Notes and Comment Blog

The one guy who knows everything

Aug 24th, 2018 4:13 pm | By

Adam Davidson at the New Yorker explains why immunity for Weisselberg is such a big deal.

In late 2016, I had lunch with a former high-ranking Trump Organization executive, a person who said he was happy to share dirt on his old boss, but who confessed to not having much dirt to share. This executive wrote a list of people whom I might contact to find out about anything potentially illegal or unethical that Donald Trump may have done. At the bottom of the list was the name Weisselberg. “Allen is the one guy who knows everything,” the person told me. “He’ll never talk to you.” I have had nearly identical conversations with different people who work or have worked for the Trump Organization many times since. They all described his role similarly: Allen Weisselberg, the firm’s longtime chief financial officer, is the center, the person in the company who knows more than anyone.

And he won’t talk to you…until now and “you” are prosecutors.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journalbroke the story that Weisselberg had been granted immunity by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York so that he could share information in the investigation of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney and dealmaker. It is safe to say that the entire world of Trump watchers—those journalists, political folks, and advocates who carefully monitor every bit of Trump news—went bonkers. Weisselberg is the man who those people most want to speak. He is also the man who has, for decades, been the most circumspect.

As the C.F.O., Weisselberg tracked the money that came into the Trump Organization and the money that went out of it, former employees told me. I often found myself wondering what the Weisselberg part of the operation looked like. (I called and e-mailed him a few times, but, not surprisingly, never heard back.) Some told me he had a couple of bookkeepers, but that he personally handled most of the paperwork. Weisselberg knew who was paying or lending money to Trump, and he knew to whom Trump was giving money. When Trump became President, he placed his business interests in a revocable trust overseen by his son Donald Trump, Jr., and Weisselberg.

He knows where allllll the bodies are buried.

Since one of the Mueller investigation’s core aims is to understand whether the Trump campaign worked with Russia to sway the 2016 Presidential election, Weisselberg now seems to be a key witness. Worse, for Trump, if Weisselberg, fearing prosecution himself, tells prosecutors of other criminal activity in the organization, that information will likely be referred to other federal and state prosecutors, thus broadening the investigation of Trump’s business.

I wonder if it’s occurring to Trump about now that it wasn’t such a hot idea to run for president after all. It looks as if it could turn out that doing so got him and his children in a world of legal trouble, which wouldn’t have happened if he’d just gone on being a lying cheating thieving real estate swindler.

There are many open questions about how precisely the Trump Organization has made and spent its money in recent years. There is, for example, a question about where Trump got more than two hundred million dollars in cash to buy and lavishly upgrade a money-losing golf course in Scotland. In a deal in Azerbaijan, Trump knowingly did business with a family that is widely suspected of laundering money for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The F.B.I. has reportedly investigated the source of funds for a Trump-branded property in Vancouver, Canada; the Trump hotel in Toronto also has suspicious funding. These are just a handful of the many business deals that Trump has conducted that have signs of possible money-laundering, tax evasion, sanctions violations, and other financial crimes. Many of the key questions about Donald Trump revolve around his funding sources and his business partners: Did he knowingly receive funds from criminals? Did he launder money for criminals? Did he receive remuneration to look the other way when his partners broke the law? Was much of his business built on selling his famous name to make illegitimate projects seem viable? More broadly, where did his money come from? Where did his money go? And how much questionable activity has he hidden from the world? Trump himself may not know the exact answers to all of these questions. Perhaps Allen Weisselberg does.

There are now multiple investigations of the Trump Organization being conducted by special counsel, Robert Mueller, the New York Attorney General, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, the Manhattan District Attorney, the Southern District of New York, and—quite likely—other jurisdictions. President Trump is unable to stop most of these investigations. With Cohen and now Weisselberg providing information, it is becoming increasingly certain that the American people will—sooner or later—have a far fuller understanding of how Donald Trump conducted business. That is unlikely to go well for him.

Small consolation for all the damage he’s done.

Violating the omerta

Aug 24th, 2018 11:10 am | By

The mob boss thing has not gone unnoticed. Jonathan Chait’s piece on it in New York magazine for instance, subtly titled “Trump Wants to Ban Flipping Because He Is Almost Literally a Mob Boss”:

The way a roll-up of the Gambino family, or any other crime organization, would work is that the FBI would first find evidence of crimes against lower-level figures, and then threaten them with lengthy prison sentences unless they provide evidence against higher-ranking figures in the organization. The roll-up moves from bottom to top. It would be extremely difficult to prosecute any organized crime if it were not possible to trade lenient sentences in return for cooperation.

In an interview with Fox News, President Trump offers his view that flipping is dishonorable, and is so unfair it “almost ought to be outlawed.”

It’s bitterly amusing to see Trump talking about “fairness” when it’s hard to imagine anyone more indifferent to fairness in general than greedy piggy mob boss Donnie Two-scoops.

Trump has also made clear, in tweets over the weekend, that he is not only opposed to false testimony. He opposes flipping on the boss as a matter of principle. Here he is over the weekend denouncing President Nixon’s lawyer John Dean as a “rat.”

Dean famously testified about Nixon’s obstruction of justice. Nobody claims Dean lied about Nixon. The sin in Trump’s eyes is that he flipped, violating the omerta. Trump even uses Mafia lingo, “rat,” to describe Dean’s cooperation with law enforcement. To gangsters, a rat is considered the worst kind of person because they pose the greatest danger to their ability to escape prosecution.

It is obviously quite rare to hear a high-ranking elected official openly embrace the terminology and moral logic of La Cosa Nostra. But Trump is not just a guy who has seen a lot of mob movies. He has worked closely with Mafia figures throughout his business career.

That’s the president of the US he’s talking about.

Like a mobster, Trump takes an extremely cynical view of almost every moral principle in public life, assuming that everybody in politics is corrupt and hypocritical. (Hence his defense of Vladimir Putin’s murdering journalists: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?”) He also follows mafia practice of surrounding himself with associates chosen on the basis of loyalty rather than traditional qualifications. Since the greatest threat to a mafia don’s business is that subordinates will betray him, he typically surrounds himself with family members, even if they are not the smartest or best criminals.

Ok so now I’m imagining a scenario in which Don Junior gets immunity, aka flips.

“Enquirer” is not quite the right word

Aug 24th, 2018 10:43 am | By

One reason Trump won.

Image may contain: 16 people, people smiling

After a week of ferocious pushback

Aug 24th, 2018 10:19 am | By

However. Randolph County, Georgia, is not after all going to close 7 of its 9 polling places.

After a week of ferocious pushback — including two packed town-hall meetings in which residents berated local elections officials, as well as warning letters, threats of lawsuits by civil rights groups and national media coverage — county officials fired the consultant who came up with the plan.

Then on Friday morning, the Randolph County Board of Elections voted down the proposal to close seven of its nine polling locations, saying no changes would be made. The meeting of the two-member board lasted no more than five minutes.

“In the United States, the right to vote is sacred,” the board said in a statement, adding that displays of interest and concern have been “overwhelming and . . . an encouraging reminder that protecting the right to vote remains a fundamental American principle.” It said the board’s only interest was in “making sure elections in Randolph County are fair and efficient.”

Activists and residents applauded the action and said they would continue to meet and share information to make sure their voting rights were not eroded.

What they forgot to kill went on to organize.

For resident Sandra Willis, who lives in Cuthbert, the county seat, the controversy stirred up a painful but proud moment in her family’s history. During the 1950s, her aunt, Charlie Will Thornton, worked with voting rights activists in Randolph County despite threats from officials that she could lose her teaching job in neighboring Terrell County.

When Thornton continued her activism, she not only was fired from her job, but she could not find work in any of the surrounding counties. She ended up working briefly as a maid for a local family before finally landing another teaching job in Meriwether County, about 100 miles north of Randolph County. Thornton worked in Meriwether for 30 years, eventually becoming a principal. After more than three decades, she was able to get hired in her hometown and retired from teaching in Randolph County.

Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

Activists also said it was a reminder of the need for Congress to restore portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was severely weakened by a 2013 Supreme Court decision. The ruling dropped a requirement that states with a history of voter suppression first seek Justice Department approval before making changes to voting laws and procedures.

Well this Congress isn’t going to do that but the next one might.


Aug 24th, 2018 10:04 am | By

Things are speeding up.

Allen Weisselberg, longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, has been granted immunity by federal prosecutors as part of their investigation into President Donald Trump‘s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, NBC News reported Friday, citing multiple people with knowledge of the matter.

Cohen admitted on Tuesday that he had facilitated unlawful payments to two women at Trump’s direction in order to keep unfavorable information about the president, who at the time was still a candidate, from becoming public. In a legal document related to the case, Weisselberg, who is referred to as “Executive-1,” is accused of instructing a Trump Organization employee to reimburse Cohen for one of the payments.

So that should be interesting.

Guest post: Misrepresenting what is already an alarming situation doesn’t help

Aug 24th, 2018 9:17 am | By

Originally a comment by Bruce Gorton on The news has been all over South African media for months.

The thing with the farm attacks is that they are not particularly out of line with the general level of criminality within South Africa. The murder rate is very high no matter who you are, so it is actually more to do with the gross incompetence of our government than anything intentional.

It isn’t a matter of black people rising up against a past oppressor, it is a matter of criminals targeting the places where there is stuff to steal. The same level of brutality is unfortunately present within crime that hits informal settlements, business and suchlike.

With regards to the land expropriation debate – it isn’t entirely clear what is going to happen with it. Ramaphosa claims that the constitutional amendment he’s after is going to strengthen property rights, which it might due to provision 8 in section 25 of the South African constitution reading as follows:

8. No provision of this section may impede the state from taking legislative and other measures to achieve land, water and related reform, in order to redress the results of past racial discrimination, provided that any departure from the provisions of this section is in accordance with the provisions of section 36(1).

Which essentially means so long as the government justifies it by saying it is to correct the imbalances brought about by the long history of South African racism, it can do what it likes right now. The amendment might restrict them further.

The big scary thing in South African politics is Julius Malema, who has stood up in Parliament and declared whites should be grateful that he isn’t calling for genocide yet. The whole land expropriation debate is essentially aimed at taking the wind out of his sails,

The post Apartheid government more or less took after the US on the economy. One of the first things they did was lower taxes, followed by adopting a policy of pursuing foreign direct investment, and pushing a reserve bank policy of inflation targeting.

This is a policy set which favours the asset holders, who, due to apartheid, are mostly white. Our economy has lost diversity with larger businesses slowly taking over smaller ones, and we’ve seen an overall increase in the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands, which were mostly already rich in 1994.

The whole expropriation debate essentially is a thing because of this. With regards to our farms for example, about 50% of our new farmers, who got farms under the post Mandela policy of land reform failed due to a lack of training and finance, and their farms went on the market and got bought by larger farming concerns because that’s who had the money to buy them.

A lot of these large concerns then started evicting farm workers and shutting down the schools that operated on those farms, creating a lot of the tension you see now.

Our issues have been further compounded by massive corruption in our government. During the Jacob Zuma era, despite his rise being in part on the basis of “radical economic transformation”, land reform essentially stopped as funds that were supposed to aid black farmers get off the ground were diverted to his homestead, or his corrupt cronies.

Now during Apartheid and the era before that, nobody paid black farmers who lost their land. At best a tribal authority might have gotten some compensation, but black South Africans didn’t get to pick their tribal authorities so it was a bit like you lost your house, and some random dude got paid a few hundred bucks compensation. One of the sore points of the new dispensation is the maintenance of these authorities who will quite happily evict people from their homes if Anglo American wants to build a mine under them.

Part of the land reform debate was actually about this problem, Kgalema Mothlanthe’s report on the Ingyoma Trust was essentially that it should be dissolved and the land under it given to individual Zulus with title deeds, rather than have it all belong to the Zulu king, because he wasn’t serving his people he was serving himself. The ANC and the EFF both wussed out on tribal lands however when the Zulu king threatened to start a civil war.

The upshot of all of this being economically we’re not all that different now to how we were under Apartheid even though there is no active policy of maintaining our inequalities. The land redistribution debate is born of the frustration that this has caused within our country.

Malema has been tapping into the general dissatisfaction this has caused to call for the nationalisation of all South African land, mines and banks. Malema’s racism goes beyond whites of course, he is also noted for his anti-Indian sentiment, and his party isn’t above feeding into general xenophobia either.

Though the EFF is only the third largest political party in South Africa, there is the risk that they use that general anger in South Africa to grow. Nobody who doesn’t wear a red beret wants that.

TLDR: You’ve got a bunch of people who were essentially robbed under apartheid and colonialism, who, once those systems ended, still didn’t get their stuff back, and a major political party pushing for taking that stuff back, and the ruling party more or less trying to figure out a way to do that in a way which won’t end up with the whole country going up in flames.

Misrepresenting what is already an alarming situation doesn’t help.

Blowing past Charlottesville

Aug 23rd, 2018 6:10 pm | By

Stewart at Gnu Atheism:

If you haven’t been lurking in far-right groups in recent years, this may not have jumped out at you, but this Trump tweet is, in its signalling to the most extreme racist elements in society, a quantum leap more serious than just saying “on many sides” and “some very fine people” after Charlottesville. It is a dog-whistle of far more piercing intensity than anything we have yet heard from him.

That full statement:

New York, NY, August 23, 2018 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today issued the following statement concerning President Trump’s tweet on alleged land and farm seizures, and “large scale killing of farmers,” of white farmers in South Africa:

It is extremely disturbing that the President of the United States echoed a longstanding and false white supremacist claim that South Africa’s white farmers are targets of large-scale, racially-motivated killings by South Africa’s black majority.

White supremacists in the United States have made such claims for years.  In early 2012, ADL’s Center on Extremism documented how white supremacists in the United States were gearing up for protests as part of something they termed the “South Africa Project (SAP).” The goal of the organizers, which included representatives from major neo-Nazi, racist skinhead, “traditional white supremacist,” Christian Identity groups, as well as racist prison gangs, was to stop the alleged ‘genocide of Whites’ in South Africa. The protests originated in 2011 at the hands of Monica Stone, a long-time member of the Louisiana-based white supremacist Christian Defense League and immigrant from South Africa.

Since then, white supremacist references to “genocide” in South Africa have been common. Richard Spencer, for example, focused on the plight of the “Boers” in South Africa in his March speech at Michigan State University, suggesting the United States might see something similar.

We would hope that the President would try to understand the facts and realities of the situation in South Africa, rather than repeat disturbing, racially divisive talking points used most frequently by white supremacists.


Aug 23rd, 2018 5:15 pm | By

TIME’s new cover:

Image may contain: one or more people and swimming

The victims of the priests should watch out

Aug 23rd, 2018 5:11 pm | By

Lifesite News reports there’s a new Cardinal in Mexico who blames the victims of Catholic priests for what the Catholic priests did.

Reacting to the recent avalanche of reports of clerical sexual abuse around the world, a newly minted Mexican Cardinal has suggested that victims who accuse priests should be “ashamed” because they too have skeletons in their own closets.

Those who “accuse men of the Church should [be careful] because they have long tails that are easily stepped on,” said Cardinal Sergio Obeso Rivera according to a report in Crux.

Sounds like a threat.

“I’m here happy to talk about nice things, not about problematic things, it’s an accusation that is made, and in some cases it’s true,” said Obeso Rivera.

The cardinal’s remarks to journalists came after the release of a sweeping, two-year-long Pennsylvania Grand Jury investigation into sexual abuse by Catholic priests.  That report has sent shockwaves around the globe.

But the victims should be ashamed.


Aug 23rd, 2018 12:59 pm | By

Oh god look at this cheap crook in action. Seeing it written down is bad enough but watching him saying it with his filthy lips is orders of magnitude more disgusting. This sleazy little hoodlum is the president of the US.

Born in the wrong body

Aug 23rd, 2018 12:07 pm | By

Tanith Lloyd posted a letter to a friend who thinks trans women are women a couple of days ago.

I recently sent you an article by a lesbian who has been documenting homophobia within trans activism. You, my otherwise compassionate, patient and warm friend, replied with “sorry, not interested”. You told me that you didn’t want to read an article which referred to transwomen as ‘male’. You said that transwomen suffer from an “accident at birth” — transwomen are women born in the wrong body.

Seeing my principled friend (with a first-class undergraduate and a masters degree) actively adopt such a bizarre, anti-materialist and anti-scientific position really worries me. How can ‘you’ be ‘born into’ a body? You are a body. The ‘born in the wrong body’ idea goes beyond poststructuralist ideas about gender onto quasi-religious terrain. How can anyone have an innate, pre-experience knowledge of what it means to be the other sex? What does that even entail? Being male or female refers to your reproductive sex. To argue otherwise is akin to arguing for gendered souls.

It is, in short, dualism, and let’s not go there.

It’s reminiscent (as I think I’ve mentioned before) of those excitable people a couple of decades ago who talked about immortality via uploading our minds into computers. Wtf? That’s not immortality, it’s a nightmare.

Being ‘trans’ is no longer characterised by the material state of having surgically changed your body, but is now characterised by an immaterial, subjective sense of self. Is Danielle Muscato a woman? How about Stonewall activist, Alex Drummond? Again, where do you draw the line? Is it based on ‘passing’? Do women have to look a certain way? What about Jess Bradley, NUS trans spokesperson, who has been suspended from their position for allegedly flashing ‘her’ erect penis in public? Is this a female crime? Are we as a society prepared to accept that it is now possible for a woman to flash her erect penis in public? To extend this further: are we to now accept the possibility of a woman raping another woman with her penis? If nothing else, this is a huge assault on female solidarity and trust.

All the more so because of the relentless and out of control abuse of women who don’t fall into line with the dogma.

The mafia had “omerta,” and Trump has the NDA

Aug 23rd, 2018 11:41 am | By

More on Trump as mob boss:

Today, the president is testing the limits of his supporters’ moral flexibility yet again. Simply put, he has never sounded more like a mafioso than he did in an interview with Fox News on Thursday, reacting to a question about why Michael Cohen had turned on him:

Because he makes a better deal when he uses me, like everybody else. And one of the reasons I respect Paul Manafort so much is he went through that trial, you know they make up stories, people make up stories. This whole thing about “flipping,” they call it. I know all about flipping, for 30, 40 years I’ve been watching flippers. Everything is wonderful, and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is or as high as you can go. It almost ought to be outlawed. It’s not fair. …

If somebody defrauded a bank and he is going to get 10 years in jail or 20 years in jail but if you can say something bad about Donald Trump and you will go down to two years or three years, which is the deal [Cohen] made, in all fairness to him, most people are going to do that. And I’ve seen it many times, I’ve had many friends involved in this stuff, it’s called “flipping” and it almost ought to be illegal.

All the outrageous and appalling things you’ve heard Trump say shouldn’t keep you from being shocked at this. First, note that Trump says, “I’ve had many friends involved in this stuff” — “this stuff” meaning being accused of a crime and being offered leniency in exchange for cooperating with law enforcement to help them secure convictions on more significant criminals. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t have many friends involved in that stuff, because I haven’t spent “30, 40 years” associating with apparent criminals.

And then there’s the part where he says it’s not fair, it ought to be illegal – using plea deals to prosecute other criminals. The president of the US is saying that oughta be illegal. He’s adopting, without apparently even noticing, the point of view of the criminal.

But Trump is big on people keeping their mouths shut. As head of the Trump Organization, as a candidate and as president, he has forced underlings to sign nondisclosure agreements forbidding them from revealing what saw while in his employ. In many cases, those agreements includednon-disparagement clauses in which the signer had to pledge never to criticize Trump or his family for as long as they lived. The mafia had “omerta,” and Trump has the NDA.

And that’s disgusting and shocking but it’s not surprising. Why not? Because this is who Trump is and that has always been obvious.

The thing about a cult of personality is that its character depends on the personality in question. Republicans sometimes mocked Democrats for worshiping Barack Obama, and you might argue that some of his supporters got a bit starry-eyed at times, particularly in 2008. But Obama never asked them to suddenly offer a full-throated defense of something morally abhorrent simply because the president thought it might be good for him.

The contrast could hardly be more stark.

I wouldn’t say the same about Bill Clinton. Jimmy Carter, yes, but Clinton, no. But Obama? Hell yes. He’s too conservative in some ways for my taste but as a human being…no comparison.

Language more familiar to a police procedural

Aug 23rd, 2018 10:36 am | By

Trump’s mobster mentality is drawing attention.

President Trump on Wednesday praised his just-convicted former campaign chairman for refusing to “break” and cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, expressing appreciation for the personal loyalty of a felon found guilty of defrauding the United States government.

In a series of tweets the morning after an extraordinary day in which Paul Manafort, his former campaign chief, was convicted of tax and bank fraudand his longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations he said were directed by Mr. Trump, the president appeared to suggest he was more concerned with the fallout for himself than with the crimes.

He compared Mr. Cohen unfavorably with Mr. Manafort, attacking Mr. Cohen as a bad lawyer who had caved to pressure from biased federal prosecutors while lauding Mr. Manafort as a “brave man” with a “wonderful family” who had stood strong.

Yeaaaaah, he stood up ta dem, see? He ain’t no snitch, see? He’s a straight-up guy, see?

Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts on Wednesday seemed to raise the possibility of a presidential pardon for Mr. Manafort, and appeared intended to be a reminder of how highly he values loyalty.

And in them, the president resorted to language more familiar to a police procedural than to the Oval Office, describing Mr. Manafort’s refusal to “break” under pressure to cut a deal with prosecutors.

He never can keep straight what movie he’s pretending to be in.

In recent days, he has also referred to John Dean, the White House counsel who worked with Watergate investigators to reveal Richard M. Nixon’s role in the crimes and cover-up, as a “RAT.” And he has alluded to the possibility that Mr. Cohen might “flip,” or switch his loyalties away from the president and cooperate with prosecutors.

Calling John Dean a RAT is particularly striking. Apparently he’s a RAT for telling the Justice Department the truth about Nixon’s illegal actions. It’s helpful of him to inform us so bluntly of where he thinks his duties lie.

Some legal experts said the president’s words and his view on the predicaments of members of his inner circle were striking for their similarity to the culture of organized crime.

“By crediting Paul Manafort for not ‘breaking’ and chastising Michael Cohen for showing an interest in cooperating, he’s really adopting the language and the sentiment of prizing what the mob would call a ‘stand-up guy’ — someone who takes your rap and goes to jail because of your loyalty to the mob, rather than to your own family,” said Daniel S. Goldman, a former federal prosecutor who worked on organized crime cases in the Southern District of New York. “The parallel is to a mob boss who expects the loyalty oath from his soldiers.”

Not the Hollywood mob, not the Bugs Bunny mob, but the real mob, that does real harm to real people – that’s where Trump is placing himself.

The news has been all over South African media for months

Aug 23rd, 2018 10:14 am | By

Trump last night:

Bruce Gorton emailed me about it this morning and I requested and got permission to share what he wrote.

Even before that claims of “white genocide” have been considered largely the ramblings of a lunatic fringe within South Africa, considering how high the murder rate is generally.

Anyway it looks like it is in response to a report by Tucker, the man whose only expression is ‘confused’, Carlson which otherwise I would have written off as being from a man who doesn’t know what the words “exclusive” or “investigative” mean. The news has been all over South African media for months, I don’t think typing “Ramaphosa” into Google news quite cuts it as investigative work.

This report is wrong. The constitution has not been amended, and land seizures have not begun yet. What has happened is that some farms have been identified for expropriation without compensation as test cases to see if the constitution even needs to be amended to allow for that.

I suspect a lot of what I’m feeling right now is the sort of thing you Americans have to deal with on a daily basis. I don’t know where it is a sort of tired “No, that is not what is going on” or a sinking dread that this is what is leading the world’s largest nuclear power.

Yes, both of those – weary disgust mixed with terror.

Let’s increase greenhouse gas emissions

Aug 23rd, 2018 9:30 am | By

Amid everything else we mustn’t lose sight of Trump’s dedicated work to make climate change worse faster.

Amid heat waves, wildfires, droughts and Arctic ice melt, President Trump has taken aim at the two central pillars of his predecessor’s ambitious efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. After proposing in early August to freeze a scheduled increase in fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks, the Trump administration on Tuesday said it would seek to significantly weaken the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Because climate change is already so pleasant and healthy and salubrious, he’s working to intensify it and speed it up. Thanks, Don.

In taking on the Clean Power Plan, Mr. Trump says he wants to save coal, but the reality is that coal is not coming back. Market forces conspire against it. Even without any policy, the economic imperatives driving the transition to cleaner fuels are expected by 2030 to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector by 33 percent of their 2005 levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. With the Obama plan, the reduction would be 36 percent; with the Trump administration’s new Affordable Clean Energy Rule, it would be 33 to 34 percent.

Not a huge difference, so why does it matter?

First, firm policy direction from the government provides investors and utilities with certainty about the investment outlook and ensures emissions reductions even if the market shifts. Just as few predicted the collapse in natural gas prices a decade ago, there is a wide range of uncertainty about what energy prices will look like in the future.

Second, the right way to assess whether a policy makes sense is not just to look at its emissions impacts but also to compare its costs with its benefits. Even by the current E.P.A.’s own analysis, which makes assumptions that play down the climate benefits and increase the implementation costs, the Clean Power Plan delivered far more net benefits for the American people than the proposed replacement. That is because reducing coal use in the power sector not only delivers carbon emission reductions but also lower levels of local pollutants like particulate matter.

Third, and most important, even though the Clean Power Plan fell far short of the emission reductions needed to avoid severe climate change impacts, it was a starting point to clean up the power sector. It would send investment signals and provide a foundation for deeper reductions in carbon dioxide emissions to meet the globally agreed upon target of limiting temperature rise to well below two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Whereas now the signals are all “Oh fuck it let’s just do whatever we want and let the future take care of itself.”

Neutering the Clean Power Plan is a major step backward. But what’s most important to remember is that even if a future president puts back in place Mr. Obama’s climate policies, more comprehensive and stringent policies are still needed to deal with the rising threats of climate change that we see all around us. That reality is understood by the American public and increasingly even among oil companies and some Republicanswho have come out in favor of a carbon tax.

The damage done by the Trump administration’s reversal of Mr. Obama’s climate policies is less a sharp rise in carbon emissions than it is the loss of American leadership and missed opportunity to save future generations from climate change’s severe impacts.

But future generations are future generations and we care only about our own selves right now – that’s Trump’s message.


Aug 22nd, 2018 4:07 pm | By

I’ve been seeing tweets about this since Sunday but couldn’t find any reliable sources reporting it, until now:

The story:

Reports suggest that the women’s rights defender Israa al-Ghomgham and four other activists face execution. They’re currently on trial in front of a terrorism tribunal on charges including “taking part in protests”.

Saudi Arabia’s powerful young Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, has enacted some high profile social and economic reforms in recent years. But they’ve been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent with dozens of clerics, intellectuals and activists arrested in the past year, including women who had campaigned for the right to drive.

Execution. For social protest. Never let anyone tell you Saudi Arabia is a friend or ally.

Sewer rats

Aug 22nd, 2018 3:49 pm | By

This is monstrous even for them.

Vox comments:

This isn’t just an off-the-cuff Trump tweet; it’s from the official White House account and features official-looking video. It’s deliberate political messaging, meant to turn a case that had attracted nationwide attention for weeks into an opportunity to reiterate Trump’s very favorite rhetorical theme: that many immigrants, specifically unauthorized immigrants, are criminals who want to kill you.

The man arrested for Tibbetts’s murder is Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a 24-year-old farmworker. Authorities have told reporters that Rivera is an unauthorized immigrant from Mexico, and that he was able to work on an Iowa farm because he presented a stolen ID.

So Trump’s thugs howled with joy and rushed to capitalize on the news.

Some of Tibbetts’s relatives have urged the public not to focus on Rivera’s immigration status. Tibbetts’s aunt posted on Facebook that “Evil comes in EVERY color”; her cousin attacked conservative activist Candace Owens on Twitter for “generaliz(ing) a whole population based on some bad individuals.”

But the fact that Tibbetts (a photogenic young white woman whose disappearance was already a national story) was allegedly killed by an unauthorized immigrant is exactly what made the White House’s interest in the story inevitable.

Because one potential murdering unauthorized immigrant means all unauthorized immigrants are suspect, is that it? Well ok then: guess who the Nazis were. Germans! Guess who Trump’s grandfather was. A German immigrant! Let’s deport him to Germany right this second.

Most recently, in late June — as the Trump administration’s policy of family separation at the US-Mexico border was dominating the headlines — the White House convened a gathering of such relatives who had been “permanently separated” from their families, implying that the separation of thousands of families (many of them seeking asylum) was justified because it was an effort to save American families from seeing their loved ones killed.

It’s almost a cliché at this point for the White House to answer every criticism of its immigration policy, from its handling of DACA to its separation of families, with the fact that some unauthorized immigrants have killed some Americans. The use of Mollie Tibbetts as another excuse to hammer on this theme, despite the wishes of some family members, may seem callous.

But really it’s calculatingly disgusting beyond anyone’s ability to describe.

No you’re ridiculous

Aug 22nd, 2018 2:48 pm | By

This is how shameless they are. The clip of Trump on AF1 saying to reporters he knew nothing about the payments to Stormy Daniels and they should ask Michael Cohen – that clip is available for anyone to see. The clip of Trump telling Fox News today that he made the payments himself is also available for anyone to see. That means he lied.

But here is Sarah Sanders, who calls herself “Christian” on her personal Twitter, lying to our faces. (It’s not that I think Christian is incompatible with lying, it’s that people like Sanders do and that’s why they call themselves that.)

One strike and you’re out

Aug 22nd, 2018 12:54 pm | By

Another one of these Shut Up, Bitch items:

The news outlet Stuff reported on August 19 that “A company has pulled posters commemorating women’s suffrage after pressure from LBTGI youth groups who say the feminist blogger behind the poster campaign holds transgender exclusionary beliefs.” The feminist artist and writer concerned is Renée Gerlich.

The feminist blogger “holds beliefs” that some trans activists don’t like and therefore she must be entirely silenced in every medium and venue.

A non-political small business was engaged by Gerlich to put up some posters she had produced. In New Zealand cities, a large proportion of public and private billboard space available for publicity posters is owned or used by this company, called Phantom Billstickers. According to a promotional article in Ponsonby News, the company was founded in 1982 “mainly to give musicians, the arts and creative people in New Zealand a voice.”

When the posters appeared, Phantom Billstickers was inundated with ‘complaints’…

…so no more posters for her.

Some of the censored posters are reproduced here. They consist of portraits of leaders of the worldwide fight for women’s suffrage in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including Emmeline Pankhurst in the United Kingdom, Sojourner Truth, Sarah Grimké and Susan B Anthony in the United States, and Mary Ann Müller in New Zealand, together with handwritten quotes from their speeches and writings. Across the bottom of each poster is a statement from the artist: “Suffragists fought for the female sex. Stop re-writing history.” A related series of posters does a similar thing with contemporary feminists.

Here’s one:

The post goes on:

The Phantom Billstickers’ director also appeared to acknowledge that there was absolutely nothing in the content of these posters that could possibly be considered objectionable, or that could justify the censorship in any way, when he said, “The core issue was not the posters themselves, but Gerlich’s blog.”

It’s worth taking a minute to consider the implications of that statement (which evidently reflects the attitude of the censors.)  Artwork is to be censored, not because of the content of the artwork itself, but because of something the artist has said in another forum, at another time. In other words, it is not just the artwork that is being banned, but the artist herself.

That is indeed how this works. Feminists labeled “transphobic” are to be banished entirely, regardless of how distant their subject matter may be from trans issues. Women who want to talk in public have two choices: agree with and repeat every claim made by trans activists, no matter how batshit crazy, or be banished from every outlet the activists can bully into complying. There’s no middle ground where you can decide to bracket trans issues and talk about other things; you are a Forbidden Person.

To find a historical precedent for this sweep of censorial powers it is necessary to go back to the personal ‘banning orders’ imposed on individuals in Apartheid-era South Africa, or the Soviet Union in the depths of the Stalinist counter-revolution. Or, perhaps more appropriately given its deeply misogynist character, to the witch-trials of dead centuries. Today’s self-appointed liberal censors, who use the slur TERF against women in much the same way that the accusation of ‘witch’ was used in the past, will be satisfied with nothing less than a confession of witchcraft.

And in fact, Gerlich has been targeted by continuous pile-on campaigns to silence her for the past two years. She was hounded out of her job, banned from the 2016 Wellington Zinefest, and had a petition signed by 120 people calling for her to be barred from access to the media and academic research. Comments threatening violence have been left on her blog, such as “I hope you get hit by a truck, bitch.”

Very left wing, much progressive.

A guy called Don Franks did a radio interview with Gerlich.

When Franks started promoting the upcoming interview, he received a strong warning from the station’s Community Liaison and programme development officer, Esther Taylor. “Renée Gerlich has a history of publishing transphobic and anti-sex worker comments on public forums, and targeting people in these communities,” Taylor said. “Freedom of speech, the ability to express different views, and the facilitation of discussion are fundamental cornerstones of Access Radio. However, we are wary that some of Renée Gerlich’s  views could be seen as an attack on minority groups or as hate speech… We will not broadcast parts of the interview which are deemed transphobic or anti-sex worker.”

I’m betting the “anti-sex worker” claim is a complete lie, even accepting the premises about what constitutes “anti” and “phobic.” It’s customary to treat the two as inextricably linked, with no need to show examples of both.

H/t Lady Mondegreen in Miscellany Room.

Fresh fruit

Aug 22nd, 2018 12:27 pm | By

Stewart at Gnu Atheism:

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