break the agency up. Self-preservation is a powerful motive for action.

RTC: Yes, it is. We had a similar problem with Nixon, as I recall.

GD: You weren’t planning to off him, were you?

RTC: No, but we did get him out of the Oval Office.

GD: I met Nixon once and I rather liked him. You? What about Watergate?

RTC: Watergate was our method of getting him out. It wasn’t as final as the Zipper business but he played right into it.

GD: What did Nixon do to you?

RTC: Now, that’s a long and involved story, Gregory.

GD: Well, since you didn’t have him killed, can you tell me?

RTC: I suppose so. Nixon was no specific threat to us, understand. We worked with him rather well. But he was getting squirrelly the second time around. And the China business was no good. China was our enemy and we had the best relations with Taipei….Taiwan. The very best relations, and very profitable. Nixon threw the entire thing out of balance and then the war in Vietnam was another factor. Very complex.

GD: I have plenty of time.

RTC: It was the drug business in the final analysis.

GD: There have been stories around about that.

RTC: Can’t be proven. We get curious reporters fired for even hinting at that. Anyway, it started in ’44-’45 with Jim’s Italian connections in Naples and Palermo.

GD: Angleton?

RTC: Yes, of course. Jim had lived in Italy as a child and spoke the language fluently. He knew the Mafia people in Sicily and the gangs in Naples, not to mention the Union Corse people in Corsica. I mean it was to get their assistance in intelligence matters. First against the Germans and then against the local Communists. Jim was very effective but I don’t think he realized that by asking for favors, he put himself in the position of having to give favors back again. That’s how they are, you know.

GD: I’ve known one or two. Yes, very much that way. Didn’t he realize he was making a bargain with the Devil?

RTC: No, Jim did not. The Italians he grew up with were not that way. I knew a few of those people through my father. He was involved in politics in Chicago in the old days and that means a guaranteed association with the Mob.

GD: And they called in their markers?

RTC: Oh, yes, they did. And that’s how the drug connections got started. The Italian gangsters helped Angleton when he was there with the OSS and then later, they called their markers in with him. Not much at first but much more later. Opium makes morphine and refined morphine makes heroin. You must know that. Turkey has opium fields and so do a number of places in SEA. Burma, for example. Once you get into that sort of thing, Gregory, you can’t get out again. And we comforted ourselves that the actual movers and shakers were doing the dirty work and, at the same time, assisting us with intelligence matters. Killing off enemies, securing sensitive areas and that sort of thing. Naples and Palermo to begin with and later Corsica. And then in Asia, Burma first. We were big supporters of Chiang and when the Commies forced him out of mainland China, he went to Taiwan and one of his top generals, Li Mi, went south with his military command and got into former French Indochina and then into Burma. He had a large contingent of troops, thousands, and both us and the French supplied him with weapons and he, in turn, set up opium farms and we, but not the French, flew out the raw products to be refined in the Mediterranean. The weapons were often surplus World War Two pieces out of Sea Supply in Florida. As a note for your interest, we shipped tons of former Nazi weapons from Poland to Guatemala when we kicked out Guzman there. You have to understand that the Company was huge and compartmented, so most of the people knew nothing about the drugs. Of course the various DCIs did and Colby, who later was DCI, ran the drug business out of Cambodia.

GD: The Air American thing?

RTC: Among others. We actually used official military aircraft to ship when we couldn’t use our own proprietary people. Angleton had mob connections and they used him far more than he used them, but he did not dare try to back out. It got way out of hand but none of us wanted to bell that cat, believe me. And we finally flew out Li Mi with thirteen millions in gold bars. Flew him to safety in Switzerland.

GD: That stopped the drugs?

RTC: No, it all came under new management. Colby was very efficient.

GD: As a point of interest here, Robert, is that why they snuffed him?

RTC: Partially. He knew too much and no one dared to gig him too hard over the civilian killings he ran in Vietnam. There was always the danger he would break down. He was getting along in years and that’s when we have to watch these boys carefully. A heart attack here, an accidental drowning there. After we drowned Colby, we tore his summer place to bits and then ransacked his Dent Place address. Not to mention getting our friendly bankers to let us go through his safe deposit boxes. After hours, of course.

GD: Of course. You weren’t involved, were you?

RTC: In what? Removing these dangerous people? In some cases. I had nothing directly to do with the drugs. That was mostly Angleton.

GD: He muse have gotten rich.

RTC: Not really.

GD: But Nixon….was he in the drug business too?

RTC: No. Nixon was a nut, Gregory. A poor boy elevated on high and couldn’t handle the upper levels. Very smart but got to believe his own power. The second election, a landslide, convinced him that he was invulnerable. He wasn’t and he began to play games with China. By playing nice with them, he outraged Taiwan and we all do much business with those people. Drugs and other things. Never mind all that, because it’s still going on. Anyway, they bitched to us, louder and louder, that Nixon would listen to Mao and dump them. If they got dumped, they would tell all and none of us could stand that, so we decided to get Nixon removed. No point of doing a Kennedy on him, but he had to go. After Spiro got the boot, Jerry Ford took over and we knew we would never have any problem with good old Jerry. Hell, during the Warren Commission, good old Jerry ran to Hoover every night with the latest information, so we knew he was a loyal player.

GD: And now did you do it?

RTC: Get rid of Tricky Dick? He did it to himself. We supplied him with a team of our men after we convinced him that everyone was plotting against him. I told you he was getting strange. I think paranoid is a better word. Anyway, we convinced him that McGovern was getting money from Castro and he sent our people to break into the Democrat offices in the Watergate. To get the proof that didn’t exist. They went there to get caught. They taped open the door and one of our people called local security. You know the rest, I am sure. Nixon did it to himself in the end. We just supplied the push. And Ford did what he was told and everyone was happy again.

GD: No wonder they call the stuff powdered happiness.

RTC: (Laughter) I haven’t heard that but it’s fitting. I remember we were afraid Nixon might call out the military, so we stuck Alex Haig in there to keep him isolated. Haig was a real nut but he did his job very well. And another government change, but this time there were no inconvenient questions about Oswald and Ruby types for the nut fringe to babble about. No, Nixon did it to himself.

GD: It didn’t do the country any good, this drawn-out death agony.

RTC: It would not have been a good idea to shoot him, not after the fuss after Kennedy. And Formosa is happy and we are happy and the drugs are still moving around, making everyone money. Just think what we were able to do with our share of mystery cash. No Congress to badger us about our budgets at all. We got billions from them and more billions in cash from the other stuff, so we were all sitting in the catbird seat. Nixon was one man and he had served his usefulness. Notice he’s had a nice retirement.

GD: And so has Ford.

RTC: Ford was a classic pawn. Washington is full of them, Gregory. And I strongly urge you to keep away from this subject if and when you decide to write about things. The Company is not as keen on killing everyone like it used to be, but I don’t think you want to run up against the Mob.

GD: No, of course not.

RTC: That’s a smart fellow, Gregory. Go after dead CIA people but keep away from the Mob. Got it?

GD: Got it loud and clear.

 

(Concluded at 9:30 AM CST)

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Conversations+with+the+Crow+by+Gregory+Douglas

 

 

Encyclopedia of American Loons

Jim Meehan

Jim Meehan is a dangerous crank and conspiracy theorist – he has been caught promulgating the craziest fake news – heavily involved in the anti-vaccine movement. Now, Meehan is an MD. That, of course, doesn’t mean that he knows anything about research or rational or scientific assessment of evidence (Meehan demonstrably does not), but the distinction between MD and medical researcher is one not generally recognized by conspiracy theorists, who’ll take anything whatsoever that looks like it can be promoted as an “expert” or authority supporting their side of things. Meehan has no background or expertise in vaccination or immunology – he is actually an ophthalmologist by training – but he is into functional medicine, which is as ridiculous as quackery comes. Currently Meehan operates a “wellness” center in Oklahoma.

He also doesn’t have the faintest idea how the VAERS database works. Meehan has tried to argue that the HPV vaccine is confirmed to have caused 144 deaths (by 2013), because there are 144 reports of death associated with the HPV vaccine in the VAERS database. This is not how the database works (indeed). “It absolutely is evidence,” says Meehan. It isn’t evidence.

But he does know how to parrot standard anti-vaccine claims, and his rants have been relatively widely distributed on social media by people who do not know anything about vaccines or actually bother with the evidence either; most of them is a combination of the claim that infectious diseases aren’t dangerous, toxins gambits – admittedly effective on the chemically illiterate – and conspiracy mongering: the science behind vaccines is untrustworthy because scientists are uniformly corrupt and bought by Big Pharma, who would actually benefit vastly more from hospitalizations due to vaccine-preventable diseases than from vaccines, but like all good conspiracy theories this one requires that you don’t look too closely. There is a thorough takedown of his claims here. Meehan has also been caught supporting the debunked idea that physical trauma and child abuse are “vaccine injury”.

Diagnosis: Aggressive lunatic and unhinged conspiracy theorist. Stay far away.

 

 Susannah Meadows

Oh, the nonsense! Susannah Meadows is a journalist and author of The Other Side of Impossible, a book describing various people facing difficult illnesses but who ostensibly have found ways of beating the odds and get better on their own without the use of evidence-based techniques. The stories – which are compelling stories taken at face value by Meadows; no pesky, confounding, careful assessment of evidence here – include one about a boy with severe food allergies who undergoes an unconventional therapy and is afterwards eating everything; one about a physician with MS who, using a combination of treatments she has figured out herself, is able to leave the wheelchair and ride a bike again (that physician would be woo legend Terry Wahls, no less; some of the holes in and problems with her story are described here); and one about child diagnosed with ADHD who refuses to take medication and instead improves both his own life and the lives of his family by changing in diet. Other families take on rheumatoid arthritis, intractable epilepsy, and autistic behaviors. Of course, few of the suggested means will actually help with the conditions they are described as helping (though some of them are, unbeknownst to Meadows, actually standard mainstream pharmaceutical remedies given different names!), and the book is aimed at suffering people in difficult situations (or people in positions of power over them) to make them forego treatments that actually work, adopt the woo, and subsequently take the blame themselves when the religiously motivated “natural” means for improvement fail to work. There are good discussions of Meadows and her rhetorical tricks, including her striking but effective appeals to chemophobia, here and here.

The book endorses a variety of quack treatments, including autism biomed quackery. And based on her – I hesitate to even call them – anecdotes, Meadows concludes that there is “at least three important influences on well-being that have yet to receive their just due in understanding what might cause or aggravate certain intractable medical disorders.” Nevermind that evidence contradicts her conclusions: science bases its conclusions on facts, but Meadows has instincts and beautifully crafted stories. As for the three influences, “[o]ne is a characteristic called “leaky gut,” essentially tiny holes in the intestinal walls that allow proteins to reach the bloodstream where they can trigger a vicious immune attack on healthy tissues,” a mythical condition much touted on and familiar from various conspiracy websites going all the way back to anti-vaccine high priest Andrew Wakefield himself, no less; “[a]nother is an imbalance of microbes in the gut and how communication between the brain and the gut can adversely affect behavior and emotional stability,” where “balance”, importantly, is used in the Medieval-medical “balance-of-humors/life-energi/chi” sense (the claim, of course, is flamboyantly idiotic, and “microbiome” has recently become the new “quantum” in quackery); “[a] third is the still underappreciated interaction of mind and body, especially the effect that anxiety and fear can have on the body’s response to otherwise harmless substances,” which of course is neither underappreciated nor particularly significant for most of the conditions in question but which is – importantly – the key to be able to blame the victims when they fail to experience improvements, which will certainly be necessary given the stupidity of the measures Meadows recommends.

The book grew out of Meadows’ own personal experience with her young son, who unexpectedly (according to her!; it really isn’t that uncommon) recovered from juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Apparently, by using “a combination of traditional and complementary medicine they beat the disease,” and therefore the quackery – in this Meadows relied on self-styled healer Amy Thieringer – must be at least partially responsible for the positive results. Some of Meadows’s other stories are apparently also Thieringer “success stories” – with no independent verification, of course: you trust your self-styled, homeopathy-pushing healer, otherwise it won’t work! Besides, Meadows paid her money, and she wouldn’t have invested in the treatment if it didn’t work, would she?

The book was well received by others who have little understanding or time for assessing evidence and facts, such as New York Times’s Jane Brody, who wrote a credulous article on Meadows and her claims. Both that article and the book are discussed here, and here. Brody, by the way, is also the author of The New York Times Guide to Alternative Health

Diagnosis: Apparently Meadows is a journalist. Her inability to distinguish a compelling narrative from a fact-based one should therefore scare you. A disgrace to her profession, but since narratives like hers are so much more compelling to those with little knowledge of how to actually assess stories for accuracy and evidence (or interest in doing so), she is also genuinely dangerous

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