Notes and Comment Blog


Say hello to the new goodwill ambassador

Oct 20th, 2017 4:47 pm | By

The World Health Organization has made Mugabe a “goodwill ambassador” to help deal with non-communicable diseases.

The appointment of 93-year-old Robert Mugabe will cause astonishment among many WHO member states and donors.

A goodwill ambassador may be a largely symbolic role, but the symbolism of giving it to a man whose leadership of Zimbabwe has, critics say, coincided with a collapse of its health service, and major human rights abuses, will be very unpopular.

Or to put it more bluntly than the BBC does, Mugabe is a notorious tyrant and human rights abuser, so making him any kind of “good will ambassador” for the WHO is insulting to nearly everyone on the planet.



We’re told not to question the general

Oct 20th, 2017 4:29 pm | By

And then there’s what Sarah Huckabee Sanders said about Wilson’s untruths. The Times piece reported it:

“General Kelly said he was ‘stunned’ that Representative Wilson made comments at a building dedication honoring slain F.B.I. agents about her own actions in Congress, including lobbying former President Obama on legislation,” Ms. Sanders said in a statement. “As General Kelly pointed out, if you’re able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes about yourself, you’re an empty barrel.”

Ms. Sanders escalated the messaging a few hours later: “As we say in the South: all hat, no cattle,” she said. Ms. Wilson is known in the Capitol and in South Florida for her colorful hats.

Ms. Sanders also told a reporter who questioned Mr. Kelly’s veracity that “if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”

That made my hair stand on end all right – so much so that I left it for a separate post (this one). Excuse me? We’re not allowed to argue with the White House chief of staff, because he’s a four-star Marine general? This is not a military dictatorship. It’s always been creepy that Trump put so many military guys in top jobs, though also unsurprising given how crude his thinking is. This just confirms how genuinely creepy it is. Kelly is not the general of us, just as he’s not the daddy of us or the boss of us. We are not Kelly’s subordinates. Kelly doesn’t get to tell us what to do. We don’t owe him one bit of extra deference because he’s a general. People may feel extra respect for him, and that’s their right, but we don’t owe him obeisance. Trump, most emphatically, does not get to hide behind his generals so that we can’t contradict him.

Chris Cillizza at CNN was also taken aback.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said something during her daily press briefing Friday that actually took my breath away.

CBS News’ Chip Reid asked Sanders about a factual inaccuracy in White House chief of staff and retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly’s attack on Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson on Thursday. Here’s how Sanders responded:

“If you want to go after General Kelly, that is up to you. If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that is something highly inappropriate.

Just in case you don’t get what Sanders is suggesting, it’s something like this: General Kelly is a highly decorated soldier. As such, questioning things that he says is “highly inappropriate.”

That wouldn’t be true even if he were speaking in his military capacity – but he wasn’t. He has a civilian job in a civilian government now, and he does not get to use his rank as a silencing tool.

Start here: General Kelly’s military service and the sacrifices he and his family have made for our country are beyond question. It is impossible to suggest otherwise.

But that military service does not mean that questioning Kelly’s statements is wrong or inappropriate. Quite the opposite! Kelly is the chief of staff to the President of the United States. He is, in that role, arguably the second or third most powerful person in the country. A person with that sort of power must be held to account for what he says and how he acts.

And not only that – Kelly is the chief of staff to the most chaotic, reckless, idiotic, malevolent, corrupt piece of shit who has ever held the office, so questioning is all the more urgent.

Another remark Sanders made later in the briefing would suggest that her comments about questioning Kelly weren’t simply a slip of the tongue.

Asked about the ongoing back-and-forth between Trump/Kelly and Wilson regarding comments the President made to Myeshia Johnson, a woman whose husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, was killed serving in Niger, Sanders said of the story: “It should have ended yesterday after General Kelly’s comments. But it didn’t. It continued.”

First of all, one of the big reasons it continued is because Trump himself tweeted this just before 11 p.m. on Thursday night: “The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!”

We are not Kelly’s grunts.



Which one is the empty barrel?

Oct 20th, 2017 4:03 pm | By

Oh gawd. I was put off by much of John Kelly’s tirade yesterday, and Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC was downright angry at the parts that belittled Florida Representative Frederica Wilson. Now we learn that what he said about her was not true. That’s especially ugly because he said it not in passing but lingeringly and with angry emphasis. He said he’d been stunned, stunned at what she said at an event honoring two FBI agents killed on the job. He conveyed fury and disgust…and she hadn’t said it.

Video of a 2015 speech delivered by Representative Frederica S. Wilson revealed Friday that John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, misrepresented her remarks when he accused her of bragging about securing $20 million for a South Florida F.B.I. building and twisting President Barack Obama’s arm.

Mr. Kelly, escalating a feud between Mr. Trump and Ms. Wilson, had cast the congresswoman on Thursday as a publicity-seeking opportunist. However, the video, released by The Sun Sentinel, a newspaper in South Florida, showed that during her nine-minute speech, Ms. Wilson never took credit for getting the money for the building, only for helping pass legislation naming the building after two fallen federal agents.

She never mentioned pleading with Mr. Obama, and she acknowledged the help of several Republicans, including John A. Boehner, then the House speaker; Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo; and Senator Marco Rubio.

He was spitting fury and disgust at her yesterday because, according to him, she bragged about her own success at getting the money instead of honoring the FBI agents…only she didn’t do the thing he was spitting fury and disgust about.

He’s a man and she’s not…he’s white and she’s not…and he’s military and she’s civilian government. He has that ugly resentment of civilian government that many military people have, and he seized the opportunity to vent it, while defending the most morally contemptible man most of us have ever seen in public life.



Never apologize

Oct 20th, 2017 10:11 am | By

Brendan O’Neill, dismissive as ever.

In Britain a journalist can now have his career destroyed on the basis of one accusation.

So, a journalist is automatically a he? There are no journalists who are she? I could swear there are – I could swear I’ve read journalism by them.

Just like in the GDR. Yes, just as the Stasi and its myriad snitches could dispatch from public life writers and reporters they didn’t like simply by accusing them of something, simply by pointing a bony finger at them and saying, ‘I saw that person do a bad thing’, so in Britain in 2017 journalists can be hounded out of their profession by allegation alone.

Nothing hyperbolic there.

Consider the cases of Sam Kriss and Rupert Myers. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of them. Most of us who are too busy and too given to self-respect to spend our lives on Twitter hadn’t heard of them until this week, and what bliss that was. The former is apparently a Corbynista pseud who writes for Vice, the bible of Shoreditch shitheads, and the latter is reportedly political correspondent for GQ, which last published an interesting article when John, Paul, George and Ringo were still a thing. Well, that’s what they used to do. They don’t anymore. Mr Kriss has been dumped by Vice after someone wrote a Facebook post accusing him of being a creep. And Mr Myers has been let go by GQ because he’s married and yet letches after female journalists (allegedly).

The “someone” who wrote the post about Sam Kriss is of course a woman, and she didn’t accuse Kriss of “being a creep” but of persistently refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer. Kriss admitted it and apologized (while also “providing context”), so it’s not true that Vice dumped him simply on the basis of a Facebook post.

There are two extraordinary things about these cases. The first is the accusations themselves. All they really add up to is that these two men are tossers and losers who aren’t very good at dating. Mr Kriss is accused by an anonymous person of repeatedly kissing and fondling her when they were on a date. She didn’t like it, which means he should have stopped or she should have gone home earlier. That’s a bad night out with a weirdo who doesn’t know how to court, not sexual assault.

He sounds like Trump with an enhanced vocabulary.

But he also sounds like Classic Contemptuous Man belittling and dismissing the concerns of some stupid bitch of a woman. He sounds like John Kelly at the White House yesterday calling a Congresswoman “that woman” and “an empty barrel” but never by her name. He sounds like all hostile men ridiculing women who object to being grabbed and poked without consent.

And the second extraordinary thing is what has happened on the back of these accusations. For saying ‘I want to fuck you’ to a woman and then trying to kiss her (allegedly), Mr Myers has lost his journalistic jobs and been turned into a pariah. One writer tweeted that he should be ‘blacklisted’ by the media. There. This is what we are dealing with. A swirling sexual McCarthyism, a now out-of-control instinct to crush alleged sexual deviants, or simply people who – shock, horror – ask other people if they want to have sex. And Mr Kriss has been brought down, too. He’s lost some writing gigs, but of course not enough. Some are calling on other publications – like the Guardian and Atlantic – to promise never to publish him again. Maybe we should tear his tongue out and be done with it. That’s what they used to do to evil people in the past they no longer wanted to hear from. Do you know a journalist who’s rude or rubbish on dates or sexually arrogant? Well, now you can destroy him with one accusation! With one tweet! You don’t even need any evidence. Do it. Bring him down. Kill his career. Murder his prospects. This is the toxic climate we now live in. It’s grotesque.

Says the man, in complete indifference to the toxic climate women have lived in forever. What about the toxic climate Harvey Weinstein created for women in the movie industry? Well Brendan wouldn’t care about that, because he’s not stupid enough to go and be a woman.

Let’s remember something very important. These men face mere accusation, not proof of wrongdoing. (The two muppets in question haven’t helped themselves one bit by issuing instant and craven apologies rather than saying, ‘I challenge the way my behaviour is being discussed’.)

Yeah! Never apologize! Grab or demand a fuck from women whenever you feel like it, and never apologize if they talk about it in public! Women are all bitches anyway, and men who apologize for groping them without invitation are letting down other men everywhere.



Interviews

Oct 20th, 2017 9:12 am | By

Of course he did.

Trump personally interviewed 3 people for US attorney jobs…ones that just happened, in a startling coincidence that means nothing at all, to be in districts where Trump has an interest.

Trump has interviewed Geoffrey Berman, who is currently at the law firm Greenberg Traurig for the job of U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Ed McNally of the firm Kasowitz Benson Torres for the Eastern District post, according to the sources.

(One wonders what that can have been like. On the one hand an educated grownup with specialized professional training and experience, on the other hand a guy who can’t utter a coherent sentence and knows nothing about anything – and the latter is interviewing the former.)

The White House did not deny that Trump had personally conducted the interviews with those two candidates. A White House official noted: “These are individuals that the president nominates and the Senate confirms under Article II of the Constitution.”

“We realize Senate Democrats would like to reduce this President’s constitutional powers,” the White House official said. “But he and other presidents before him and after may talk to individuals nominated to positions within the executive branch.”

They may, apparently, but it’s far from routine, and then when there’s a glaring conflict of interest – are we really so sure they may?

The Southern District of New York is an especially notable position since it has jurisdiction over Trump Tower. Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney there, has said he had been told that Trump would keep him on despite the change in administrations. Yet he was among those abruptly fired by Trump in March.

“It is neither normal nor advisable for Trump to personally interview candidates for US Attorney positions, especially the one in Manhattan,” Bharara tweeted Wednesday.

It’s unusual for presidents to interview candidates for US attorney jobs. Obama never did.

But documents submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year showed Trump met with Jessie Liu, the candidate for U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, earlier this spring as she was being interviewed for the federal prosecutor post.

Liu has since been confirmed, but not without questions from Democrats. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein raised concerns that she had personally met with Trump before she was nominated to the position that would be in charge of investigating the Trump administration.

“To be very blunt, these three jurisdictions will have authority to bring indictments over the ongoing special counsel investigation into Trump campaign collusion with the Russians and potential obstruction of justice by the president of the United States,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in an interview Thursday. “For him to be interviewing candidates for that prosecutor who may in turn consider whether to bring indictments involving him and his administration seems to smack of political interference.”

Which Trump has a known history of trying to do.

Also…why else would he be interviewing them? How would he be interviewing them? What would he be asking them? What would he want to discuss with them? He’s pig-ignorant of the law and has no apparent interest in it, apart from deploying the enforcement branch to terrorize people he dislikes. What would he or could he talk about in such interviews? Other than himself and how the candidate could be expected to treat that sanctified personage?

Other U.S. attorneys who have been nominated to posts around the country do not appear to have had similar interviews with Trump, according to Democrats who have been asking that of all nominees.

“The U.S. attorney for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York — like the U.S. attorney for Washington D.C. — would have jurisdiction over many important cases, including those involving President Trump’s personal and family business interests,” Feinstein said in a statement Thursday.

She added: “There’s no reason for President Trump to be meeting with candidates for these positions, which create the appearance that he may be trying to influence or elicit inappropriate commitments from potential U.S. attorneys. U.S. attorneys must be loyal to the Constitution — not the president.”

Well that’s why he needs to interview them: so that he can ask if they will be loyal to him, just as he persistently asked Comey.



They require interpretation

Oct 19th, 2017 4:59 pm | By

Right?

Why?

Also, if god is so great, why couldn’t god have delivered a decent morality then? Why is all this nervous updating necessary? Hmmmmmm?

We know why. Plato (or Socrates, or both) knew why. It’s obvious why.

You can support Author here.



PinkNews Broadcaster of the Year Award

Oct 19th, 2017 12:52 pm | By

A press release from the Quilliam Foundation:

Last night, Maajid Nawaz won the 2017 PinkNews Broadcaster of the Year Award for his LBC radio show. The award was shared with Lorraine Kelly of ITV.

Other nominees in the category included: Coronation Street (ITV), Doctor Who (BBC), Loose Women (ITV), Lorraine (ITV), Orange is the New Black (Netflix), Sense8 (Netflix), Transparent (Amazon Prime), and Victoria Derbyshire (BBC).

The annual PinkNews Awards has become one of the UK’s most significant LGBT+ events, recognising the contributions of politicians, campaigners, charities, businesses, public sector employers, broadcasters and journalists towards achieving LGBT+ equality both in the UK and overseas.

Southern Poverty Law Center PLEASE NOTE.

Also at the event was London Mayor Sadiq Khan who said, “London is open to all people regardless of race, gender and sexuality and open to love,” and called for a zero-tolerance attitude towards hate crime in London. He also announced that he would be the first mayor ever to lead the annual Pride parade.

Other attendees including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Education Secretary Justine Greening, and Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow.

On winning the award, Nawaz said:

“When I saw that 0% of British Muslims surveyed believed that being gay was ever morally acceptable, when I saw that 52% of British Muslims wanted homosexuality to be criminalised, when I saw that the only 10 countries in the world that punished being gay with death were all Muslim-majority, I was ashamed, infuriated, outraged, and angry all at the same time. But I knew Muslims who were gay, and so I realised that these results were also due to fear of speaking out.

It requires leadership. The sort of leadership that the British Muslim Mayor of London provided here tonight. The sort of leadership that Imam Muhammad provided here tonight by offering prayers for everyone here. And that’s the sort of leadership I, and my producer Sandra, wanted to offer through my LBC show. My show aims to be a home for you all. Thank you for this great honour in being able to speak out on your behalf.”

Nawaz dedicated his win to all the people around the world who are persecuted in the name of religion for being LGBT+.

You can catch Maajid Nawaz on his LBC radio show live every Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 – 15:00.

LISTEN UP, Southern Poverty Law Center.



The “casual cruelty” he sees in public discourse

Oct 19th, 2017 11:29 am | By

Jeb Bush’s brother George gave a talk in New York this morning rebuking the many flaws of Donald Trump without actually saying he was talking about Donald Trump.

It’s funny about George. He’s the pretend folksy guy, and Trump is the real thing. George is from the upper crust, and Trump is from Queens. George fakes a Texas drawl, and Trump is stuck with a Queens snarl. Both grew up rich; both profited from a big boost from their daddies.

Former President George W. Bush never mentioned his name but delivered what sounded like a sustained rebuke to President Trump on Thursday, decrying nationalism, protectionism and the coarsening of public debate while calling for a robust response to Russian interference in American democracy.

In a speech in New York, Mr. Bush defended free trade, globalization and immigration even as Mr. Trump seeks to raise barriers to international commerce and newcomers from overseas. He condemned the “casual cruelty” he sees in public discourse and denounced white supremacy two months after Mr. Trump suggested that “both sides” were to blame at a neo-Nazi rally that turned violent in Virginia.

Bush and his friends prefer a more genteel form of conservatism, that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer but is polite about it. I have to admit that so do I; probably so do most of us.

His speech on Thursday seemed a clear rejoinder to Mr. Trump in various ways. Asked by a reporter as he left the hall whether his message would be heard in the White House, Mr. Bush smiled, nodded slightly and said, “I think it will.”

The Bush family has never been fond of Mr. Trump, who beat former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida for the Republican presidential nomination last year. Neither the former president nor his father, former President George Bush, voted for Mr. Trump last November. But advisers said the younger Mr. Bush has been deeply troubled by the state of the national debate under a president who routinely demonizes his adversaries on Twitter.

“Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry and compromises the moral education of children,” Mr. Bush said in his speech. “The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”

Mr. Bush, who issued a statement with his father condemning white supremacists after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., in August, returned to the theme. “Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed,” he said.

Well, that depends which American creed we’re talking about. For centuries of course white supremacy in the most literal form imaginable was at the core of the American creed.

But still. What he said is welcome.

Also interesting: Rice and Albright explained that diplomacy is not some frivolous luxury.

The conference also featured a panel with two former secretaries of state, Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine K. Albright, joining Nikki Haley, Mr. Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Ms. Rice, who served under Mr. Bush, and Ms. Albright, who served under President Bill Clinton, seemed to gently coach Ms. Haley, urging the Trump administration to rethink its cuts to the State Department budget and its approach to the United Nations, to protect rather than attack the news media and to make a stronger response to Russian meddling in last year’s election.

Ms. Albright said the disparity between the Pentagon and State Department budgets was “crazy” and deprived the president of necessary resources. “We do not have a lot of tools,” she said. “It is necessary to have a functioning diplomatic service.”

Ms. Haley said the president’s budget proposal to slash the State Department budget by one-third was not meant to be enacted in its original form. “It was just his conversation point,” she said. “He was starting a conversation.”

Oh stop that. Pouring contempt on the value of diplomacy is not “starting a conversation.”



The eroticization of powerlessness

Oct 19th, 2017 10:53 am | By

A bit from Mill’s Subjection of Women, because I was reminded of it by a quotation from Sheila Jeffreys:

Girls learn to love and have sexual feelings in a position of low status, and the eroticization of powerlessness is a normal part of the construction of femininity.

That’s Jeffreys; now Mill.

All causes, social and natural, combine to make it unlikely that women should be collectively rebellious to the power of men. They are so far in a position different from all other subject classes, that their masters require something more from them than actual service. Men do not want solely the obedience of women, they want their sentiments. All men, except the most brutish, desire to have, in the woman most nearly connected with them, not a forced slave but a willing one, not a slave merely, but a favourite. They have therefore put everything in practice to enslave their minds. The masters of all other slaves rely, for maintaining obedience, on fear; either fear of themselves, or religious fears. The masters of women wanted more than simple obedience, and they turned the whole force of education to effect their purpose. All women are brought up from the very earliest years in the belief that their ideal of character is the very opposite to that of men; not self-will, and government by self-control, but submission, and yielding to the control of others. All the moralities tell them that it is the duty of women, and all the current sentimentalities that it is their nature, to live for others; to make complete abnegation of themselves, and to have no life but in their affections. And by their affections are meant the only ones they are allowed to have—those to the men with whom they are connected, or to the children who constitute an additional and indefeasible tie between them and a man. When we put together three things—first, the natural attraction between opposite sexes; secondly, the wife’s entire dependence on the husband, every privilege or pleasure she has being either his gift, or depending entirely on his will; and lastly, that the principal object of human pursuit, consideration, and all objects of social ambition, can in general be sought or obtained by her only through him, it would be a miracle if the object of being attractive to men had not become the polar star of feminine education and formation of character. And, this great means of influence over the minds of women having been acquired, an instinct of selfishness made men avail themselves of it to the utmost as a means of holding women in subjection, by representing to them meekness, submissiveness, and resignation of all individual will into the hands of a man, as an essential part of sexual attractiveness. Can it be doubted that any of the other yokes which mankind have succeeded in breaking, would have subsisted till now if the same means had existed, and had been as sedulously used, to bow down their minds to it? If it had been made the object of the life of every young plebeian to find personal favour in the eyes of some patrician, of every young serf with some seigneur; if domestication with him, and a share of his personal affections, had been held out as the prize which they all should look out for, the most gifted and aspiring being able to reckon on the most desirable prizes; and if, when this prize had been obtained, they had been shut out by a wall of brass from all interests not centering in him, all feelings and desires but those which he shared or inculcated; would not serfs and seigneurs, plebeians and patricians, have been as broadly distinguished at this day as men and women are? and would not all but a thinker here and there, have believed the distinction to be a fundamental and unalterable fact in human nature?

Pages 27-9 in this Project Gutenberg edition.



Officials said the man was proud of what he had done

Oct 19th, 2017 10:07 am | By

There was a protest march against al Shabaab in Mogadishu yesterday.

Thousands of Somalis have demonstrated against those behind the bombing that killed more than 300 people at the weekend, defying police who opened fire to keep them away from the site of the attack.

Wearing red headbands, the crowd of mostly young men and women marched through Mogadishu amid tight security. They answered a call to unity by the mayor, Thabit Abdi, who said: “We must liberate this city, which is awash with graves.”

You know what most of the victims of Islamist violence are? Muslim.

The attack in the heart of Mogadishu on Saturday has been blamed on al-Shabaab, the local violent Islamist group, and was one of the most lethal terrorist operations anywhere in the world in recent years.

The Somali capital has suffered scores of bombings over recent years but not on this scale.

“We are demonstrating against the terrorists that massacred our people. We entered the road by force,” said Halima Abdullahi, who lost six of her relatives in the attacks.

There were two trucks involved in the attack. The other one, a minivan, was detained by security before the explosion and the driver has been talking to the police.

Officials described the driver as a veteran militant who had been involved in previous attacks in Mogadishu, including one on the Jazeera hotel in 2012 in which eight people died.

He has been cooperating with the investigation. Officials said the man was proud of what he had done. “He says it is for jihad,” one said.

Killing more than 300 people, most of them adherents of the same religion, is “for jihad.” The ways of god are mysterious.



Base in his motives and cruel in his targets

Oct 19th, 2017 9:53 am | By

Richard Cohen at the Post explains Trump.

Trump does not possess an ounce of compassion. He is reptilian, knowing only to show his fangs, hiss and attack. This is why he mocked a physically disabled reporter for the New York Times, why he derided the heroism of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and why he dismissed the authenticity of the Khans, who had lost their son in Iraq.

This inability to feel the pain of others — even to acknowledge it — is not a minor tick in an otherwise good man. It is the salient characteristic of a sadist, of someone so wrapped up in himself that he has contempt for victims. Trump’s name for them is “losers.” They are the poor and the unlucky. They deserve what they get.

This is the heart of it. If it weren’t for this, the rest of it – the incompetence and stupidity and ignorance, the corruption and greed, the vulgar trashy crassitude – would still be horrendous, but not agonizing in the same way. It’s his hideous brutal meanness and cruelty and contempt for all other human beings that make us feel so degraded.

Trump is not a conservative nor a nationalist nor some reality show creation. He is a mean S.O.B., base in his motives and cruel in his targets and, until he won in November, unthinkable in American history — a brat in the Oval Office. He’s not man enough to throw an arm around a grieving widow. He disgraces his office and will be remembered by history as a lout. It is now a fate he cannot escape. Sorry, but he knew what he was signing up for.

But so did we. So did we.



He lied

Oct 18th, 2017 5:24 pm | By

John Nichols at The Nation hints that Jeff Sessions may be less than fully honest.

Jeff Sessions is a liar.

Strongly hints.

As President Trump’s nominee to serve as attorney general of the United States, the veteran senator from Alabama and early supporter of Trump’s presidential bid was asked by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee if he had met with Russian officials during the course of the 2016 campaign. He claimed that he had not—in response to a written question from the senior Democrat on the Committee, Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, and then under questioning from Minnesota Senator Al Franken.

Those were lies.

Well maybe so, but he gets very cross when Al Franken asks him about them.

And the Republicans of course shrugged and confirmed him anyway. A perjured Attorney General; what could go wrong?

After Sessions took charge of the Department of Justice, it was revealed that he had met with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the course of the campaign; that he had, in fact, met more than once with the ambassador.

Sessions was outed as a liar. Because he had lied to senators during the course of the confirmation process, he was accused of perjuring himself. There were calls for his resignation.

Instead he recused himself from the Russia investigation. Oh that’s fine then – having a perjured AG is no problem at all.

He should have been thrown out after Trump fired Comey, but he wasn’t. Committed racists like him are worth gold.

Only on Wednesday did the attorney general finally face an accountability moment with the Judiciary Committee. Leahy asked about the questionnaire, which specifically inquired about whether Sessions had contact with anyone connected to the Russian government. “You answered emphatically, no,” said Leahy. “You answered no, you concealed your own contact with Russian officials at a time when such contacts were of great interest to the committee.”

Sessions is pissed off.

Showing no sign of remorse, let alone respect for the Senate, Sessions concluded that the questions he was asked on Wednesday were “totally unfair to me.”

That was another lie. As a former member of the Judiciary Committee, Sessions well understands that there is nothing unfair about asking an official to explain his wrongdoing. What is unfair is that Sessions is being allowed to remain in a position that he obtained after lying to the United States Senate.

Jeff Sessions has proven himself to be unfit for office. He has, with deceptive responses to questions from senators, and with his involvement in the Comey firing, committed what the founders understood as “high crimes and misdemeanors.” He should now be held to account, using the tool that the Constitution affords members of Congress to impose accountability on officials who lie in official settings: impeachment.

But they’re Republicans, so they won’t.



Sing “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” instead

Oct 18th, 2017 4:49 pm | By

Trump again demonstrates that he has no idea how to value anything.

He thinks singing a patriotic song is what “real pride in our country” is all about. That’s a ridiculous thing to think.

I’m sure it’s an expression of pride for many people – but it has to be freely chosen to be genuinely that, surely. Trump’s bullying about it just turns it into a meaningless exercise at best and a punishment at worst. Anyway it’s not an expression of pride for all of us – for many it’s just an empty ritual, and for some it’s an insult. We’re allowed to think both of those thoughts and we’re allowed to refuse to sing the damn thing, at least as far as the government is concerned.

Real pride in one’s country has to be thicker and more meaningful than singing a song at a sports game. It has more to do with holding that country to high standards than with observing empty rituals. Flags and songs are symbols, and right now all the patriotic ones symbolize is the sullen brooding presence of the worst man in the world.



No dystopian novels please, we’re woke af

Oct 18th, 2017 11:23 am | By

I didn’t realize the policing of Young Adult fiction was a thing until I read about the Kirkus fubar. It’s a thing.

The Black Witch, a debut young-adult fantasy novel by Laurie Forest, was still seven weeks from its May 1 publication date, but positive buzz was already building, with early reviews calling it “an intoxicating tale of rebellion and star-crossed romance,” “a massive page-turner that leaves readers longing for more,” and “an uncompromising condemnation of prejudice and injustice.”

The hype train was derailed in mid-March, however, by Shauna Sinyard, a bookstore employee and blogger who writes primarily about YA and had a different take: “The Black Witch is the most dangerous, offensive book I have ever read,” she wrote in a nearly 9,000-word review that blasted the novel as an end-to-end mess of unadulterated bigotry. “It was ultimately written for white people. It was written for the type of white person who considers themselves to be not-racist and thinks that they deserve recognition and praise for treating POC like they are actually human.”

The Black Witch centers on a girl named Elloren who has been raised in a stratified society where other races (including selkies, fae, wolfmen, etc.) are considered inferior at best and enemies at worst. But when she goes off to college, she begins to question her beliefs, an ideological transformation she’s still working on when she joins with the rebellion in the last of the novel’s 600 pages. (It’s the first of a series; one hopes that Elloren will be more woke in book two.)

It was this premise that led Sinyard to slam The Black Witch as “racist, ableist, homophobic, and … written with no marginalized people in mind,” in a review that consisted largely of pull quotes featuring the book’s racist characters saying or doing racist things. Here’s a representative excerpt, an offending sentence juxtaposed with Sinyard’s commentary:

“pg. 163. The Kelts are not a pure race like us. They’re more accepting of intermarriage, and because of this, they’re hopelessly mixed.”

 

Yes, you just read that with your own two eyes. This is one of the times my jaw dropped in horror and I had to walk away from this book.

Erm…I guess Sinyard is unfamiliar with how fiction works, which includes the convention that some characters may say things that the writer of the fiction doesn’t agree with, as for instance when there are Villains or Flawed People or Caricatures…like, say, Iago, or the Murdstones, or Mr Collins, or the Duke and the Dauphin. If you’re writing a fiction about a stratified society then you’re likely to have some characters saying the kind of thing one learns to say in a stratified society.

In a tweet that would be retweeted nearly 500 times, Sinyard asked people to spread the word about The Black Witch by sharing her review — a clarion call for YA Twitter, which regularly identifies and denounces books for being problematic (an all-purpose umbrella term for describing texts that engage improperly with race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and other marginalizations). Led by a group of influential authors who pull no punches when it comes to calling out their colleagues’ work, and amplified by tens of thousands of teen and young-adult followers for whom online activism is second nature, the campaigns to keep offensive books off shelves are a regular feature in a community that’s as passionate about social justice as it is about reading. And while not every callout escalates into a full-scale dragging, in the case of The Black Witch — a book by a newcomer with a minimal presence online — the backlash was immediate and intense.

Based almost solely on Sinyard’s opinion, the novel became the object of sustained, aggressive opposition in the weeks leading up its release. Its publisher, Harlequin Teen, was bombarded with angry emails demanding they pull the book. The Black Witch’s Goodreads rating dropped to an abysmal 1.71 thanks to a mass coordinated campaign of one-star reviews, mostly from people who admitted to not having read it. Twitter threadsdamningthe novelmadethe rounds, while a Tumblr post instructing users to “be an ally” and signal boost the outrage racked up nearly 6,000 notes. Sinyard kept a running tally of her review’s circulation; “11,714 views on my review of THE BLACK WITCH and .@HarlequinTEEN and .@laurieannforest have not commented,” she tweeted. (That number eventually swelled to 20,000.)

Oh, man. That’s disgusting.

Positive buzz all but died off, as community members began confrontingThe Black Witch’s supporters, demanding to know why they insisted on reading a racist book. When Kirkus gave the novel a glowing starred review, dozens of commenters demanded a retraction; the uproar was so intense that Kirkus ran a follow-up essay by editor Vicky Smith on the difference between representation and endorsement: “The simple fact that a book contains repugnant ideas is not in itself, in my opinion, a reason to condemn it,” Smith wrote. “Literature has a long history as a place to confront our ugliness, and its role in provoking both thought and change in thought is a critical one.”

Ya think?

But a growing number of critics say the draggings, well-intended though they may be, are evidence of a growing dysfunction in the world of YA publishing. One author and former diversity advocate described why she no longer takes part: “I have never seen social interaction this fucked up,” she wrote in an email. “And I’ve been in prison.”

Many members of YA Book Twitter have become culture cops, monitoring their peers across multiple platforms for violations. The result is a jumble of dogpiling and dragging, subtweeting and screenshotting, vote-brigading and flagging wars, with accusations of white supremacy on one side and charges of thought-policing moral authoritarianism on the other.

Representatives of both factions say they’ve received threats or had to shut down their accounts owing to harassment, and all expressed fear of being targeted by influential community members — even when they were ostensibly on the same side.

I’m sure the result will be fewer but better books.

[I]t’s worth noting that my attempts to report this piece were met with intense pushback. Sinyard politely declined my request for an interview in what seemed like a routine exchange, but then announced on Twitter that our interaction had “scared” her, leading to backlash from community members who insisted that the as-yet-unwritten story would endanger her life. Rumors quickly spread that I had threatened or harassed Sinyard; several influential authors instructed their followers not to speak to me; and one librarian and member of the Newbery Award committee tweeted at Vulture nearly a dozen times accusing them of enabling “a washed-up YA author” engaged in “a personalized crusade” against the entire publishing community (disclosure: while freelance culture writing makes up the bulk of my work, I published a pair of young adult novels in 2012 and 2014.) With one exception, all my sources insisted on anonymity, citing fear of professional damage and abuse.

None of this comes as a surprise to the folks concerned by the current state of the discourse, who describe being harassed for dissenting from or even questioning the community’s dynamics. One prominent children’s-book agent told me, “None of us are willing to comment publicly for fear of being targeted and labeled racist or bigoted. But if children’s-book publishing is no longer allowed to feature an unlikable character, who grows as a person over the course of the story, then we’re going to have a pretty boring business.”

Boring and thought-killing.



Sorrow and value

Oct 18th, 2017 9:57 am | By

At CNN. Chris Cillizza – who did his bit to swing the election by keeping “Her Emails” constantly in the headlines – offers a best-case interpretation of how Trump messed up that phone call.

Don’t get me wrong: he starts with reasons to believe he messed it up badly and is lying about it now.

For those who are taking Trump’s side in all of this — alleging that Wilson is simply trying to score political points against a president the Democratic base hates — it’s important to remember a few things we know about Trump.

1. In the summer of 2016, he engaged in an extended back and forth with Khizr Khan, the father of an American soldier killed in Iraq, following Khan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. Responding to Khan, who suggested Trump didn’t know the meaning of real sacrifice, Trump said: “Who wrote that? Did Hillary’s script writers write it? I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard.”2. Trump has not told the truth about lots of things. LOTS of things. The count maintained by the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog was more than 1,300 lies or mistruths from Trump in his first 263 days as president. In a press conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday, Trump said at least 9 things that were either debatable or simply false.

3. Trump has claimed he has “proof” many times. He has shown that “proof” almost never. As documented by Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere, here are other things Trump has said he had “proof” about: President Obama wiretapping Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign, that the women accusing him of sexually inappropriate behavior were lying, Obama being born in a foreign country, Obama’s college transcript, alleged crimes by UN Ambassador Susan Rice and that former FBI Director James Comey was lying about their personal conversations. [Narrator voice: He didn’t have proof of any of this.]

But that still leaves room for interpretation of the phone call.

Short of Wilson totally lying about the nature of the conversation, the best possible explanation for Trump is that what he said was misinterpreted. Calling a recently widowed woman of a soldier killed in action is an incredibly difficult thing to do. That’s especially true for Trump who, as a businessman prior to running for office in 2016, never had to do anything remotely like this.

Given that inexperience, it’s absolutely plausible that Trump expressed a real sorrow somewhat inarticulately, leaving Johnson’s widow and Wilson upset. And that Trump did so entirely unintentionally.

Well, no, it’s not absolutely plausible that Trump expressed a real sorrow, because he’s not capable of feeling sorrow on behalf of other people. We’ve seen that over and over and over again – with the Khans, as Cillizza said, with the people in Houston after the hurricane, with the people in Puerto Rico after that hurricane, with people he talks to on camera, with all of us, with anyone and everyone. He doesn’t feel it. At all. He never has. He doesn’t know what it’s like.

No, all that’s plausible is that he dimly understood that he was supposed to convey sorrow and sympathy. Once you grasp that it is of course not surprising that he failed so badly. He has no idea how to do that kind of thing. He can do anger and contempt and hatred all over the shop, but sorrow or compassion or empathy he can’t get near.

I suppose we should feel sorry for him, in a way. If you can’t feel sorrow or compassion no matter what – you have a terribly weakened grip on life. The sorrow and compassion are the other side of knowing what’s at stake – of valuing anything. If you don’t know how to properly value anything, what does life even mean to you?



“I guess it hurts anyway”

Oct 18th, 2017 9:17 am | By

Oh goddddd reading this has made me feel sick. It may seem small in the scheme of things, but just the cold narcissistic callousness behind it is nauseating. Trump’s way of condoling the families of soldiers killed in action: he tells them they signed up for it but he guesses it hurts anyway.

In his call with Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, Trump told her, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway,” according to the account of Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.), who was riding in a limousine with Johnson when the president called and heard the conversation on speakerphone.

Wilson recalled in an interview with The Washington Post that Johnson broke down in tears. “He made her cry,” Wilson said. The congresswoman said she wanted to take the phone and “curse him out,” but that the Army sergeant holding the phone would not let her speak to the president.

On the one hand it’s unbelievable, but on the other hand it sounds exactly like Trump. Exactly like him. We’ve all seen what deranged things he says when speaking off the cuff – he tells black journalists to make appointments with black Congressional Representatives for him, he tells the Russian ambassador that the FBI director is a showboat, he says he and Mitch McConnell are closer than ever. I can hear him saying that disgusting thing.

Peter Wehner, an adviser and speechwriter in President George W. Bush’s White House, said communicating empathy and compassion has been for Trump like speaking “a foreign language.”

“Part of being a president is at moments being pastor in chief, dispensing grace and understanding and giving voice to sorrow, tragedy and loss,” Wehner said. “But he’s a person who’s missing an empathy gene.”

Exactly. That’s what makes it so easy to hear him saying that.

Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist and former adviser to Bush and McCain, said he was surprised by Trump’s 12-day silence on the Niger attack.

“There is no issue too small for him to comment on,” Schmidt said. “He tweets at all hours of the morning and night on every conceivable subject. He has time to insult, to degrade, to demean always. But once again, you see this moral obtusity in the performance of his duties as commander in chief.”

“Ok ok ok ok I’ll call them, jeezus. ‘Well he knew what he was getting into, but it still hurts I guess. Bye.'”

He’s denying it today.

President Trump in a tweet Wednesday denied that he had told the widow of a soldier killed in an ambush in Africa this month that her husband “must have known what he signed up for.”

But the mother of the fallen soldier stood behind the account, saying that Trump “did disrespect” the family with his comments during a phone call.

Wilson told MSNBC on Wednesday that Johnson’s widow, Myeshia, was shaken by the exchange.

“She was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part.”

Wilson went on to say Trump “was almost like joking. He said, ‘Well, I guess you knew’ — something to the effect that ‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.’ You know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens, anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die. That’s the way we interpreted it. It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid.”

That’s who he is. That’s why we’re living in a nightmare.



That other resistance

Oct 17th, 2017 5:50 pm | By

Yes, North Korea, yes, Iran, yes, Yellowstone and global warming and the toxic gas emanating from the White House – but also antibiotic resistance.

England’s chief medical officer has warned of a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” as she issued a call to action urging global leaders to address the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.

Professor Dame Sally Davies said that if antibiotics lose their effectiveness it will spell “the end of modern medicine”.

Without the drugs used to fight infections, common medical interventions such as caesarean sectionscancer treatments and hip replacements would become incredibly “risky”, she said.

And transplant medicine would be a “thing of the past”, she added.

It will be the way it was before penicillin, when an ordinary bacterial disease could kill you at any time.

Health experts have previously warned that resistance to antimicrobial drugs could cause a bigger threat to mankind than cancer.

In recent years, the UK has led a drive to raise global awareness of the threat posed to modern medicine by antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Around 700,000 people around the world die annually due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria.

If no action is taken, it has been estimated that drug-resistant infections will kill 10 million people a year by 2050.

Dress warmly, get enough sleep, cook chicken thoroughly.



Do they have standing?

Oct 17th, 2017 5:30 pm | By

The emoluments case starts tomorrow.

On Wednesday morning, a federal judge in Manhattan will hear preliminary arguments in a case that claims President Trump is violating the Constitution’s ban on accepting foreign payments, or emoluments.

Here is what is at stake: The Founding Fathers wrote a clause into the Constitution saying U.S. officials cannot accept “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title” from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. Trump’s critics say that by refusing to sell off his global businesses, the president is failing to uphold the Constitution.

But before that issue can be debated, the court first has to decide whether the plaintiffs even have standing to bring their Emoluments Clause case. And that first step is what is happening in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

This is yet another example of why the phrase “checks and balances” is such an empty bit of verbiage. The Constitution says, but on the other hand, nobody has “standing” to get it enforced. If the other branches are all standing around with their thumbs up their asses, then it doesn’t matter what the Constitution says and these crooked weasels get to go right on filling their bank accounts while destroying the country.

CREW’s co-plaintiffs include the owner of several hotels and restaurants in New York City, an association of restaurants and restaurant workers and an events booker in D.C.

They say they’ve lost business to Trump establishments — not because of fair competition, but because many foreign officials take their business to Trump properties to curry favor with the president. That is a claim that Trump’s Justice Department argues against.

Even in its preliminary stages, the case could have impact. If the plaintiffs win on the standing question, Bookbinder said, “the next phase of the case would be discovery.”

And if they lose, then Trump and his Trumplets go right on feathering their own nests at our civic and moral expense.

Vermont Law School professor Jennifer Taub said that if the case fails, it would set a “terrible precedent.”

Taub, who helped to organize a campaign last winter for disclosure of Trump’s tax returns, said, “We cannot have a representative democracy if the president takes office with the purpose of personal gain and essentially influence-peddling.”

I expect it to fail. We seem to be doomed to be destroyed by this monstrosity.



Loud and clear

Oct 17th, 2017 10:48 am | By

Trump, naturally, goes even uglier in trying to argue away his lie about Obama yesterday.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday invoked the death of the son of his chief of staff, John Kelly, as he defended his claim from a day before that Barack Obama and other past presidents didn’t always call the families of slain service members.

“For the most part, to the best of my knowledge, I think I’ve called every family of somebody that’s died, and it’s the hardest call to make, and I said it very loud and clear yesterday. The hardest thing for me to do is do that,” Trump said Tuesday morning during an interview with Fox News radio host Brian Kilmeade.

I guess he thinks if he says it “loud and clear” that makes it not a lie? I guess he’s that stupid?

“Now, as far as other representatives, I don’t know,” he continued. “I mean, you could ask General Kelly did he get a call from Obama. You could ask other people. I don’t know what Obama’s policy was. I write letters, and I also call.”

He doesn’t know, but yesterday he said Obama didn’t call the families of soldiers killed in action. So to distract attention from his lie, he evokes the death of Kelly’s son. That’s ugly.

Trump has faced an onslaught of criticism — most notably from former Obama aides — since making the accusation against Obama on Monday afternoon in a Rose Garden news conference when asked about his silence regarding the death of four Green Berets related to an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger.

Trump, however, said Tuesday that he doesn’t feel a need to clarify his remarks.

“There’s nothing to clarify,” he said, blaming CNN for first broaching the subject at his news conference. “This was, again, fake news CNN. I mean, they’re just a bunch of fakers.”

Fake news? But there’s video of him saying it. He said it at a news conference. How can it be fake?

I leave it to your wisdom to determine.



There are no slogans claiming “We Are Mogadishu”

Oct 17th, 2017 9:37 am | By

Mogadishu isn’t getting as much attention as it should.

What usually happens on social media after a terrorist attack? A hashtag circulates beginning with “Pray for…” or “I am…”. Users share images of the carnage, and people express an equal measure of sadness and defiance.

But after deadly attacks on Saturday in Mogadishu, which claimed at least 281 lives, some social media users have been asking where the solidarity for Somalia is, and why there are no trending hashtags like those which have emerged after attacks in the US and Europe.

The usual reason, no doubt – fewer of us have been there, fewer of us know people there or from there, fewer of us have associations with Somalia of any kind.

Saturday’s truck bomb was the deadliest terror attack in Somalia since the Islamist al-Shabab group launched its insurgency in 2007. Some bodies were burnt beyond recognition.

Of those who were identified, one of the victims was Maryam Abdullahi, a medical student who was due to graduate the next day.

Her father had flown to Mogadishu to attend her graduation but instead witnessed her burial.

Maryam Abdullahi

Anfa’a Abdullahi

That’s one doctor who won’t be providing care to Somalis.

Khaled Beydoun a professor of Law in Detroit, criticised the depth of media coverage in a social media post which has been shared hundreds of times on Facebook and more than 6,000 times on Twitter.

“I hate comparing human tragedies, but the mainstream media makes you do it,” he posted on Facebook. “There are no slogans claiming ‘we are Mogadishu’ and no catchy images floating around social media demonstrating solidarity.”

He’s not wrong. More from his post:

Listen, the number of people killed in Somalia yesterday was more than 10x more (230+) than the number killed in the terror attack in Manchester in May (22). 230 to 22.

Yet, there are no slogans claiming “We Are Mogadishu” and no catchy images floating around social media demonstrating solidarity. Most shamefully, there is little mainstream media attention documenting the ungodly death and devastation in Somalia’s capital, and certainly no television specials or emergency fundraisers providing aid. None and none and none.

We get it – white and Western, European and American victims ‘merit’ the media attention and the public alarm it spurs, and Black and foreign, African and Muslims do not. This is institutionalized within mainstream media, social media and elsewhere. And the implicit message rendered by this lack of coverage is that that this brand of terror is “indigenous and common” to places like Somalia, African and Muslim-majority countries at large.

This is an expected effect of structural Islamophobia and anti-Black racism that deserves critique, and both middle fingers.

That, yes, but also distance of all kinds – religious and racial yes but also physical location, material conditions, class, money.

But so do our own who swiftly rush to express solidarity with European and American cities but stay silent when terror, of an even greater scale, strikes cities that are predominantly Muslim, Black, Brown and poor.

And very far away. The massacre in Charleston got a lot of attention here.

I don’t mean to let us off the hook by saying that though.