Notes and Comment Blog


Uh oh

Mar 18th, 2017 4:46 pm | By

Because it made me laugh until I couldn’t see.



But it’s not true

Mar 18th, 2017 4:30 pm | By

Another bit of nonsense from the far-right trolls:

It has shown up on Irish trivia Facebook pages, in Scientific American magazine, and on white nationalist message boards: the little-known story of the Irish slaves who built America, who are sometimes said to have outnumbered and been treated worse than slaves from Africa.

But it’s not true.

Historians say the idea of Irish slaves is based on a misreading of history and that the distortion is often politically motivated. Far-right memes have taken off online and are used as racist barbs against African-Americans. “The Irish were slaves, too,” the memes often say. “We got over it, so why can’t you?”

Got over it? Oh really? So there’s no such thing as Irish nationalism, and no sense of grievance to go with it? Ha.

A small group of Irish and American scholars has spent years pushing back on the false history. Last year, 82 Irish scholars and writers signed an open letter denouncing the Irish slave myth and asking publications to stop mentioning it. Some complied, removing or revising articles that referenced the false claims, but the letter’s impact was limited.

The myth is based in confusion about the indenture system, which was plenty bad enough but still wasn’t comparable to slavery.

“I’m not saying it was pleasant or anything — it was the opposite — but it was a completely different category from slavery,” said Liam Hogan, a research librarian in Ireland who has spearheaded the debunking effort. “It was a transitory state.”

The legal differences between indentured servitude and chattel slavery were profound, according to Matthew Reilly, an archaeologist who studies Barbados. Unlike slaves, servants were considered legally human. Their servitude was based on a contract that limited their service to a finite period of time, usually about seven years, in exchange for passage to the colonies. They did not pass their unfree status on to descendants.

Indenture was a contract; slavery was not.

The memes sometimes pop up in apolitical settings, like history trivia websites, but their recent spread has mirrored escalating racial and political tension in the United States, Mr. Hogan said. Central to the memes is the notion that historians and the media are covering up the truth. He said he has received death threats from Americans for his work.

“These memes are the No. 1 derailment people use when they talk about the slave trade,” he said. “Look in any race-related or slavery-related news story from the last two years and someone will mention it in the comments.”

Ugh. God I get sick of trolls.

They often hijack specific atrocities committed against black slaves and substitute Irish people for the actual victims. A favorite event to use is the 1781 Zong massacre, in which over 130 African slaves were thrown to their deaths off a slave ship.

InfoWars, the far-right conspiracy site favored by President Trump, is one site that has falsely claimed Irish people were the victims of the Zong massacre, whose death toll it inflated by adding a zero to the end.

Also, the Zongs helped Obama tapp Trump’s phone. They’re bad (or sick) hombres.

The white slavery narrative has long been a staple of the far right, but it became specifically Irish after the 2000 publication of “To Hell or Barbados: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland,” a book by the late journalist Sean O’Callaghan, which Mr. Hogan and others have said was shoddily researched. It received positive reviews in Ireland, however, and was widely read there.

In America, the book connected the white slave narrative to an influential ethnic group of over 34 million people, many of whom had been raised on stories of Irish rebellion against Britain and tales of anti-Irish bias in America at the turn of the 20th century. From there, it took off.

As bullshit so often does.



“Is this the right way to handle blasphemy?”

Mar 18th, 2017 12:42 pm | By

The BBC reports on the response to its own horrible question:

The BBC has apologised after a tweet from the Asian Network account asked, “What is the right punishment for blasphemy?”.

The tweet provoked criticism that the BBC appeared to be endorsing harsh restrictions on speech.

Well no. The BBC appeared to be endorsing the whole idea that dissent from religion should be impermissible and illegal and should be harshly punished. That’s what the BBC appeared to be doing.

In an apology posted on Twitter, the network said it intended to debate concerns about blasphemy on social media in Pakistan.

“We never intended to imply that blasphemy should be punished,” it said.

The post on Twitter was intended to publicise the station’s Big Debate programme with presenter Shazia Awan.

Fine but come on, they’re not children, they’re not Donald Trump. Surely the problem with phrasing the question that way should have been blindingly obvious. People get murdered for this fictional crime of “blasphemy.” The BBC shouldn’t be in the business of starting from the assumption that “blasphemy” is a real thing and also a crime.

It was prompted by a BBC report that Pakistan had asked Facebook to help investigate “blasphemous content” posted on the social network by Pakistanis.

In her opening script, presenter Shazia Awan said: “Today I want to talk about blasphemy. What is the right punishment for blasphemy?”

Explaining the context of Facebook’s visit to Pakistan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s call for a social media crackdown, she asked: “Is this the right way to handle blasphemy? Or do you think that freedom of speech should trump all else?”

Talk about loaded questions. The first question assumes that blasphemy is real and bad. The second assumes that blasphemy is real and among the worst things.

Critics ranging from human rights campaigners to secularist organisations challenged the premise that it should carry any punishment.

Iranian-born secularist and human rights campaigner Maryam Namazie said on Twitter: “Disgraceful that @bbcasiannetwork @ShaziaAwan would ask what ‘punishment’ should be for blasphemy. You know people get killed for it.”

In Pakistan, blasphemy – the act of insulting or showing lack of reverence for God or a religion – can carry the death penalty and those accused can face intense public anger. Britain abolished its blasphemy laws in 2008.

Apparently the BBC hasn’t learned to adjust to this new reality yet.

The National Secularism Society described the tweet as “absolutely appalling”, while BuzzFeed science writer Tom Chivers said: “This feels a VERY odd question for the BBC to ask. Even ‘should blasphemy be punishable’ would be less when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife”.

It’s really quite horrifying, and the limp apology doesn’t reassure.



For women who dare to think for themselves?

Mar 18th, 2017 12:25 pm | By

There were some responses to BBC Asian Network’s “What is the right punishment for blasphemy?” question.

I love that one – for not freely choosing to wear hijab. Ha!

There are many more.



“What is the right punishment for blasphemy?”

Mar 18th, 2017 11:40 am | By

The Times of India reports:

H Farook, 31, from Bilal Estate in South Ukkadam here, was hacked to death by a four-member gang, late Thursday night. He was a member of Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam (DVK), and an atheist. According to police, Farook was administering a WhatsApp group where he posted rationalistic views against his religion. He also posted rationalistic messages on his Facebook page which came in for criticism by members of the community.

Meanwhile, Ansath, 30, a Muslim realtor, surrendered before the judicial magistrate court -V on Friday evening in connection with the murder.

“Farook’s anti-Muslim sentiments had angered people. This may be a possible motive for murder,” said S Saravanan, DCP, Coimbatore.

Yesterday BBC Asian Network tweeted this:

It has since apologized, but how clueless (or worse) do you have to be to say that in the first place?

BBC News reports:

Pakistan says it has asked Facebook to help investigate “blasphemous content” posted on the social network by Pakistanis.

Facebook has agreed to send a team to Pakistan to address reservations about content on the social media site, according to the interior ministry.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive and incendiary issue in Pakistan.

“Blasphemy” shouldn’t even be a meaningful concept in a reasonable world. We obviously don’t live in such a world, but we have our hopes and dreams.

Earlier this week Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif voiced his support for a wide-ranging crackdown on blasphemous content on social media.

In a statement on his party’s official Twitter account, he described blasphemy as an “unpardonable offence”.

Shame on him then. What theocratic zealots mean by “blasphemous content” is anything at all that questions supernaturalist claims. We should all be free to create and share that sort of content.

Then on Thursday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar reasserted Pakistan’s determination to tackle the issue, saying he would take “any steps necessary” to make sure Pakistan’s message got across.

He said he had asked officials to liaise with the FBI in the US and with social media platforms on a daily basis.

“Facebook and other service providers should share all information about the people behind this blasphemous content with us,” he is quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.

There has been little official description of what blasphemous content has been found online so far, but in the past blasphemy accusations have ranged from depictions of the Prophet Muhammad to critiques and inappropriate references to the Koran.

Nonsense. Absolute nonsense. The Koran presumes to tell everyone what to do, down to the smallest details of private life. Of course we get to talk back to the Koran. The Koran is not the boss of us.



Why more women than men are raising objections

Mar 18th, 2017 11:08 am | By

Hadley Freeman cautiously utters a few words of agreement with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and even with Jenni Murray, though in Murray’s case she is naturally careful to include some contempt too. One mustn’t let women old enough to be one’s mother seem to be just as clever and alert as oneself.

Should you be struggling with a gift idea for that special person in your life, here’s a suggestion: how about a home DNA kit? These are all the rage in America, I recently read in the New York Times, with 3m sold by ancestry.com alone in the past five years. At last, Americans can find out how Irish they actually are.

On the one hand, this makes sense: identity is the hot issue of our age. On the other, it makes no sense at all, because your identity is, we keep being told, whatever you want it to be.

Well, we do and we don’t. We keep being told that about certain identities, and we also keep being told it doesn’t apply to certain other identities. It’s a huge – and ludicrous – generalization which gets deployed for some purposes and hastily bundled out of sight for others.

Nowhere is the discussion about identity more passionately felt than within the transgender movement. If you feel you are a woman, you are a woman is the rule, although some women are querying this. Last week, the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was asked by Channel 4’s Cathy Newman whether trans women are “real women”. “My feeling is trans women are trans women,” Adichie replied, a response not so much tautological as almost palindromic. “I don’t think it’s a good thing to conflate everything into one.”

This was a clearer way of saying what Jenni Murray had written in an article that clumsily argued trans women are not “real women”.

Neatly done, the sting in the tail. Murray is old enough to be Freeman’s mother, therefore she’s clumsy. Murray mustn’t be allowed to get away with too much, not at her age.

The fear of being on the wrong side of history is a strong persuader, and it was clearly behind much of the reaction to the news that the BBC had slapped down Murray. Instead of crying foul at the broadcaster’s palpably nervy excuse that their presenters must remain “impartial on controversial topics” (while having no problem with Gary Lineker sharing his political views), female commentators gave Murray a kicking. Let all women be women, was the verdict.

That last sentence is rather “clumsy,” if you like. “Let all women be women” – well duh. What she meant must be “Let all people who identify as women be women.”

Yet no one is asking why more women than men are raising objections here. Perhaps people think this is just what women are like: uniquely catty. Lifelong feminists, especially older ones, who express any reservations about eliding the experiences of trans and cis women are dismissed as bigoted ol’ bitches – and maybe some are.

Oh, don’t be shy. Call them bigoted ol’ cunts, and then say that maybe some are.

But then she drops the ol’ bitches routine and says things that will call down the Eumenides on her.

But there are real ethical issues here, and they overwhelmingly affect women.

Sport is one obvious example. Male-born bodies have had different testosterone levels and muscle distribution from female ones. No one knows what the solution is but pretending there isn’t a difference is ridiculous.

Is it really true that no one knows what the solution is? Isn’t it rather that suggesting solutions is impermissible?

Then there are prisons. It’s easy to cheer on Chelsea Manning, but Ian Huntley – who now reportedly wishes to be known as Lian Huntley and be transferred to a women’s prison – is a tougher sell. Should a man with a history of crimes against women and girls really be in a female prison?

And Ian Huntley is just one of several. There’s something of a trend of male prisoners or defendants with histories of violence suddenly “identifying as” women.

In January, it was reported that the British Medical Association advised that instead of referring to “expectant mothers”, health providers should talk about the less exclusionary “pregnant people”. Some young feminists are even asking if it’s OK to use the words “female” and “woman” – yet men are not being urged to avoid mentioning their gender. Is it any wonder some women are calling bullshit?

Oh look, here come the Kindly Ones now, brandishing their machetes.



How to justify

Mar 18th, 2017 9:56 am | By

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ANFSCD

Mar 17th, 2017 5:57 pm | By

We all need a little refreshment.



He doesn’t need to crack jokes

Mar 17th, 2017 5:48 pm | By

Deutsche Welle on the meeting of Merkel and Trump.

Superficially it went pretty well.

The obvious exception was Trump’s joking comparison of Merkel’s surveillance experience, which was real, with his, for which no evidence is known to exist.

“Joking about the US surveillance of Merkel is probably the most tone deaf moment so far of Trump’s time on the international stage,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a scholar of the presidency and the media at Mary Washington University. “Trump needs to remember that he doesn’t need to crack jokes like he is still on reality television’s ‘The Apprentice.'”

Farnsworth pointed out that the two leaders didn’t even engage in the traditional handshake during an Oval Office photo opportunity earlier in the day. “Merkel’s offer to do so was met with an awkward silence that served as a reminder of the deep gulf between their perspectives.”

I wouldn’t call it awkward, I would call it boorishly rude and mal élevé. I would call it shameful. He sat there smirking like a toad; it was grotesque.

Trump’s general rhetoric, for Anderson, was reminiscent “of a language more common of US administrations prior to 1989 – a language of bilateralism and ledger sheets, on which a balance of interest had to be maintained.”

Again in an ostensibly joking manner, but with a tough and dark undertone, the US president praised German trade negotiators who according to Trump had done a better job than their American counterparts, insinuating again as he had done before that the trade relationship is unbalanced and unfair.

Merkel, meanwhile, “spoke from an entirely different – and actually much more grounded and accurate – perspective, answering in effect that the EU negotiates trade deals with member state input and that the principle of mutual benefit in EU trade deals is well established,” said Anderson.

Yeah well, one of them is an adult and the other is a bratty child. This was about as good as anyone’s going to get.



How did we get here?

Mar 17th, 2017 5:00 pm | By

Gnu Atheism:

Image may contain: 4 people, text



Who is this guy?

Mar 17th, 2017 4:17 pm | By

More from the Annals of Nonstop Shame and Embarrassment: Trump still refuses to withdraw or apologize for Spicer’s claim that British spies secretly monitored him during last year’s campaign at the behest of Obama.

Although his aides in private conversations since Thursday night had tried to calm British officials who were livid over the claim, Mr. Trump made clear that he felt the White House had nothing to retract or apologize for. He said his spokesman was simply repeating an assertion made by a Fox News commentator.

“We said nothing,” Mr. Trump told a German reporter who asked about the matter at a joint White House news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it.” He added: “You shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.”

What he actually said, without the tactful tidying, is

All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind, who was the one responsible for saying that on television – I didn’t make an opinion on it – that was a statement made by a very talented lawyer, on Fox, and so you shouldn’t be talkin to me, you should be talkin to Fox.

The Times conceals the perseveration, perhaps because it’s a symptom of brain damage.

He also made a clumsy unfunny joke about it, which elicited a “wtf?” look from Merkel.



Seen on the subway

Mar 17th, 2017 1:31 pm | By

Useful.

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The rudest man on earth

Mar 17th, 2017 1:18 pm | By

So in addition to everything else Trump behaves like a boor toward Angela Merkel.

Photographers ask “Handshake? Handshake?” Merkel says sotta voce to The Boor: “You want to handshake?” He ignores her and continues to scowl in the direction of the cameras.

You always think you can’t loathe him more, and then he makes you loathe him more.



The remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry

Mar 17th, 2017 12:58 pm | By

I’ve been meaning to share passages from the ruling on the travel ban.

It is undisputed that the Executive Order does not facially discriminate for or
against any particular religion, or for or against religion versus non-religion. There
is no express reference, for instance, to any religion nor does the Executive
Order—unlike its predecessor—contain any term or phrase that can be reasonably
characterized as having a religious origin or connotation.
Indeed, the Government defends the Executive Order principally because of
its religiously neutral text —“[i]t applies to six countries that Congress and the prior
Administration determined posed special risks of terrorism. [The Executive Order]
applies to all individuals in those countries, regardless of their religion.” Gov’t.
Mem. in Opp’n 40. The Government does not stop there. By its reading, the
Executive Order could not have been religiously motivated because “the six
countries represent only a small fraction of the world’s 50 Muslim-majority nations,
and are home to less than 9% of the global Muslim population . . . [T]he suspension
covers every national of those countries, including millions of non-Muslim
individuals[.]” Gov’t. Mem. in Opp’n 42.
The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable. The notion that one
can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at
once is fundamentally flawed. The Court declines to relegate its Establishment Clause analysis to a purely mathematical exercise. See Aziz, 2017 WL 580855, at
*9 (rejecting the argument that “the Court cannot infer an anti-Muslim animus
because [Executive Order No. 13,769] does not affect all, or even most, Muslims,”
because “the Supreme Court has never reduced its Establishment Clause
jurisprudence to a mathematical exercise. It is a discriminatory purpose that
matters, no matter how inefficient the execution” (citation omitted)). Equally
flawed is the notion that the Executive Order cannot be found to have targeted Islam
because it applies to all individuals in the six referenced countries. It is undisputed,
using the primary source upon which the Government itself relies, that these six
countries have overwhelmingly Muslim populations that range from 90.7% to
99.8%.12 It would therefore be no paradigmatic leap to conclude that targeting
these countries likewise targets Islam. Certainly, it would be inappropriate to
conclude, as the Government does, that it does not.

“It would be no paradigmatic leap” – I like that.

The Government compounds these shortcomings by suggesting that the
Executive Order’s neutral text is what this Court must rely on to evaluate purpose.
Govt. Mem. in Opp’n at 42–43 (“[C]ourts may not ‘look behind the exercise of
[Executive] discretion’ taken ‘on the basis of a facially legitimate and bona fide reason.’”). Only a few weeks ago, the Ninth Circuit commanded otherwise: “It is
well established that evidence of purpose beyond the face of the challenged law may
be considered in evaluating Establishment and Equal Protection Clause claims.”
Washington, 847 F.3d at 1167–68 (citing Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v.
City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520, 534 (1993) (“Official action that targets religious
conduct for distinctive treatment cannot be shielded by mere compliance with the
requirement of facial neutrality.”); Larson, 456 U.S. at 254–55 (holding that a
facially neutral statute violated the Establishment Clause in light of legislative
history demonstrating an intent to apply regulations only to minority religions); and
Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 266–68
(1977) (explaining that circumstantial evidence of intent, including the historical
background of the decision and statements by decisionmakers, may be considered in
evaluating whether a governmental action was motivated by a discriminatory
purpose)). The Supreme Court has been even more emphatic: courts may not “turn
a blind eye to the context in which [a] policy arose.”

I like that even more. Courts may not turn a blind eye to the context in which a policy arose.

“[H]istorical context and ‘the specific sequence of events leading up to’” the adoption of a challenged policy are relevant considerations. Id. at 862; see
also Aziz, 2017 WL 580855, at *7.
A review of the historical background here makes plain why the Government
wishes to focus on the Executive Order’s text, rather than its context. The record
before this Court is unique. It includes significant and unrebutted evidence of
religious animus driving the promulgation of the Executive Order and its related
predecessor. For example—
In March 2016, Mr. Trump said, during an interview, “I think
Islam hates us.” Mr. Trump was asked, “Is there a war between
the West and radical Islam, or between the West and Islam
itself?” He replied: “It’s very hard to separate. Because you
don’t know who’s who.”
SAC ¶ 41 (citing Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees: Exclusive Interview With Donald
Trump (CNN television broadcast Mar. 9, 2016, 8:00 PM ET), transcript available
at https://goo.gl/y7s2kQ)). In that same interview, Mr. Trump stated: “But there’s
a tremendous hatred. And we have to be very vigilant. We have to be very
careful. And we can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred
of the United States. . . [a]nd of people that are not Muslim.”

Talking like that helped get him elected but it’s not helping him now.

The Government appropriately cautions that, in determining purpose, courts
should not look into the “veiled psyche” and “secret motives” of government
decisionmakers and may not undertake a “judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart
of hearts.” Govt. Opp’n at 40 (citing McCreary, 545 U.S. at 862). The
Government need not fear. The remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry. For instance, there is nothing “veiled” about this press
release: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims
entering the United States.[]” SAC ¶ 38, Ex. 6 (Press Release, Donald J. Trump for
President, Donald J. Trump Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration (Dec. 7,
2015), available at https://goo.gl/D3OdJJ)). Nor is there anything “secret” about
the Executive’s motive specific to the issuance of the Executive Order:
Rudolph Giuliani explained on television how the Executive
Order came to be. He said: “When [Mr. Trump] first announced
it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a
commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’”

SAC ¶ 59, Ex. 8. On February 21, 2017, commenting on the then-upcoming
revision to the Executive Order, the President’s Senior Adviser, Stephen Miller,
stated, “Fundamentally, [despite “technical” revisions meant to address the Ninth
Circuit’s concerns in Washington,] you’re still going to have the same basic policy
outcome [as the first].” SAC ¶ 74.
These plainly-worded statements,14 made in the months leading up to and
contemporaneous with the signing of the Executive Order, and, in many cases, made by the Executive himself, betray the Executive Order’s stated secular purpose. Any
reasonable, objective observer would conclude, as does the Court for purposes of the
instant Motion for TRO, that the stated secular purpose of the Executive Order is, at
the very least, “secondary to a religious objective” of temporarily suspending the
entry of Muslims. See McCreary, 545 U.S. at 864.

It’s a good read.



A willingness to antagonize even its allies

Mar 17th, 2017 11:51 am | By

The Guardian’s take on Trump’s adventure in libeling a former president and pissing off a current ally.

The extraordinary public rebuke by the United States’ closest surveillance partner has revealed an emerging characteristic of Donald Trump’s White House: a willingness to antagonize even its allies instead of admitting error.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, credulously repeated on Thursday an account by a Fox News pundit, Andrew Napolitano, that GCHQ laundered surveillance on Trump at the behest of Barack Obama. Napolitano, who is in no position to actually know, made the allegation apparently to explain away the mounting evidence, even from senior Republicans on the intelligence committees, that there is no basis to Trump’s claim that Obama ordered that surveillance.

Beautiful, isn’t it? They tell one lie, which results in a lot of people saying wo hey that’s not true, so in response they tell more lies in the hopes of “explaining away” the evidence of the first lie. I don’t see what could possibly go wrong with that.

The context matters here. Spicer repeated Napolitano’s allegation for the same reason Napolitano made it: to defend Trump’s evidence-free assertion, on 4 March, that Obama had Trump’s team placed under surveillance.

Spicer did so while reading off a long list of news reports, both credible and not, about aspects of surveillance intercepts related to Trump and Russia. Spicer’s implication is that if Trump was wrong – which he did not concede – it was because the journalists calling attention to Trump’s error lack credibility. Not a single credible news account Spicer read supports Trump’s 4 March claim. Napolitano’s did.

The credible ones don’t; Napolitano’s did.

One option always available to the White House is to forthrightly concede Trump was wrong. It has shown no appetite for that. Instead, Trump and his allies have grasped for whatever explanation might keep alive an incendiary accusation – one that is itself an unforced error – without regard for the relationships those explanations damage.

Even now, with GCHQ and 10 Downing Street angry, the White House is stopping short of an apology. “Ambassador Kim Darroch and Sir Mark Lyall expressed their concerns to Sean Spicer and General McMaster. Mr Spicer and General McMaster explained that Mr Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story,” according to the current White House line.

The White House has been here before. Mexico’s president cancelled a state visit after Trump kept claiming Mexico would pay for a border wall. Trump invented an attack in Sweden in order to bolster his dubious claim that refugees are incipient terrorists. He antagonized another Five Eyes ally, Australia, over refugee policy as well.

He’s a chronic liar and a crook. Hug yourself, Putin, you hit the jackpot.



Unfortunate that the White House spokesman repeated what he’s heard on Fox News

Mar 17th, 2017 10:47 am | By

They did what now?

The White House has tried to soothe an angry Britain after suggesting that President Barack Obama used London’s spy agency to conduct secret surveillance on President Trump while he was a candidate last year but offered no public apology on Friday.

They WHAT?

The reassurances came after British officials complained to Trump administration officials. Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to Washington, spoke with Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, at a St. Patrick’s Day reception in Washington on Thursday night just hours after Mr. Spicer aired the assertion at his daily briefing. Mark Lyall Grant, the prime minister’s national security adviser, spoke separately with his American counterpart, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

“Ambassador Kim Darroch and Sir Mark Lyall expressed their concerns to Sean Spicer and General McMaster,” a White House official said on condition of anonymity to confirm private conversations. “Mr. Spicer and General McMaster explained that Mr. Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story.”

Other White House officials, who also would not be named, said Mr. Spicer offered no regret to the ambassador. “He didn’t apologize, no way, no how,” said a senior West Wing official. The officials said they did not know whether General McMaster had apologized.

So they’re proud of it. They’re proud that Spicer insinuated that Britain helped US spooks spy on Trump, and that he refused to apologize for doing so. Make America Great, baby. Shed all those pesky allies.

The flap with Britain started when Mr. Spicer, in the course of defending Mr. Trump’s original accusation against Mr. Obama, on Thursday read from the White House lectern comments by a Fox News commentator asserting that the British spy agency was involved. Andrew Napolitano, the commentator, said on air that Mr. Obama had used Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, the signals agency known as the GCHQ, to spy on Mr. Trump.

And this happened because Spicer was trying to convince a room full of reporters that Trump had good reasons to scream on Twitter that Obama had wiretapped him – because He Saw It On The Fox Channel. Spicer was trying to convince reporters, of all people, that commentary on Fox News is good evidence, or at least a reliable enough source that it justifies screaming on Twitter that Obama committed felonies. If anyone knows what commentary on Fox is worth, it’s reporters.

The GCHQ quickly and vehemently denied the contention on Thursday in a rare statement issued by the spy agency, calling the assertions “nonsense” and “utterly ridiculous.” By Friday morning, Mr. Spicer’s briefing had turned into a full-blown international incident. British politicians expressed outrage and demanded apologies and retractions from the American government.

Mr. Trump’s critics assailed the White House for alienating America’s friend.

Susan Rice, former National Security Advisor to Obama.

In pointing the finger at Britain on Thursday, Mr. Spicer read from comments made by Mr. Napolitano on Fox this week. “Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command,” Mr. Spicer read. “He didn’t use the N.S.A., he didn’t use the C.I.A., he didn’t use the F.B.I., and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ.”

“What is that?” Mr. Spicer continued. “It’s the initials for the British intelligence spying agency. So simply, by having two people saying to them, ‘the president needs transcripts of conversations involved in candidate Trump’s conversations involving President-elect Trump,’ he was able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on this.”

And this, not surprisingly, caused outrage in the UK.

British officials and analysts were surprised at the tough and vehement language in the GCHQ response, especially from an agency that traditionally refuses to comment on any intelligence matter.

There was some annoyance and eye-rolling as well. Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the last British coalition government, described Mr. Spicer’s repetition of the claims as “shameful” and said Mr. Trump was “compromising the vital U.K.-U.S. security relationship to try to cover his own embarrassment.”

It’s so Trump. He does something stupid and malevolent, so then he and his stooges do more stupid and malevolent things in their effort to force everyone to stop objecting to the first one. We can count on seeing a lot more of this sequence unless he’s removed soon.

British officials said that Britain initiated calls of complaint and denial to the White House after Mr. Spicer’s briefing. They also said that British officials had discussed responding earlier, after Mr. Napolitano’s comments were made on air, but acted quickly after those remarks were repeated by the president’s official spokesman.

“I doubt if there will be any long-term damage — the intelligence links between the U.S. and the U.K. are just too strong,” said Peter Westmacott, a former British ambassador to the United States. “It was unfortunate that the White House spokesman repeated what he’s heard on Fox News without checking the facts. But once he’d done so, GCHQ had no choice but to set the record straight.”

Their incompetence is appalling.



Taking a blowtorch to science

Mar 16th, 2017 5:33 pm | By

Science. Trump don’t want no stinkin science. Trump wants JOBS, not science. Science never created any jobs for anybody. Hell no, it’s selling overpriced condos that creates jobs. Somebody has to paint all those faucets gold-color.

The scientists of course are having a big hissy fit. They’re such prima donnas.

[T]he extent of the cuts in the proposed budget unveiled early Thursday shocked scientists, researchers and program administrators. The reductions include $5.8 billion, or 18 percent, from the National Institutes of Health, which funds thousands of researchers working on cancer and other diseases, and $900 million, or a little less than 20 percent, from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which funds the national laboratories, considered among the crown jewels of basic research in the world.

Yes but what good is it? We can see how useful overpriced condos are, but we can’t see what good scientific research is.

The White House is also proposing to eliminate climate science programs throughout the federal government, including at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“As to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward: We’re not spending money on that anymore,” Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said at a White House briefing on Thursday. “We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.”

Right. It’s way less wasteful to just let climate change go ahead.

While the budget is only a blueprint and is sure to face strong opposition from members of both parties in Congress — many lawmakers have already said that certain cuts, like those to the N.I.H., are nonstarters — policy makers expressed concern about what the proposal says about the administration’s commitment to science.

“Do they not think that there are advances to be made, improvements to be made, in the human condition?” said Rush D. Holt, a physicist and the chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “The record of scientific research is so good, for so many years — who would want to sell it short? What are they thinking?”

They work for Trump, so they’re probably not thinking at all.

Eliminating laboratory research on climate change, as the budget proposes, can have real-world effects, experts said, by making it harder to predict storms or other weather events that cause devastation and loss of life.

“Cutting scientific research in E.P.A. and NASA and NOAA and other science agencies is not going to help us have more information on the causes and, more important, the effects of climate change,” said Vicki Arroyo, the executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center and a former E.P.A. official.

The budget also calls for eliminating some programs that help bridge the divide between basic research and commercialization. Among the most prominent of these is the Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy, known as ARPA-E, the Energy Department office that funds research in innovative energy technologies with a goal of getting products to market. Its annual appropriation of about $300 million would be eliminated.

James J. Greenberger, the executive director of NAATBatt International, a trade group for the advanced battery industry, said ARPA-E had been of enormous benefit to the industry.

“We’re absolutely stunned by it,” Mr. Greenberger said of the agency’s potential elimination, which he announced to industry leaders gathered at his group’s annual conference in Arizona. “I don’t know what’s going through the administration’s head. It’s almost surreal.”

See above. They work for Trump, so these are not thoughtful or scrupulous people.



A lot less for the diplomatic niceties

Mar 16th, 2017 4:50 pm | By

Trump’s budget proposals are what you’d expect from a loathsome human being like him.

If Americans were taken aback by the restrained, highly scripted President Trump that addressed Congress last month, they should recognize a lot more of the blustery, law-and-order candidate they elected in the budget blueprint the White House released on Thursday.

“If he said it on the campaign, it’s in the budget,” the president’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, told reporters in a Wednesday briefing previewing the proposal’s release.

That means more money—some $54 billion in extra defense spending—for the military generals Trump loves to quote so much, and a lot less for the diplomatic niceties and programs combatting climate change that he so often dismissed. The State Department sees a 28 percent cut in the administration’s budget request, with a chunk of it coming from foreign aid. “It is not a soft-power budget,” Mulvaney explained. “This is a hard-power budget, and that was done intentionally. The president very clearly wants to send a message to our allies and to our potential adversaries that this is a strong-power administration.”

That’s a prettified way of saying Trump wants to send a message to everyone that he believes in force and force alone. That’s a useful stance to take, in international relations and in life. Don’t ask, just grab them by the pussy. Don’t be bashful, tell malicious lies about people on Twitter. Don’t give reasons, just keep repeating your assertions. Don’t answer reporters’ questions, insult them instead. Don’t mess around with diplomacy and foreign aid, just bomb the shit out of everyone.

The Trump administration wants to eliminate federal funding of 19 agencies and commissions, including the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, the Legal Services Corporation, the Institute of Peace, and an interagency council on homelessness. Some of those have long been targets of conservatives in Congress, but Democrats are expected to fight aggressively for their preservation, and it’s likely they retain majority support to continue.

Beyond the programs targeted for elimination, the Trump budget puts nearly every domestic Cabinet department on the chopping block. In the Department of Education, dozens of school and teacher grant programs would go, and the popular college work-study program would see significant cuts. In the Department of Commerce, NOAA gets slashed by billions, including the complete elimination of $250 million in grants for coastal and marine management. Funding for the National Institutes of Health—an agency with some of the most bipartisan support in Congress—would drop by nearly $6 billion, a cut [of] 18 percent.

The pundits say lots of this won’t fly, but of course Donnie is (according to him) a genius negotiator, so no doubt what does fly will be bad enough.



No evidence

Mar 16th, 2017 1:32 pm | By

Congressional intelligence people to Trump: we don’t believe you.

The Republican and Democrat leading the Senate investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election appeared on Thursday to counter White House claims that there may have been surveillance of some sort on Trump Tower around the campaign, even if there was not specific wiretapping as President Trump said in a tweet nearly two weeks ago.

“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016,” Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a joint statement on Thursday.

Spicey is trying to spin that as “We haven’t found anything yet but that doesn’t mean we won’t!!”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said on Wednesday he doesn’t believe “there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” but the statement from the Senate intelligence leaders represents broader pushback.

Asked to weigh in on wiretapping on Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “We’ve cleared that up. That — that we’ve seen no evidence of that.”

Trump has not produced any evidence to back his assertion. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said this week that, “I think there is significant reporting about surveillance techniques that have existed throughout the 2016 election.” “I think he feels very confident that what will ultimately come of this will vindicate him,” Spicer said, referring to the president.

Of course he feels confident, but that’s because he’s a fucking fool, not because he has good reasons.



There are things

Mar 16th, 2017 1:21 pm | By

Chris Cillizza at the Post has the whole transcript of PP’s conversation with Tucker Carlson yesterday.

The Twitter section is worth reading carefully.

CARLSON: So on March 4, 6:35 in the morning, you’re down in Florida, and you tweet, the former administration wiretapped me, surveilled me, at Trump Tower during the last election. How did you find out? You said, I just found out. How did you learn that?

TRUMP: Well, I’ve been reading about things. I read in, I think it was January 20 a “New York Times” article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier the day previous where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said, wait a minute, there’s a lot of wiretapping being talked about. I’ve been seeing a lot of things.

Now, for the most part, I’m not going to discuss it, because we have it before the committee and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon that hasn’t been submitted as of yet. But it’s potentially a very serious situation.

CARLSON: So, 51,000 people retweeted that. So a lot of people thought that was plausible, they believe you, you’re the President — you’re in charge of the agencies. Every intelligence agency reports to you. Why not immediately go to them and gather evidence to support that?

TRUMP:  Because I don’t want to do anything that’s going to violate any strength of an agency.  We have enough problems.

And by the way, with the CIA, I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked, and a lot of things taken — that was during the Obama years.  That was not during us.  That was during the Obama situation.  Mike Pompeo is there now doing a fantastic job.

But, we will be submitting certain things and I will be perhaps speaking about this next week, but it’s right now before the committee, and I think I want to leave it.  I have a lot of confidence in the committee.

CARLSON:  Why not wait to tweet about it until you can prove it?  Don’t you devalue your words when you can’t provide evidence?

TRUMP:  Well, because “The New York Times” wrote about it.  Not that I respect “The New York Times”.  I call it the failing “New York Times”.  But they did write on January 20 using the word wiretap.  Other people have come out with —

CARLSON:  Right, but you’re the President.  You have the ability to gather all the evidence you want.

TRUMP:  I do.  I do.  But I think that frankly we have a lot right now.  And I think if you watch — if you watched the Bret Baier and what he was saying and what he was talking about and how he mentioned the word wiretap, you would feel very confident that you could mention the name.  He mentioned it.  And other people have mentioned it.  But if you take a look at some of the things written about wiretapping and eavesdropping —

And don’t forget, when I say wiretapping, those words were in quotes.  That really covers, because wiretapping is pretty old fashioned stuff.  But that really covers surveillance and many other things.  And nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes, but that’s a very important thing.

But wiretap covers a lot of different things.  I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.

CARLSON:  Do you talk to anyone before you tweet?  And is there anyone in the White House who can say to you, Mr. President, please don’t tweet that, who you would listen to?

TRUMP:  Well, let me tell you about Twitter.  I think that maybe I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Twitter, because I get such a fake press, such a dishonest press.  I mean, if you look at — and I’m not including Fox, because I think Fox has been fair to me, but if you look at CNN and if you look at these other networks, NBC — I made a fortune for NBC with “The Apprentice”.  I had a top show where they were doing horribly, and I had one of the most successful reality shows of all time.  I made — and I was on 14 seasons.  And you see what happened when I’m not on.  You saw what happened to the show was a disaster.  I was on — I was very good to NBC, and I — they are despicable.  They’re despicable in their coverage.

CBS, ABC, you take a look at what’s going on — I call it the fake press, the fake media.  It is a disgrace what’s happening.  So, let me just tell you —

CARLSON:  But then they say to you, but you’re — I mean, as you know, the response — look, so you had this big speech to the joint session on Tuesday.  You had great press all week, bipartisan, and then you let off this tweet, and immediately, people say —

TRUMP:  No, it wasn’t that tweet.  They had other things —

CARLSON:  You can’t back up what you say.

TRUMP:  Excuse me.  I had a very successful night.  Joint session, it was very successful.  I got reviews even from people that I would never think I was going to get good reviews.  I got great reviews. And then all of a sudden they came up with a new dialogue in order to kill that.  So that speech was hot for about two or three hours after the speech was made, because they came up with other things, having to do with other people, that they shouldn’t have been able to do and they shouldn’t have done, but they did it.  And you know exactly what I’m talking about.

So the news is not honest.  Much of the news.  It’s not honest.  And when I have close to 100 million people watching me on Twitter, including Facebook, including all of the Instagram, including POTUS, including lots of things — but we have — I guess pretty close to 100 million people.  I have my own form of media.  So if I tweet two or three or four or five times a day, and if most of them are good — and I really want them all to be good — but if I make one mistake in a month — this one, I don’t think is going to prove to be a mistake at all.

CARLSON:  Do you think it’s OK to make — the counterargument, even from people who support you, who say look, I support Donald Trump, I believe what he believes, and I want him to succeed badly, but if the President says something that cannot be proved or is demonstrably untrue, he devalues his own currency.

TRUMP:  Let’s see whether or not I proved it.  You looked at some proof.  I mean, let’s see whether or not I prove it.  I just don’t choose to do it right now.  I choose to do it before the committee, and maybe I’ll do it before the committee.  Maybe I’ll do it before I see the result of the committee.  But I think we have some very good stuff.  And we’re in the process of putting it together, and I think it’s going to be very demonstrative.  But just on Twitter, if I don’t do that, I won’t get my word out.  Because when I tell — when I say things, the press doesn’t cover it accurately.  They cover it very inaccurately.  Much of the press.

Some of the press — by the way, some of the finest people I know are reporters.  Reporters are wonderful.  I’m talking about the fake media, the fake news.  And there’s a lot of fake news.  So if I’m not going to — if they’re not going to do me the honor and the public the honor of spreading my word accurately as it was meant, and you know exactly what I’m talking about, because there’s been nobody in history that got more dishonest media than I’ve gotten.  You look at some of the stories in “The New York Times”.  You look at some of the stories in “The Washington Post”.  Take a look at what’s going on with CBS and NBC in particular and ABC — take a look at CNN.  It’s a complete hit job.  No matter what you do, no matter how good — no matter how great it is, they don’t report it in a positive fashion.

So, when I can reach, whether it’s 90 million or 100 million or 80 million, however many people it may turn out to be, when you add everything up — and then of course it gets disseminated from there, when I can reach that many people, Twitter is a wonderful thing for me, because I get the word out.

CARLSON:  Does it ever go through any kind of mediator —

TRUMP:  Sure it does.  Sure.  Sometimes I’ll —

CARLSON:  Do you show your staff and —

TRUMP:  Sometimes I’ll have something and I’ll say, what do you think about this?  A lot of times, my staff comes to me and they say, could you do a tweet on this or that?  Because it’s not being shown correctly.  I mean, they’ll come to me a lot and they’ll say, could you do — I probably wouldn’t be here — I’m not talking about Twitter, because it’s really Twitter, Facebook, and lots of other things, OK.  But I might not be here talking to you right now as President if I didn’t have an honest way of getting the word out.