Notes and Comment Blog


None of us do

Mar 8th, 2018 11:22 am | By

Neither do I.



Cosmopolitan

Mar 8th, 2018 11:14 am | By

The Huffington Post tells us the word “globalist” is the hot new thing in the White House right now…and not in a good way.

The term “globalist” has been used at the White House at least three times this week in reference to an outgoing Jewish Trump administration official, raising some eyebrows because the word is increasingly used in xenophobic and anti-Semitic contexts.

The word came up on Wednesday when a reporter asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether a similar candidate will take the place of Gary Cohn, the outgoing director of President Donald Trump’s National Economic Council.

“He was a noted free trader, a globalist. Will the president seek another globalist, another free trader?” Fox News reporter John Roberts asked.

Normally, we’d think of Republicans as fitting that description somewhat more than Democrats, at least left-leaning Democrats. The left is cautious about “free trade” because it can mean doing away with all regulations, including ones to protect workers, consumers, the environment, natural resources – that kind of thing. Normally free trade is bedrock principle with Republicans and ambivalent with Democrats. But we’re not in Normally any more.

Also, Fox News reporter.

Also, Fox News reporter apparently taking care to cue Sanders how she is supposed to respond. “Not the good kind of globalist, Sarah, but the kind who opposes something Our Dear Donald favors. The enemy kind. Nothing to do with the J-word, but enemy all the same.”

This followed Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, using the word “globalist,” in quotation marks, to describe Cohn in a statement that was tweeted by his department on Tuesday.

Business Insider also looked askance at Mulvaney’s creepy statement.

“As a right-wing conservative and founding member of the Freedom Caucus, I never expected that the coworker I would work closest, and best, with at the White House would be a ‘globalist,'” Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement.

He continued: “Gary Cohn is one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with. Having the chance to collaborate with him will remain one of the highlights of my career in public service.”

“Globalist” is often used as a derogatory term by opponents of free trade and internationally focused economic policies. In far-right circles, it often carries anti-Semitic undertones. Far-right news organizations like Breitbart, for example, have used globe emojis or “globalist” as a way to denote Jewish people, including Cohn.

So it’s a twofer – it’s an anti-Semitic dogwhistle and it frames an internationalist outlook as evil.

“Globalist” should be a compliment. “Globalist” should be to “nationalist” as altruist should be to egomaniac.

Business Insider again:

This isn’t the first time a White House official has used the term to disparage a colleague. Last April, The Daily Beast reported that then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon vented about Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner “being a globalist.”

And Jared Kushner is what else? Oh yes…Jewish. What a coincidence.

Back to the Huffington Post:

The third instance came during a Cabinet meeting on Thursday, when Trump lauded Cohn as “a globalist,” while adding, “but I still like him.”

“He’s been terrific,” Trump said. “He may be a globalist, but I still like him. He’s seriously globalist, there’s no question, but you know what, in his own way he’s also a nationalist because he loves our country.”

There’s a reason “America First” had stopped being a useful political label until racist Donald Trump came along: it was the slogan of a nativist anti-Semitic veering-into-pro-Nazi movement fronted by Charles Lindbergh up until Pearl Harbor. It kind of lost its luster once the Allied troops arrived at Auschwitz.

The term can be used to describe someone who has universal or open-world beliefs, particularly in regard to trade or public policies, but it can carry a more sinister meaning for members of the far right.

For the anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi members of the so-called “alt-right” white supremacist movement, “globalist” is a euphemism for “Jew.” It refers to the longstanding conspiracy theory about an international Jewish cabal working to undermine the traditional white family and Western culture by pushing for immigration and diversity.

A glossary of extremist language published by The New York Times places “globalism” among terms like “alt-right,” “antifa” and “cuck.”

“For the far right, globalism has long had distinct xenophobic, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic overtones,” the article states. “It refers to a conspiratorial worldview: a cabal that likes open borders, diversity and weak nation states, and that dislikes white people, Christianity and the traditional culture of their own country.”

In other words a cabal that does not exist.

When will this nightmare end.



The real danger

Mar 8th, 2018 8:25 am | By

Ah Devin Nunes – the lying weasel who will commit any outrage to try to save his darling Don.

…last week, the California Republican was credibly accused of leaking texts from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s ranking member to Fox News as part of an unusually misguided partisan stunt.

Patriotism at its finest.

Slate added last week that Nunes’ greatest hits include “being forced to admit that he hasn’t personally read the court documents that he based an FBI–Hillary conspiracy memo on, being forced to admit that the FBI actually did disclose the information about Trump ‘dossier’ author Christopher Steele that Nunes had accused it of not disclosing, and being forced to admit that he had coordinated his statements about the phony Obama ‘wiretapping’ story with the White House and then lied about it.”

Lying weasel, lying in the service of an even worse lying weasel. Let us now praise famous men.

Nunes spies the real danger:

One of the nation’s exercises in democracy can be found on late-night TV. Hosts crack sharply critical jokes about the country’s politicians without fear of retribution from said politicians.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) sees that exercise very differently. He told Fox News Channel that a skit Stephen Colbert did mocking Nunes’s memo alleging FBI bias in the Russia investigation is a danger to the country.

Isn’t that funny now – here’s me thinking the danger to the country is Representative Devin Nunes lying and leaking a senator’s texts to Fox News, when really it’s a late night talk show host mocking said Devin Nunes.

Nunes’s “danger” comment makes more sense when viewed through an authoritarian lens — that free speech can somehow undermine government that has been functioning for nearly 250 years.

Nunes’s allies in the White House have increasingly decided to see the world through the lens of authoritarianism. Instead of rebutting their critics, White House officials have resorted, a number of times, to saying it’s irresponsible to criticize the president and his staff. One of the most egregious examples came in October when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it would be “highly inappropriate” for journalists to fact-check Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, because he’s a general.

If all else fails I guess they could just poison us.



A back channel for Putin to control Trump

Mar 7th, 2018 5:15 pm | By

Ohhhhhh god.

The Post, minutes ago – 8 p.m. their time, so it’s another one of these end-of-the-day booms that cause Maddow to tear up the show she and her people just spent the day writing and producing.

This one though…

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has gathered evidence that a secret meeting in the Seychelles just before the inauguration of Donald Trump was an effort to establish a back channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin — apparently contradicting statements made to lawmakers by one of its participants, according to people familiar with the matter.

Urk.

So it’s all true. Tillerson, and his demolition of the State Department and our ability to conduct a reasonable foreign policy – all Putin’s doing. Putin who saw to it that that double agent who retired to Salisbury got poisoned along with his daughter and the cop who got to them first. World of Oligarchs, here we are.

A witness cooperating with Mueller has told investigators the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries, according to the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

While Obama was still president, and not in plain view at Trump Tower or similar, but in deep secrecy in the Seychelles.

George Nader, a Lebanese American business who helped organize and attended the Seychelles meeting, has testified on the matter before a grand jury gathering evidence about discussions between the Trump transition team and emissaries of the Kremlin, as part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.

They nabbed him at Dulles in mid-January and he’s been co-operating ever since.

While Mueller is probing the circumstances of the Seychelles meeting, he is also more broadly examining apparent efforts by the Trump transition team to create a back channel for secret talks between the new administration and the Kremlin. Mueller was appointed special counsel to investigate possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, whether any Americans assisted in such efforts, and any other matters that arise in the course of his probe.

Investigators now suspect that the Seychelles meeting may have been one of the first efforts to establish such a line of communications between the two governments, these people said. Nader’s account is considered key evidence — but not the only evidence — about what transpired in the Seychelles, according to people familiar with the matter.

Nader has long served as an adviser to the UAE leadership, and in that role he met more than once with Trump officials, including Stephen K. Bannon and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to people familiar with the matter. After the Seychelles meeting, Nader visited the White House several times, and met at least once there with Bannon and Kushner, these people said.

This is just awful. I still can’t get my head around it. We’ve been pitched into the filth and we can’t get out.



So what did you guys talk about?

Mar 7th, 2018 4:32 pm | By

Another boom. The Times reports Trump doing something you’re really not supposed to do…something that a punctilious observer could consider witness tampering.

The special counsel in the Russia investigation has learned of two conversations in recent months in which President Trump asked key witnesses about matters they discussed with investigators, according to three people familiar with the encounters.

In one episode, the president told an aide that the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, should issue a statement denying a New York Times article in January. The article said Mr. McGahn told investigators that the president once asked him to fire the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. McGahn never released a statement and later had to remind the president that he had indeed asked Mr. McGahn to see that Mr. Mueller was dismissed, the people said.

In the other episode, Mr. Trump asked his former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, how his interview had gone with the special counsel’s investigators and whether they had been “nice,” according to two people familiar with the discussion.

The episodes demonstrate that even as the special counsel investigation appears to be intensifying, the president has ignored his lawyers’ advice to avoid doing anything publicly or privately that could create the appearance of interfering with it.

Like screaming about witch hunts on Twitter, or interrogating witnesses about their testimony.

Legal experts said Mr. Trump’s contact with the men most likely did not rise to the level of witness tampering. But witnesses and lawyers who learned about the conversations viewed them as potentially a problem and shared them with Mr. Mueller.

Not quite witness tampering, but witness pestering, witness teasing, witness bothering?

In investigating Russian election interference, Mr. Mueller is also examining whether the president tried to obstruct the inquiry. The former F.B.I. director James B. Comey said that Mr. Trump asked him for his loyalty and to end the investigation into his first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. After firing Mr. Comey, the president said privately* that the dismissal had relieved “great pressure” on him. And Mr. Trump also told White House officials after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation that he needed someone running the Justice Department who would protect him.

*And publicly! To Lester Holt on national television, and to the Russians in their oh so private meeting the next day. Private in the sense that the US news media were not allowed in, but public in the sense that any Russian who rolled up and asked was allowed in.

The experts said the meetings with Mr. McGahn and Mr. Priebus would probably sharpen Mr. Mueller’s focus on the president’s interactions with other witnesses. The special counsel has questioned witnesses recently about their interactions with the president since the investigation began. The experts also said the episodes could serve as evidence for Mr. Mueller in an obstruction case.

Because, if you didn’t do anything amiss, why are you asking all these questions? Hmmmmm?

Central figures in investigations are almost always advised by their own lawyers to keep from speaking with witnesses and prosecutors to prevent accusations of witness tampering. The president has not been questioned by Mr. Mueller; Mr. Trump’s lawyers are negotiating terms of a possible interview. Learning even basic details about what other witnesses told investigators could help the president shape his own answers.

Well, in theory. Trump isn’t smart enough for that.

Mr. Trump’s interactions with Mr. McGahn unfolded in the days after the Jan. 25 Times article, which said that Mr. McGahn threatened to quit last June after the president asked him to fire the special counsel. After the article was published, the White House staff secretary, Rob Porter, told Mr. McGahn that the president wanted him to release a statement saying that the story was not true, the people said.

Mr. Porter, who resigned last month amid a domestic abuse scandal, told Mr. McGahn the president had suggested he might “get rid of” Mr. McGahn if he chose not to challenge the article, the people briefed on the conversation said.

Mr. McGahn did not publicly deny the article, and the president later confronted him in the Oval Office in front of the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, according to the people.

Obstruct justice much?

The president said he had never ordered Mr. McGahn to fire the special counsel. Mr. McGahn replied that the president was wrong and that he had in fact asked Mr. McGahn in June to call the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, to tell him that the special counsel had a series of conflicts that disqualified him for overseeing the investigation and that he had to be dismissed. The president told Mr. McGahn that he did not remember the discussion that way.

And Donald Trump has never told a lie in his life, yeah?

Priebus got together with Don in December. Priebus’s friends have advised him to steer clear of Don, but Priebus wants to build up his law practice so he went ahead and schmoozed with the head honcho.

Keep it up, Don. You’re giving us hope.



90 minutes

Mar 7th, 2018 3:38 pm | By

The Trump administration cares.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made a contentious visit to the site of last month’s Florida school shooting Wednesday, in which she was criticized by survivors and abruptly walked out of her own press conference.

Ok, the Trump administration cares about people who are deferential to them.

DeVos spent the morning at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where former student Nikolas Cruz gunned down 17 students and teachers on Valentine’s Day. Her visit immediately sparked criticism and backlash from shooting survivors and advocates on social media.

“Do something unexpected: answer our questions,” Aly Sheehy tweeted at DeVos. “You came to our school just for publicity and avoided our questions for the 90 minutes you were actually here. How about you do your job?”

I think she sees her job as privatizing as many public schools as possible and letting the others rot.

She also told reporters she toured the school with student journalists, and vowed to return to sit down with them and further delve into the issues. The editor of the school’s newspaper “The Eagle Eye,” however, said DeVos “refused to even meet/speak with students.”

So she tells an occasional lie – at least she didn’t open fire on them!

Plus she’s a good sport and listens to criticism.

When further pressed on the issue of arming school staff, with questions surrounding training standards and student opposition to such a program, DeVos walked away from her podium and ended the press conference.

Kids today are so disrespectful.



Vlad gets around

Mar 7th, 2018 10:27 am | By

It was a nerve agent.

A nerve agent was used to try to murder a former Russian spy and his daughter, police have said.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found unconscious in Salisbury on Sunday afternoon and remain critically ill.

A police officer who was the first to attend the scene is now in a serious condition in hospital, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, head of Counter Terrorism Policing, said.

Is that terrifying enough yet? Will Trump ever have second thoughts about his best friend Volodya?

There are 14 other deaths under scrutiny.

In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, another former Russian agent, was rushed to hospital after collapsing in London. As the world watched, a rare and highly radioactive isotope destroyed Litvinenko’s organs one by one, and he died three weeks later.

A British public inquiry found that the former Russian agent had ingested Polonium 210, and that his assassination was likely ordered directly by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

That is, Donald Trump’s dear darling beloved friend. Trump says Putin is trustworthy while Mueller is not. Trump believes whatever Putin tells him, while he treats Mueller’s investigation as a fraudulent attack on him by political enemies.

Russia has denied any involvement, but the case has put renewed scrutiny on a string of deaths in the UK in the past two decades. The chair of the home affairs select committee, Yvette Cooper MP, wrote to Home Secretary Amber Rudd on Tuesday calling for a review of 14 other cases.

Those cases were variously found to have been heart attacks, suicides, accidents, and deaths by natural causes, but some allege that they amount to a pattern of state-sponsored murder on British streets.

The CIA carried out some murders of that kind in the past. Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffat were blown up by a car bomb in Washington D.C. Our hands are not clean. Nevertheless…

There was Alexander Perepilichnyy.

Perepilichnyy was born in Ukraine and made his fortune as a financier in Russia, allegedly helping government-connected Russians launder money. In 2010 he fled to Britain and began to co-operate with British authorities. He collapsed during a run near his home, the day he returned from a short trip to Paris.

Initial toxicology tests on Perepilichnyy’s body revealed nothing suspicious and it was ruled to be a natural death. But two years later, a fresh round of tests arranged by a life insurance company found traces of a rare and deadly plant toxin in Perepilichnyy’s stomach.

Gelsemium, a flowering plant native to China and Southeast Asia, is known as “heartbreak grass”, because its leaves, if swallowed, cause cardiac arrest.

US intelligence sources told the BBC at the time that they believed Perepilichnyy was murdered. An extensive investigation by Buzzfeed News claimed that the businessman was one of at least 14 people US officials suspected were killed in the UK by Russia.

(BuzzFeed again. Just yesterday I was reminded that BuzzFeed broke the story of the Steele dossier. BuzzFeed is far from just a gossip rag.)

In Salisbury, counter-terror police have taken over the investigation. The park bench where Mr Skripal collapsed has been cordoned off and a restaurant where he ate lunch has been temporarily closed.

If it turns out to have been a Russian attack, part of the purpose will have been to warn those in Russia against betrayal, and those in exile that they are never safe, said Mr Browder. “It sends a message to the rank and file that terrible things can befall you and your family,” he said.

That’s the country Trump is in thrall to, either through blackmail or through bone-deep stupidity. That’s the country that is remaking the US in its own image.



Six months would be a start

Mar 7th, 2018 8:59 am | By

18 U.S. Code § 713: Use of likenesses of the great seal of the United States, the seals of the President and Vice President, the seal of the United States Senate,…United States House of Representatives, and the seal of the United States Congress

(a) Whoever knowingly displays any printed or other likeness of the great seal of the United States, or of the seals of the President or the Vice President of the United States, or the seal of the United States Senate, or the seal of the United States House of Representatives, or the seal of the United States Congress, or any facsimile thereof, in, or in connection with, any advertisement, poster, circular, book, pamphlet, or other publication, public meeting, play, motion picture, telecast, or other production, or on any building, monument, or stationery, for the purpose of conveying, or in a manner reasonably calculated to convey, a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States or by any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

(b) Whoever, except as authorized under regulations promulgated by the President and published in the Federal Register, knowingly manufactures, reproduces, sells, or purchases for resale, either separately or appended to any article manufactured or sold, any likeness of the seals of the President or Vice President, or any substantial part thereof, except for manufacture or sale of the article for the official use of the Government of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

Meanwhile, back at the Trump Tower gift shop:



They filmed the abuse and then released it on social media

Mar 7th, 2018 8:37 am | By

The BBC:

The leader and deputy leader of far-right group Britain First have been found guilty of religiously-aggravated harassment.

Paul Golding, 36, and Jayda Fransen, 31, were arrested over the distribution of leaflets and posting of online videos during a Muslim gang-rape trial.

The court heard they had targeted homes and people in Kent whom they believed [to be] connected to a rape trial at Canterbury Crown Court where three Muslim men and a teenager were convicted of rape and jailed.

Is this a matter of free speech, or of targeted harassment?

I think it’s the second.

During their trial in January, Folkestone Magistrates’ Court heard the pair confronted people they believed were defendants in the gang-rape trial.

However, in each case, they instead targeted innocent members of the public.

They filmed the abuse and then released it on social media and through the Britain First website.

They also posted offensive leaflets through the letterboxes of houses in the area where the rape-trial defendants lived.

Up close and personal; that’s harassment.



Homeostasis and social justice

Mar 6th, 2018 5:05 pm | By

Antonio Damasio has a new book, and started a Twitter account apparently to promote it. Interesting thoughts.

That in a nutshell is what I tried to argue in a Free Inquiry column responding to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Twitter aphorism:

Earth needs a virtual country: #Rationalia, with a one-line Constitution: All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.

I said no, evidence is necessary but not sufficient, you have to start farther back – with human needs and feelings. I learned that partly from reading Damasio, so I’m glad to see he has a new book.

Wanting to feel good rather than bad, in short, and then extending that to other people – that is, realizing they have the same need and want, and grasping that fairness means extending the good things to everyone. Fairness is part of homeostasis too, it’s the solution to the discomfort of seeing or enacting injustice – unless of course you’re like a Trump and genuinely see your own needs as the only needs that matter.

That’s the latest one.



Three strikes and you’re still in

Mar 6th, 2018 4:35 pm | By

Kellyanne Conway broke the law. Twice.

A federal ethics agency has ruled that one of President Trump’s closest White House aides twice broke the law separating government from politics.

Kellyanne Conway, who was Trump’s campaign manager in 2016, advocated for Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s recent Senate election during live television interviews broadcast from the White House lawn.

The Office of Special Counsel found Conway violated the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from using their office for partisan politics.

The OSC is nothing to do with Mueller’s investigation. (They should use different names then. Have a heart.)

In two interviews on the Alabama race, one with Fox News and one with CNN, Conway spoke in front of the White House using her official title, counselor to the president, while repeatedly attacking the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones.

“Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don’t be fooled. He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime. Weak on borders. He’s strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners,” said Conway in a Nov. 20 appearance on Fox & Friends.

Unabashed campaigning, while brandishing the White House.

“While the Hatch Act allows federal employees to express their views about candidates and political issues as private citizens, it restricts employees from using their official government positions for partisan political purposes, including by trying to influence partisan elections,” the agency’s report says. “Ms. Conway’s statements during the Fox & Friends and New Day interviews impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate.”

The agency says Conway never responded to its inquiries and says that it has submitted its report to the president for “appropriate disciplinary action.” Because Conway is a high-ranking presidential appointee, it’s up to Trump to decide what action is appropriate.

And because Trump is a narcissist who thinks he outranks the law, Trump won’t even bother to think about action. A deputy press secretary issued a statement saying nuh-uh she did not either shut up.

Conway also came under scrutiny for endorsing the fashion line of the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump during a February 2017 interview. Walter Shaub, the then-head of the Office of Government Ethics, criticized the president’s decision at that time not to discipline Conway.

Shaub, who has since left the government and now works for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said Tuesday that Trump needs to act on the OSC report about Conway. “The White House cannot continue to have one standard for the federal workforce generally and a lower standard for appointees who are close to this President.”

But it’s going to. Nothing will stop it.



Give the peace prize to John Miller Barron

Mar 6th, 2018 11:34 am | By

You know how Trump has a long history of using fake names to promote himself and his scams?

TheWashington Post set off a controversy last week when it published a story alleging that Trump posed as a public relations man named John Miller to energize the tabloid scandal raging over his affair with the model/actress Marla Maples and his divorce from his first wife Ivana. Trump last week denied that he’d made the call. The report provoked a new round of questions about Trump’s character. What could possibly motivate a grown man running a business empire to do such a thing? And what does this say about Trump’s temperament?

In fact, Trump’s use of fake names is far more extensive than most people realize. For more than a decade – 1980 to 1991 — Trump used phony names to promote himself. I know from my work as Trump’s biographer that even prior to the John Miller episode, Trump had posed as John Baron (or Barron).

And then named his kid that. Nothing creepy there, oh hell no.

Anyway. Now the Times reports that someone nominated Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize, and that someone is…a forgery. Twice.

A total of 329 candidates — 217 individuals and 112 organizations — are being considered for this year’s prize, which will be announced in October. The identities of the candidates are kept secret, and indeed, the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the prizes, is forbidden from divulging to divulge any information about its deliberations for 50 years, and even then, only for scholarship purposes and at its discretion.

But a wrinkle in this time-honored process — the peace prize was first awarded in 1901 — emerged on Tuesday, when the committee announced that it had uncovered what appeared to be a forged nomination of President Trump for the prize. The matter has been referred to the Oslo police for investigation.

Moreover, the forgery appears to have occurred twice: Olav Njolstad, the secretary of the five-member committee, said it appeared that a forged nomination of Mr. Trump for the prize was also submitted last year — and was also referred to the police. (The earlier forgery was not disclosed to the public at the time.)

It was probably…um…Hillary Clinton. Yeah, that’s it! She did it to get him in trouble. Or Obama did it. Or the two of them did it, and Oprah gave them a car afterwards.

Inspector Rune Skjold, the head of the economic crimes section of the Oslo police, said that investigators had been in touch with the F.B.I. since last fall, which suggests that the forged nominations originated in the United States. He said the police believed that the same perpetrator was behind both forgeries.

Who but who could it possibly be?

Not the guy who put a fake cover of TIME starring himself on the wall of one of his golf clubs. He would never do a thing like that.



A whole new level

Mar 6th, 2018 11:08 am | By

Corrupt enough yet?

A key aide to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has been granted permission to make extra money moonlighting for private clients whose identities are being kept secret.

A letter approving outside employment contracts for John Konkus — signed by an EPA ethics lawyer in August — was released Monday by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The ethics official noted that Konkus’ outside contracts presented a “financial conflict of interest” and barred him from participating in matters at EPA that would have a “direct and predictable” financial benefit for his clients.

Norm Eisen said on Twitter that he didn’t even let people do outside work for non-profits when he was Obama’s ethics honcho.

The Washington Post reported in September that Konkus had been scrutinizing grant applications for mentions of climate change, which he reportedly referred to as “the double C-word.”

That’s in line with statements by Pruitt, who as the administration’s top environmental official has embraced a pro-fossil-fuel agenda while questioning climate science showing that global warming is primarily caused by man-made carbon emissions.

House Democrats decried what they called the politicization of the EPA’s grants-making process in a letter sent to Pruitt on Monday.

“A political appointee cutting millions of dollars in funding to EPA grant recipients on what appears to be a politically motivated basis, while at the same time being authorized to serve as a paid media consultant to unnamed outside clients, raises serious concerns of potential conflicts of interest,” said the letter. Signatories included Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

I guess Republicans have an edge in ignoring conflicts of interest, since they think profit is sacred and thus holy and thus incapable of involving corruption.

Environmentalists said Monday that the agency’s lack of transparency about the private payments to EPA staff on the public’s payroll raises concerns about whom they are really working for.

“The American people already know that Scott Pruitt is working for corporate polluters and not for them, but the revelation that his staff is moonlighting for private clients while working at the EPA full-time brings suspicions of pay-to-play to a whole new level,” said Melinda Pierce, the legislative director of the Sierra Club. “And if Konkus is not working for polluters directly, the public is forced to ask whether he is running a partisan political operation from within the agency instead.”

#swamp



Supervision

Mar 6th, 2018 10:34 am | By

So is Putin really deciding what Secretary of State we can have?

Jane Mayer reports a memo of Christopher Steele’s that indicates a maybe.

In the spring of 2017, after eight weeks in hiding, Steele gave a brief statement to the media, announcing his intention of getting back to work. On the advice of his lawyers, he hasn’t spoken publicly since. But Steele talked at length with Mueller’s investigators in September. It isn’t known what they discussed, but, given the seriousness with which Steele views the subject, those who know him suspect that he shared many of his sources, and much else, with the Mueller team.

One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller’s investigators is a memo that he wrote in late November, 2016, after his contract with Fusion had ended. This memo, which did not surface publicly with the others, is shorter than the rest, and is based on one source, described as “a senior Russian official.” The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but what he’d heard was astonishing: people were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. (During Romney’s run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.) The memo said that the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would coöperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy—and an incoming President.

It’s just one source, and the source himself says it’s just “talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs”…but as Mayer goes on to say, if you look at what did happen, it bears an odd resemblance to Putin’s likely wish list.

As fantastical as the memo sounds, subsequent events could be said to support it. In a humiliating public spectacle, Trump dangled the post before Romney until early December, then rejected him. There are plenty of domestic political reasons that Trump may have turned against Romney. Trump loyalists, for instance, noted Romney’s public opposition to Trump during the campaign. Roger Stone, the longtime Trump aide, has suggested that Trump was vengefully tormenting Romney, and had never seriously considered him. (Romney declined to comment. The White House said that he was never a first choice for the role and declined to comment about any communications that the Trump team may have had with Russia on the subject.) In any case, on December 13, 2016, Trump gave Rex Tillerson, the C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, the job. The choice was a surprise to most, and a happy one in Moscow, because Tillerson’s business ties with the Kremlin were long-standing and warm. (In 2011, he brokered a historic partnership between ExxonMobil and Rosneft.) After the election, Congress imposed additional sanctions on Russia, in retaliation for its interference, but Trump and Tillerson have resisted enacting them.

There was a headline in the Times yesterday, saying Congress gave the State Department $120 million to fight off Russian election-meddling, and the State Department has spent $0 of it. Zero. Zeeeeero.



Pending

Mar 6th, 2018 9:55 am | By

Peter Aldhous at BuzzFeed, one of the three names on the Lawrence Krauss article, reports on one slice of the reaction:

The nexus of the US skeptic community, the Center for Inquiry, today suspended its ties with physicist Lawrence Krauss. The decision came 11 days after BuzzFeed News revealed a series of allegations of sexual harassment against him.

In a tweet, the organization said, “Serious allegations have been raised regarding Lawrence Krauss, and we suspend our association with him pending further information.”

Krauss was made an honorary member of CFI’s board of directors in December 2011. He has now been removed from the list of honorary board members on the organization’s website.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science retweeted the CFI statement, and also shared it on Facebook. The comments on the Facebook post are almost all from men, and loathsome. Yay atheist “community.”

Jason MacDonald The court of public opinion passes down another judgment before any due process is utilized, and the Richard Dawkins Page shows its spinelessness by disassociating from an unconvicted person based solely on unproven accusations based in rumor, hearsay, and for the fear of being associated. Pathetic.

Alex Homero Oh no another recognizable evil man tried to get laid by making advances toward a woman. That’s harrassing and assault in feminist liberal lalaland! Burn him at the stake! 🙄

Nicholas Weppner in the age of Tinder causing steep increase in siphilis cases, and 50 shades of grey being the best selling book this is pretty rediculous, guys super famous in his circle and not a geriatric. Feminists love taking scalps and no one seems to want to stand up to them.

Laurance Emory I’m sticking with him until presented with hard real harassment evidence. Unfortunately some current accusations are like a fatwah from Ayotollah: no impartial jury to consider, no one can rescind or appeal once it is out.

Danni Feveile Börm Great. Another conviction without a trial. I dunno what it is about yet, but what happened to innocent until proven guilty? I expect better from a foundation with reason in its name.

David Tanti Richard Dawkins went full stupid on this one.

If Krauss is alleged to have committed a crime, he should be reported to the authorities and investigated.

He is innocent until proven guilty.

Does Dawkins not remember the Salem Witch Trials?

And on and on and on.

Back to the Aldhous piece.

Krauss told BuzzFeed News that the story presented “false and misleading defamatory allegations.” He did not respond to a request for comment, made through his lawyer, about CFI’s decision to suspend him.

CFI declined to elaborate on what information caused it to suspend its relationship with Krauss, or what “further information” it is seeking.

In 2016, CFI merged with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, which also tweeted the statement about Krauss.

Well, it tweeted the CFI statement, as coming from CFI. It didn’t tweet it as coming from the RDFRS, or as a joint statement. It’s not clear to what extent the RDFRS is endorsing or sharing in the statement. On the other hand the commenters on the Facebook post are taking it as an endorsement by the RDFRS and by Dawkins himself, so maybe my questions are otiose.

Dawkins has not yet commented publicly on the allegations against Krauss. However, three days after the BuzzFeed News story was published, he posted a tweet stating that he was looking forward to a 10-year anniversary event for the Origins Project at Arizona State University, which Krauss heads:

https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/status/967677932247371776

Quite so, and it seemed very pointed (though also passive-aggressive), so maybe my questions are not otiose.

Dawkins did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In May, he and Krauss are scheduled to go on a speaking tour in Australia and New Zealand called “Science in the Soul.” The tour is billed as featuring observations on “the current state of anti-scientific affairs” by speakers revered for “their unapologetic takedowns of religion.”

Shortly before CFI’s announcement, Think Inc., the Australian promoter of the tour, told BuzzFeed News that it was still considering whether it should go ahead. “We will make a decision in the coming days,” Desh Amila of Think Inc. said.

Whichever way they decide, I hope they can avoid the “bitchez r lyin” routine.



In that case why mention feminism at all?

Mar 5th, 2018 5:57 pm | By

Classic.

I thought feminism was supposed to mean equality for all, if that’s the case why does “feminism” need to mentioned if equality was mentioned? Because clearly feminism is women’s advancement only.

Just classic. Feminism means equality for all, therefore, there’s no need to mention “feminism,” because the goal is equality for all, so that just makes this pesky scare-quoted “feminism” thing superfluous AND totally creepy because it’s women’s advancement only. WHY CAN’T WOMEN JUST FOCUS ON EVERYBODY GOD DAMN IT and by everybody I mean men, especially with men who wave the Murikan flag not once but TWICE.



“Should I spend 80 hours going over my emails, Jake?”

Mar 5th, 2018 4:03 pm | By

A confusing story. A former Trump aide has been subpoenaed by Mueller but says he’s not going, Mueller will have to arrest him, so neener neener. Also, Trump is awful and this is all his fault.

Former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg publicly defied the Justice Department special counsel on Monday, announcing in an extraordinary series of media interviews that he had been subpoenaed to appear in front of a federal grand jury investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election but that he will refuse to go.

“Let him arrest me,” Nunberg told The Washington Post in his first stop on a media blitz, saying he does not plan to comply with a subpoena from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to hand over emails and other documents related to President Trump and nine other current and former Trump advisers.

But that’s apparently not because he’s keen to defend Mr Golf.

Nunberg seized the national media spotlight for much of Monday afternoon to denounce Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” and to detail what he said he had learned about the probe from his private interview last month with Mueller’s team.

Nunberg said repeatedly that he believes Mueller is trying to build a case that Trump was “the Manchurian candidate.” He said that he suspects Mueller has concluded that Trump “may have done something” based on the questions he was asked by the special counsel’s team.

The line of questioning, Nunberg told MSNBC anchor Katy Tur, “insinuated to me that [Trump] may have done something, and he may very well have.” He added, “Trump may have very well done something during the election. I don’t know what it is. I could be wrong, by the way.”

Hey, he may have done it, but to hell with the subpoena anyway, let the prosecutor arrest me!

Sounds like a manic episode.

Nunberg — who advised Trump in the run-up to the campaign but was fired shortly after Trump declared his candidacy — was unsparing in his criticism of the White House staff and even of the president himself.

He complained to The Post that Trump had treated him, as well as Stone and others, terribly and would eventually regret it.

In one of his CNN interviews, he said Trump sometimes acted like “an idiot,” noting that he met last year with Russian leaders inside the Oval Office, where he shared classified intelligence.

“Granted, Donald Trump caused this because he’s an idiot,” Nunberg told CNN anchor Jake Tapper. “Who the hell advised him to allow those Russians in the Oval Office?”

But all the same he won’t comply with the subpoena.

Refusing to comply with a subpoena from the special counsel could have real consequences. Susan McDougal, a former business partner of Bill Clinton, spent 18 months behind bars for civil contempt after she refused to testify before a grand jury investigating the Whitewater real estate controversy during Clinton’s presidency.

McDougal said in an interview Monday that she would not do anything differently — though Nunberg should know that being incarcerated is no joke. She said she was moved from facility to facility and spent a good deal of time in isolation.

“It is not an easy thing to do,” McDougal said. “You don’t just go sit and work out in the afternoons.”

McDougal questioned why Nunberg was appearing on television suggesting he knew things that might be of interest to Mueller. “Why would he do that and then not cooperate?” she asked. “The difference is, I didn’t know anything.”

Right? That’s what I’m wondering. Why be all defiant while also telling the national media what the investigation is up to?

Aides in the West Wing watched Nunberg’s television interviews closely, voicing frustration that he had thrust Russia back into the headlines and laughing over what they considered Nunberg’s lack of discipline.

Ah, it must be so refreshing to have someone else to laugh at for lack of discipline.

Nunberg told The Post that he was planning to go on Bloomberg TV and tear up the subpoena.

But he soon changed his plans. Later Monday afternoon, Nunberg called into MSNBC for a lengthy, live interview with Tur. Minutes later, he called into CNN, where Gloria Borger interviewed him. And the next hour, Nunberg was on CNN again, this time with anchor Jake Tapper.

Relative to the restrained comments or flat-out silence of other witnesses in Mueller’s investigation, Nunberg’s interviews were provocative. Nunberg told Tur that his lawyer is “probably going to dump me,” prompting Tur to ask, “Are you ready to go to jail?”

And as he wrapped up the MSNBC interview, he asked Tur, “What do you think Mueller is going to do to me?”

Nunberg sounded similarly skittish on the phone with Tapper and appeared to have second thoughts about his decision to defy Mueller.

“Should I spent 80 hours going over my emails, Jake?” he asked.

“If it were me,” Tapper replied, “I would . . . It sounds like a pain, but he is the special counsel.”

Yep. Sounds manic.

Editing to add video of Nunberg squealing (literally squealing) in outrage at being told to hand over all his emails with Bannon and other fish while Katy Tur keeps asking him questions like an adult. Half hilarious half outrageous. H/t Dave Ricks



Bros protecting bros

Mar 5th, 2018 12:51 pm | By

Adam Lee has a post on the wall of silence around Lawrence Krauss. We like to pounce on churchy sexual predators, he observes, but then we back away in panic if it’s one of the bros.

When serious allegations of sexual assault were made against Michael Shermer, several high-profile atheist individuals and groups circled the wagons around him and tried to build a wall of silence – either dismissing the accusations as unimportant, outright refusing to mention them, or trying to dissuade others from doing so. To this day, Shermer hasn’t faced any personal or career consequences that I’m aware of.

And now the same thing appears to be happening with Krauss.

There’s a group of people calling themselves Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia, whose original mission was to inject an appropriately balanced and skeptical viewpoint into articles on supernatural and paranormal topics. That’s a mission I’d be all in favor of. However, as Hayley Stevens points out, they’ve apparently adopted a new purpose: making sure the allegations against Krauss are kept off his biography page on Wikipedia.

You can see this for yourself: as of today, March 5, Krauss’ Wikipedia page has no mention of any recent developments – not the allegations themselves, not Krauss being barred from multiple college campuses, not several of his upcoming talks being canceled. If you look at the talk page, you can see several contributors deleting edits by other users that mention these things, and insisting that the Buzzfeed article is just “gossip” and that “Buzzfeed isn’t usually considered a reliable source”, and that this merits totally excluding any mention of it.

While Buzzfeed does publish its share of silly clickbait, their investigative unit employs 20 journalists and engages in serious, important reporting. One of their reporters was a Pulitzer finalist in 2017; another won a Pulitzer prior to being hired there. Ironically, BuzzFeed’s own Wikipedia page has categories for “Notable stories” (significantly, including the sexual-misconduct accusations against Kevin Spacey) and “Awards and recognition”.

As for the journalists who wrote the Krauss story, one of them, Peter Aldhous, has reported for the journals Nature and Science and teaches investigative and policy reporting at UC Santa Cruz. The other reporter, Azeen Gorayshi, has written for the Guardian, New Scientist, Newsweek, and Wired, among others. The editor, Virginia Hughes, has written for the Atlantic, the New York Times, National Geographic, and Slate.

Well they have a defense for that: notice the wording: “Buzzfeed isn’t usually considered a reliable source” – it’s a sibling of Trump’s constant “everybody is saying” and “people are saying.” It’s also self-fulfilling – enough people go “Buzzfeed isn’t usually considered a reliable source” and it becomes ever more true. Some “skepticism.”

And then, Adam goes on, there’s Matt Dillahunty. He knows Matt slightly, and considers him a generally good guy and an egalitarian. But. There was that inconvenient evening with Matt and Sam Harris and Lawrence Krauss that was scheduled for two days after the BuzzFeed story dropped. Oh dear. I wrote a post about that, and about the irritating bro smugness of the conversation between Harris and Dillahunty, and how comfortable these guys are defending Krauss amongst themselves while the women are never there. Just never never never fucking there. The atheist movement gets a zero on the Bechdel test yet again, or more like a minus 500 because they used their all-bro event to explain why bitches be lyin about Krauss and isn’t that just a terrible thing now. And then they get huffy!

Afterward, Matt wrote this post on Facebook, in which he wrote angrily that Buzzfeed’s Virginia Hughes contacted him on his personal cell phone to ask about a followup she’s writing, presumably related to Krauss. He considered this an unforgivable breach of his privacy.

I left a comment on this thread. I don’t have a screenshot of it – more on that in a second – but I said that, whether Matt thinks of himself this way or not, he’s a public figure with regards to this story; that getting public figures to comment on stories they’re connected to is literally a journalist’s job; and that in my opinion, nothing she did constitutes harassment.

How did Matt respond? He deleted the comment and blocked Adam without a word. He did the same thing to anyone else who didn’t kiss his bum and say he was correct on all points. He did it to Amanda Marcotte.

And then, there’s this.

It’s worth mentioning in this context that Matt Dillahunty was planning to introduce Michael Shermer at a conference as recently as February 19. He’s said that he no longer is, but hasn’t explained what prompted the change.

The link is to a Twitter thread.

Matt replied to say he won’t be introducing Shermer.

Matt replied to say that is no longer the case.

How fascinating, but I have to wonder why it was ever the case, given the allegations about Shermer, which include one of flat-out rape of the “get her too drunk to say no or yes” variety. Matt knows that perfectly well, yet until recently he was on the schedule as introducing Shermer. I guess now he’s just sharing a stage with him.

Amanda Marcotte pointed out in her Facebook post on this that it’s not really fair to upbraid people for sharing stages with baddies, because it amounts to expecting them to damage their careers when they’re not the ones who did anything wrong. I saw her point, and think she’s right – it’s not fair at all. But…

But it still riles me when they go right on doing the bro-fests anyway, and talk over our heads when they do them, and solemnly agree with each other that we must not listen to women talking about a bro who is obnoxiously handsy and sexist around women.



A war on public life

Mar 5th, 2018 11:28 am | By

I generally find E. J. Dionne too bland and middleground, but he’s good today on how contempt for expertise has led us to this runway to hell.

For the past week or so, an avalanche of commentary about the chaos of the Trump regime has pointed to how key appointees are rushing toward the exits; how Trump springs new policies with little preparation and changes his views news cycle to news cycle; how ill-prepared Trump and many of his aides were for the rigors of the White House; and how recklessly they cast aside norms and rules aimed at preventing conflicts of interest and sleaze.

How did we get a government of this sort? For decades, our country has been witness to a war on public life. Legitimate dissatisfaction with government has turned into contempt for government itself and a denial of the indispensability of politics.

We value expertise from our doctors, nurses, engineers and scientists. But when it comes to government, there is a popular assumption that those who spend their lives mastering the arts of administration, politics and policymaking must be up to no good. This inclination, by the way, is prevalent in other democracies, too.

Well we do and we don’t value expertise from our doctors, nurses, engineers and scientists. There’s plenty of anti-intellectualism and down with expertisism aimed at them too. Anti-vaxxers? Goop? Detox? Homeopathy? Jade eggs? Naturopathic everything, chatter about the spirit as opposed to science, yadda yadda. People aren’t knitting their own freeway bridges yet, but it could happen.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we did the opposite? If we taught it as a cardinal principle that we should respect knowledge, and be aware of what we don’t know, and try to learn more instead of trying to diminish the value of knowing?

It is an attitude that leads voters to mistake inexperience for purity and outsider status (often, as in Trump’s case, a feigned outsiderism) for an exceptional understanding of the people’s wishes.

It has turned the word “politician” into an epithet, even though most of our best presidents (Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt especially) have been politicians through and through. The cliched and supposedly high-minded distinction between “a politician” and “a statesman” was always wrong. It’s coming back to haunt us.

Add LBJ to that list. If he’d been less of a “politician” he wouldn’t have been able to nudge and bully Congress into passing the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

Yes, democracy can be frustrating. Our leaders have made big mistakes. Power and wealth are concentrated into too few hands. But repairing our problems requires citizens willing to engage in public life, not shun it, and people in government who respect the work they are asked to undertake.

Clueless narcissistic real-estate developers are not among those people.



Your Time is running out

Mar 5th, 2018 10:56 am | By

The NRA decided it would be a good time to threaten us all.

We’re supposed to report people who make threats, right? So that the system will work the way it’s supposed to, and people who make threats will be instantly and magically prevented from shooting up a school, and there will be no need to ban the sale of assault weapons.

“To every lying member of the media, to every Hollywood phony, to the role model athletes who use their free speech to alter and undermine what our flag represents, to the politicians who would rather watch America burn than lose one ounce of their own personal power, to the late-night hosts who think their opinions are the only opinions that matter…,” Loesch says against a backing track of ominous music. “…your time is running out.”

Before she opens fire.