Notes and Comment Blog


It was you Jared

May 25th, 2017 6:11 pm | By

I thought so. The Post reports that the White House official identified as a person of interest last week is Kushner.

Jared Kushner has just been revealed as the senior White House adviser who is under investigation in the Russia probe — which is news that comes as little surprise. Indeed, when The Washington Post reported last week that a then-unnamed top Trump adviser was a focus, many quickly assumed it was Kushner.

But while those assumptions were based on his known contacts with Russians and his status as one of few senior White House aides, there’s another reason his naming fits the puzzle: He’s related to Trump.

My guess was based on all three of those, definitely including the relationship with Bullyboy Trump.

I wish they would all go back to Queens and stay there forever.



Inept at best and deliberately insulting at worst

May 25th, 2017 6:02 pm | By

Europe doesn’t like Trump.

When President Donald Trump lectured NATO members on their contributions to the trans-Atlantic alliance, he demonstrated a lack of understanding about how the group works and potentially alienated the US’ closest allies, analysts said.

The speech comes at a time when Washington’s longstanding partnerships with the UK and Israel have endured friction over intelligence gaffes by the new administration.

“Diplomatically, the speech was inept at best and deliberately insulting at worst,” said Jeff Rathke, deputy director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

I’m going to go with both inept and deliberately insulting. That’s very Trump, after all.

Trump’s remarks Thursday, alongside his continued misrepresentation of how the alliance works and his failure to reaffirm US commitment to the group, is likely to further unsettle US allies, sowing doubt about US leadership and possibly making it harder for NATO leaders to convince their people of the need to spend more on defense.

Ivo Daalder, a former US ambassador to NATO, said that “this was a perfectly scripted event to deliver a very simple message that every president of the United States has delivered at the first possible opportunity, which is that the United States stands firmly behind its commitment to the defense of NATO.”

“We signed a treaty, we uphold it. It was really easy,” Daalder said. “And the fact that he didn’t do it was disturbing and will take a long time to overcome in Europe.”

They did their best. They were warned that he’s a giant baby, so they arranged things for a giant baby.

NATO leaders had envisioned this summit as an introduction to the new US President, adjusting the format to make it more accommodating for Trump, changing the date, shortening the day-long proceedings — in part by telling leaders to make speeches briefer — and making a casual dinner the centerpiece of the gathering.

They had someone pre-chew his food for him; they put stuffed animals in his chair; they ordered gallons of Diet Pepsi and all the ice cream in Belgium.

In Brussels, Trump charged that “many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years” and implied that these countries owed that money to the United States.

“This idea that countries owe money is flat-out wrong,” said Rathke. Countries commit to the 2% target for defense spending — a goal only five NATO members currently meet — within their own countries. The money is not paid to a central fund, though Trump continues to allude to a system like that, raising questions about his ability or willingness to listen and learn.

“Anybody with NATO expertise knows that there is no such thing as ‘debts’ owed by NATO allies for what they haven’t spent in the past,” Rathke said.

Well you’ll have to excuse him: he’s very stupid.



Manchester’s emergency services

May 25th, 2017 5:17 pm | By

Kate Smurthwaite on Facebook:

Credit to Jack Edward Mitchell for assembling this data and making these excellent points. (And he is happy for others to share, please do):

3. The number of Accident and Emergency departments closed in Manchester since the Conservatives entered government.

4. The number of Greater Manchester Police stations sold off to plug funding gaps since 2010.

10. The number of Police station front desks Greater Manchester Police have had to close because of budget cuts in the same period.

2246. the number of officers Greater Manchester Police have had to let go since 2010, formerly 8200, now cut to 5,954.

£134,000,000. the cut applied to Greater Manchester Police’s annual budget between 2011 and 2015.

Emergency services in Manchester did an amazing job on Monday night, but take Theresa May’s condolences with a hefty slug of salt because this is how she and her party have consistently attacked those same emergency services over the last 7 years. This is why we have soldiers on our streets, because the UK has 11.7% fewer police officers than it did when we last had a Labour government.



Get outta my way

May 25th, 2017 4:25 pm | By

How Trump comports himself on the world stage:

That’s Duško Marković he so rudely shoved aside so that he could push forward – Duško Marković the Prime Minister of Montenegro.

He shoves him aside and pushes himself in front, and then sticks his chin in the air as if to remind everyone how important he is. It’s so ugly.

Every single other person there is presentable and normal and polite – and then there’s this exaggerated piggish preening shoving bully of a man. He is a nightmare.



Later that month

May 25th, 2017 1:45 pm | By

Sean Hannity is losing advertisers because of his relentless flogging of a nasty made-up conspiracy theory about the random murder of Seth Rich last summer. Good.

The automotive classified site Cars.com and several other companies pulled advertising from Sean Hannity’s Fox News show after he came under fire for promoting a conspiratorial account of the slaying of a former Democratic National Committee staffer.

“We don’t have the ability to influence content at the time we make our advertising purchase,” Cars.com said in a statement Wednesday. “In this case, we’ve been watching closely and have recently made the decision to pull our advertising from Hannity.”

The mattress maker Leesa Sleep, the exercise company Peloton, and the military financial services company USAA said they, too, were no longer advertising on Hannity’s show. Crowne Plaza Hotels, online mattress retailer Casper, and the video doorbell company Ring told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that they were backing out as well.

Money talks.

Hannity had been one of the main purveyors of a widely discredited theory that DNC staffer Seth Rich was shot and killed near his home in Northwest Washington last year because he had supplied DNC emails to WikiLeaks. District police say Rich died in a botched robbery. His parents have pleaded with news outlets to stop speculating about his death.

Newt Gingrich helped Hannity flog the claim over the weekend. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Contract With America Newt Gingrich.

Rich, a 27-year-old data analyst, was gunned down in the early hours of July 10 in Washington’s Bloomingdale neighborhood. Later that month, WikiLeaks published a cache of DNC emails, leading some commentators to speculate that Rich’s death was somehow related.

Later that month. How is that not good enough for you libtards? Obviously later that month means connected. That’s science.



Leading the thought

May 25th, 2017 12:37 pm | By

Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed on the dud hoax:

As word about the hoax spread over the weekend, the first wave of reactions came from people who thought the hoax said something about the state of the humanities or gender studies.

But then another set of critiques started to appear, taking issue with those who produced the hoax and with those praising them. This set of critiques argued that this hoax did not come close to Sokal’s. His appeared in Social Text, then and now a widely respected journal in the humanities. Cogent Social Sciences is not a major player in scholarship, these scholars noted, and its business model (taking author payments) makes it suspect.

There’s another thing. The new “hoax” is not nearly as well or artfully written as Sokal’s. The satire is much broader – which is probably intentional, because if you want to test how absurd a piece of writing has to be before it’s rejected, you may want to go broad at the beginning to save time, but the fact remains that the quality of the two is very different. They may have intended it to be clunky or they may write clunky by nature. The comparative subtlety of Sokal’s makes it much more fun to read.

Massimo Pigliucci titles his post An embarrassing moment for the skeptical movement. He starts with Sokal, and what he did and didn’t say.

Sokal, however, is no intellectual lightweight, and he wrote a sober assessment of the significance of his stunt, for instance stating:

“From the mere fact of publication of my parody I think that not much can be deduced. It doesn’t prove that the whole field of cultural studies, or cultural studies of science — much less sociology of science — is nonsense. Nor does it prove that the intellectual standards in these fields are generally lax. (This might be the case, but it would have to be established on other grounds.) It proves only that the editors of one rather marginal journal were derelict in their intellectual duty.”

Move forward to the present. Philosopher Peter Boghossian (not to be confused with NYU’s Paul Boghossian) and author James Lindsay (henceforth, B&L) attempted to replicate the Sokal hoax by trick-publishing a silly paper entitled “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.” The victim, in this case, was the journal Cogent Social Sciences, which sent out the submission for review and accepted it in record time (one month). After which, B&L triumphantly exposed their stunt in Skeptic magazine.

But the similarities between the two episodes end there. Rather than showing Sokal’s restraint on the significance of the hoax, B&L went full blast. They see themselves as exposing a “deeply troubling” problem with the modern academy:

“The echo-chamber of morally driven fashionable nonsense coming out of the postmodernist social ‘sciences’ in general, and gender studies departments in particular … As we see it, gender studies in its current form needs to do some serious housecleaning.”

And (a large chunk of especially influential people in) the skeptic community joined the victory parade:

“We are proud to publish this exposé of a hoaxed article published in a peer-reviewed journal today.” (Michael Shermer)

“This is glorious. Well done!” (Sam Harris)

“Sokal-style satire on pretentious ‘gender studies.’” (Richard Dawkins)

“New academic hoax: a bogus paper on ‘the conceptual penis’ gets published in a ‘high-quality peer-reviewed’ journal.” (Steven Pinker)

“Cultural studies, including women’s studies, are particularly prone to the toxic combinations of jargon and ideology that makes for such horrible ‘scholarship.’” (Jerry Coyne)

Not to mention (again) Christina Hoff Sommers.

Massimo points out other areas of academic publishing that are ripe for satire.

And of course let’s not forget the current, very serious, replication crisis in both medical research and psychology. Or the fact that the pharmaceutical industry has created entire fake journals in order to publish studies “friendly” to their bottom line. And these are fields that — unlike gender studies — actually attract millions of dollars in funding and whose “research” affects people’s lives directly.

But I don’t see Boghossian, Lindsay, Shermer, Dawkins, Coyne, Pinker or Harris flooding their Twitter feeds with news of the intellectual bankruptcy of biology, physics, computer science, and medicine. Why not?

Well, here is one possibility:

“American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message” — Michael Shermer, 18 November 2016

“Gender Studies is primarily composed of radical ideologues who view indoctrination as their primary duty. These departments must be defunded” –Peter Boghossian, 25 April 2016

Turns out that a good number of “skeptics” are actually committed to the political cause of libertarianism.

Libertarianism and above all (and more to the point), anti-feminism. It’s depressing and disgusting that all the big Names in skeptoatheism or atheoskepticism or whatever this thing is are as one in their contempt for feminism and their readiness to attack it on any pretext.

The Boghossian and Lindsay hoax falls far short of the goal of demonstrating that gender studies is full of nonsense. But it does expose for all the world to see the problematic condition of the skeptic movement. Someone should try to wrestle it away from the ideologues currently running it, returning it to its core mission of critical analysis, including, and indeed beginning with, self-criticism. Call it Socratic Skepticism(TM).

There was a little to-and-fro in the comments about whether anyone is “running” the skeptic movement. Massimo replied:

“It appears as though that’s what you are attempting and failing at. No one is running it. It’s a free for all.”

I assure you — and I really couldn’t care less whether you believe me or not — that my attitude toward the skeptic movement is that of Groucho Marx toward clubs that would have him as a member. (Despite the fact that I occasionally do write for skeptic outlets and give talks at their conference.)

And if you truly think “no one is running it” you are astoundingly naive. A movement doesn’t need elected leaders to be run by someone. The people who so eagerly tweeted approval of the Boghossian-Lindsay debacle (Shermer, Dawkins, Coyne, Harris, to a lesser extent Pinker) are those running it.

I would actually disagree with that, since they’re not all “running” it in an organizational sense. Shermer and Dawkins have organizations, but Coyne and Harris don’t. But they all influence it, they shape it, they “lead” it – they’re “thought leaders.” They set the tone. They’re the big Names, and they use their big Name-hood. A tweet by Dawkins or Harris isn’t just a tweet, it’s a summons to a million fans; it’s often a summons to bully someone, whether they intend it to be or not.

Boghossian and Lindsay were basically relying on that form of organization, and they did it intentionally. They hate feminism and they set out to rally the troops to sneer at it.



A bad hombre

May 25th, 2017 11:29 am | By

Jeff Sessions is evil. While Donnie Twoscoops flounders around in his own ever-proliferating messes, Jefferson Beauregard is taking care of business.

Even amid the scandal of the firing of FBI director James Comey—an action in which Sessions himself had a central part—Sessions has quietly continued the radical remaking of the Justice Department he began when he took the job.

On May 20, Sessions completed his first hundred days as attorney general. His record thus far shows a determined effort to dismantle the Justice Department’s protections of civil rights and civil liberties. Reversing course from the Obama Justice Department on virtually every front, he is seeking to return us not just to the pre-Obama era but to the pre-civil-rights era. We should have seen it coming; many of his actions show a clear continuity with his earlier record as a senator and state attorney general.

He’s especially shitty on punishment-revenge issues, which of course fits well with his racism.

In the Senate, he was to the right of most of his own party, and led the charge to oppose a bipartisan bill, cosponsored by Republicans Charles Grassley and Mike Lee, that would have eliminated mandatory minimums and reduced sentences for some drug crimes. As attorney general, he has rescinded Eric Holder’s directive to federal prosecutors to reserve the harshest criminal charges for the worst offenders. Sessions has instead mandated that the prosecutors pursue the most serious possible charge in every case. Prosecutors ordinarily have wide latitude in deciding how to charge a suspect—they can select any of a number of possible crimes to charge, decline to pursue charges altogether, or support a diversion program in which the suspect avoids any charges if he successfully completes treatment or probation. Not all crimes warrant the same response, and prosecutorial discretion makes considered justice possible. Yet Sessions has ordered prosecutors to pursue a one-size-fits-all strategy, seeking the harshest possible penalty regardless of the circumstances.

Hence my choice of the word “evil.” That’s evil more or less by definition – wanting to inflict harsh punishment on people regardless of circumstances, in other words for no fucking reason. If you explicitly rule out taking circumstances into account, then it’s just sadism. It also renders the criminal justice system meaningless. It amounts to saying “If we can pin something on you, it doesn’t matter what, that gives us license to torment you and by god that’s what we’re going to do, because we like it.”

And he plans to do away with all these pesky investigations into police departments around the country. We can’t be holding law enforcement to account! Oh hell no, that would allow the brown people to take over and eat all the cake.

Under previous administrations of both parties, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has responded to reports of systemic police abuse in cities like Los Angeles, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Chicago, Baltimore, and Ferguson by investigating, reporting, and entering “consent decrees”—court-enforceable agreements with local police departments—designed to reduce or eliminate abuse. Before his confirmation, Sessions condemned such consent decrees as “dangerous” and an “end run around the democratic process.” As attorney general, he has ordered a review of all such decrees, expressing concern that they might harm “officer morale,” about which he seems to care more than about the constitutional rights of citizens.

The cops are always right, regardless of circumstances. The accused must always get the maximum sentence, regardless of circumstances.

When Sessions was a senator, he opposed extending hate crimes protections to women and gays and lesbians, explaining that “I am not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination. I just don’t see it.”

I can think of a reason for that that’s not the same as “it doesn’t happen.”

As Alabama attorney general, Sessions prosecuted black civil rights activists for helping to get out the vote. The judge dismissed many of the charges even before getting to trial; the jury acquitted the defendants on the rest. When the Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the Voting Rights Act by invalidating a provision requiring states with a history of discriminatory voting practices to prove that any changes they sought to make to voting law not undermine minority voting opportunities, Sessions called it “good news…for the South.” As attorney general, his Justice Department took the extraordinary step of withdrawing its claim, already fully litigated and developed in trial court, that Texas had adopted a voter ID law for racially discriminatory reasons. The court nonetheless ruled that Texas had in fact engaged in intentional race discrimination. It refused to close its eyes to evidence of racial intent, even if the new Justice Department was willing to do so.

His determined opposition to civil rights and voting rights goes all the way back. It’s been his life’s work.

And then David Cole gets to an item I didn’t know about:

As Alabama attorney general, Sessions oversaw the filing of a 222-count criminal indictment against TIECO, a competitor of US Steel, at a time when US Steel and its attorney were contributors to Sessions’s Senate campaign. Every single count was dismissed, many for prosecutorial misconduct. The judge wrote that “the misconduct of the Attorney General in this case far surpasses in both extensiveness and measure the totality of any prosecutorial misconduct ever previously presented to or witnessed by the Court.”

Wow. What a package.

Plus of course he lied at his confirmation hearing, and meddled in the Comey business after he “recused” himself.

The attorney general is the nation’s top law enforcement officer. He is responsible for investigating federal crimes, advising on the appointment of judges and the constitutionality of bills, defending federal government programs, and enforcing the civil rights laws. It’s an awesome responsibility in any administration. But perhaps never before has it been so important, given President Trump’s lack of interest in the rule of law, ignorance of constitutional laws and norms, and hostility to basic civil rights and civil liberties. What’s needed at the Justice Department is a strong, independent, and thoughtful leader who can exert some restraint on the president. Instead, we have Jeff Sessions, a man who, when asked whether Trump’s grabbing women by the genitals would constitute sexual assault, replied, “I don’t characterize that as a sexual assault. I think that’s a stretch.”

That’s our attorney general: willing to throw the book at drug offenders and undocumented immigrants, but unwavering in his defense of a president who brags about assaulting women and targeting Muslims.

He’s got that chipmunk voice and that smarmy grin, but he’s evil.



Guest post: Belief in word-magic

May 25th, 2017 10:42 am | By

Originally a comment by Bjarte Foshaug on Teaching about sexual and reproductive anatomy.

Belief in word-magic is certainly alive and well in the 21st century. In my militant atheist days I frequently ran into some version of the following “argument” (this is going to be pretty philosophically sophisticated, so you better be ready):

1. The word “God” refers to X (X = Life, the Universe and Everything etc.).

2. X exists.

3. Therefore the word “God” refers to something that exists.

Of course by the time we arrived at 3, Life, the Universe and Everything had invariably mutated into a supernatural, intelligent creator of the universe who, by the way, was the father of Jesus, had authored the Bible etc. After all, we had already established that something called “God” existed, and the biblical Yaweh was indeed something called “God”. Never mind that this rather obvious redefinition directly contradicted 1, thus invalidating the argument that got us to 3 in the first place.

But this idea that you can take whatever’s applicable to X and make it applicable to Y by renaming Y as X is so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine how modern ideological newspeak could possibly go on without it. We see the same thing with “free will” and pretty much anything to do with “gender”. As I have previously written it’s a bit like arguing that clubs for hitting baseballs (let’s call them “bats₁”) can fly because Chiroptera (let’s call them “bats₂”) can fly. After all Chiroptera prove that things called “bats” can fly, and clubs for hitting baseballs are indeed things called “bats”.

There is a major difference between talking about a specific (kind of) thing whatever you prefer to call it, and talking about whatever it is that people call “[insert name here]”. E.g. in the case of bats₂ we’re referring to a specific order of mammals that just happens (in this particular context and for this particular purpose) to be called “bats”. They share certain anatomical and genetic features as well as a common evolutionary ancestor that they don’t share with any non-bats₂ etc. The fact that people in the English speaking world happen to call them “bats” rests on an arbitrary cultural convention and doesn’t say anything about the actual animals themselves, therefore “Fledermaus”, “chauve-souris” etc. are neither more nor less “correct” ways of referring to them. If English speakers collectively decided to start calling them “abts” or “tabs”, they would still be talking about the same creatures. And, conversely, no amount of (re)labeling other things (clubs for hitting baseballs etc.) as “bats” can turn them into instances of the kind of thing we are talking about, or even make them relevant to our topic. If you change the definition of “bats”, then a statement like “bats can fly” no longer applies. If, on the other hand, we’re referring to whatever it is that someone happens to call “bats”, then all those bets are off, and it’s hard to see how any non-circular/non-trivial statement can be generally true, or even meaningful, on the subject.

Almost all of modern gender apologetics seems to boil down to statements of this latter kind. As far as I’m concerned, being “female₁” means something like having physical traits more representative of egg-producers than sperm-producers within one’s particular species, a “woman₁” is a female₁ human being, the word “gender₁ itself refers to a difference in the way women₁ and men₁ (i.e. people with physical traits more representative of sperm-producers than egg-producers) are viewed/treated in a society, and “feminism₁” is a movement that seeks to end the discrimination of women₁ based on such gender₁ differences.

In the vocabulary of gender apologists, on the other hand, being “female₂” generally means something like thinking or feeling about oneself in ways X,Y,Z etc., a “woman₂” is any person who qualifies as a female₂ (i.e. who does indeed think/feel in ways X,Y,Z etc.), regardless of physical traits, the word “gender₂” refers to a perfectly real and vitally important difference in way people think/feel about themselves, and “feminism₂” is a movement that seeks to end discrimination against “women₂” by validating all genders₂.

However, since there are no clearly identifiable “ways X,Y,Z…” of thinking/feeling that are common to all who call themselves “women” while being distinct from the way those who call themselves “men” think/feel, they might as well say that the definition of “female₂”/”woman₂” is whatever it is that people call “female”/”woman”. As I have previously pointed out, gender apologists are also faced with the awkward fact that there is no way of specifying “ways X,Y,Z…” without – that’s right – excluding [insert scary music] anyone who fails to think or feel the required ways about themselves, thus depriving them of a much cherished stick for beating up “TERFs” and “SWERFs” (who are supposedly alone in the exclusion business).

As I have commented on elsewhere, the real problem arises when some people insist on acting as if we were still all talking about the same thing and demand to have it both ways. One example that strikes me as particularly revealing is the demand that women₂ be allowed to compete in sporting events that are reserved for women₁ specifically to make up for biological differences. Why women₂ would need separate sporting events from men₂ (i.e. people who think/feel about themselves in the unspecified ways P,Q,R… rather than the equally unspecified ways X,Y,Z…) is unclear to say the least. And even if one managed to come up with a reason, it would no longer be true that women₁ were automatically qualified to compete, and we would need some kind of screening process to make sure that only people who really did think/feel the required ways about themselves were allowed to participate.



The expectation it would remain secret

May 25th, 2017 10:14 am | By

The Manchester police aren’t waiting on what May and Trump say to each other in Brussels; they’ve closed the door themselves.

British police have stopped sharing evidence from the investigation into the terror network behind the Manchester bombing with the United States after a series of leaks left investigators and the government furious.

The ban is limited to the Manchester investigation only. British police believe the leaks are unprecedented in their scope, frequency and potential damage.

Downing Street was not behind the decision by Greater Manchester police to stop sharing information with US intelligence, a No 10 source said, stressing that it was important police were allowed to take independent decisions.

Again, imagine the fury if they did this to us.

British officials were infuriated on Wednesday when the New York Times published forensic photographs of sophisticated bomb parts that UK authorities fear could complicate the expanding investigation, in which six further arrests have been made in the UK and two more in Libya.

It was the latest of a series of leaks to US journalists that appeared to come from inside the US intelligence community, passing on data that had been shared between the two countries as part of longstanding security cooperation.

I have to wonder why they’re leaking it. If keeping the details secret is likely to help find other perps, then what can possibly be the motivation for leaking it?

Whitehall sources reported a sense of deflation among UK security staff at the amount of detail coming out of America. The UK had shared the material with US police and intelligence in the expectation it would remain secret. The amount released is hampering at least part of the investigation, they believe.

Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, said the leaks were arrogant and disrespectful, and police chiefs also criticised the actions.

A national counter-terrorism policing spokesperson said: “We greatly value the important relationships we have with our trusted intelligence, law enforcement and security partners around the world.

“When that trust is breached it undermines these relationships, and undermines our investigations and the confidence of victims, witnesses and their families. This damage is even greater when it involves unauthorised disclosure of potential evidence in the middle of a major counter-terrorism investigation.”

I just read the Times article, and those photos and descriptions certainly do look like potential evidence. I can’t figure out what they were thinking.

Maybe it’s a free press thing run amok:

Ian Blair, who was Metropolitan police commissioner during the London underground bombings on 7 July 2005, said his investigation had also been troubled by leaks from US intelligence.

Blair said he was sure the leaks had “nothing to do with Trump” given that similar leaks had happened during his own time investigating a terror attack.

“I’m afraid this reminds me exactly of what happened after 7/7, when the US published a complete picture of the way the bombs had been made up. We had the same protests.

“It’s a different world in how the US operates in the sense of how they publish things. And this is a very grievous breach but I’m afraid it’s the same as before.”

Not clever.



That promise? Not doing it.

May 24th, 2017 5:49 pm | By

Oh and that thing about the Trump Organization donating the profits from its DC hotel to the Treasury Department? It’s not going to do that. It doesn’t want to.

In early January, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer promised that the Trump Organization would donate hotel profits from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury. It was Trump’s way of trying to relieve concerns about receiving foreign emoluments without giving up his stake in his company. “This way it is the American people who will profit,” the lawyer said.

Less than six months later, the Trump Organization has said it does not plan to fulfill that promise. The announcement comes by way of a newly released pamphlet from the Trump Organization that implicitly calls the original promise a big dumb idea.

Why? Because you’d have to ask them, and they wouldn’t like that. They’re there to have a Luxury Experience and to bribe the president, and they don’t want to be bothered with a lot of questions from people at the front desk. It would ruin the brand.

So instead, the Trump Organization will only include obvious payments from foreign governments when making its donation. Profits that are more difficult to link to a foreign government — those from state-owned businesses that isn’t obviously state-owned, for example — would remain with the Trump Organization. The burden of flagging payments from foreign governments, the Trump Organization appears to be suggesting, is on foreign governments, not the company itself.

As Maryland representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, wrote in a letter to the Trump Organization, that’s a woefully inadequate setup. “Under the policy outlined in this pamphlet, foreign governments could provide prohibited emoluments to President Trump, for example through organizations such as RT, the propaganda arm of the Russian government,” he wrote. “Those payments would not be tracked in any way and would be hidden from the American public.”

Yes but the brand. The brand is everything. The brand brings in millions just by being the brand. Have some respect.



Failure to list

May 24th, 2017 5:39 pm | By

CNN reports:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose meetings he had last year with Russian officials when he applied for his security clearance, the Justice Department told CNN Wednesday.

Well. It’s hard to see how he can explain that away. “Oh, I didn’t realize I was supposed to.” “Sir, you’re the nation’s top law enforcement official. It’s your job to know.” “Oh it was just a little slip.” “Sir, this is Russia we’re talking about. Vladimir Putin’s Russia.”

Sessions, who met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least two times last year, didn’t note those interactions on the form, which requires him to list “any contact” he or his family had with a “foreign government” or its “representatives” over the past seven years, officials said.

Ok but when it says “any contact” it surely doesn’t mean something as trivial as meeting with the Russian ambassador…



No you did

May 24th, 2017 5:13 pm | By

Turkey called in the US ambassador to complain about how the US treated those nice Turkish security people who kicked and beat up protesters in DC last week.

Turkey summoned the American ambassador on Monday to protest what it called “aggressive and unprofessional actions” by American security personnel against Turkish bodyguards during a violent incident last week in Washington. The U.S. ambassador told Turkey’s government its guards violated U.S. laws, a senior U.S. official said.

Turkey’s action appeared to represent retaliation for the forceful U.S. criticism of the Turkish guards’ behavior in the American capital, where they accompanied President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his visit. The U.S. summoned Turkey’s U.S. ambassador last week after the Turkish security officers were seen hitting and kicking protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence; one video shared on social media even showed Erdogan watching the melee.

It’s true. At 1:14 he gets out of the car, and watches the attack.

Not to mention plain old laws against assault. The protesters weren’t attacking Erdoğan, they were protesting. People aren’t allowed to assault them just because they don’t like the protest. Erdoğan’s security people don’t have jurisdiction in DC.

Pressure has been mounting on the Trump administration not to let the violence on U.S. soil go unpunished. Last week’s incident wasn’t the first such case during an Erdogan visit. Last year, a similar scuffle erupted outside a nuclear security summit that Erdogan attended in Washington.

Yes but Trump likes Erdoğan, as he likes all bullies as long as they leave him alone.

And a group of nearly 30 Democratic lawmakers led by Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday demanding that the Turkish guards be “arrested, prosecuted and jailed.” The prospect of arrest is unlikely — many of them have already returned to Turkey, immunity for those posted in the U.S. is an issue, and the countries are already in an unrelated spat over extradition.

The Democrats also faulted Tillerson for what they suggested was his failure to speak out loudly against the Turkish actions.

Tillerson doesn’t care.He’s lost in the fog.

This is what incompetent government looks like.



The critical thinking they supposedly love so much

May 24th, 2017 4:53 pm | By

Amanda Marcotte also wrote about the dud hoax, along with the fakenews story about the murder of Seth Rich.

The authors claimed in Skeptic that the publication of their fake and silly article demonstrated that the “echo-chamber of morally driven fashionable nonsense coming out of the postmodernist social ‘sciences’ in general, and gender studies departments in particular,” is damaging academia.

This is, as Phil Torres explained for Salon, also utter nonsense. Torres pointed out that the authors had their bogus paper rejected from a reputable, peer-reviewed journal and published instead in a pay-to-play one that isn’t even about gender studies. In fact, these two guys demonstrated only their inability to have their fake article accepted by a reputable publication — which is the opposite of what they were trying to prove. But, as was the case for the Seth Rich story, the lack of evidence did nothing to slow down the rapid spread of the hoax across the anti-feminist internet.

Both these stories were promulgated mainly through right-wing media. Fox News, especially host Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh have been pushing the Seth Rich story, no doubt as a bit of counterprogramming to the real news about Trump’s ties to Russia. The “conceptual penis” hoax was trumpeted mostly by right-wing clickbait sites like College Fix, Daily Caller and Breitbart.

But unlike a lot of other fake stories pushed by right-wing media, these two stories gained serious traction in supposedly liberal and even left-wing circles.

Or semi-liberal, or liberal-except-about-women.

[T]he “conceptual penis” story was trumpeted by a number of self-proclaimed rationalists, including scientist Richard Dawkins, author Sam Harris and scientist Steven Pinker. The editor of Skeptic, Michael Shermer, argued that the hoax was necessary to “rein in extremism” among feminist academics.

“[T]he hoax reveals not the ideological dogmatisms of gender studies, but the motivating prejudices of the authors and their mostly white, mostly male supporters against social justice,” suggested Torres in his Salon article. Or to put it in another way, in an effort to prove feminists are a bunch of dum-dums, these men abandoned the critical thinking they supposedly love so much.

This is not the first time we’ve seen them do that.



The joke may have been on them

May 24th, 2017 12:26 pm | By

Phil Torres wrote up the Boghossian-Lindsay hoax that flopped in Salon.

In an article simultaneously published in the magazine Skeptic, this project was loudly advertised as a “hoax on gender studies.” It primarily aimed to expose what the authors presume to be the nonsensical absurdity of gender studies, an interdisciplinary field that attempts to understand gender identity and how these identities play out in society.

Yet Boghossian and Lindsay’s prank article unambiguously failed to do this and ultimately may have harmed the skeptic community. First, the open-access journal that published their article requests that authors pay to publish. In the case of Cogent Social Sciences, the recommended fee is a whopping $1,350. I have affirmed that Boghossian and Lindsay were, for unknown reasons, asked to pay less than half of this, namely $625, but the journal apparently never got around to actually requesting the money. Boghossian has repeatedly declared on social media that he and his colleague paid “nada” for the article’s publication, which taken out of context is patently misleading.

Almost as if they’re not being fully…truthful.

To show that the intellectual values of a field are fundamentally flawed, one would need to publish in the best journals of that field and trick genuine experts into believing the hoax is a non-hoax. That was what mathematician and physicist Alan Sokal did in the notorious “Sokal affair,” which attempted to unveil the obscurantist vacuity of some postmodern theory.

Still, even Sokal himself was rather nuanced about the implications of his experiment, saying, “From the mere fact of publication of my parody I think that not much can be deduced. It doesn’t prove that the whole field of cultural studies, or cultural studies of science — much less sociology of science — is nonsense. Nor does it prove that the intellectual standards in these fields are generally lax.”

That’s probably because Sokal isn’t a self-important blowhard, while Bogo and Lindsay…

Boghossian and Lindsay are sadly not so nuanced in their claims. Instead, they take their hoax article to expose the entire field of gender studies as an intellectual scam. So, too, does the public intellectual Michael Shermer, the editor in chief of Skeptic. In a rather un-skeptical foreword to Boghossian and Lindsay’s article — subtitled “a Sokal-style hoax on gender studies” — Shermer wrote:

Every once in awhile it is necessary and desirable to expose extreme ideologies for what they are by carrying out their arguments and rhetoric to their logical and absurd conclusion, which is why we are proud to publish this expose [sic] of a hoaxed article published in a peer-reviewed journal today.

Hahaha no that’s not why. It’s because they hate feminism.

Submitting an article on gender studies to that particular journal and then claiming that its publication proves that gender studies is idiotic is tantamount to a creationist writing a fake article about evolutionary biology, publishing it in an unknown pay-to-publish non-biology journal (whose editorial board includes no one with expertise in evolutionary biology), and then exclaiming, “See! The entire field of evolutionary biology is complete nonsense.” This is puerile gotcha-ism that completely misses the target while simultaneously making, in the case of Boghossian and Lindsay, the skeptic community look like gullible, anti-intellectual fools.

All that being said, Boghossian and Lindsay do accomplish something notable, although not original: They show just how easy it is to get a fake paper published in a pay-to-publish journal. This is not a trivial point, although they could have saved many hours of work by randomly generating an article, as the authors above did for the Open Information Science Journal. Or they could have intentionally plagiarized an article and then submitted it. But Boghossian and Lindsay would never have done this because their real ideologically motivated target was gender studies.

But the situation is actually much worse than that: Boghossian and Lindsay likely did damage to the cultural movements that they have helped to build, namely “new atheism” and the skeptic community. As far as I can tell, neither of them knows much about gender studies, despite their confident and even haughty claims about the deep theoretical flaws of that discipline.

But they know they don’t like it. Isn’t that enough?

As the historian Angus Johnston put it on Twitter, “If skepticism means anything it means skepticism about the things you WANT to be true. It’s easy to be a skeptic about others’ views.” The quick, almost reflexive reposting of this “hoax” by people like Dave Rubin, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, Christina Hoff Sommers and Melissa Chen reveals a marked lack of critical thinking about what exactly this exercise in attempted bullying proves.

If anything, the hoax reveals not the ideological dogmas of gender studies but the motivating prejudices of the authors and their mostly white, mostly male supporters against social justice — a term that simply refers to the realization of fairness and just relations among citizens of a society. This is part of a larger reaction witnessed across American culture in the past few years: a pushback against women’s rights, gender equality, racial equality and a sensitivity to the plights of marginalized peoples. It’s what got Donald Trump elected as president, and it’s what fuels the alt-right. (Notably, Breitbart News praised Boghossian and Lindsay’s hoax in a recent article.) If the authors — and the good folks at Skeptic — had thought a bit more carefully about this ruse, they might have realized that this faux paper’s publication says no more about gender studies than computer-generated papers published in scientific journals say about science.

Yet the urge to label the hoax a victory against gender studies was uncontrollable. This only reflects poorly on the intellectual honesty and thoughtfulness of those “in” on the joke — although it appears that, in the end, the joke may have been on them.

But they’ll always have Breitbart.



Teaching about sexual and reproductive anatomy

May 24th, 2017 11:55 am | By

Golly. Planned Parenthood Ottawa tweets:



He is something

May 24th, 2017 11:41 am | By

So now Trump is sucking up to the pope, and we’re being nudged to do the same.

Pope Francis welcomed President Trump to the cradle of Roman Catholicism on Wednesday, delivering a message of peace even as the pontiff emphasized his role as the world’s moral counterpoint to the president’s nationalist agenda.

No. The pope is not “the world’s moral counterpoint to the president’s nationalist agenda” or the president’s anything else. The pope is not the world’s anything. He’s the top official of a global organization, but many people can claim that title. There’s no such thing as a single human moral counterpoint to Trump or Trump’s agenda, and if there were it most certainly would not be the boss of the Catholic church. The Catholic church is the Catholic church; it doesn’t speak for the population of the world.

Furthermore, much of the morality of the Catholic church is bad.

Moving on.

A brief Vatican communique later called the meeting “cordial,” and expressed hope for collaboration with the administration on “health care, education and assistance to immigrants.”

Health care should be right out. The Catholic church wants to prevent women from having access to contraception and abortion in all circumstances without exception no matter what. I don’t know what use they are on education, either, especially if the education is laced with religious dogma.

It said Trump and Francis had exchanged views on “international affairs and the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue, with particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities.”

Ah but Trump doesn’t know where or what the Middle East is. He said in Israel that he’d just left the Middle East…

The president told the pope that their states share “many fundamental values,” such as promoting human rights, combating global famine and protecting religious freedom, the White House said.

Well then he told yet another lie. He doesn’t promote human rights. He just told the Saudis he doesn’t care about human rights.

Trump called the meeting “great” and “fantastic.”

“He is something,” Trump said of Francis. “We’re liking Italy very, very much, and it was an honor to be with the pope.”

Eloquent as always.



Trump is now morally complicit in future killings

May 24th, 2017 11:07 am | By

There was disgust over the loving exchange with Duterte at the time.

“By essentially endorsing Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, Trump is now morally complicit in future killings,” said John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. “Although the traits of his personality likely make it impossible, Trump should be ashamed of himself.”

Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Twitter, “We are watching in real time as the American human rights bully pulpit disintegrates into ash.”

Mr. Duterte’s toxic reputation had already given pause to some in the White House. The Philippines is set to host a summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in November, and officials said there had been a brief debate about whether Mr. Trump should attend.

It is not even clear, given the accusations of human rights abuses against him, that Mr. Duterte would be granted a visa to the United States were he not a head of state, according to human rights advocates.

But Trump doesn’t care. Trump likes that sort of thing.

Mr. Trump’s affinity for Mr. Duterte, and other strongmen as well, is firmly established. Both presidents are populist insurgent leaders with a penchant for making inflammatory statements. Both ran for office calling for a wholesale crackdown on Islamist militancy and the drug trade. And both display impatience with the courts.

After Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Duterte called to congratulate him. Later, the Philippine leader issued a statement saying that the president-elect had wished him well in his antidrug campaign, which has resulted in the deaths of several thousand people suspected of using or selling narcotics, as well as others who may have had no involvement with drugs.

Whatever. Obama just didn’t get it. Trump gets it.

Mr. Trump has a commercial connection to the Philippines: His name is stamped on a $150 million, 57-floor tower in Manila, a licensing deal that netted his company millions of dollars. Mr. Duterte appointed the chairman of the company developing the tower, Jose E. B. Antonio, as an envoy to Washington for trade, investment and economic affairs.

Ah. Of course he does.



Take care of yourself, Rodrigo

May 24th, 2017 10:51 am | By

More from the Trump files: last month he phoned Duterte to tell him “awesome job with all the extrajudicial killings, dude.”

President Trump praised President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines in a phone call last month for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem” in the island nation where the government has sanctioned gunning down suspects in the streets. Mr. Trump also boasted that the United States has “two nuclear submarines” off the coast of North Korea but said he does not want to use them.

Did he boast about his dick size at the same time?

There’s a Philippine transcript of the call which was circulated yesterday by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs. A senior administration official vouched for the transcript, on the now-familiar condition of anonymity. Getting hot there, is it?

The Philippine rendering of the call offers a rare insight into how Mr. Trump talks to fellow leaders: He sounds much the way he sounds in public, casing issues in largely black-and-white terms, often praising authoritarian leaders, largely unconcerned about human rights violations and genuinely uncertain about the nature of his adversary in North Korea.

The same brutal callous stupid egomaniacal shithead we all know and loathe.

Mr. Trump placed the call and began it by congratulating Mr. Duterte for the government-sanctioned attacks on drug suspects. The program has been widely condemned by human rights groups around the world because extrajudicial killings have taken thousands of lives without arrest or trial. In March, the program was criticized in the State Department’s annual human rights report, which referred to “apparent governmental disregard for human rights and due process.”

Mr. Trump had no such reservations. “I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” he said. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

A great job murdering thousands of people without trial. The president of the US is praising that and saying it’s a great thing. It’s sickening.

Mr. Duterte responded that drugs were “the scourge of my nation now, and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.” Mr. Trump responded that “we had a previous president who did not understand that,” an apparent reference to President Barack Obama, “but I understand that.”

He understands mass murder by the state.

Thanks for the warning.

The end of the conversation centered on a first meeting between the two men, perhaps when Mr. Trump is in Manila later this year. But Mr. Trump twice invited Mr. Duterte to “come to the Oval Office.”

“I will love to have you in the Oval Office, anytime you want to come,” Mr. Trump said.

“Take care of yourself, Rodrigo,” he concluded. “God bless you.”

Image result for god bless you



They have every right to be furious

May 24th, 2017 9:51 am | By

And despite being told to stop, they’re still doing it.

US officials disclosed fresh details of the investigation into the Manchesterbombing to journalists within hours of Amber Rudd warning them to stop the leaking.

The steady drip of details from the US – as well as from France – is hampering the investigation by British police, who are trying to control the release of information for operational reasons.

The home secretary reflected the frustration and dismay of the UK security services in a series of interviews on Wednesday morning. She described the leaks as “irritating” and said she had made it clear to the US that it should not happen again.

However, within hours, American reporter Richard Engel of NBC tweeted details not released by the UK.

Imagine the reaction here if the UK intelligence people did that to us.

The intelligence community has long been uncomfortable about revelations from its recent past made in books and articles, but the release of details of a live investigation on the scale of those by the US and France is a relatively new phenomenon.

It comes on top of Donald Trump’s release of intelligence to Russia that had been passed on by Israel, which had obtained it from an Arab country.

The leak of the British information, as well as demonstrating a lack of respect for a US ally at an emotional time, will have hindered the investigation, where it is essential to control the release of details.

Hindering the investigation is surely in no one’s interest.

Anger about the extent of the leaks is not confined to the UK. Senior members of the US Congress also expressed concern.

The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Adam Schiff, said he did not know the source but insisted it was not from Congress, as members and their staffs had not been briefed.

Schiff, who is a driving force behind the congressional investigation into the Trump campaign’s links with Russia, said: “We should have been very careful and respectful of the British investigation and the timing which the British felt was in their investigative interests in releasing that. That should have been their discretion not ours. If that is something we did, I think that’s a real problem.”

The UK intelligence agencies, he said, would have passed on information about the bomber and possible associates to see if the US had any further intelligence on them.

“If we gave up information that has interfered in any way with their investigation because it tipped off people in Britain, perhaps associates of this person that we had identified as the bomber, that’s a real problem and they have every right to be furious.”

Chris Coons, a Democratic member of the Senate foreign affairs committee, said questions were being raised about whether the Trump administration understood what it meant to treat highly classified intelligence responsibly.

He told MSNBC: “Our alliance with the people of Great Britain is one of our closest, strongest, oldest – and our prayers are with them, the families who lost loved ones in Manchester … We’ve got a very close intelligence and defence partnership with the UK and that news is troubling and it suggests that we have even more close allies who are questioning whether we can be trusted with vital intelligence.

“This is a key part of what keeps us safe, a global network of allies with whom we share intelligence and strategic and planning and defence resources … I am hearing real questions raised about whether this administration, in particular President Trump, understands what it means to treat highly classified intelligence carefully and responsibly.”

He’s draining the swamp.



The British had wanted to control the flow of information

May 24th, 2017 9:30 am | By

Yes, the US really did blab the name of the Manchester suspect yesterday even though they’d been told not to. Yes the UK really is pissed off at us. Yes that really is a staggeringly stupid and irresponsible thing to do. Yes I really am ashamed of this country; yes so are most of us.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said she is irritated with the US for releasing information about the Manchester bomber before UK police would have liked.

Ms Rudd said the British had wanted to control the flow of information to “keep the element of surprise”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she had been very clear with Washington “that it should not happen again”.

I’m sure Washington listened, but Trump and his people, not so much.

Counter-terrorism detectives have spoken in the past about how important it sometimes is for them that names of suspects do not make it into the media. They say a delay of around 36 hours, before the public know who they are investigating can allow them to arrest known associates of the suspect before they know police are looking for them.

Information about the bomber’s identity first emerged in the US – with American TV networks CBS and NBC naming Abedi as the suspect.

Ms Rudd was asked whether she would be looking at how information sharing may have resulted in the premature release of details the British police and security services had not wanted in the public domain.

The home secretary told Today: “Yes, quite frankly.

“The British police have been very clear they want to control the flow of information in order to protect operational integrity – the element of surprise – so it is irritating if it gets released from other sources, and I’ve been very clear with our friends that that should not happen again.”

With friends like us, who needs enemies?