Notes and Comment Blog


Trump has offered no words of condolence

Feb 28th, 2017 12:55 pm | By

Adam Purinton was in court yesterday. It appears he thought those two Indian guys he shot were Iranian.

Less than five hours after a man shot up a Kansas bar, killing one Indian man and wounding two other people in an apparently racially motivated attack, an Applebee’s bartender 70 miles away made a 911 call.

The woman on the phone told the dispatcher that a man had come into her bar and told her he “had done something really bad and he was on the run from the police.”

The man wouldn’t tell her what he did but kept asking her to allow him to stay at her house. The bartender persisted, persuading him to tell her what happened. “He said he shot and killed two Iranian people in Olathe,” the bartender said.

Indian, Iranian – Yemeni, Sudanese – whatever. They’re all bad hombres, right?

This is another one Trump hasn’t bothered to say anything about, as the Kansas City Star observes.

Nearly a week has passed since two India-born engineers were singled out and shot at an Olathe bar, presumably because they were immigrants, darker in skin tone and possibly viewed by the shooter as unwanted foreigners.

People around the world were immediately and rightfully horrified.

But our president?

Mum. Not a word has been spoken, tweeted or prepped for Trump’s teleprompter.

Trump has offered no words of condolence for the grieving widow of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who died from his gunshot wounds.

The president has expressed no sympathy for Kuchibhotla’s best friend, Alok Madasani, who continues to recover from bullet wounds and the trauma.

Trump usually loves to celebrate all-American heroes. But he’s passed on commending Ian Grillot, a bystander who leapt to take the gunman down before anyone else was harmed. Grillot was shot, too.

I guess complaining about “fake news” and sucking up the flattery of Fox and Friends takes up all his time.

During such moments of crisis, people look to the president for strength and guidance.

They need to hear their moral outrage articulated, the condemnation of a possible hate crime and the affirmation that the U.S. values everyone’s contributions, whether you’re an immigrant or native-born.

Ordinarily I don’t, really, but I guess that turns out to be because I take it for granted. Now? It’s impossible to take it for granted, so the silence is deafening.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer has faced questions about the president’s response to the Olathe shootings. Spicer termed the murder “tragic.”

But when Spicer was asked about any correlation between the shootings and Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, the White House press secretary proclaimed the assertion “absurd,” shutting down further discussion.

Those are your bad hombres right there.



No method, really

Feb 28th, 2017 12:11 pm | By

Not so funny. From the same conversation with Fox & Weasels:

KILMEADE:   Let’s talk about you Tweeting, if we could.  You’ve attacked, recently, McCain, the FBI, Democrats. Is there a method to the attacks or is it just venting?

TRUMP:  No method, really.  It’s just — it’s not venting either.  But, you know, I felt badly when a young man dies and John McCain said that was a failed mission.  According to General Mattis, it was a very successful mission.  They get a lot of information, a lot of — a lot of different things that they really wanted to get.  And I thought it was inappropriate and I thought it was inappropriate that he goes to foreign soil and he criticizes our government.  I just think that’s just inappropriate. And, you know, people have to be careful with that.

This is the guy who spent years insisting that Obama was not a US citizen. While Obama was president, Trump insisted that. Very publicly, very noisily, very adamantly. I don’t know if he did it on “foreign soil” or not, but he did it. Is that “inappropriate”?

Is it “fake”?

 



When it’s justified

Feb 28th, 2017 11:44 am | By

Now for a little humor. Donnie from Queens talked to Fox & Friends this morning, to tell them how awesome he is and how awesome his chat to Congress tonight will be. It’s all funny but this bit is hilarious:

DOOCY:  Mr. President, you announced via Twitter the other day you’re not going to go to the White House Correspondents Dinner.

How come?

TRUMP:  Well, I am not a hypocrite.  And I haven’t been treated properly.  And that’s OK, which is fine.  You know, let…

DOOCY:  Well, some…

TRUMP:  — everybody treat me…

DOOCY:  — some of the left say you just can’t take a joke.

TRUMP:  Maybe we’ll have a small — oh, no.

Do they say that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:   Yes.

TRUMP:  Well, I’ve taken it.

You know, one of the great misconceptions, when President Obama was up — was — now, a long time ago, five years ago or whatever, I loved that evening.  I had the greatest time…

DOOCY:   You were there.

TRUMP:  I was there.

KILMEADE:   You were there — you were there target of the hit.

TRUMP:  I was the target.

DOOCY:   You were the pinata.

TRUMP:  And can I be honest?

I had the greatest time.  Now, I can’t act like I’m thrilled because they’re telling jokes.  I mean he was telling jokes I’m going to change (INAUDIBLE) the White House, the Trump House and other things.

And he was very — I thought he did a good job.  And he was very respectful and it was fun.  And I enjoyed it.  And I left and I told the press, they were all said, did you have a good time?

And I said it was fantastic.

The next day I read Donald Trump felt terrible about the evening.  I loved the evening.  I had a great time.

KILMEADE:  You said before, I can take hits when it’s justified.

TRUMP:  Correct.

KILMEADE:   Right.

TRUMP:  One hundred percent.

KILMEADE:  Can you give me an example of a time when someone was critical of you and you thought to yourself, I deserved that hit, I deserved that column, I deserved…

TRUMP:  No, probably I could never do that.

Comedy gold.



The intent is so evil and so bad

Feb 28th, 2017 11:29 am | By

Trump yesterday told Breitbart that the New York Times is evil.

Well he would, wouldn’t he. It’s like Hitler and Mussolini getting together to agree that Roosevelt is evil. It’s like Dylann Roof and Elliott Rodger calling their victims evil.

President Donald Trump lashed out at The New York Times on Monday, claiming it reports with “evil” intentions and publishes lies.

“If you read the New York Times, it’s — the intent is so evil and so bad,” the president told Breitbart News in an interview Monday. “The stories are wrong in many cases, but it’s the overall intent.”

I wonder what Trump’s intent is in constantly demonizing the press.

While Trump largely focused his fire on a familiar foe in The New York Times, he also blasted what he called “fake media” at large.

“There’s a difference,” the president said. “The fake media is the opposition party. The fake media is the enemy of the American people. There’s tremendous fake media out there. Tremendous fake stories. The problem is the people that aren’t involved in the story don’t know that.”

Trump didn’t identify what differentiates real media from fake media — he frequently highlights organizations and stories that are either critical of him or that he disagrees with as fake news — but White House aide Hope Hicks agreed with her boss. “Just the fact that they didn’t report that accurately proves your point,” she said during the interview, adding that reporters simply said the press, not fake news media, was the enemy of the American people, as he tweeted last week.

But it’s her boss who calls major mainstream news outlets “fake,” and doing that does pretty much amount to saying that the (mainstream) news media in general are fake. If he’s calling the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN “fake” then he’s broadly hinting that all media outlets are fake except the ones that fawn on him. So yes: he is busily engaged in demonizing the press in general, except for the extreme right-wing press such as Breitbart and Fox.



One of the puppeteers

Feb 27th, 2017 5:32 pm | By

There’s this billionaire guy called Robert Mercer, who gave a lot of cash to Trump as well as other Republicans and right-wing causes.

Robert Mercer very rarely speaks in public and never to journalists, so to gauge his beliefs you have to look at where he channels his money: a series of yachts, all called Sea Owl; a $2.9m model train set; climate change denial (he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute); and what is maybe the ultimate rich man’s plaything – the disruption of the mainstream media. In this he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his media plays. There are other bigger, and even more deliberate strategies, and shining brightly, the star at the centre of the Mercer media galaxy, is Breitbart.

It was $10m of Mercer’s money that enabled Bannon to fund Breitbart – a rightwing news site, set up with the express intention of being a Huffington Post for the right. It has launched the careers of Milo Yiannopoulos and his like, regularly hosts antisemitic and Islamophobic views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands after an activist campaign. It has been phenomenally successful: the 29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. It’s bigger than its inspiration, the Huffington Post, bigger, even, than PornHub. It’s the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on Twitter.

So that’s how Breitbart happened. I had wondered.

But there was another reason why I recognised Robert Mercer’s name: because of his connection to Cambridge Analytica, a small data analytics company. He is reported to have a $10m stake in the company, which was spun out of a bigger British company called SCL Group. It specialises in “election management strategies” and “messaging and information operations”, refined over 25 years in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. In military circles this is known as “psyops” – psychological operations. (Mass propaganda that works by acting on people’s emotions.)

Cambridge Analytica worked for the Trump campaign and, so I’d read, the Leave campaign. When Mercer supported Cruz, Cambridge Analytica worked with Cruz. When Robert Mercer started supporting Trump, Cambridge Analytica came too. And where Mercer’s money is, Steve Bannon is usually close by: it was reported that until recently he had a seat on the board.

Psyops. We’ve all taken the bait, and their real plan is something quite other and concealed. They’re going to replace us all with electronic rabbits, or something.



1+1=2

Feb 27th, 2017 4:34 pm | By

Oh for god’s sake. Somebody explain to Donnie what insurance is.



Guest post: Women don’t write about anything important

Feb 27th, 2017 4:08 pm | By

Originally a comment by iknklast on Blatant and rampant discrimination against women directors.

Same thing on stage. Women directors, women playwrights, women actors. Studies have shown that scripts with women’s names are less likely to get read – by a large margin.

Women who write plays are told that the reason they get less attention is that they write plays about women and no one wants to see them. But the majority of theatre ticket buyers are…women. And plays by women often do better at the box office, sell more tickets…and run for a much shorter time. So it isn’t economics driving it.

Meanwhile, men who write plays about women (and there are many) are able to get those produced, even if they are written in a way that isn’t stereotyped or sexist or pointedly anti-feminist. They can be very much like the types of plays women write about women, and still get produced, because…well, mansplaining, I guess.

And if women only write plays about women, then wouldn’t that mean men only write plays about men? No, they write plays about events…about things…about issues…about whatever. Women don’t write about anything important. Lucy Prebble didn’t really write anything important when writing the play Enron, right? Caryl Churchill writes about very serious issues, such as the revolution in Rumania. But about the only time I see plays by women are the one play a year that a local college devotes to women writers, and that “yearly” event frequently skips two or three years.



Blatant and rampant discrimination against women directors

Feb 27th, 2017 1:36 pm | By

Speaking of Hollywood…there’s that whole thing about how they systematically and deliberately keep women out.

The ACLU put out a statement about a federal probe last year. I wonder if Trump will be able to kill the probe. I think we can be sure that if he can he will.

May 11, 2016

LOS ANGELES — A year ago, the ACLU of Southern California and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project asked the federal and California governments to investigate blatant and rampant discrimination against women directors in the film and television industries. The request was made after an ACLU investigation revealed an industry-wide pattern of gender bias and stereotyping that all but excluded women from directorial roles.

Melissa Goodman, director of the LGBTQ, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California, had this comment:

“ACLU SoCal and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project are pleased that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs gave careful consideration to our findings and responded by launching a wide-ranging and well-resourced investigation into the industry’s hiring practices. We are encouraged by the scope of the government’s process and are hopeful that the government will be moving to a more targeted phase.

“In the year since our report was released, there has been much lip-service paid to furthering opportunities for women, but few definitive steps and no serious movement in the number of women directors hired. We are confident that the government will corroborate our work and push industry leaders to address the ongoing violations of the legal and civil rights of these directors and of all women in the film and television industries.”

May 2016. It still seemed possible back then.



Making it safe for the bullies

Feb 27th, 2017 12:29 pm | By

Today in Trump’s Great America

Bomb threats forced evacuations at Jewish schools and community centers in 11 states Monday, with the Jewish Community Center Association confirming threats in states ranging from Florida to Michigan. In Ann Arbor, Mich., police gave the all-clear after a Hebrew day school was threatened, forcing students to leave.

“Today, bomb threats were called into schools and/or JCCs in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia,” the JCC Association of North America says. “Many affected institutions have already been declared clear and have returned to regular operations. All previous bomb threats to JCCs this year were determined to be hoaxes.”

The Anti-Defamation League says there have been reports of bomb threats at a wide range of locations in and around New York, including “three in Staten Island, one in New Jersey, one on Long Island, one in Westchester.”

The ADL confirms threats were made Monday against a Jewish day school in Miami, a JCC in Asheville, N.C., and the upper school of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Md. It also says there are unconfirmed reports of a threat in Birmingham, Ala.

The threats come after a weekend in which vandals damaged approximately 100 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia — an act that came less than a week after a similar attack on a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis, where more than 150 graves were targeted.

Since the start of 2017, dozens of bomb threats have been made against Jewish community centers; this is at least the fifth wave of threats in the past two months.

Remember Trump’s response to the reporter who tried to ask him about the wave of anti-Semitic threats in recent weeks?

Watch his face while he listens.



More guns, less butter

Feb 27th, 2017 11:46 am | By

Doing federal budgets the E-Z way: increase spending on all things military, and decrease spending on everything else. Boom, job done, let’s go play golf.

President Trump will propose a federal budget that dramatically increases defense-related spending by $54 billion while cutting other federal agencies by the same amount, according to an administration official.

The proposal represents a massive increase in federal spending related to national security, while other priorities, especially foreign aid, will see significant reductions.

According to the White House, the defense budget will increase by 10 percent. But without providing any specifics, the administration said that most other discretionary spending programs will be slashed to pay for it. Officials singled out foreign aid, one of the smallest parts of the federal budget, saying it would see “large reductions” in spending.

That’s like saying you’re going to increase spending on luxury cars, and decrease spending on salt.

“We are going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people,” Trump said. “We can do so much more with the money we spend.”

Accountable? That’s got to be the biggest lie he’s told yet. He’s the least accountable president in our history. He refuses to be bound by any ethical rules whatsoever, he refuses to release his tax returns, he shuts out news organizations he dislikes, he abuses federal judges and anyone else who annoys him, he barfs out executive orders without consulting any legal experts, he shouts “Quiet, quiet, quiet” and “Sit down” at people who ask questions at his press conferences, he fires people who dispute him, he incites mobs to attack people who dispute him – he is not making the government more accountable.



Trying to be more like Vichy

Feb 26th, 2017 1:07 pm | By

US immigration authorities in Houston nearly deported a well-known French historian who had arrived to deliver a lecture. He’s a historian of the Vichy regime, so that’s deeply ironic. It’s also, of course, disgusting.

Henry Rousso is one of France’s most preeminent scholars and public intellectuals. Last week, as the historian attempted to enter the United States to attend an academic symposium, he was detained for more than 10 hours — for no clear reason.

On Wednesday, Rousso arrived at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport after an 11-hour flight from Paris, en route to Texas A&M University in College Station. There, he was to speak Friday afternoon at the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study.

But things did not go according to plan: Rousso — an Egyptian-born French citizen — was “mistakenly detained” by U.S. immigration authorities, according to Richard Golsan, director of the Glasscock Center for Humanities Research at Texas A&M.

Well, look at it from their point of view. He’s foreign.

Fortunately the university sprang into action when Rousso phoned Golsan with his news, and Rousso was released – after, please note, ten hours in custody following an 11 hour flight. I’ve taken 11 hour flights and I wouldn’t be very delighted to be incarcerated at an airport at the end of one.

It remains unclear what about Rousso was identified as suspect by immigration authorities.

Egypt — from which Rousso and his family, as Jews, were exiled in 1956, after a slew of anti-Semitic measures imposed by the administration of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz — was not among the seven nations in the travel ban, which had been suspended by the time he arrived in the United States.

Egypt is not on the list plus Rousso and his family are Jews – so if the boneheaded goal is to stop Mooslims from those 7 countries, they are doin it rong.

Rousso’s scholarship focuses on the memory of the Vichy regime, the darkest chapter in modern French history, when the government of unoccupied France collaborated with Nazi Germany in World War II. Vichy authorities are particularly infamous for assisting the Germans in rounding up and deporting tens of thousands of Jews from France during the Holocaust, which Rousso once called “the past that does not pass.”

There’s an extraordinary French tv series about that history, that makes the ugly behavior of the Vichy authorities very vivid. It’s agony to see us emulating that. (Yes we’re not sending people to extermination camps, but neither were the Vichy authorities at first. These things happen in stages.)

Fellow historians took to social media after news of Rousso’s experience, many pointing out what they considered the uncomfortable irony of the arbitrary detention of a Holocaust historian.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at New York University, said on Twitter, “His work on cost of forgetting past (Vichy) so relevant.”

“It is now necessary to deal with the utmost arbitrariness and incompetence on the other side of the Atlantic,” Rousso wrote Sunday in the French edition of the Huffington Post. “What I know, in loving this country forever, is that the United States is no longer quite the United States.”

It’s not. I hope we can get it back very soon.



Yes but he gives great tv

Feb 26th, 2017 12:43 pm | By

Bill O’Reilly needed a hotshot Swedish Security Expert for a tv conversation the other day, so he found one that no actual Swedish security experts have ever heard of. Forgive me if I find this funny.

Sweden became a hot topic in the US last week after Trump warbled randomly about “last night in Sweden” at that fascist rally he threw in Florida. “Last night in Sweden?!” many people said. “What is this buffoon talking about?” So O’Reilly decided to help out.

Following Trump’s comments, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly convened an on-air discussion on Thursday over Swedish immigration and crime between a Swedish newspaper reporter and a man identified on screen and verbally as a “Swedish defence and national security advisor”, Nils Bildt.

Bildt linked immigration to crime and social problems in Sweden, lamented what he described as Swedish liberal close-mindedness about the downsides of welcoming newcomers and said: “We are unable in Sweden to socially integrate these people.”

But the Swedish defense ministry and foreign office told the newspaper Dagens Nyheter they knew nothing of Bildt.

He’s a private sector security expert. A freelancer. An amateur. Amateurs have feelings too you know.

Bildt is a founding member of a corporate geopolitical strategy and security consulting business with offices in Washington, Brussels and Tokyo, according its website. His biography speaks to expertise on defence and national security issues, saying his experience includes serving as a naval officer, working for a Japanese official and writing books on issues ranging from investment and political climates to security issues with working in hostile environments.

But security experts in Sweden said he was not a familiar figure in their ranks in that country.

“He is in not in any way a known quantity in Sweden and has never been part of the Swedish debate,” Swedish Defence University leadership professor Robert Egnell said by email to The Associated Press on Saturday. He and Bildt — also known then as Nils Tolling — were in a master’s degree program in war studies together at King’s College London in 2002-2003, and Bildt moved to Japan soon after, he said.

Japan, Sweden – whatever.

Nils Bildt appears on Fox News on Thursday 23 February billed as ‘national security advisor’.



The quality of mercy

Feb 26th, 2017 11:54 am | By

Say you have a thieving banker or a fraudulent investment wizard. Should they be punished or should they be treated with mercy?

There are arguments either way, but I think few would argue that they should go right on being bankers or investment wizards. Having to find another line of work seems quite compatible with mercy.

But Pope Frankie doesn’t see it that way.

Pope Francis has quietly reduced sanctions against a handful of pedophile priests, applying his vision of a merciful church even to its worst offenders in ways that survivors of abuse and the pope’s own advisers question.

One case has come back to haunt him: An Italian priest who received the pope’s clemency was later convicted by an Italian criminal court for his sex crimes against children as young as 12. The Rev. Mauro Inzoli is now facing a second church trial after new evidence emerged against him, The Associated Press has learned.

The Inzoli case is one of several in which Francis overruled the advice of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and reduced a sentence that called for the priest to be defrocked, two canon lawyers and a church official told AP. Instead, the priests were sentenced to penalties including a lifetime of penance and prayer and removal from public ministry.

And they remained priests, so the Catholic church goes on sheltering priests who have sexually abused children. Defrocking surely is not only punishment; surely it’s also a matter of the church firmly rejecting sexual abuse of children, and withdrawing any kind of tacit endorsement of it via keeping perps in its ranks.

Many canon lawyers and church authorities argue that defrocking pedophiles can put society at greater risk because the church no longer exerts any control over them. They argue that keeping the men in restricted ministry, away from children, at least enables superiors to exert some degree of supervision.

But Collins said the church must also take into account the message that reduced canonical sentences sends to both survivors and abusers.

“While mercy is important, justice for all parties is equally important,” Collins said in an email. “If there is seen to be any weakness about proper penalties, then it might well send the wrong message to those who would abuse.”

Especially given the church’s long and squalid history of protecting priests who sexually abused children, not to mention the loathsome record on Irish industrial schools and Magdalene laundries.



Making the cars run on time

Feb 26th, 2017 11:27 am | By

Republicans are excited about the project to Make America Great at long last, and one of their ways of doing that is to clamp down on all this god damn protesting. No Great nation allows all this god damn protesting! A Great nation has rapidly flowing traffic, and peaceful sidewalks on which people can sit sipping expensive coffee and talking about mergers.

Since the election of President Trump, Republican lawmakers in at least 18 states have introduced or voted on legislation to curb mass protests in what civil liberties experts are calling “an attack on protest rights throughout the states.”

From Virginia to Washington state, legislators have introduced bills that would increase punishments for blocking highways, ban the use of masks during protests, indemnify drivers who strike protesters with their cars and, in at least once case, seize the assets of people involved in protests that later turn violent. The proposals come after a string of mass protest movements in the past few years, covering everything from police shootings of unarmed black men to the Dakota Access Pipeline to the inauguration of Trump.

Police shootings of unarmed African Americans should go unprotested! People can write tactful letters to someone if they want to, but mass protests are simply vulgar. If Native Americans want clean drinking water and protected sites they should go to DC and speak to their Representatives.

Some are introducing bills because they say they’re necessary to counter the actions of “paid” or “professional” protesters who set out to intimidate or disrupt, a common accusation that experts agree is largely overstated. “You now have a situation where you have full-time, quasi-professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder,” said Republican state senator John Kavanagh of Arizona in support of a measure there that would bring racketeering charges against some protesters.

I think there should be a Congressional committee to look into this. They could call it the House Un-American Activities Committee – HUAC for short. Catchy, no?

None of the proposed legislation has yet been passed into law, and several bills have already been shelved in committee.

Critics doubt whether many of the laws would pass Constitutional muster. “The Supreme Court has gone out of its way on multiple occasions to point out that streets, sidewalks and public parks are places where [First Amendment] protections are at their most robust,” said Lee Rowland, a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Yes but Trump has a plan to do away with all that and Make America Great Again.

This is by no means the first time in American history that widespread protests have inspired a legislative backlash, says Douglas McAdam, a Stanford sociology professor who studies protest movements. “For instance, southern legislatures — especially in the Deep South — responded to the Montgomery Bus Boycott (and the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education) with dozens and dozens of new bills outlawing civil rights groups, limiting the rights of assembly, etc. all in an effort to make civil rights organizing more difficult,” he said via email.

“Similarly,” he added, “laws designed to limit or outlaw labor organizing or limit labor rights were common in the late 19th/early 20th century.”

And on the private citizen side, there was plenty of violence unleashed against the protesters and union organizers.

Even the accusations of “paid” or “professional” agitators, which Trump has promoted, have been leveled at protesters before.

“This is standard operating procedure for movement opponents,” Stanford’s McAdam said. “Civil rights workers were said to be ‘outside agitators, and the tea party was dismissed as an ‘AstroTurf’ phenomenon — funded from on high by the Koch brothers and others — rather than a legitimate ‘grass roots’ movement. In all these cases, including the present, the charges are generally bogus, with the vast majority of protesters principled individuals motivated by the force of deeply held values and strong emotion.”

The Post lists the proposed legislation state by state.



Preparing for the worst-case scenario

Feb 25th, 2017 5:19 pm | By

This looks like a ray of hope: a group of lawyers who helped Obama with the ethics part of the job has formed a group to resist the wannabe dictator.

Top lawyers who helped the Obama White House craft and hold to rules of conduct believe President Donald Trump and his staff will break ethics norms meant to guard against politicization of the government — and they’ve formed a new group to prepare, and fight.

United to Protect Democracy, which draws its name from a line in President Barack Obama’s farewell address that urged his supporters to pick up where he was leaving off, has already raised a $1.5 million operating budget, hired five staffers and has plans to double that in the coming months. They’ve incorporated as both a 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4), allowing them to operate as a nonprofit but participate in some forms of political advocacy as well.

While other Trump opponents focus on taking the president to court over the travel ban and deportations, the new group plans to drill into issues that aren’t already hitting the headlines, like potential intervention in and intimidation of regulatory agencies by West Wing staff.

That’s the ticket. That’s what we need.

“When people hear concerns about democracies declining into authoritarianism, they expect that moment to come in a singular thunderclap where everyone can see that this is the time,” said Ian Bassin, who’s leading the new group. “In reality, often times, democracies decline over a period of years that happen through a series of much smaller steps.”

Definitely, and the wannabe dictator and his filthy team have been taking those smaller steps since January 20th November 8th.

They’ve sent off a bunch of FOIA requests. They plan to share the information with reporters and apply pressure to Congress. That’s the stuff!

They’re also hoping to establish themselves as a base for government employees worried about ethics violations — up to and including becoming whistleblowers — and are hoping that their website, https://unitedtoprotectdemocracy.org/,can become a resource.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, responding to the group’s formation, said, “This administration has raised the level of ethics training and oversight to a new level compared to the practices of the previous administration.”

Oh yes, and houses can fly, and moose can dance ballet, and Trump is a thoughtful and scrupulous human being.

“It’s really important for a bunch of people to shine the light on this question, to make very clear when autocrats are starting in any way to detract from democratic institutions,” said Yascha Mounk, a Harvard Law lecturer who specializes in the rise of authoritarianism and has been having high level strategic advisory conversations with the group.

But it’s more than just the smaller encroachments that are on Bassin’s mind. Trump’s attack on the judge who halted his immigration ban already has him building a plan for what might happen if the White House directly defies a judicial ruling, and what they’d need to do in the potential constitutional crisis that would follow. Existing nonprofits, he said, have not been structured to deal with the kind of unprecedented, norm-breaking threats that he believes are coming from Trump and his aides.

“We need an organization that is specifically and holistically focused on that worst-case scenario,” Bassin said.

Definitely a ray of hope.



It is relevant to our common life together

Feb 25th, 2017 3:44 pm | By

You know…Obama made statements on incidents like the one in Olathe, Kansas. He made statements on mass shootings and on hate crimes; the Olathe shooting wasn’t a mass one (although I don’t know what the cutoff number is – maybe three should be enough) but it seems likely it was a hate crime. Maybe not; maybe there’s some story we don’t know of a quarrel between the shooter and the two Indian men he shot, and maybe the witness who said the shooter yelled “Get out of my country!” is lying or wrong. The crime is under investigation. But the reality is that whether it is or not, it at present certainly reeks of a hate crime, and people subject to that kind of hate crime are feeling threatened and upset. Some of them are friends of mine. Some of them are friends of mine from India or Bangladesh or Pakistan. That was the kind of situation in which Obama made statements, telling people who felt threatened that he gave a shit.

I looked it up. USA Today did a story on it last June, after the Orlando shootings.

It was at least the 14th time that President Obama spoke to the nation in the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting — and the sixth time within just the past year.

Obama himself has acknowledged that his remarks have become all too predictable. “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting has become routine. My response here, from this podium, has become routine,” Obama said last October, following the shooting at an Oregon community college.

USA Today excerpted several of the statements. Here’s from the one on the Roseburg, Oregon shootings:

“We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston. It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.

“And what’s become routine, of course, is the response to those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation. Right now, I can imagine the press releases being cranked out: ‘We need more guns,’ they’ll argue, ‘fewer gun safety laws.’ Does anybody really believe that? …

“And of course, what’s also routine is that somebody somewhere will comment and say, ‘Obama politicized this issue.’ This is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic….

“I hope and pray that I don’t have to come out again during my tenure as president to offer my condolences to families in these circumstances. But based on my experience as president, I can’t guarantee that. And that’s terrible to say. And it can change.”

Guess who hasn’t said one fucking word about the shootings in Olathe.

Guess who didn’t say one fucking word about the mass shooting at the mosque in Québec.

Guess who just does not give a shit.



It’s not his country

Feb 25th, 2017 12:26 pm | By

Thursday night in Olathe, Kansas a guy in a bar shot three men, killing one of them.

According to witness accounts, the gunman reportedly told two of the people who were shot — both Indian men who work for Garmin, the technology firm — to “get out of my country” before opening fire and had also used racial slurs during the Wednesday evening shooting.

Multiple law enforcement agents launched an investigation into the deadly shooting inside Austin’s Bar and Grill in Olathe, a city about 20 miles southwest of Kansas City. Even as authorities said they had not yet identified a motive for the attack, relatives of the Indian men said they feared the shooting was connected to a climate of fear and xenophobia in America.

The father of one of the people injured pointed to the election of President Trump, who has routinely described a threat posed to Americans from people outside the country’s borders, and pleaded with parents in India “not to send their children to the United States.”

The White House responded by calling the link to Trump’s rhetoric absurd, according to Reuters.

Of course it’s not absurd. It’s callous and flippant of the White House to dismiss it that way. Racist and xenophobic rhetoric does lead to violence against foreigners and despised races. Trump’s rhetoric is vicious and loathsome, and there is no reason on earth it would not motivate some people to violence. There were outbreaks of violence at some of his campaign rallies.

Police identified the suspected attacker in Olathe as Adam W. Purinton, 51, and said he was taken into custody in Missouri a little more than a day after the shooting.

One of the Indian men shot during the attack — Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32 — died in the hospital later from his wounds, the Olathe police said. The other — Alok Madasani, 32, of Overland Park, Kan. — was released from the hospital Thursday.

The shooting also injured 24-year-old Ian Grillot, another patron at Austin’s, who apparently tried to intervene.

Witnesses told the Kansas City Starand The Washington Post that Purinton was thought to have been kicked out of the bar Wednesday night before the shooting took place. 

“He seemed kind of distraught,” Garret Bohnen, a regular at Austin’s who was there that night, told The Post in an interview. “He started drinking pretty fast.”

He reportedly came back into the bar and hurled racial slurs at the two Indian men, including comments that suggested he thought they were of Middle Eastern descent. When he started firing shots, Grillot, a regular at the bar whom Bohnen called “everyone’s friend,” moved to get involved.

Has the White House issued any statement on the shootings? Not that I can find. The callous dismissal came from Sean Spicer. The callous silence comes from Trump.

Srinivas Kuchibhotla:

 

 



Straight outta Bloomsbury

Feb 25th, 2017 11:31 am | By

Ok I’m wrong – I said in a comment “you don’t see Virginia Woolf dolls, Frances Perkins dolls, Janet Reno dolls” and I’m wrong, you do see Virginia Woolf dolls. She’s pretty damn cool, too.

Virginia Woolf Little Thinker

On the other hand, the doll as a doll is a good illustration of my point. The doll is well supplied with indications that she is Virginia Woolf, while the putative transgender doll is supplied with zero indications that she is transgender.

By “indications” I of course don’t mean “anyone would know that’s Virginia Woolf” – I just mean the doll doesn’t look like your ordinary generic nobody in particular doll.

None of this will make any sense to anyone who hasn’t read the post about the putative trans doll.

I find the Virginia Woolf doll pretty charming, I have to say.



The calls were orchestrated by the White House

Feb 25th, 2017 11:03 am | By

This doesn’t look good. Trump’s cronies have been getting intelligence officials and Republicans in Congress to tell the press to stop reporting on Trump’s ties to Russia.

The Trump administration has enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia, a politically charged issue that has been under investigation by the FBI as well as lawmakers now defending the White House.

Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, U.S. officials said.

The people who are supposed to be investigating the subject have been doing this.

It’s been an ongoing story that Congressional Democrats say there should be an independent investigation, and I haven’t been following it very closely because it seemed too insidery. But sometimes insider stuff just shouts for attention. This story makes it very clear why the Dems wanted an independent investigation as opposed to ones led by Republicans. It’s because “led by Republicans” might turn out to mean “held captive by Republicans.”

The calls were orchestrated by the White House after unsuccessful attempts by the administration to get senior FBI officials to speak with news organizations and dispute the accuracy of stories on the alleged contacts with Russia.

The White House on Friday acknowledged those interactions with the FBI but did not disclose that it then turned to other officials who agreed to do what the FBI would not — participate in White House-arranged calls with news organizations, including The Washington Post.

Two of those officials talked to the Post anonymously, which will make Trump squawk even more.

The decision to involve those officials could be perceived as threatening the independence of U.S. spy agencies that are supposed to remain insulated from partisan issues, as well as undercutting the credibility of ongoing congressional probes. Those officials saw their involvement as an attempt to correct coverage they believed to be erroneous.

During the investigation. Not cool.



Also excluded

Feb 25th, 2017 10:11 am | By

The BBC was also excluded from Spicey’s informal press briefing yesterday.

The BBC, CNN, the New York Times and others were excluded from an audience with Press Secretary Sean Spicer, with no reason given.

Hey, dictators don’t have to give reasons.

Shortly after Mr Trump’s speech on Friday, a number of selected media organisations were invited into Mr Spicer’s office for an informal briefing, or “gaggle”.

Those allowed into the room included ABC, Fox News, Breitbart News, Reuters and the Washington Times.

When asked why some were excluded, Mr Spicer said it was his decision to “expand the pool” of reporters.

He also warned the White House was going to “aggressively push back” at “false narratives” in the news.

Which being interpreted means “at news stories they don’t like.”

The Associated Press, USA Today and Time magazine refused to attend as a protest.

The BBC’s bureau chief in Washington, Paul Danahar, said the BBC has a representative at every daily White House briefing and it was not clear why they were barred from Friday’s session.

Also not on the party list? The Guardian:

The “gaggle” with Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, took place in lieu of his daily briefing and was originally scheduled as an on-camera event.

But the White House press office announced later in the day that the Q&A session would take place off camera before only an “expanded pool” of journalists, and in Spicer’s West Wing office as opposed to the James S Brady press briefing room where it is typically held.

Outlets seeking to gain entry whose requests were denied included the Guardian, the New York Times, Politico, CNN, BuzzFeed, the BBC, the Daily Mail and others. Conservative publications such as Breitbart News, the One America News Network and the Washington Times were allowed into the meeting, as well as TV networks CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC. The Associated Press and Time were invited but boycotted the briefing.

The outlier is the Daily Mail. I would expect to see them grouped with Fox News and the Washington Times, not the Guardian and CNN.

While prior administrations have occasionally held background briefings with smaller groups of reporters, it is highly unusual for the White House to cherry-pick which media outlets can participate in what would have otherwise been the press secretary’s televised daily briefing. The briefing has become indispensable viewing for journalists trying to interpret the often contradictory statements coming out of the Trump administration, and Spicer’s aggressive handling of the press and delivery of false or misleading statements have already been memorably mocked on NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

“Gaggles” – more informal briefings – with the press secretary are traditionally only limited to the pool when they conflict with the president’s travel, in which case they often take place aboard Air Force One. At times, impromptu gaggles form with reporters who spend their days in the White House, but denying outlets wishing to participate is extremely uncommon.

I think what they mean is it never happens, but they don’t put it that way so as not to have to defend it.

The White House – surprise! – lied about it.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the White House, said: “Claims that outlets were excluded are not factual.”

In a statement, she added: “The pool was there, so various media mediums were represented.” The pool is a system by which a small group of reporters take turns covering the president and share their reports of his activities with a larger group.

Contrary to Grisham’s statement, outlets who made requests to attend were told this would not be permitted.

When the Guardian asked to participate, pointing to its possession of a “hard pass” that grants daily entry to the White House, an official declined.

“No, unfortunately a hard pass does not necessarily guarantee entry into the gaggle,” Catherine Hicks, a junior White House press aide, emailed in response.

“The gaggle today is just today’s pool with the addition of a few others here at the White House.”

Some outlets lingered in the West Wing hallway out of frustration but were asked by a Secret Service agent, upon instructions from the White House press office, to leave the area.

So it’s a straight-up lie to say “Claims that outlets were excluded are not factual.”

Earlier on Friday, Trump continued his assault on the press in a speech before the nation’s largest gathering of conservative activists.

He said the press should not be allowed to use anonymous sources, a restriction on free speech he has not suggested before. “You will see stories dry up like you have never seen before,” Trump predicted.

“As you saw throughout the entire campaign, and even now, the fake news doesn’t tell the truth,” Trump said at CPAC.

“I say it doesn’t represent the people, it never will represent the people, and we’re going to do something about it.”

If they do, it will have to be via a fascist takeover.