Notes and Comment Blog

It’s the status, peasant

Apr 24th, 2018 9:21 am | By

A basic trope about the reasons for Trump’s appeal to voters is the economic anxiety factor. Niraj Chokshi at the Times points to a study that cites status anxiety.

White, Christian and male voters, the study suggests, turned to Mr. Trump because they felt their status was at risk.

“It’s much more of a symbolic threat that people feel,’’ said Diana C. Mutz, the author of the study and a political science and communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she directs the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics. “It’s not a threat to their own economic well-being; it’s a threat to their group’s dominance in our country over all.”

The study is not the first to cast doubt on the prevailing economic anxiety theory. Last year, a Public Religion Research Institute survey of more than 3,000 people also found that Mr. Trump’s appeal could better be explained by a fear of cultural displacement.

If that’s true it at least helps explain how people at the bottom of the ladder manage to see Trump as their dude. Economically that makes zero sense, but culturally it does make some. Trump is neither poor nor working class but by god he is racist.

Her survey also assessed “social dominance orientation,” a common psychological measure of a person’s belief in hierarchy as necessary and inherent to a society. People who exhibited a growing belief in such group dominance were also more likely to move toward Mr. Trump, Dr. Mutz found, reflecting their hope that the status quo be protected.

“It used to be a pretty good deal to be a white, Christian male in America, but things have changed and I think they do feel threatened,” Dr. Mutz said.

What does it matter which kind of anxiety — cultural or economic — explains Mr. Trump’s appeal?

If wrong, the prevailing economic theory lends unfounded virtue to his victory, crediting it to the disaffected masses, Dr. Mutz argues. More important, she said, it would teach the wrong lesson to elected officials, who often look to voting patterns in enacting new policy.

Like deporting people and defunding Planned Parenthood.

From simplistic to nonsensical

Apr 24th, 2018 8:29 am | By

Massimo Piglucci on Michael Shermer on moral philosophy:

You may have noticed that I don’t opine on quantum mechanics. Or jazz. The reason for this is that — although I’m very interested in both topics — I just don’t know enough about them. Not enough to be able to offer an informed opinion, at any rate. So I sit back, read what other, more knowledgeable people have to say about quantum mechanics and jazz, form my own second-hand opinion, and try to avoid embarrassing myself by pontificating in public.

Apparently, my friend Michael Shermer does not follow the same philosophy. At least, not when it comes to the field of moral philosophy. He has recently published a column in Scientific American entitled “Does the philosophy of ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ have any merit?” which starts out simple (simplistic, really) enough, and ends in a crescendo of nonsense. Let’s take a look.

Shermer’s done more than that, he’s written a whole book on moral philosophy. I have no plans to read it.

Massimo picks apart the SciAm column; I’ll share a sample:

After a brief mention of Kantian deontology, the article really veers from simplistic to nonsensical: “Historically the application of a utilitarian calculus is what drove witch hunters to torch women they believed caused disease, plagues, crop failures and accidents — better to incinerate the few to protect the village. More recently, the 1:5 utilitarian ratio has too readily been ratcheted up to killing one million to save five million (Jews: “Aryan” Germans; Tutsi:Hutu), the justification of genocidal murderers.”

What?? No, absolutely not. Setting aside the obvious observation that utilitarianism (the philosophy) did not exist until way after the Middle Ages, no, witch hunts were the result of fear, ignorance and superstition, not of a Bentham- or Mill-style calculus. And this is the first time I heard that Hitler or the Hutu of Rwanda had articulated a utilitarian rationale for their ghastly actions. Again, they were driven by fear, ignorance, superstition, and — in the case of Nazi Germany — a cynical calculation that power could be achieved and maintained in a nation marred by economic chaos by means of the time-tested stratagem of scapegoating. (The latter is also what perpetrators of witch hunting and the Rwandan genocide did: prey on the weak, it’s easy to do and get away with it.)

I wonder where Shermer got the idea that Hitler or the Hutu did what they did for utilitarian reasons. I wonder if he thinks racism itself is utilitarian.

The true nonsense comes right at the end, when Shermer puts forth his preferred view, the one that, in his mind, has allowed for true moral progress throughout the ages: “both utilitarianism and Kantian ethics are trumped by natural-rights theory, which dictates that you are born with the right to life and liberty of both body and mind, rights that must not be violated, not even to serve the greater good or to fulfill a universal rule.”

Setting aside that you get precisely the same result from Mill’s rule utilitarianism, not to mention that natural rights theory has no argument against Kant, “natural rights” are what Jeremy Bentham famously, and correctly, referred to as “nonsense on stilts.” There is no such thing as a natural right, and we, therefore, are not born with them (contra the mindless libertarian mantra that Shermer is repeating). Michael is confusing human desires and instincts — some of which are actually culturally dependent (it is empirically not the case that everyone on earth desires liberty of mind, for instance) with rights. But rights are, obviously, a human creation. Which accounts for why, as Shermer himself notes, they have to be written down in things like the Bill of Rights, and protected by the force of state-enabled law. It’s also why people have come up with different lists of rights at different times. The United Declaration of Human Rights, for instance, provides a much more extensive list than the one arrived at by James Madison and co. back in 1789.

To argue that rights are “natural” is to commit the most elementary logical fallacy in ethics, that of the appeal to nature. And even if one were to overlook that little problem, there simply is no consistent empirical evidence for most of such alleged rights (i.e., desires, instincts) in Homo sapiens or its recent ancestors. Yeah, we all prefer to be alive rather than dead, other things being equal, but natural selection does not care about mere survival, it only favors survival that leads to reproduction. And it favors it, it doesn’t guarantee it. (So you can’t derive a natural right to sex. Too bad!)

This is the sort mess one gets when Michael talks about moral philosophy. Or when I talk about quantum mechanics. Or jazz. Please, let us all stick to what we know. It’s hard enough as it is.

Mind you…we all have more reason to take a stab at some kind of moral philosophy than we do quantum mechanics or jazz. We have more reason to do that if we want to do the right thing, refrain from doing harm, avoid hurting people, be more helpful or generous or kind, be less selfish or mean or a bully. We want to have some idea of why we should, and we may want to explain to other people why we and they should. We have some crude tools for doing that – instinct, training, emotions, experience, observation, rules – but they are crude, and they can compete with each other, and we can just get them all wrong.

It’s a problem. Amateurs bungle it (especially if they’re amateurs like Sam Harris and Michael Shermer, both of whom have pretty terrible moral compasses, frankly), but professionals don’t talk to us much.

The brain knows but the mind is at a loss

Apr 23rd, 2018 12:49 pm | By

I had an odd realization a few days ago, which is that I don’t know where the keys on the keyboard are. I know how to hit them fast and accurately, but I don’t consciously know where they are. I do know the QWERTY part, as a unit, but even that doesn’t translate to knowing where the E or the T is on its own. I know the how well enough that it’s overridden the where.

I did a little Facebook post about it and other examples of the phenomenon came rolling in – phone numbers, piano keys, the moves we make when driving, figure skating, ballet. I added my library card number – I’ve noticed many times that I can type it but I cannot simply call it to mind and write it down – I know what the final 7 or so digits are but not their order or where they repeat. I have to pretend to type them to get it right. Unconscious processing is so weird and interesting.

Stewart pointed to Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore exploring how it works at the piano.

This morning Steve Watson contributed the link to the perfect Awkward Yeti.

He meant exactly what you think

Apr 23rd, 2018 12:17 pm | By

There was that tweet the other day where Trump linked immigrants and “breeding,” so that was startling. I objected on Twitter but didn’t get around to doing so here.

What exactly did President Donald Trump mean by “breeding” when he tweeted Wednesday about cities that will not cooperate with the federal government to deport the undocumented.

This is Donald Trump. He meant exactly what you think.

Ya it’s not ambiguous. We don’t talk about people “breeding” unless we’re intent on insulting them.

The tweet, offered Wednesday morning, argued that Californians prefer his hard-line policies to those of Gov. Jerry Brown.

“There is a Revolution going on in California. Soooo many Sanctuary areas want OUT of this ridiculous, crime infested & breeding concept. Jerry Brown is trying to back out of the National Guard at the Border, but the people of the State are not happy. Want Security & Safety NOW!”

Taken literally, the most likely explanation is that he’s talking about sanctuary cities as places where undocumented immigrants breed.

If that’s right, there’s a racial undertone in the comment should slap you in the face.

Fear of immigrants from certain countries “breeding” has been a staple of nativist thought for hundreds of years. The “breeding” fear has been affixed to Jews from Eastern Europe, Catholics from Ireland and Italy, Chinese and, now, Latinos, Filipinos, Africans and Haitians. This is dog-whistle politics at its worst.

Today Sarah Sanders was asked about it.

Asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta during Monday’s daily briefing whether Trump had used a derogatory term to refer to Latinos, Sanders said that wasn’t the case.

“No, he’s talking about the problem itself growing and getting bigger,” said Sanders, who was conducting her first briefing since the episode.

A few minutes later, April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks returned to the issue, telling Sanders that “when you think of breeding, you think of animals.”

“I’m not going to begin to think what you think,” Sanders said. “The president’s talking about a growing problem.”


This is the state of gun laws

Apr 23rd, 2018 11:36 am | By

God damn can this be true?

Nashville mass killer used AR-15 seized by IL police after his arrest at White House while seeking to meet Trump. Father returned rifle and other guns to him before he killed in TN — and that’s not illegal. This is the state of gun laws in America 2018.

From the NBC News article:

Four people were killed and two others were injured when a semi-nude gunman opened fire at a Waffle House restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee, early Sunday, police said. The shooter remained at large Sunday afternoon, and authorities warned that he could still be armed.

Travis Reinking, 29, of Morton, Illinois, was being sought Sunday night on criminal homicide charges, police said. They said he was naked except for a green jacket when he got out of his car at about 3:23 a.m. (4:23 a.m. ET) Sunday and shot two people outside the restaurant with an AR-15 rifle, killing them both.

He then went inside the Waffle House and continued firing, killing two more people, police said. The victims were identified as: Taurean C. Sanderlin, 29, of Goodlettsville, an employee of the restaurant; Joe R. Perez, 20, of Nashville; DeEbony Groves, 21, of Gallatin, Tennessee; and Akilah Dasilva, 23, of Antioch, Tennessee; who was critically wounded and died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

One more salient point: Travis Reinking is white. The victims were black. This was a white guy mass-murdering black people.

Don Aaron, a spokesman for Metro Nashville police, said federal and state authorities had run across Reinking before.

The Secret Service said Sunday afternoon that Reinking was arrested on July 7 and charged with unlawful entry “after crossing an exterior security barrier near the White House Complex.” The Secret Service’s Nashville Field Office and headquarters division were working closely with law enforcement involved in the shooting investigation, the statement added.

He had crossed a security barrier and he then refused to leave, so they arrested him.


After the incident, Illinois revoked Reinking’s license to carry firearms and seized four guns — including the AR-15 that was used in the Waffle House shooting — at the request of federal authorities, Aaron said at a news conference later Sunday.

But Illinois authorities then returned those firearms to Reinking’s father, who Aaron said admitted giving them back to his son.

So, yes, it’s true. This country is pathetic.

The Fox White House

Apr 23rd, 2018 11:19 am | By

Watch Fox News write Trump’s lines for him. Watch Trump dutifully deliver them.

Trump’s tendency to echo the network’s shows was documented on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” on CNN.

Remarks Trump made last week — railing against the Russia investigations and attacking his enemies — were juxtaposed with previous clips of Fox personalities saying almost exactly the same things.

The same things paraphrased. He uses his own 30 or 40 words, but the content is identical.

Mind you, it must flow both ways. Fox knows what Trump thinks, and what makes him happy or livid, and it feeds him his lines accordingly. No collusion! Democrats mad! Sore losers! Hillary!!

“Typically talking points in the past have gone from politicians to partisan media,” said John Avlon, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast. “It is an extraordinary two-way relationship, the likes of which we’ve never seen.”

Trump has hired numerous people who have appeared on the network — as contributors, commentators or guests — to work in the administration.

And Sean Hannity, who hosts the prime-time show “Hannity” on Fox News, has a close relationship with Trump. The pair talk on the phone “several times a week,” The Washington Post recently reported.

We live in Fox World.

Always worse than we know

Apr 22nd, 2018 6:11 pm | By

I never have understood that Trump insult “Sleepy Eyes” that he uses for a particular tv news host. Jim Wright has an explanation.

Another Sunday morning, another attack on the press from the President of the United States.

“Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd of Fake News NBC just stated that we…”


Back up.

Sleepy Eyes?

Sleepy eyes? What? I asked (rhetorically I thought) my audience on Twitter, what does “Sleepy Eyes” even mean as an insult?


Sleepy Eyes Chuck of the Fake News? I said, “it’s like he’s tweeting really bad fanfic one line at time. Fifty Shades of Fly Hair Tiny Hands.”

Sleepy eyes.

Ok. Sure.

Except … well, I should have known better. Several readers pointed out that “sleepy eyes” is an anti-Semitic dog-whistle, a racist insult regarding Jews.

And I thought, no, that can’t be … right, can it?

It can. It is. And it’s far worse than that.

I did not know “sleepy eyes” was an anti-Semitic slur.

But it sure didn’t take long to find the truth.

The term’s origin comes from a list of criteria used by Nazi secret police to determine who might be a jew. This list includes traits such as a widow’s peak, dark curly hair, attached earlobes, weak or pointed chins, thick lips with a commonly protruding lower lip, head shape including a low sloped forehead and high flat back of skull … and thick eyelids giving a wary expression of “sleepy, untrustworthy eyes.”

This list was promulgated to the German population via the Gestapo and other Nazi authorities, and commonly used to identify suspected Jews for arrest and removal.

After WWII and the Nazi’s defeat, that list naturally found it’s way to various neo-Nazi, White Supremacist, and other anti-Semitic groups.

“How to spot a jew” is a common search phrase on Google, and the results are hundreds of variations on this list of Nazi-originated criteria.

Chuck Todd is Jewish, a fact that Trump most certainly knows.

It is unlikely in the extreme that Trump would pick “sleepy eyes Chuck Todd” as an insult at random and without malice aforethought.

While Trump himself may or may not know the origin of the insult and who commonly uses that slur today, it’s obvious he surrounds himself with people who use this term openly in the halls of government and business and who DO know what the phrase means and how it is intended.

So that’s interesting. I had no idea.

Do his eyes look especially sleepy?

Image result for chuck todd

I’m gonna go with “no.” They’re just eyes. They’re in his face. His face isn’t completely flat – but then whose face is? His eyes are set in his head, the way everyone’s eyes are. They don’t look any sleepier than anyone else’s that I can see. So yes, I think Jim Wright’s explanation makes sense.

And how utterly fucking disgusting it is.

A threat to the Judeo-Christian way of life

Apr 22nd, 2018 11:50 am | By

Oh, great – religious war against environmentalists. Peter Walker on Facebook:

Dramatic day in Modesto. Speaking to several dozen farmers and ranchers, Ammon Bundy repeated many of the stories about Harney County and the Malheur Refuge that I’ve researched and found incorrect. But he also took a much more overtly religious approach. Federal “tyranny” seemed almost forgotten. Instead, much of his criticism was aimed at environmentalists (including some at length, personally, by name) who he said drive federal policy and represent a threat to the Judeo-Christian way of life. Those who he claims adopt a “Green” religion are a threat to humanity itself. Meanwhile, the environmentalists he mentioned were outside the door chanting and protesting. Overtly framing it as all but a religious war was a new approach and one that seems deeply worrying.

Image may contain: one or more people

Not a huge crowd; I guess that’s some comfort.

The cast is notably international

Apr 22nd, 2018 10:46 am | By

Laurence Tribe observed on Twitter that the cast of Casablanca included only two actors born in the US, which I found interesting.

I misspelled Henreid. At any rate, Tribe was making a point about immigrants, and a couple of people replied to pick nits and he deleted the tweet, but it was interesting and he was right. The foreign cast was notable at the time. Wikipedia:

The play’s cast consisted of 16 speaking parts and several extras; the film script enlarged it to 22 speaking parts and hundreds of extras.[13] The cast is notably international: only three of the credited actors were born in the United States (Bogart, Dooley Wilson, and Joy Page).

  • Conrad Veidt as Major Heinrich Strasser. He was a refugee German actor who had appeared in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He fled the Nazis, but was frequently cast as a Nazi in American films. A major star in German cinema before the Nazi era, he was the highest paid member of the cast despite his second billing.[20]
  • Peter Lorre as Signor Ugarte. Born in Austria-Hungary, Lorre fled Nazi Germany in 1933 after starring in Fritz Lang‘s first sound movie, M (1931). Greenstreet and Lorre appeared in several films together over the next few years, although they did not share a scene in Casablanca.
  • Curt Bois as the pickpocket. Bois was a German-Jewish actor and refugee. He had one of the longest careers in film, making his first appearance in 1907 and his last in 1987.
  • Leonid Kinskey as Sascha, the Russian bartender infatuated with Yvonne. He was born into a Jewish family in Russia and had immigrated to the United States.

There are a bunch more in the bit parts.

Much of the emotional impact of the film has been attributed to the large proportion of European exiles and refugees who were extras or played minor roles (in addition to leading actors Paul Henreid, Conrad Veidt and Peter Lorre): such as Louis V. ArcoTrude BerlinerIlka GrünigLotte PalfiRichard RyenLudwig StösselHans Twardowski, and Wolfgang Zilzer. A witness to the filming of the “duel of the anthems” sequence said he saw many of the actors crying and “realized that they were all real refugees”.[25] Harmetz argues that they “brought to a dozen small roles in Casablanca an understanding and a desperation that could never have come from Central Casting.”

So this isn’t right:

It’s not that simple. Much of Hollywood was always conservative and conventional, sure, but much of it was not. There were plenty of lefties there in the 30s, who were either turned or driven out in the late 40s and 50s, but the purge hadn’t started when Casablanca was made. It was a Popular Front-ish, defeat the Nazis, welcome refugees sort of movie. Tribe’s point was well taken.

A tendency toward a corrupting belief

Apr 22nd, 2018 9:56 am | By

Jennifer Palmieri has an interesting take on Comey and what he did in 2016.

She’s never met him but they have mutual friends and a lot of DC overlap, since she was director of communications in the Obama administration and then in Clinton’s campaign.

I don’t harbor ill will toward him. Our mutual friends attest to his high character, and his book, A Higher Loyalty, shows him to be a thoughtful person, generous boss and a colleague who—despite being prone to bouts of self-absorption—seems able to laugh at himself. Even though he is a Republican, I have never thought that he allowed his personal political views to drive his decisions as FBI director. I also value Jim Comey’s adherence to a “higher loyalty” beyond the president to upholding the rule of law, and how he stood up to President Trump’s inappropriate pressure even when it was clear it would cost him his job.

But what Comey’s actions and book reveal is a tendency toward a corrupting belief that his “higher loyalty”—which lifted him above partisan politics—somehow bestowed upon him the right to take actions that were well beyond his role as FBI director. It’s a very dangerous attitude, and one that resulted in him taking unprecedented actions in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, with devastating consequences.

That’s interesting if true, because so much of his disagreement with Trump revolved around the role of the FBI and its director, around what is appropriate and what is not, around the distance between the political world and the law enforcement world. If he too got it wrong, for however different reasons…isn’t that ironic.

She was impressed by his standing up to Gonzales but alarmed by his advertising of it.

I respected his willingness to stand up to the White House in defense of the law and his boss. But it made me uneasy that he made sure the press knew all about his heroic stand. In my experience, officials like that have a hard time staying in his or her lane and out of the spotlight.

My unease grew in October 2015, when I watched from the campaign trail as Comey gave a speech in which he speculated that a recent rise in murder rates could be due to a “chill wind” police felt in reaction to protests and threats against them after the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. It was a surprising speech. The FBI Director had veered from the Bureau’s purview of investigating crime into the Department of Justice’s purview of making policy, something I found to be a troubling encroachment and one he would repeat with devastating consequences during the Clinton email investigation.

You know…I wonder if some of this is born of the tv glorification of and fascination with law enforcement. I wonder if that makes it seem just natural and right for prosecutors and district attorneys to be in the limelight giving speeches and contributing to the discourse. The Sam Waterston Effect, one might call it. Sort of an odd parallel to The Apprentice Effect.

His July 5th press conference, in which he appointed himself Hillary Clinton’s investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury, was his original sin. No FBI director had ever made such a public pronouncement at the conclusion of an investigation. Comey justifies the press conference by writing that he sought to wrap up the investigation in a way that would “persuade a majority of fair and open-minded Americans” that the investigation had been done in an honest and non-political manner.

It’s a laudatory goal. But it’s also not his job. If it is anyone’s duty to worry about the public’s reaction to an FBI investigation, it is the job of the Attorney General and his or her deputies. Ironically, Comey’s drive to appear non-political drove him head first into a political maelstrom. And once he had established the practice of publicly commenting on the Clinton case, it made his next devastating step to send the October 28 letter all the easier to justify in his own mind.

The thing about that job division though is that people don’t defend other people’s turf as passionately as they do their own. Yooman nacha. But her point I think is that that’s just too bad: you don’t get to break the rules just because you want to protect your own particular organization.

A friend of mine who is a Trump supporter told me I should call this piece “Dear Madam Director,” because a female FBI director would never have made the same decisions he did. I think there’s some truth to that. His ego clearly got in the way. Despite Comey’s claims he took the actions he did to protect the FBI’s reputation and make sure a President Hillary Clinton wasn’t elected under a cloud of suspicion, I suspect his concern was more about his own ego and protecting his own reputation from attacks from Republican members of Congress.

But even if his only motivation in taking these actions had been to explain his decisions for the good of the FBI and the new president, it was still beyond the scope of his role. I am sure it would have been frustrating for him to sit mute while partisans attacked the FBI for its decision not to pursue a case against Clinton, but it would have been the right thing to do.

What if the thought is that the attacks on the FBI would fatally weaken it just when it needed to investigate what Putin and his pals were doing?

I don’t know. I’m not an insider. I can’t be sure who has it right.

Told you it was interesting.

Not applicable

Apr 22nd, 2018 8:18 am | By

There are, we are told, two sides to every question. We must not, we are told, live in a bubble where we never encounter dissenting views. Free speech, we are told, requires inviting and welcoming every opinion no matter how distasteful or threatening.

I give you Great Hearts Monte Vista charter school:

A Texas charter school is apologizing after a teacher gave an assignment to an eighth grade American History class, asking students to list the positive aspects of slavery.

“When I first read it, I thought, this was b.s.,” said Great Hearts Monte Vista eighth-grade student Manu Livar.

Students in the class were supposed to complete an assignment on the “positive aspects” and “negative aspects” of the life of slaves, giving a “balanced view.”

A balanced view. A balanced view of slavery. Can we have a balanced view of the Holocaust? The Rwandan genocide? The Srebrenica massacre? Can we hear about the “positive aspects” of all of those?

When his mother picked Manu up, he showed her the assignment; she immediately sent a picture of it to her husband.

“What the hell is this revisionist history lesson trying to achieve here?!?” said Roberto Livar, Manu’s father, who posted it to Facebook on Wednesday.

That post.

Manu’s worksheet:

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Quietly removed

Apr 21st, 2018 11:37 am | By

The SPLC removed the list that included Maajid Nawaz as an “Anti-Muslim Extremist” (their words). The National Review has details…and so far no equivalent on the left that I can find seems to, which as Maajid frequently points out is pathetic.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has removed the “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists” from their website after attorneys for Maajid Nawaz, a practicing Muslim and prominent Islamic reformer, threatened legal action over his inclusion on the list.

The report, which had been active on the SPLC’s website since it was published in December 2016, was intended to serve as a resource for journalists to identify promoters of hateful propaganda; but it included a number of liberal reformers such as Nawaz, a former Islamic extremist who has since dedicated his life to combating the hateful ideology.

And who doesn’t promote “hateful propaganda.”

Nawaz, who founded the anti-extremist think tank Quilliam, said during a Wednesday night appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience, a popular podcast hosted by comedian Joe Rogan, that the report was removed from the SPLC website under legal threat sometime in the last two days.

“We have retained Clare Locke, they are writing to the Southern Poverty Law Center as we speak. I think they’ve got wind of it — the Southern Poverty Law Center — and as of yesterday, or the day before, they’ve removed the entire list that’s been up there for two years,” Nawaz said on the podcast.

But that’s all they’ve done, and Maajid is still pursuing the lawsuit.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born liberal feminist who fled her home country amid civil war and now works at the Hoover Institution, was also branded an “anti-Muslim extremist” by the SPLC.

Like Nawaz, Ali routinely criticizes inhumane practices that are common in majority-Muslim countries, including female genital mutilation, which she herself was subjected to before fleeing Somalia. The report branded her discussion of such topics “toxic.”

The inclusion of Nawaz and Ali on the “anti-Muslim extremist field guide” was the subject of criticism by conservative commentators and prompted a petition on, which drew thousands of signatures.

But not exclusively conservative commentators, dammit. I’m not conservative.

The SPLC did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

No, it always didn’t. It stonewalled. It’s a disgusting thing to see.

Yes but what did you FEEL?

Apr 21st, 2018 11:05 am | By

The Times suggests the Republicans may have made a booboo in demanding that Rosenstein hand over the Comey memos. All the memos have done is show that Comey has been consistent.

Democrats said the memos helped establish that Mr. Comey was not a disgruntled employee who made up stories about the president.

“Thanks @HouseGOP for urging release of the Comey memos!” Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, gleefully wrote on Twitter.

That made me laugh quite a lot.

But. Some Republicans say no it all shows that Comey somethingsomethingsomething.

Some Republicans continued to assail Mr. Comey, casting doubt on his judgment and suggesting that he had been motivated by resentment over his firing.

In a statement about the memos, the three Republican committee chairmen who had pressed for their release wrote that Mr. Comey never explicitly said in his memos that the president was trying to interfere in the Russia investigation.

“While former Director Comey went to great lengths to set dining room scenes, discuss height requirements, describe the multiple times he felt complimented, and myriad other extraneous facts, he never once mentioned the most relevant fact of all, which was whether he felt obstructed in his investigation,” they wrote.

You have got to be kidding. They’re saying the most relevant “fact” of all is what Comey felt? Come on. If somebody robs you and you don’t “feel” robbed that doesn’t mean that somebody did not rob you. The issue is not what Comey felt, ffs, it’s what Trump did. The law deals in actions, not feefees. In no other context would Republicans ever ask what someone “felt” – they consider feelings sissy stuff, except when it comes to religious maniacs not being allowed to interfere with other people’s rights.


Apr 21st, 2018 10:28 am | By

Funniest headline ever:

Trump won’t attend Barbara Bush funeral ‘out of respect’ for family, White House says

Aka he wasn’t invited and they had to explain it somehow, so they chose an absurd non sequitur. The usual form of “respect” in this sitch is to go to the funeral. The White House is saying that Trump’s presence at the funeral would be a token of disrespect. Why? Well because Trump is so disreputable.

But also of course there’s just the hilarious transparency of it – “They don’t want me there and it’s because I’m SO AWESOME I might spoil it for everyone else.”

President Donald Trump will not join first lady Melania Trump in attending the funeral services for Barbara Bush, the White House said in a statement, citing a desire to “avoid disruptions” stemming from the increased security presence and “out of respect for the Bush Family and friends.”

Sure, because the Bushes are totally unused to all the fuss and muss that follows a president, so they’d be freaked out by it. Excellent choice of explanation for embarrassing absence.

A spokesperson for former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed they will attend the funeral, as will former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, according to Bush family representative.

But the current president has to stay home to tidy his sock drawer.

No more thank you and sorry

Apr 21st, 2018 9:33 am | By

This is, in a way, small, but the sheer malice and hatefulness of it are huge.

BREAKING: Trump DHS has formally directed Citizenship and Immigration Services to remove all instances of “thank you” & “we regret to inform you” from denials of #immigration apps.

Not the most important immigration news happening today, but just thought you’d like to know.

Yeah that’s what we need – less “I’m sorry to have to tell you” and more “No.” Less compassion and more brutality. Less generosity and more rudeness. Less kindness and more pure fucking meanness. That will make the world a better place.

He doesn’t have a published public source.

I hope reporters follow up.

Guest post: Why Priss Choss is unlikely to say No

Apr 20th, 2018 5:38 pm | By

Originally a comment by Screechy Monkey on So what does a British person look like?

I’m not an expert in British constitutional law, but I’m fairly confident that the Queen does not have the power to decide who will or will not succeed her, without an Act of Parliament. So any rumor about some secret decision to disinherit Charles shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Of course Charles could refuse to accept the Throne when the time comes, or officially relinquish his place in the line of succession. I’ve heard it argued over the years that he ought to do so because of his unpopularity and/or unsuitability to the job. And occasionally there’s a rumor that he will do so, and I have no idea how much stock to put in those. My inclination is to doubt it very much, for at least four reasons I can think of:

1) It would take an extraordinary person to say, effectively, “I have been given an extremely privileged life with the understanding that I would eventually have one job, for which I was trained my entire life. But despite all of that training and support and preparation, it turns out that I would be so desperately bad at the job, or at least, my subjects all think that I would be so desperately bad at it, that I would jeopardize the very institution that it represents, and so I must decline and instead live out a life of privilege with no responsibility.” I’m not sure if I mean extraordinary in a positive sense here. Certainly it would require a great deal of humility. I don’t have any particular insight into Prince Charles, but he does not strike me as that sort of person.

2) I don’t know how seriously to take the series The Crown, but I have heard it remarked that one thing it gets right is the reaction of the Windsors to the Abdication, i.e. that they viewed Edward’s actions as the worst sort of selfishness and dereliction of duty. It seems unlikely to me that the Queen’s son would view passing on the job as any kind of noble or humble act, but rather as a fairly selfish one. Like it or not, it was Charles’s job from birth to prepare for the role, and to refuse to take it would be an admission of failure on a level I can’t imagine.

3) I don’t think it would help save the monarchy. It might do the opposite. If Charles is to pass on the job — the second man in three generations to do so — because William has better poll numbers and a younger, prettier, wife, then it seems to me that this precedent just invites more questions about the monarchy than Charles’s accession would. If it turns out that Princess Charlotte is smart and charming and popular but her older brother George is a bit of a dolt, then will there be clamoring for George to yield his place just like Grandpa did? And if you’re going to start choosing monarchs based on their popularity and public image or perceived ability, then why not just go the whole way and elect them, or have Parliament appoint them to fixed terms like Governors-General in Canada and Australia? Then at least you’d have an entire nation of talent to choose from rather than a single family.

4) If it was going to happen, I think it would have been done a long time ago. The time to do it — if at all — would have been when Charles got divorced and his popularity cratered, and there was the prospect that Charles might spend three or four decades on the throne. Or at least after William became of age. Now, my understanding is that Charles has bounced back a bit in popularity (although I agree with Ophelia that there’s still plenty to dislike) and the public has warmed to Camilla a bit, and it’s unlikely he’d be in for a long reign. No doubt there will be a ton of “abolish the monarchy” think pieces written when the Queen passes, but I think that would happen even if Charles was out of the picture.

External standards

Apr 20th, 2018 1:58 pm | By

Comey was on the Colbert show the other day. The Times took some notes.

In recent days Trump has been furiously tweeting about Comey, even suggesting he should be put in jail.

Colbert asked him how he felt about Trump’s twitter insults.

Comey told Colbert that the episode seemed to reflect the reasons he decided to write “A Higher Loyalty”: to remind the country that it should not take the president’s public acts too lightly.

“My first reaction to those kinds of tweets is a shrug — like, ‘Oh, there he goes again.’ But actually then I caught myself and I said, ‘Wait a minute. If I’m shrugging, are the rest of the country shrugging? And does that mean we’ve become numb to this?’ It’s not O.K. for the president of the United States to say a private citizen should be in jail. It’s not normal, it’s not acceptable, it’s not O.K. But it’s happened so much, there’s a danger we’re now numb to it, and the norm has been destroyed. And I feel that norm destroying in my own shrug. So we can’t allow that to happen. We have to talk about it and call it out. It’s not O.K.

That’s one good thing about social media, and blogs, even though that also cuts the other way. We now have the ability to refrain from shrugging things off; we can make a fuss now, a public fuss. That cuts both ways because so can everyone else and some of everyone else=Trump and people who like Trump and people who use this new tool to insult women and other underlings. We can make a fuss and they can make a fuss.

Comey was also on Fresh Air.

GROSS: And he asked for your loyalty again, and how did it end?

COMEY: He came back to loyalty again and said, I need loyalty. And I paused, and I said, I will always be honest with you. And he said, after a pause, that’s what I want – honest loyalty. And I paused, desperately looking for a way to get out of this incredibly awkward conversation. I said, you’ll get that from me, knowing what I meant and believing that given the conversation that had happened since we started the meal, he understood what I meant by that. And then we were out of that particular part of the conversation.

GROSS: That’s one example of the times that you compare the president’s behavior to the Mafia. And you’re familiar with the Mafia because you prosecuted them when you were in the New York office. So usually with the Mafia, there’s transactional relationships. You know, I’m going to give you this. I expect something in return. I expect your loyalty. But beneath all of that is a threat. Like, if you don’t give me your loyalty or if, you know, in spite of all my compliments to you, you betray me in some way, something’s going to happen. Did you sense that beneath this conversation there was any kind of threat?

COMEY: Well, certainly not the kind of threat that La Cosa Nostra, the Mafia, would make explicit or implicit. And I don’t mean by comparing Donald Trump’s leadership culture to that of a Mafia boss to suggest he’s out there breaking legs or, you know, bombing shops when people don’t make their payments. And I didn’t get a sense of any kind of dark threat like that. But what I mean by the comparison is they’re strikingly similar in the centrality of the boss and in there being no external reference points other than the boss.

Most ethical leaders make judgments, hard judgments, by calling on some external reference points – a religious tradition, philosophy, logic, history, practice, something external to the leader but in the Mafia, and in my experience in Donald Trump’s world, there are no external reference points. It’s what is best for the boss? What will serve the boss best? How do we get the boss what he wants? It’s all about me as the leader.

Yes. It’s all about one giant all-encompassing ego. That’s no good. No one person is that important, and certainly not a Mafia boss or Donald Trump. But really no one is. Everyone has rights, and no one has extra rights.

It’s interesting that Comey doesn’t cite human rights as one of his examples of an external standard. It’s a pretty good one.

Turn of the worm

Apr 20th, 2018 12:05 pm | By

You know how Trump treats even people close to him like shit? Maybe it’s going to bite him in the ass now.

For years, a joke among Trump Tower employees was that the boss was like Manhattan’s First Avenue, where the traffic goes only one way.

That one-sidedness has always been at the heart of President Trump’s relationship with his longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, who has said he would “take a bullet” for Mr. Trump. For years Mr. Trump treated Mr. Cohen poorly, with gratuitous insults, dismissive statements and, at least twice, threats of being fired, according to interviews with a half-dozen people familiar with their relationship.

“Donald goes out of his way to treat him like garbage,” said Roger J. Stone Jr., Mr. Trump’s informal and longest-serving political adviser, who, along with Mr. Cohen, was one of five people originally surrounding the president when he was considering a presidential campaign before 2016.

Now, for the first time, the traffic may be going Mr. Cohen’s way. Mr. Trump’s lawyers and advisers have become resigned to the strong possibility that Mr. Cohen, who has a wife and two children and faces the prospect of devastating legal fees, if not criminal charges, could end up cooperating with federal officials who are investigating him for activity that could relate, at least in part, to work he did for Mr. Trump.

May it prove true.

Trump has always felt he had leverage over Cohen, but his goons say the raid has flipped that.

For years, Mr. Cohen has described himself as unflinchingly devoted to Mr. Trump, whom he has admired since high school. He has told interviewers that he has never heard Mr. Trump utter an inaccuracy or break a promise. He has tweeted about Mr. Trump nearly 3,000 times.

In a Fox News interview last year, Mr. Cohen declared: “I will do anything to protect Mr. Trump.’’ He told Vanity Fair in September that “I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president,” adding, “I’d never walk away.”

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Over the years, Mr. Trump threatened to fire Mr. Cohen over deals that didn’t work out, or snafus with business projects, people who were present for the discussions said. He was aware that Mr. Cohen benefited in other business projects as being seen as affiliated with the Trump Organization, and it irked him.

Which is funny, when “the Trump Organization” itself is what it is only because of Trump’s gigantic tower of lies.

But this part is really sad: Trump loves Lewandowski more than Cohen. A lot more.

Particularly hurtful to Mr. Cohen was the way Mr. Trump lavished approval on Mr. Lewandowski in a way he never did for Mr. Cohen. When Mr. Cohen told Mr. Trump that he believed that Mr. Lewandowski had been behind a negative story about Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump dismissed the comments as simple jealousy, and didn’t pay attention, according to two people familiar with the incident.

Aw. Ouchy.

The President pointed his fingers at his head

Apr 20th, 2018 11:12 am | By

Chris Cilizza comments on some highlights from the memos:

3. “The conversation, which was pleasant at all times, was chaotic, with topics touched, left, then returned to later, making it very difficult to recount in a linear fashion…..It really was conversation-as-jigsaw-puzzle in a way, with pieces picked up, then discarded, then returned to.”

No observation anywhere in these memos rings truer of Trump than this one, which comes from the one-on-one dinner the two men at the White House eight days after Trump had been sworn in.

Watch any Trump press conference or speech and you are immediately struck by the massively haphazard nature of it. Trump can jump — as he did earlier this week — from his Electoral College win to the situation in North Korea without blinking an eye. To his supporters, it shows an able mind unbound by needing to stay “on message.” To his critics it shows someone incapable of focusing on much of anything for any extended period of time.

Comey’s recounting of the logical hops in the conversation — from Trump’s inaugural crowd size to the nastiness of the 2016 campaign to how tall his son, Barron, was is perhaps the most powerful moment in the memos. It captures Trump’s approach and mindset perfectly.

It’s not just the inability to focus on one thing – it’s the absence of a coherent through-line, in other words it’s the absence of thought. Non-stop babblers like Trump are story tellers as opposed to diccussers; they’re all narrative and no analysis. That’s a really very drastic disability for a president.

4. “I said I don’t do sneaky things. I don’t leak. I don’t do weasel moves.”

Comey critics will fixate on these lines because we know that he leaked parts of these memos after he was fired in an attempt to have a special prosecutor appointed to examine whether — among other things — Trump was secretly taping conversations in the White House. By Comey’s own standard — as laid out above — his purposeful leak was ‘weasel move.”

Wait. Comey said that as the FBI director. He said it on the job, in his official capacity. He was saying what his interactions with the president would be as head of the FBI. When he was no longer in that job and thus not reporting to the president, he was free to make his own rules.

Plus, on a human level, Trump deliberately fired him in the most abrupt embarrassing caught in LA without a ride home way possible. I have a hard time seeing it as a “weasel move” for Comey to share his own memos after that.

7. “He then went on to explain that he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgment….the President pointed his fingers at his head and said ‘the guy has serious judgment issues.'”

Reminder: This comment by Trump comes just eight days after he has become President! Which means that he harbored doubts about Flynn long before January 20, 2017. And yet he still chose Flynn as a his national security adviser. Which is curious except when you remember that dogged loyalty is by far the most important thing to Trump. And there was no one more loyal to Trump in the campaign than Flynn.

Yes. That one is just stunning.

So what does a British person look like?

Apr 20th, 2018 10:43 am | By

Priss Choss met a woman in a receiving line and royally asked her where she’s from.

I met Prince Charles this week at the Commonwealth People’s Forum at which I was a speaker (on a day whose itinerary was entitled Politics of Hope: Taking on Injustice in the Commonwealth). It was part of the buildup to the Commonwealth heads of government meeting, the summit of leaders of 53 countries representing more than 2 billion people.

I shook the prince’s hand with my right hand. In my other, I was holding a copy of an anthology, We Mark Your Memory: Writing from the Descendants of Indenture, in which I have an essay published. I told him that my mother was born in Guyana and that the anthology had collected hidden histories of indenture.

“And where are you from?” asked the prince.

“Manchester, UK,” I said.

“Well, you don’t look like it!” he said, and laughed. He was then ushered on to the next person.

Hahaha; so funny. Doesn’t look like it how? Because Mancunians all have five eyes, or three arms, or solid gold hair? No, because I’ve been there, and that was not the case. So…?

Prince Charles was endorsed by the Queen, in her opening speech to the heads of government, to be the future head of the Commonwealth: it’s her “sincere wish” that he become so. That the mooted next leader of an organisation that represents one-third of the people on the planet commented that I, a brown woman, did not look as if I was from a city in the UK is shocking.

Well, you see, it’s like this: we want the cheap labor and the resources, but we don’t want the people. That’s fair enough isn’t it?!

So what does a British person look like? A British person can look like me. A British person can have black or brown, not only white, skin and still be just as British (this shouldn’t need to be spelled out in black and white). I could have proven that I was born in Manchester and that I am British, as I had my passport in my handbag – I’d needed it to get through the venue’s security.

Yet I can’t tell Prince Charles exactly where I am from originally – that old chestnut. Why? Because the British destroyed much of the evidence that my ancestors were shipped over from India in the 19th century to toil for the empire as indentured labourers on sugar colonies in the Caribbean.

I have been to the National Archives in Georgetown, Guyana, to search for my ancestral history and stared down a gaping hole where records of lives should have been. The British destroyed so much that could properly explain and evidence our identities.

Have a nice cup of tea.