Notes and Comment Blog


Another bad deal

Feb 23rd, 2017 5:23 pm | By

Trump is going all “we have to have the most” again.

In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Trump revisited the issue, declaring that the United States has “fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity.” He placed some of the blame for this on the 2010 New START agreement, a successor to the 1991 START agreement that was signed by President Barack Obama and aimed at further reducing the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States. New START, Trump said, was “another bad deal that the country made.”

“I am the first one that would like to see nobody have nukes,” he said, “but we’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country. We’re never going to fall behind on nuclear power.”

“If countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack,” he added.

But, funnily enough, other countries don’t automatically see it that way, and before you know it there are enough nukes to destroy all life on earth eleventy times over.

While it’s impossible to know exactly how many nuclear weapons each nuclear nation has (such things are generally not public information), the Federation of American Scientists puts together estimates. Per its numbers, the United States has an arsenal of about 6,800 weapons to Russia’s 7,000 — with the next most heavily equipped nation being France at 300.

The goal is for both the US and Russia to have fewer, a lot fewer, and Trump’s deciding we Have To Have Most would scuttle that goal.

It’s not clear where Trump sees a threat to our nuclear position, if not from Russia. It’s not as though North Korea’s nascent nuclear program is going to suddenly challenge our own, necessitating a quick ramp-up in developing intercontinental ballistic missiles. If Trump’s concerned about Russia having slightly more nuclear weapons than us, well, it has for some time.

According to the FAS, Russia (then the Soviet Union) had passed the United States in the size of its nuclear arsenal before Ronald Reagan took office.

Trump was busy with other things then.



He wasn’t joking

Feb 23rd, 2017 2:03 pm | By

Oh, huh, it turns out Trump meant what he said, much to the surprise of people who rely on cheap labor to make them rich.

Jeff Marchini and others in the Central Valley here bet their farms on the election of Donald J. Trump. His message of reducing regulations and taxes appealed to this Republican stronghold, one of Mr. Trump’s strongest bases of support in the state.

As for his promises about cracking down on illegal immigrants, many assumed Mr. Trump’s pledges were mostly just talk. But two weeks into his administration, Mr. Trump has signed executive orders that have upended the country’s immigration laws. Now farmers here are deeply alarmed about what the new policies could mean for their workers, most of whom are unauthorized, and the businesses that depend on them.

Oopsy. What happened to the good old days when you could vote for low taxes on rich people and still keep your cheap labor?

“Everything’s coming so quickly,” Mr. Marchini said. “We’re not loading people into buses or deporting them, that’s not happening yet.” As he looked out over a crew of workers bent over as they rifled through muddy leaves to find purple heads of radicchio, he said that as a businessman, Mr. Trump would know that farmers had invested millions of dollars into produce that is growing right now, and that not being able to pick and sell those crops would represent huge losses for the state economy. “I’m confident that he can grasp the magnitude and the anxiety of what’s happening now.”

Oh that’s not Trump. Trump cares about Trump, not other business bros and certainly not the state economy, especially when that state is filthy Clinton-voting coastal elite Hollywood fake news California.

Mr. Trump’s immigration policies could transform California’s Central Valley, a stretch of lowlands that extends from Redding to Bakersfield. Approximately 70 percent of all farmworkers here are living in the United States illegally, according to researchers at University of California, Davis. The impact could reverberate throughout the valley’s precarious economy, where agriculture is by far the largest industry. With 6.5 million people living in the valley, the fields in this state bring in $35 billion a year and provide more of the nation’s food than any other state.

If they’re deported they can’t be replaced with a snap of the fingers.

Farmers here have faced a persistent labor shortage for years, in part because of increased policing at the border and the rising prices charged by smugglers who help people sneak across. The once-steady stream of people coming from rural towns in southern Mexico has nearly stopped entirely. The existing field workers are aging, and many of their children find higher-paying jobs outside agriculture.

Higher-paying and less back-breaking and pesticide-exposing.

MAGA.



Blasphemy in Viborg

Feb 23rd, 2017 1:03 pm | By

Denmark has decided it believes in something called “blasphemy,” and that people should be prosecuted and punished for it.

Denmark is reactivating its ‘blasphemy’ law, for the first time in 46 years, charging a man for posting a video of himself burning a copy of the Quran.

The accused (aged 42) posted the video clip entitled “Consider your neighbour: it stinks when it burns” to a Facebook group called “YES TO FREEDOM – NO TO ISLAM” (“JA TIL FRIHED – NEJ TIL ISLAM“) in December 2015.

A spokesperson from the public prosecutor’s office in Viborg said: “It is the prosecution’s view that circumstances involving the burning of holy books such as the Bible and the Quran can in some cases be a violation of the blasphemy clause, which covers public scorn or mockery of religion.” The case will now be heard in court at Aalborg, and if found guilty the accused could face a prison sentence, though prosecutors say they will probably ask for a fine.

Really. So it’s a crime to publicly scorn or mock religion?

Religion is a big doody-head.

There; I guess I’m a criminal in Denmark.

The Danish Humanist Society, Humanistisk Samfund, said the use of the ‘blasphemy’ law was “scandalous” and that “Legislation should protect  the individual freedom of speech and individuals against hate-speech and hate-crimes. Hateful and critical utterances directed at ideas, religions and ideologies should be fought with words and debate.” Lone Ree Milkær, chairperson of the Danish Humanist Society, said:

“Denmark should abolish the blasphemy law. We have freedom of religion and belief and it makes no sense to have a special protection of religions or worship. Imagine that we protected ideologies in the same way. In a secular democracy we should be able to tolerate utterances (and actions with no victims) that we dislike or disagree with and we should argue against them instead of punishing by law.”

Notice that even Milo Yiannopoulos is not being punished by law. He’s being ostracized, which is itself not something people should do for trivial reasons, but he’s not being charged with a crime.

Lone Ree Milkær spoke at the United Nations in Geneva last year, on behalf of the Danish Humanist Society and IHEU, as a guest of the IHEU delegation. She urged Denmark to abolish the ‘blasphemy’ law, citing Denmark’s “international responsibility to be at the forefront in promoting and protecting the right to freedom of expression”. She also noted that ‘hate speech’ as such was already covered in the penal code, and that that ‘blasphemy’ laws around the world are used to persecute minorities.

IHEU and the Danish Humanist Society are among the partners in the End Blasphemy Laws campaign.

Blasphemers of the world unite.



Mishu Dhar

Feb 23rd, 2017 12:18 pm | By

PEN International on Sweden’s refusal of asylum to a Bangladeshi blogger facing death threats:

PEN International, the world association of writers representing members in over 100 countries, has learned with alarm about the imminent deportation of Bangladeshi blogger Mishu Dhar, whose final application for asylum in Sweden was rejected by the Swedish Migration Agency on 17 February 2017. The decision is based on the argument that the authorities in Bangladesh are ”willing and able” to protect Mishu Dhar’s security if he should return.

Mishu Dhar has been blogging under the pseudonym #JuliyasCaesar since June 2013. He publishes his writings online on Facebook and Dhormockery (a satirical website about atheism which extremists have been campaigning for the Bangladesh authorities to ban since 2013). He left Bangladesh on a student visa in 2015, after being threatened by Islamists over a long period of time, and physically attacked the previous summer. Since leaving the country, he has written under his own name, and has continued receiving threats via social media. His identity is now known, placing him at greater risk of attack in Bangladesh.

Dhar’s writings have focused on tackling communal violence, land-grabbing, discrimination of minorities and rape of indigenous girls and women in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. He has also promoted freedom of expression and secularism in his writings, and has been an outspoken critic of government policies and its lack of action in tackling extremism.

It’s grotesque for Sweden (or anyone) to claim the authorities in Bangladesh are ”willing and able” to protect Mishu Dhar’s security when we know very well they are neither.

Since 2013, secular, free-thinking, and rationalist writers and publishers have been the target of intimidation and violence in Bangladesh. Eight writers and publishers have been murdered, and several more have suffered grave injuries. PEN International has raised this issue in many fora, including the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2016.

The response of the Bangladeshi government and authorities has been inadequate. While they have made a few arrests in some cases, most remain unresolved. The government has not taken meaningful steps to prevent further acts of violence, such as protecting people who are being threatened by extremists. Instead of upholding the right to freedom of expression including on religious issues, political leaders have warned writers not to provoke religious sentiments. When some threatened bloggers have complained to the authorities, they have been told to lie low, to write on non-political and non-religious subjects, or to ”go abroad”.

Mishu Dhar has well-founded reasons to believe that he may face violence, or be killed, were he to return to Bangladesh. It is highly unlikely that he would receive police protection against the death threats to which he has been subjected, and furthermore there are credible concerns of collusion between the police and certain Islamist groups which further erodes trust in the police.

’The Swedish Migration Agency appears to have confused the presence of state institutions with their functional effectiveness in Bangladesh’, said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.  ’Indeed, Bangladesh has a parliament, courts, police, and a constitution that protects freedom of expression with ‘reasonable’ limits placed on them. But its record in protecting human rights – of journalists, bloggers, writers, sexual minorities, and human rights defenders is appalling. The state, through acts of commission and omission, has failed to protect individuals who wish to speak freely, and the devastating consequence has been eight deaths of bloggers and writers since 2013. While Bangladesh has cracked down on fundamentalists after the the terrorist attack at a bakery last year, and this week arrested an absconding convict who had killed blogger Rajib Haider in 2013, those are actions taken after the heinous acts have already occurred. To view such an environment as normal and capable of protecting freedom of expression, as the Migration Agency has done, is shocking.’ 

In December 2016, the Swedish government presented a report to Parliament concerning Human rights, democracy and the principles of rule of law in Swedish foreign policy. In the report, the murders of secular bloggers in Bangladesh are mentioned as an example of religiously motivated violations of human rights. While the government, through the Foreign Ministry, points at this issue as a problem which Swedish foreign policy should address, another government agency, namely the Migration Agency, decides to send a secular blogger back to the country where his human rights are likely to be violated.

’The Swedish Migration Agency’s decision is deeply disappointing’, said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International. ’The assumption the Agency has made – that authorities in Bangladesh are capable of providing security to Mishu Dhar – flies in the face of recent evidence.  There have been assassinations in recent years, including that of Ananta Bijoy Das, whose visa application was turned down by Swedish authorities; physical threats, intimidation, and warnings from fundamentalists, as well as ‘advice’ from Bangladeshi authorities to bloggers to write on safer topics and not offend religious sentiment. There have also been statements from the highest levels of the ruling party that atheist bloggers and writers should be careful about what they write. On what basis does the Migration Agency believe Mishu Dhar would be safe in Bangladesh? In rejecting his application, the Agency is failing to live up to the ideals of Swedish society, the spirit of its constitution, the rationale of international law, and the expectations of everyone who cares for freedom of expression.’     

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, 162-164 Abbey Street, London SE1 2AN |Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338 |Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 |Email: Cathy.McCann@pen-international.org



A personal call

Feb 23rd, 2017 11:40 am | By

Department of the Unclassifiably Bizarre, Trump White House Division.

An embattled White House terrorism advisor whose academic credentials have come under widespread fire telephoned one of his main critics at home Tuesday night and threatened legal action against him, Newsweek has learned.

Sebastian Gorka, whose views on Islam have been widely labeled extremist, called noted terrorism expert Michael S. Smith II in South Carolina and expressed dismay that Smith had been criticizing him on Twitter, according to a recording of the callprovided to Newsweek.

“I was like a deer in the headlights,” Smith, a Republican who has advised congressional committees on the use of social media by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, tells Newsweek. “I thought it was a prank. He began by threatening me with a lawsuit.”

Check out Smith’s Twitter – not only is he Republican, he is also popular with the Trump regime:

Gorka seems to have used his personal phone (according to Smith) as opposed to a White House one, on which the call would be recorded.

Smith says he did not begin recording the call until after Gorka allegedly threatened to sue Smith. In an email to Newsweek, Smith said that, “Gorka asserted my tweets about him merited examination by the White House legal counsel. In effect, he was threatening to entangle me in a legal battle for voicing my concerns on Twitter that he does not possess expertise sufficient to assist the president of the United States with formulating and guiding national security policies.”

Gorka did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Gorka seems to be quite like his boss in finding it astonishing and wounding that total strangers would be criticizing him on Twitter.

The White House advisor was clearly wounded by Smith’s taunts. “Why is this vitriol popping out of you, every day now?” Gorka asked Smith in his call. ”I look at your Twitter feed once or twice a day and it’s half a dozen tweets about me, and I’ve never even met you.”

“Wow,” Smith responded. “Are you defeating jihad by monitoring or trolling my Twitter feed?”

Gorka expressed puzzlement several times that he was being attacked “by someone who’s never met me.”

“I’ve never met you and I’ve never attacked you,” he said to Smith, his voice rising in frustration and anger. “And your Twitter feed is an incessant berating of my professional acumen. Put yourself in my shoes, Mr. Smith. Have you done that? How would you like it if someone you’ve never met, daily and professionally attacked you?”

He’s overlooking one tiny fact that’s relevant to why strangers would be berating his professional acumen on Twitter: the fact that he’s working for the president of the US.

“Happens all the time,” Smith responded. Generally speaking, academics and journalists laboring in the field of public policy expect to be criticized for their views.

“It’s not happened to me,” Gorka said, “I can tell you. Maybe you can show me some trick on how you deal with it. This is the first time ever.”

Dear me, the dewy-eyed innocence of it. Public officials are subject to public criticism and disagreement. Gorka’s not a private citizen.

In fact, questions about Gorka’s views and credentials to speak authoritatively on Islam and terrorism were severely criticized in lengthy feature articles in The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal in recent days. He also received a wave of unfavorable publicity in January 2016 when he was arrested for trying to pass through a TSA checkpoint at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. carrying a loaded handgun. He was charged with a misdemeanor and sentenced to six months probation.

One of his most influential critics is Cindy Storer, a leading former CIA expert on the relationship between religious extremism and terrorism.

“He thinks the government and intelligence agencies don’t know anything about radicalization, but the government knows a lot and thinks he’s nuts,” Storer was quoted as saying in the Post.

Smith asked Gorka why he didn’t telephone Storer, “who called you nuts in the Washington Post,” to complain. Gorka responded that Storer’s remark wasn’t “in a Twitter feed that is being sent to people on Capitol Hill.”

So…people on Capitol Hill pore over Twitter feeds but ignore the Washington Post? Not sure that I agree with you 100% on your police work there Lou.

Funny stuff, except for the fact that Gorka works in the White House.



The world’s first

Feb 22nd, 2017 5:42 pm | By

You’ve seen the first ever trans doll, no doubt – it’s been in the news for awhile. The BBC has an explainer.

A new toy billed as the world’s “first transgender doll” has created a buzz on social media.

Thousands of tweets about the product unveiled by the Tonner Doll Company have been posted since it was announced that the doll would make its first appearance at this week’s New York Toy Fair.

The doll is modelled on a teenage activist who was born a boy, but lives as a female. Jazz Jennings shot to fame when she was interviewed about her gender dysphoria by US TV presenter Barbara Walters.

Image result for jazz jennings doll

Awesome, right?

Only…what’s trans about her?

The company explained that.

The question on many people’s lips on social media was: what exactly makes a doll transgender? In one post, the doll’s makers explained how the doll is a likeness of Jennings, but doesn’t have genitalia.

Tonner Doll Company: This is an 18

Apparently “specific parts” is Doll Company for “genitalia.” No genitalia. Just that smooth plastic curve we all remember.

But so then what makes it trans? It’s a stereotypical girly-girl doll, in the style of the Barbie doll. So what makes it anything other than a stereotypical girly-girl doll, in the style of the Barbie doll?



So now you understand

Feb 22nd, 2017 11:51 am | By

The best bits!

best

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We hope you enjoyed your brief visit to Reykjavik

Feb 22nd, 2017 11:35 am | By

Here we have an utterly baffling story of a Welsh Muslim teacher on a school trip to the US who was taken off the plane in Reykjavik and sent back to the UK for no known reason.

Juhel Miah, 25, told BBC Wales: “All I want is a reason, I want to know why they kicked me off the flight.”

Mr Miah had flown to Reykjavik, Iceland, with the party from Llangatwg Community School in Aberdulais, Neath, before boarding an onward flight to New York on 16 February.

But before the plane took off he was escorted off by security staff.

First Minister Carwyn Jones has written to the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for “urgent clarification” in the case, and Neath Port Talbot council has written to the US Embassy to “express its dismay” at the treatment of Mr Miah.

I’m left wondering what the US Embassy can have had to do with it – and which one?

But whichever one, are US embassies now in the business of throwing people off planes in other countries?

In the letter, Mr Jones says he understands Mr Miah was “escorted from the aircraft by US Homeland Security personnel”.

The US Embassy in London has been asked to comment.

Mr Miah, whose first name is Mohammed but is known as Juhel, was in charge of eight pupils at the time and said there were a total of 39 pupils and five members of staff on the trip.

The teacher, from Swansea, who says he has a visa which is valid until 2019 and does not have a criminal record, said: “Everyone looked at me like I’d done something wrong.

“It made me feel really small, even though it shouldn’t have. I repeatedly asked on what ground they were kicking me off the flight, no-one could give me an answer.”

Then why were they doing it?

Even Trump’s grotesque ban didn’t apply to people from the UK. The British government was given assurances on that point at the time.

Mr Miah said he has a British passport and does not have dual nationality. His family’s ethnic background is Bangladeshi.

“I can’t think why they wouldn’t want me on the plane, apart from maybe because I’m a Muslim,” he said.

He added that he had never been to any of the seven Muslim-majority countries included in an executive order signed by US President Donald Trump, temporarily barring people from those places.

An executive order which federal courts tore up and threw in the garbage.

Mr Miah, who teaches maths at the 700-pupil school, said he was also denied access to the US Embassy in Reykjavik.

He said if he was not given a reason for what happened, he “would like someone to put their hand up and say ‘sorry, we made a mistake’.”

A council spokesman said: “No satisfactory reason has been provided for refusing entry to the United States – either at the airport in Iceland or subsequently at the embassy.

“Understandably he feels belittled and upset at what appears to be an unjustified act of discrimination.”

Not to mention inconvenienced.

Maybe it’s one of those no-fly list things? Mistaken or real? But then why wouldn’t it have been caught before the first flight, and why wouldn’t that be given as the reason?

What a clusterfuck.



Muffled

Feb 22nd, 2017 11:09 am | By

Indy100 reports that an Iranian chess champion has been kicked off the national team for not wearing a hijab at a competition in Gibraltar.

Dorsa Derakhshani, aged 18, has already won the Asian chess championships three times in a row.

On February 1 chess’ international governing body FIDE ranked her the 9th best under 21 female chess player on the planet.

During the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival 2017 which finished on 2 February, Derakhshani did not wear a veil.

As a result the Iranian chess authorities have banned her from playing for their national team, or playing in games that happen inside the country.

That kind of thing is why I detest this poster:

Image result for we the people poster

Hijab is not a symbol of liberation or solidarity or We the People or any other concept that belongs on the left. It’s a symbol of the suppression and muffling of women.



He needs constant supervision

Feb 22nd, 2017 10:24 am | By

Trump’s people have to manage him as if he were a particularly volatile four-year-old. That’s  not news, but it’s easy to lose sight of how extremely bizarre it is.

The in-person touch is also important to keeping Trump from running too hot. One Trump associate said it’s important to show Trump deference and offer him praise and respect, as that will lead him to more often listen. And If Trump becomes obsessed with a grudge, aides need to try and change the subject, friends say. Leaving him alone for several hours can prove damaging, because he consumes too much television and gripes to people outside the White House.

Part of the current problem is Trump is still adjusting to his new circumstances and has plenty of time to stew over negative reviews as he spends time alone in the evenings and early mornings as his wife, Melania Trump, continues living in New York as his youngest son, Barron, finishes the school year.

That alone time played a factor in Trump’s response to revelations that his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, had — days after Trump attacked whom he labeled a “so-called” judge for blocking his administration’s travel ban — criticized attacks on the judiciary.

White House officials anticipated that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch would distance himself from Trump’s attack and thought the planned comments would help the nominee’s bid, said a person with knowledge of the conversations.

The problem: Trump himself didn’t like Gorsuch’s “disheartening” and “demoralizing” critique. He fired off a tweet criticizing Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Democrat who repeated the comments, digging up a controversy over the senator’s military record and accusing him of incorrectly characterizing Gorsuch’s comments. Afterward, Blumenthal and other Democrats criticized Trump and said the president’s comments would hurt his nominee’s chances.

He can’t be left alone, even for a few hours.



How do you FEEL

Feb 21st, 2017 5:24 pm | By

The theocrats are still trying to silence Maryam.

When I spoke at an event organised by the LSE Human Rights Society on 27 January, the restrictions imposed were absurd. Initially I was meant to debate “whether human rights is possible under Sharia/Islamic Law” but those approached refused to debate me or pulled out at the last minute. One of those approached, Omer El Hamdoon, the president of the Muslim Association of Britain, asked to do a solo talk instead, which he did in November 2016. The stark difference in the way he and I were treated at LSE speaks volumes. Despite speaking on the very same topic (making the usual response of “what can you expect when you discuss Sharia” irrelevant), Hamdoon came and went without any concerns being raised nor any restrictions placed on his talk.

In contrast, my talk, which was initially meant to be a public event, was restricted to LSE students and staff due to “security concerns”, LSE followed “special procedures”, referred it to the “Communications Division” and imposed a chair whilst none of these were demanded of Hamdoon. When I arrived at the LSE on the night in question with a number of colleagues, the security told me I had to enter alone – instructions from the “very top” (the university eventually allowed me to enter with two of my colleagues).

It does make one wonder how I am the “security concern” (with instructions issued from the “very top”) whilst Hamdoon who has defended the shunning of ex-Muslims and death by stoning in an ideal Islamic state (audio available here) faces no restrictions whatsoever?

I think it’s probably the way black people are “security concerns” at Trump rallies – because the racists might attack them. Maryam’s a “concern” because Islamists might attack her or tear the place up. That kind of “security concern.”

She’s scheduled Tariq Modood on Secularism and Diversity at Westminster University on 24 February. The university hasn’t told her to stay away; instead it has invited the theocrats to do so:

The Islamic Society of Westminster is aware of the number of students who got in contact with us, expressing their frustration regarding Maryam Namazie being allowed to speak at our university for a ‘debate’.

Their frustration – that Maryam is allowed to speak. That’s theocracy for you. It thinks only theocrats should be allowed to speak.



Slaves looked to the US as the promised land of universal freedom

Feb 21st, 2017 4:34 pm | By

Trump went to a place today, and he said words there. Some words. Very very words. The White House wrote them down for us, so that we.

He was at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

It’s amazing to see.  I went to — we did a pretty comprehensive tour, but not comprehensive enough.  So, Lonnie, I’ll be back.  I told you that.  Because I could stay here for a lot longer, believe me.  It’s really incredible.

I’m deeply proud that we now have a museum that honors the millions of African American men and women who built our national heritage, especially when it comes to faith, culture and the unbreakable American spirit.  My wife was here last week and took a tour, and it was something that she’s still talking about.  Ivanka is here right now.  Hi, Ivanka.  And it really is very, very special.  It’s something that, frankly, if you want to know the truth, it’s doing so well that everybody is talking about it.

Yep. It’s all about the unbreakable American spirit. It’s very very special. It’s incredible. American spirit, unbreakable.

Etched in the hall that we passed today is a quote from Spottswood Rice, a runaway slave who joined the Union Army.  He believed that his fellow African Americans always looked to the United States as the promised land of universal freedom.  Today and every day of my presidency, I pledge to do everything I can to continue that promise of freedom for African Americans and for every American.  So important.  Nothing more important.

Oh certainly. Runaway slaves most definitely always looked to the United States as the promised land of universal freedom. Where else would they look? Places that didn’t have slavery? No no no. They looked to the slave-owning United States as the promised land of universal freedom. So important.

This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.  The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.

Well, that would have to start with the guy mouthing those pious words. That would have to start with hate-mongering crowd-working racism-inciting Donald Trump. Donald Trump is all about hate and prejudice and evil, so he looks pretty ridiculous talking platitudes about needing to root it out. Start with yourself, Donnie.

HUD has a meaning far beyond housing.  If properly done, it’s a meaning that’s as big as anything there is, and Ben will be able to find that true meaning and the true meaning of HUD as its Secretary.  So I just look forward to that.  I look forward to watching that.  He’ll do things that nobody ever thought of.

I also want to thank Senator Tim Scott for joining us today.  Friend of mine — a great, great senator from South Carolina.  I like the state of South Carolina.  I like all those states where I won by double, double, double digits.  You know, those states.  But South Carolina was one, and Tim has been fantastic how he represents the people.  And they love him.

And freedom-loving slave states.

So with that, we’re going to just end this incredible beginning of a morning.  But engraved in the wall very nearby, a quote by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  In 1955, he told the world, “We are determined…to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

And that’s what it’s going to be.  We’re going to bring this country together, maybe bring some of the world together, but we’re going to bring this country together.  We have a divided country.  It’s been divided for many, many years, but we’re going to bring it together.

Says the hate-mongering divider.



Guest post: No ugly demonstration of hatred for different ideas

Feb 21st, 2017 3:03 pm | By

Originally a comment by iknklast on At a Trump rally.

I once had the same opportunity, the chance to take my son and my nieces to see a sitting president and his wife. It was in Oklahoma, on the anniversary of the bombing, when Clinton came to attend the ceremony. He took time to stop by my small regional college to speak to what turned out to be a very large crowd. As a student I was entitled to tickets for up close, but the kids (old enough for it at the time) had to remain back further with the general public (us elevated coastal elites of Oklahoma City got to see him closer).

It was a truly inspiring day. Now, I disagree with a lot that Clinton did, and do not see him as a perfect president, but he handled this event perfectly. He spoke to a large crowd, and a lot of the people there were Republicans who probably didn’t like him much. Hillary stood beside him, holding herself with dignity and grace. He spoke for probably close to an hour, or at least that’s how I remember it, and everyone listened politely. There was no chanting, there was no booing or cheering, there certainly was no ugly demonstration of hatred for different ideas. It was the sort of place where ideas could be exchanged.

My son has a fond memory of that day. He wanted to see the president, and he was inspired to become interested in politics. He has remained interested and aware ever since. I wish the author’s daughter could have had a similar experience. But our country has shifted, and there is now a sense that shouting is better than nuance, that hatred is better than understanding or compromise, and that slogans are real while policy is fake news and lies.

I don’t share his view of Trump voters, either. I know a few who are very ‘nice’ when you talk to them, but when you get down into why they voted for Trump, most of them are wanting a better world, but by that they mean a whiter world, a straighter world, a more masculine world, a more selfish and narcissistic world.



Such neediness

Feb 21st, 2017 12:23 pm | By

Joan Smith is brilliant.

[T]he 45th president of the US invited on stage a man who later revealed he has a 6ft cardboard model of his hero and talks to it every day.

Let’s just pause and think about that. This is a leader whose ego is so fragile, he wants to appear on stage with someone most of us would change seats to avoid if he sat next to us on a train. I should point out that Trump chose this particular supporter to appear beside him after he saw him being interviewed on TV before the rally. Ignoring the advice of his security officials: “He said, ‘I love Trump’ … Let him up. I’m not worried about him. I’m only worried he’s going to give me a kiss.”

It is an alarming insight into how Trump (though, not just Trump) operates. Few politicians, no matter how thin-skinned, have displayed such neediness nor demanded such displays of unconditional love from their supporters. Neediness is not usually considered attractive in men who like to be thought of as tough, but Trump is rewriting the rulebook on masculinity.

I’m not sure he’s rewriting that rulebook so much as he’s hiding it for the duration. I don’t think he’s going to establish a fashion for weird sculpted multi-directional dyed combovers, or for long flapping red neckties, or for talking through pooched lips like a goldfish.

Adulation is a dangerous drug for politicians, sometimes affecting those who should in theory be immune to it. Jeremy Corbyn spent years as an obscure Labour backbencher, and the transformation, when he unexpectedly found himself addressing adoring rallies during a couple of leadership contests, has been astonishing to behold.

Corbyn never looks more relaxed than when he arrives to address a theatre full of cheering supporters, coming alive on stage in a way he never does in TV interviews or at press conferences. He shares Trump’s irritation towards even mildly critical questions, instantly reverting to talking about his “mandate” in the same way that the president still boasts about how many votes he got in the electoral college.

This is as much about a type of masculinity – wounded, self-pitying, quick to anger – as it is right or left.

As much or more. I detest Trump as a human at least as much as I hate him politically.

I sometimes wonder if we couldn’t build a theme park where Trump is president for life, presiding in a replica Oval Office and flying in a pretend version of Air Force One that never actually leaves the ground. And I’m sure Corbyn would be happier in a fictional Labourland, holding as many Cuba Solidarity meetings as he likes, than leading the party into the next general election. We would have to pay for busloads of extras to provide cheering crowds, but it would be cheaper in the long run.

A horrible combination of circumstances – reality TV, distrust of politicians, a fightback against feminism – has landed us in this unenviable situation. The danger of treating politics as therapy for emotionally needy men is too enormous to allow it to last.

Emotionally needy and also furiously angry.



At a Trump rally

Feb 21st, 2017 11:31 am | By

Joel Tooley, a pastor in Melbourne, Florida, went to Trump’s rally on Friday and was horrified by the experience. He wrote a long and detailed post about it. There’s a lot of religious language in it, but you know what? It turns out that’s a lot less grating when it comes from someone who connects religion to kindness as opposed to someone who does that other thing.

He’s not a fan of Trump’s, but he wanted to go see him anyway.

The tickets were being given away by the Trump-Pence campaign; I found it odd that the tickets indicated that this was not a government/White House event & that this was a campaign event. I have, of course, posted a joking post about that earlier. What I discovered was that by hosting this as a campaign event, Mr. Trump could determine who was and was not allowed in the venue. If he came on an official visit, they could not prohibit anyone from entering and he couldn’t sell his campaign merchandise.

So, in essence, he was only allowing his supporters in the room. Well, with a few exceptions…

I talked my 11-year-old daughter into coming with me. After all, how many times do you get to see the President of the United States in person – let alone in your hometown? I was eager for her to have this experience. It has to be a pretty cool thing, as a kid to see Air Force One, the President and the First Lady.

Music was playing loudly throughout the venue as it filled up with hundreds of people. I would guess there were eventually at least 3000 people in the room. It was nowhere near full, but there certainly were a lot of people there. From my view, the crowd was 99.9% white folk. I did see a row of about 10-12 supporters who were black, wearing T-shirts that said, “Trump and Republicans are not racist” – they were positioned in the seating area directly behind the podium.

We were about three rows of people from the very front and had a very good position to view the President and the platform. As people were coming in, there was a lot of excitement and a strong sense of patriotism. Approximately every 15 minutes, the music would be a little more enthusiastic and party-like. I posted my play-by-play feedback of “God bless the USA!” in an earlier post…it was almost church-like. People sang along, raising their hands and were emotionally moved by this anthem. It was intriguing to watch.

People were being ushered into a deeply religious experience…and it made me completely uncomfortable.

I love my country; I honor those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom and I respect our history and what we stand for, but what I experienced in that moment sent shivers down my spine. I felt like people were here to worship an ideology along with the man who was leading it. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the song per se – it was this inexplicable movement that was happening in the room. It was a religious zeal.

A couple of local politicians got up to bring greetings followed by state representative, followed by one of our Congress representatives. A soloist sang, “God bless America” and there was a strong sense of patriotism in the room. A pastor got up to pray and repeatedly prayed throughout his prayer, “Thank you for making this the greatest nation on earth…in Jesus’ name.”

Uh-uh. No. No way, josé.

Pastor, this is not the greatest nation on earth. The greatest nation on earth does not exist. Are we a great nation? Definitely. But there are many other great nations as well. Pastor, you have your eyes on a different kind of “greatness” and certainly a different kind of kingdom. Shame on you for praying those words in Jesus’ name!

You see what I mean about the religious language. It’s not my language, but I have a certain sympathy with what he says there.

Then Air Force 1 arrived, and it was an exciting spectacle.

The First Lady approached the platform and in her rich accent, began to recite the Lord’s prayer.

I can’t explain it, but I felt sick. This wasn’t a prayer beseeching the presence of Almighty God, it felt theatrical and manipulative.

People across the room were reciting it as if it were a pep squad cheer. At the close of the prayer, the room erupted in cheering. It was so uncomfortable. I observed that Mr. Trump did not recite the prayer until the very last line, “be the glory forever and ever, amen!” As he raised his hands in the air, evoking a cheer from the crowd, “USA! USA! USA!”

Just as the President begin to speak, a short grandmotherly lady in front of us asked me if I would help hold her walker – the kind that has a seat built into it. She said, “I need to climb up on it and hold something up.” Such an odd request at such an odd place at such an odd time. So, I helped her.

She held a pillowcase that had something written on the front of it, words I could not see. She climbed up onto the seat, wobbly-legged and held the sign up above her head. People in front of her turned around and started jeering and yelling at her. After holding her sign up for about 10 seconds, she climbed back down and thanked me. I asked her what her sign said – it read, “You had your chance, now resign!”

The very first words out of the President’s mouth were the words of a bully. That is not simply one person’s perspective, it is factual. He immediately began badgering and criticizing the media; like a bully inciting a crowd.

Now, do I think the media needs to be held to a high standard and be able to be held accountable? Absolutely! The media as a whole has become sadly non-journalistic and more entertainment, in my opinion.

Call it what you will, but I was completely dumbfounded as the most powerful leader in the world began his speech by badgering the media. The crowd began screaming angrily at the entire press corps that was present.

He could have said something inspiring and worthy of a Tweet or Facebook post, instead he emerged as an overly powerful bully. Literally, everything that he began speaking about evoked this angry response from the crowd. Immediately following the words of prayer that Jesus taught his followers…

It was then that I heard two ladies off to my left chanting, not yelling or screaming but chanting, “T-R….U-M-P; that’s how you spell – bigotry!” They repeated the rhyme over and over.

Two ladies in front of them began seething and screaming in their face while shaking their Trump signs at them. Another couple standing behind them started screaming at them as well. One of the chanting ladies had her eight-year-old daughter on her back; the other had a severely disabled child in a wheelchair in front of her. As they continued chanting, the people around them became violently enraged. One angry man grabbed the lady’s arm – that’s when I went into action. I barged through the crowd and yelled at them to back off. My heart wasn’t racing; I just instinctively became a protector.

I didn’t actually want a Trump sign, but one of the volunteers had shoved it into my hands as I walked through the door earlier; “Make America Great Again!” That sign probably saved someone from getting hurt. I held the sign close to my chest as I positioned myself between the chanting protesters and the angry mob. My 11-year-old daughter was clinging to my arm, sobbing in fear.

The two angry, screaming ladies looked at me, both of them raised their middle finger at me in my face and repeatedly yelled, “F*#% YOU!” Repeatedly.

There’s more. There was no violence, but it was an ugly scene.

I’m trying to separate how I actually feel about this man and his campaignisms. I know why people voted for him; I know why people voted against his opponent. But, at the end of the day, what I felt from his leadership in this experience was actually horrifying. There was palpable fear in the room. There was thick anger and vengeance. He was counting on it. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it would not have taken very much for him to have called this group of people into some kind of riotous reaction.

Now, not everyone in the room was a part of the angry mob mentality – I looked around the room and saw many people who could quite easily be folks from my neighborhood, folks from my church, folks who were planning to go grab a bite to eat at Cracker Barrel afterwards. Folks who truly wanted to see America “great.” The people who support the Republican Party want to see some needed changes in the government – the people that were there for that reason, are by and large good folks. But those are not the people the President was inciting – they are not the people he was leading. He was rallying the angry, vigilant ones.

As we began to leave, I knew my daughter could not possibly care less about Air Force One or the fact that she saw the President of the United States and his wife, in the flesh. I truly had hoped that she could have had that sentimental experience.

What she WILL remember is the angry, violent man screaming demonic vitriol at a child and her mother. She will remember the two ladies screaming at her Dad, her pastor – flipping the middle finger and using the F word repeatedly.

Now, I know there are people who are convinced that I am jaded and cannot fairly give this man a fair chance. Perhaps that’s true. But please remember, especially those of you who know me well, I am a student of culture and human behavior. I am not a stubborn, close minded individual who likes to stick to the status quo. I know there are people who long for me to see the good things about this President and to talk about THOSE things. I know there are people who want me to realize that not everything he is doing is bad and that every President has their strengths and weaknesses and…

I know there are people who, when they see these words and hear my thoughts will feel badly because perhaps they can’t like me as much as they once did because they don’t agree with me. They want me to like the President that they like – they want me to see him the way they see him.

I’m sorry. I cannot. You see, the angry, F-word-spewing man is what has been depended on throughout this campaign and is the one who is still being counted on to sustain the message. I tried.

Read the whole thing. There are also photos.



Flashy, provocative – and steeped in misogyny

Feb 21st, 2017 10:31 am | By

Helen Lewis on Yiannopoulos and the populist right:

Alas, poor Milo Yiannopoulos, we hardly knew ye. Well, actually, that’s not true. I first encountered Yiannopolous in 2012, when he tried to slut-shame a friend of mine, sex blogger Zoe Margolis, after she criticised his tech site, the Kernel.  “We write about how tech is changing the world around us,” he tweeted. “You write about how many cocks you’ve sucked this week. Back off.”

It was a typical Milo performance. Flashy, provocative – and steeped in misogyny.

Misogyny was his chief claim to fame for years.

Helen’s take on the claims about his rise and fall is the same as mine.

What changed CPAC’s mind? On 18 February, the organisation had tweeted that “free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective”.

Milo’s important perspective on what was left unanswered, because it is unanswerable. Does anyone, really, think that Milo Yiannopoulos has deep and rigorously researched convictions? That his statements on feminism, on transgender people, or his criticisms of Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones, spring from some deep well of evidence and sincerity?

My point exactly. He has no important perspective, he has only the habits of a bully. The two are not the same. CPAC invited him to “speak” because it likes that kind of bullying.

For those on the left, the overwhelming reaction to all this has been: why now? Why these comments, not the ones about “preening poofs“, or lesbians faking hate crimes, or the danger of Muslims, or the harassment campaign against Leslie Jones which got him permanently banned from Twitter? (Do you know how consistently and publicly awful you have to be to get banned from Twitter???)

There’s only one answer to that, really: yesterday marked the moment when Milo Yiannopoulos ceased being an asset to the mainstream right, and became a liability.

Why yesterday and not before? Because, frankly, misogynist bullying just doesn’t count.

The strangest part of yesterday was seeing Milo Yiannopoulous’s increasingly sincere Facebook posts, as the awful realisation dawned on him – as it dawned on Nigel Farage during the referendum – that the sweet shelter of the mainstream right was being withdrawn from him. When he had attacked his female peers in the London tech scene, when he attacked transgender people for being “mentally ill”, when he attacked an actor for the temerity to be black, female and funny in a jumpsuit, he was given licence. He was provocative, starting a debate, exercising his free speech. But yesterday he found out that there is always a line. For the right, it’s child abuse – because children, uniquely among people who might be sexually abused, are deemed to be innocent. No one is going to buy that a 13-year-old shouldn’t have been out that late, or wearing that, or brought it on himself.

Unless maybe the 13-year-old is black and wearing a hoody.

I would not be surprised if this isn’t the end of Milo Yiannopoulos’s career, and I will watch with keen interest what strategies he will use for his rehabilitation. He’s still got his outlaw cachet, and there are still plenty of outlets where the very fact that people are objecting to a speaker is assumed to mean they have something that’s worth hearing. And there are plenty more ideas that some on the right would be happy to see pushed a little further into the mainstream – with plausible deniability, of course. If that’s the extreme, then the mainstream shifts imperceptibly with every new provocation. Because he’s not one of us, oh no. They’re not, either. But you see, they must be heard. And provocateurs are useful, until they’re not. But it’s not the left who decides when that is. Only the mainstream right can stop the extremists on their flanks.

Which is too bad, because most of them seem to have no intention of it.



That’s $250 k gone

Feb 20th, 2017 5:15 pm | By

Now Yiannopoulos has lost his book deal.

Publisher Simon & Schuster announced Monday it cancelled Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos’s book deal, the latest development in the growing backlash over resurfaced videos of the far-right provocateur criticizing age-of-consent laws.

A statement from the publishing house offered little explanation: “After careful consideration, Simon & Schuster and its Threshold Editions imprint have cancelled publication of ‘Dangerous’ by Milo Yiannopoulos.”

After careful consideration of what, one wonders. Not his notorious extended career as a Twitter bully, certainly, because that’s how he became pseudo-famous, and that’s why Simon and Schuster wanted his “book” in the first place. Not his provocations since then, for the same reason. Not the fact that he’s obviously a nasty shit. So, what, then?

I suppose the fact that the water got too hot once even CPAC disavowed him. Yesterday they thought he was worth a quarter of a million bucks, and today they decided he’s not, because oh gee gosh look, he’s not a nice guy. Who knew?!

Simon & Schuster faced a flurry of criticism from the literary worldlate last year when word got out that the publishing house paid Yiannopoulos a $250,000 advance for a forthcoming book.

Known for inflammatory comments about women and Muslims, Yiannopoulos is an openly gay and self-described “free-speech fundamentalist” who has declared that “feminism is cancer” and was blocked on Twitter after sending tweets targeting  “Saturday Night Live” cast member Leslie Jones, who is black.

“Free speech fundamentalist” my ass. He’s a professional troll, and nothing else. I blame the BBC for inviting him to talk on its news shows on the basis of nothing other than his history of trolling.

Now even Breitbart is edging away…which is pretty ridiculous, really.

By late Monday afternoon, there were ongoing discussions at Breitbart about Yiannopoulos’s future at the company, according to two people familiar with the organization who were not authorized to speak. Inside the newsroom, several staffers made clear to senior leadership that they felt uncomfortable and may decide to leave if he stays, the people said.

A bit late for that, I think.

In a Facebook update Monday, Yiannopoulos conceded responsibility for the way some have interpreted his comments.

“I’m partly to blame,” he wrote. “My own experiences as a victim led me to believe I could say anything I wanted to on this subject, no matter how outrageous. But I understand that my usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor might have come across as flippancy, a lack of care for other victims or, worse, ‘advocacy.’ I deeply regret that. People deal with things from their past in different ways.”

Ha. He deeply regrets nothing. He likes drawing emotional blood. All he regrets is misjudging what his buddies would put up with.



Still standing by

Feb 20th, 2017 4:18 pm | By

More on Yiannopoulos:

Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart senior editor and right-wing provocateur, has been profiting from a feedback loop of predictable outrage for some time now, and the alt-right’s takeover of the Republican Party has helped him take his trolling to an even bigger audience.

His trolling. Not his writing, not his ideas, not his thought – his trolling. He’s not a writer or thinker, he’s just a troll. He’s just a smartass who enjoys bullying people until they squeak, because that’s what trolls do. That’s all there is to him, and that’s why he’s not any kind of poster boy for free speech. Free trolling, yes, but then free trolling isn’t the same thing as free speech.

On Saturday, Yiannopoulos scored his biggest prize yet (aside from, perhaps, this Trump tweet): an invitation to speak at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference. “An epidemic of speech suppression has taken over college campuses,” said CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp. “Milo has exposed their liberal thuggery and we think free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective.”

Utter bullshit. He has no “important perspective.” He’s a troll. That smelly kid in the back row who keeps throwing used kleenexes at people has no “important perspective” either; he’s just a bully. There’s no important principle or freedom at stake when it’s trolls or bullies. Trolls and bullies can be told to go away and not come back, and nothing of value is lost.

Then a couple of conservative groups started circulating videos of Yiannopoulos saying good things about sex with young boys. There was outrage. Outrage was merited, but there should have been outrage years ago. CPAC shouldn’t have invited a notorious trolling bully to “speak” in the first place. It’s revolting that overt public bullying is not enough reason to avoid him.

CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp was still standing by Yiannopoulos on Sunday night, though he did not address the videos directly. He said in an exchange with National Review’s Jonah Goldberg:

He is “fighting back” by bullying people. That doesn’t work out well.



A nod to the free speech issue on college campuses

Feb 20th, 2017 12:04 pm | By

Huh. It turns out that it is possible for Milo Yiannopoulos to say something that will motivate conservatives to de-platform him. Nothing to do with the public humiliation and bullying of women, of course, oh god no, that could never possibly be a reason to tell him to fuck right off.

Milo Yiannopoulos lost his keynote speaking slot at the Conservative Political Action Conference after tapes surfaced of the right wing provocateur and senior Breitbart editor advocating for sexual relationships between “younger boys and older men.”

“Due to the revelation of an offensive video in the past 24 hours condoning pedophilia, the American Conservative Union has decided to rescind the invitation,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the group which sponsors CPAC, in a statement Monday afternoon. The group called Yiannopoulos to “further address these disturbing comments,” but defended its original decision to invite him as a nod to “the free speech issue on college campuses.”

Ah yes, yes indeed – because when it’s a matter of bullying women off social media, that’s free speech, and the consequences to women are just way too trivial to notice. But then when it’s revealed that yes he really is a shit who does bad things to male people too – then the “nod to the free speech issue on college campuses” is no longer worth nodding.

The statement went on to declare that CPAC does not endorse “everything a speaker says or does.”

But it does make judgments about which things a speaker says and does constitute a reason to rescind an invitation. Relentless systematic harassment of women, no; advocacy of child sexual abuse, yes.

Some prominent conservatives seemed to suggest that CPAC had provoked the maelstrom by tying itself to such a controversial figure.

“The Milo Test,” wrote Charlie Sykes, a conservative former radio host who has written critically of the Republican Party since the rise of Trump. “Anti-Semitism, ok. Racism, ok. Alt Right, ok. Advocacy of pedophilia? Is THAT the bridge too far?”

Notice he doesn’t even mention the misogyny and harassment.

Yiannopoulos is aggrieved.



If it’s on Twitter it’s true

Feb 20th, 2017 11:38 am | By

Donnie from Queens is still insisting on his tv-sourced claim that Sweden is in tragic disarray because of the Foreign Hordes, even as everyone in sight tries to explain to him that Fox News isn’t the best place to get intel.

Officials in both countries expressed alarm and dismay on Monday at Mr. Trump’s remarks. Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said the president should get his information from intelligence agencies and not from television.

Right?? I told him that myself yesterday, but I doubt he manages to read all the responses to his tweets. (I’m kidding. I know damn well he doesn’t read any of them. If he did how would he find time to watch Fox News?)

The Swedish Embassy in Washington offered the Trump administration a briefing on its immigration policies. Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Lofven, said he was surprised by Mr. Trump’s comments, and noted that Sweden ranks highly on international comparisons of economic competitiveness, human development and income inequality.

“We have challenges, no doubt about that,” he allowed, adding: “We must all take responsibility for using facts correctly and for verifying anything we spread.”

Yet even before the prime minister spoke, Mr. Trump pursued his attack. On Twitter, he suggested that the news media was covering up problems related to migration in Sweden.

In other words, not all immigrants are perfect. Who knew?!

Also it’s kind of funny how Trump’s grandfather was an immigrant, and his mother was an immigrant, and two of his wives are immigrants. His children are the children of immigrants!!