Notes and Comment Blog

The bot-driven political scam

Sep 3rd, 2017 11:13 am | By

Stewart reports an item that’s not available in English yet:

[A] brief report on how Israeli/German satirical artist Shahak Shapira (whose work we’ve featured in the past) was involved in the takeover of 31 secret AfD Facebook groups.

Working with “Die Partei”, this was the culmination of an 11-month infiltration operation. After the infiltrators (using fake profiles) had gained the trust of the admins over many months, and had received admin privileges themselves, they staged a simultaneous coup, got rid of the “real” admins, exposed the groups’ content, including hate speech and fake news, to public view and posted a video by Shapira explaining to those members who were real the precise inner workings of the bot-driven political scam into which they’d been suckered. His bottom line was that if the AfD can’t run 31 secret Facebook groups without being overthrown, then they are also incapable of running a country (so vote for “Die Partei” instead).

Those with knowledge of German who want more can read this, which includes a link to Shapira’s video.


Piece by piece

Sep 3rd, 2017 10:35 am | By

Alt National Park Service on Facebook is reporting Trump’s destruction of the National Park Service as it happens.


An unfolding crisis at a flooded chemical plant outside Houston on Thursday led to the prompt announcement of an investigation by a federal body that Trump would eliminate. The administration’s proposed budget would wind down funding(-100%) for the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, a small, independent federal agency tasked with investigating chemical accidents. The board, which has a budget of $11 million and 40 staff, played a major part in investigating the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and has conducted more than 130 investigations since its began operations in 1998. It originated as part of a set of 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act.

Image may contain: outdoor and water

Also yesterday, a few hours earlier:

ATTN: Fossil fuel officials take key spots on new Interior royalties committee. The new Interior Department committee designed to assess federal royalty policies for energy development on public land. Officials for ConocoPhillips Co., Anadarko Petroleum Corp., and Cloud Peak Energy will serve as primary members of the panel. The new royalties committee, which will hold its first meeting on Oct. 4, is set to advise the Interior Department on the industry impact of policy and regulatory changes related to energy production royalty rates on federal and tribal land.

The pattern is evident.

As tough as this was, it’s been a wonderful thing

Sep 2nd, 2017 4:59 pm | By

The imbecile president went back to Houston today. He says everything’s great, people there are blissed out.

President Trump toured part of a cavernous Houston convention center on Saturday that has provided refuge to thousands of families displaced by flooding since Hurricane Harvey roared into the city a week ago.

Trump said he saw happiness among the people crowded into the NRG Center. Many have lost their homes, cars and possessions in the epic flooding.

“We saw a lot of happiness,” Trump told reporters traveling with him. “It’s been really nice. It’s been a wonderful thing. As tough as this was, it’s been a wonderful thing, I think even for the country to watch it, for the world to watch. It’s been beautiful.”

Yeah. It’s been great. The people who lost everything are so happy, it’s really nice, plus it’s great television. It’s beautiful. It’s just a fabulous fabulous thing all around.

Asked what people had said to him, Trump replied, “They’re really happy with what’s going on. It’s been something that’s been very well-received. Even by you guys [the media], it’s been well-received.”

Definitely. The hurricane was well-received, the flooding was well-received, the days in the shelter were well-received. The whole thing has been absolutely awesome.

Some of the adults did not sound particularly happy.

Devon Harris, 37, a construction worker, was skeptical about the impact of a presidential visit.

“Is he going to help? Can he help? I lost my home. My job is gone. My tools are gone. My car is gone. My life is gone. What is Trump going to do?”

Later, the Trumps put on plastic gloves and helped hand out lunch boxes — hot dogs, potato chips and applesauce.


After Trump’s remarks on stage, he and Mrs. Trump went outside, where a line of cars was waiting to collect supplies. They loaded about a half-dozen cars and trucks.

“Hey can you handle this?” Trump said to the first recipient, a man in a pickup truck as the president handed him a plastic American Red Cross bucket.

“There’s a lot of stuff in here,” Trump said. “You’re all set,” he said after loading a few boxes in the flatbed and slapping the truck a couple of times.

“It’s good exercise,” Trump said as the man drove off.


A third of Superfund sites are in flood zones

Sep 2nd, 2017 4:18 pm | By

The AP reports that many Superfund sites in Houston are flooded, thus at risk of spreading contamination. It also reports that while its reporters have been able to take a look at the sites, the EPA has not.

The Associated Press surveyed seven Superfund sites in and around Houston during the flooding. All had been inundated with water, in some cases many feet deep.

On Saturday, hours after the AP published its first report, the EPA said it had reviewed aerial imagery confirming that 13 of the 41 Superfund sites in Texas were flooded by Harvey and were “experiencing possible damage” due to the storm.

The statement confirmed the AP’s reporting that the EPA had not yet been able to physically visit the Houston-area sites, saying the sites had “not been accessible by response personnel.” EPA staff had checked on two Superfund sites in Corpus Christi on Thursday and found no significant damage.

AP journalists used a boat to document the condition of one flooded Houston-area Superfund site, but accessed others with a vehicle or on foot. The EPA did not immediately respond to questions about why its personnel had not yet been able to do so.

Because Trump and Pruitt have already depopulated the agency so thoroughly that there’s no one there to do so?

“Teams are in place to investigate possible damage to these sites as soon flood waters recede, and personnel are able to safely access the sites,” the EPA statement said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, speaking with reporters at a news conference on Saturday after the AP report was published, said he wants the EPA “in town to address the situation.”

Turner said he didn’t know about the potential environmental concerns soon enough to discuss them with President Donald Trump.

Well I’m not sure discussing them with Trump would have done any good. He wants to destroy the EPA.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has called cleaning up Superfund sites a priority, even as he has taken steps to roll back or delay rules aimed at preventing air and water pollution. Trump’s proposed 2018 budget seeks to cut money for the Superfund program by 30 percent, though congressional Republicans are likely to approve a less severe reduction.

Like Trump, Pruitt has expressed skepticism about the predictions of climate scientists that warmer air and seas will produce stronger, more drenching storms.

And they’ll go right on doing that.

Under the Obama administration, the EPA conducted a nationwide assessment of the increased threat to Superfund sites posed by climate change, including rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes. Of the more than 1,600 sites reviewed as part of the 2012 study, 521 were determined to be in 1-in-100 year and 1-in-500 year flood zones. Nearly 50 sites in coastal areas could also be vulnerable to rising sea levels.

The threats to human health and wildlife from rising waters that inundate Superfund sites vary widely depending on the specific contaminants and the concentrations involved. The EPA report specifically noted the risk that floodwaters might carry away and spread toxic materials over a wider area.

Yes but Trump and Pruitt don’t live in places like that so they don’t care.

Another genocide

Sep 2nd, 2017 1:22 pm | By

This is happening:

They stumble down muddy ravines and flooded creeks through miles of hills and jungle in Bangladesh, and thousands more come each day, in a line stretching to the monsoon-darkened horizon.

Some are gaunt and spent, already starving and carrying listless and dehydrated babies, with many miles to go before they reach any refugee camp.

They are tens of thousands of Rohingya, who arrive bearing accounts of massacre at the hands of the Myanmar security forces and allied mobs that started on Aug. 25, after Rohingya militants staged attacks against government forces.

The retaliation that followed was carried out in methodical assaults on villages, with helicopters raining down fire on civilians and front-line troops cutting off families’ escape. The villagers’ accounts all portray indiscriminate attacks against fleeing noncombatants, adding to a death toll that even in early estimates is high into the hundreds, and is probably vastly worse.

“There are no more villages left, none at all,” said Rashed Ahmed, a 46-year-old farmer from a hamlet in Maungdaw Township in Myanmar. He had already been walking for four days. “There are no more people left, either,” he said. “It is all gone.”

They’re a Muslim ethnic minority in Burma, where the majority is Buddhist. Is Buddhism teaching the majority not to commit genocide? Nope.

The exodus is full of perils itself.

They face another round of gunfire from Myanmar’s border guards, and miles of treacherous hill trails and flood-swollen streams and mud fields ahead before they reach crowded camps without enough food or medical help. Dozens were killed when their boats overturned, leaving the bodies of women and children washed up on river banks.

The term “war crime” seems inadequate:

After militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police posts and an army base on Aug. 25, killing more than a dozen, the Myanmar military began torching entire villages with helicopters and petrol bombs, aided by Buddhist vigilantes from the ethnic Rakhine group, those fleeing the violence said.

Person after person along the trail into Bangladesh told of how the security forces cordoned off Rohingya villages as the fire rained down, and then shot and stabbed civilians. Children were not exempt.

And the refugees are fleeing to Bangladesh, which is already poor and is under heavy flooding.

An international response to the crisis has started. On Wednesday, Britain arranged for a closed-door meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the Rohingya emergency. The civilian government of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has faced mounting global criticism for refusing to acknowledge the magnitude of the military offensive on civilian Rohingya populations.

On Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, rejected allegations from Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration that international aid organizations were somehow complicit in aiding Rohingya militants.

Earlier this year, the United Nations set up a special commission to investigate another military onslaught that caused 85,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh over the course of the following months, following an ARSA attack on police posts in October. But Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has barred the United Nations team from Myanmar.

In an open letter to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, nearly a dozen of her fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates labeled last October’s military offensive “a human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

“Some international experts have warned of the potential for genocide,” said the letter, signed by Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai, among others. “It has all the hallmarks of recent past tragedies: Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Kosovo.”

On Thursday and Friday, when thousands of refugees finally reached the village of Rezu Amtali, a five-hour trek through the hills from the border, there were no aid groups to meet them.

Sympathetic villagers offered some drinking water and packets of snacks, while autorickshaw drivers ferried families to the sprawl of makeshift settlements that surround the Kutupalong camp. Most had to walk hours more, through torrential downpours, to reach the refugee shantytown.

So there’s that.

He is guaranteed fawning media coverage

Sep 2nd, 2017 11:30 am | By

Fox News, on the other hand, considers all this fuss about concussions to be more “political correctness.” Ok…so conservatives just power through their brain damage? It’s only sissies who find CTE to be an obstacle to normal functioning?

Did you know who Ed Cunningham is? Probably not. Cunningham, a college football analyst for ESPN, was unknown to all but hardcore football fans. But by tying himself closely to a politically correct cause – in this case, resigning his position Wednesday, in a protest over concussions in football – he is guaranteed fawning media coverage.  The New York Times is leading the Cunningham canonization.

Right? I bet he drinks lattes, and thinks racism is bad. What a pussy.

With the new college football season for most teams starting this weekend, the resignation seems timed for maximum attention.  But the politically correct movement seems much more focused on opposing what is uniquely American than where players actually face the greatest risks of concussion.

That’s right! It’s treason, is what it is.

The opinionator, John Lott, goes on to say soccer football is more concussion prone. Then that’s a reason to fix that problem too – it’s not a reason to jeer at the idea that football is dangerous for players.

That cheerleader’s spot

Sep 2nd, 2017 11:15 am | By

It’s football season! Woo-hoo!

But one tv football commentator and former player has quit his commentator gig.

[Ed] Cunningham, 48, resigned from one of the top jobs in sports broadcasting because of his growing discomfort with the damage being inflicted on the players he was watching each week. The hits kept coming, right in front of him, until Cunningham said he could not, in good conscience, continue his supporting role in football’s multibillion-dollar apparatus.

“I take full ownership of my alignment with the sport,” he said. “I can just no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot.”

Football has seen high-profile N.F.L. players retire early, even pre-emptively, out of concern about their long-term health, with particular worry for the brain. But Cunningham may be the first leading broadcaster to step away from football for a related reason — because it felt wrong to be such a close witness to the carnage, profiting from a sport that he knows is killing some of its participants.

And killing them in a particularly nasty way.

As a color analyst, primarily providing commentary between plays, Cunningham built a reputation among college football fans, and even coaches, for his pointed criticism toward what he thought were reckless hits and irresponsible coaching decisions that endangered the health of athletes. His strong opinions often got him denounced on fan message boards and earned him angry calls from coaches and administrators.

Because football is so much more important than some guy’s brain.

At first, Cunningham told ESPN executives that he was leaving to spend more time with his sons, ages 3 and 5, and because of his workload as a film and television producer. He was a producer for “Undefeated,” a documentary about an urban high school football team, and has a string of projects lined up.

“Those are two of the issues,” Cunningham said. He waited weeks before he revealed the third. “The big one was my ethical concerns.”

A football broadcaster leaving a job because of concerns over the game’s safety appears to have no precedent.

“I’ve been in the business 20 years and it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of anything like that,” Fitting said. “But this is the world we live in now. More and more players are stepping away in a given season or a given year, and who knows. Are there other announcers out there who have been afraid to do this? I don’t know. Is he going to be a pioneer in this small niche? I don’t know. Who knows what the future holds.”

I on the other hand find it pretty amazing that football just rolls on regardless, despite the growing evidence that it’s a very brain-trauma-prone sport.

If nothing else, Cunningham’s decision could prompt some self-examination among those who watch, promote, coach or otherwise participate in football without actually playing it.

Al Michaels, the veteran broadcaster who does play-by-play for NBC’s Sunday night N.F.L. broadcasts, said he did not see his role in the booth as an ethical dilemma.

“I don’t feel that my being part of covering the National Football League is perpetuating danger,” he said in a phone interview. “If it’s not me, somebody else is going to do this. There are too many good things about football, too many things I enjoy about it. I can understand maybe somebody feeling that way, but I’d be hard-pressed to find somebody else in my business who would make that decision.”

Yeah, that – that level of thoughtlessness surprises me. Yes, sure, let’s go on promoting football and cheering it on and advertising it and broadcasting it, so that more generations of players can end up with destroyed brains and slow miserable deaths.

Millions suffering

Sep 2nd, 2017 10:17 am | By

Taslima on the floods in India and Bangladesh:

Its angry, meandering tone was problematic

Sep 1st, 2017 5:56 pm | By

About that letter that’s today’s boom, the one that Trump and Miller cobbled together on a rainy day at Bedminster to explain why Trump hates Comey and was going to fire him, and that is now in Mueller’s hands – apparently it looks bad for Rosenstein. It means he knew all along that Trump wanted to fire Comey because of the Russia investigation, and sheds a harsh light on his failure to recuse himself. I gather this from reading Benjamin Wittes on Twitter.

The Times:

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has obtained a letter drafted by President Trump and a top political aide that offered an unvarnished view of Mr. Trump’s thinking in the days before the president fired the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey.

The circumstances and reasons for the firing are believed to be a significant element of Mr. Mueller’s investigation, which includes whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice by firing Mr. Comey.

The letter, drafted in May, was met with opposition from Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, who believed that its angry, meandering tone was problematic, according to interviews with a dozen administration officials and others briefed on the matter. Among Mr. McGahn’s concerns were references to private conversations the president had with Mr. Comey, including times when the F.B.I. director told Mr. Trump he was not under investigation in the F.B.I.’s continuing Russia inquiry.

Mr. McGahn successfully blocked the president from sending the letter — which Mr. Trump had composed with Stephen Miller, one of the president’s top political advisers — to Mr. Comey. But a copy was given to the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, who then drafted his own letter. Mr. Rosenstein’s letter was ultimately used as the Trump administration’s public rationale for Mr. Comey’s firing, which was that Mr. Comey had mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

So that kind of means Rosenstein aided a deception – he crafted a bogus explanation for why Trump was firing Comey, and put it out there in his capacity as the acting Attorney General (since Sessions was recused). It was always a matter of speculation whether or not Rosenstein knew his letter was a smoke screen, and the fact that he saw the draft letter means he did know.

Mr. Rosenstein is overseeing Mr. Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to disrupt last year’s presidential election, as well as whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice.

He’s…overseeing it after having meddled in it, on behalf of the chief suspect. In his capacity as head of the Justice Department. Erm. That doesn’t look good.

Mr. Trump was angry that Mr. Comey had privately told him three times that he was not under investigation, yet would not clear his name publicly. Mr. Comey later confirmed in testimony to Congress in June that he had told the president that he was not under investigation, but said he did not make it public because the situation might change.

Mr. Miller and Mr. Kushner both told the president that weekend that they were in favor of firing Mr. Comey.

Mr. Trump ordered Mr. Miller to draft a letter, and dictated his unfettered thoughts. Several people who saw Mr. Miller’s multi-page draft described it as a “screed.”

Sounds like Trump.

Mr. McGahn arranged for the president to meet in the Oval Office that day with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Mr. Rosenstein, whom he knew had been pursuing separate efforts to fire Mr. Comey. The two men were particularly angry about testimony Mr. Comey had given to the Senate Judiciary Committee the previous week, when he said “it makes me mildly nauseous” to think his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation might have had an impact on the 2016 election.

Mr. Comey’s conduct during the hearing added to concerns of Mr. Sessions and Mr. Rosenstein that the F.B.I. director had botched the Clinton investigation and had overstepped the boundaries of his job. Shortly after that hearing, Mr. Rosenstein expressed his concerns about Mr. Comey to a White House lawyer, who relayed details of the conversation to his bosses at the White House.

During the May 8 Oval Office meeting with Mr. Trump, Mr. Rosenstein was given a copy of the original letter and agreed to write a separate memo for Mr. Trump about why Mr. Comey should be fired.

Mr. Rosenstein’s memo arrived at the White House the next day. The lengthy diatribe Mr. Miller had written had been replaced by a simpler rationale — that Mr. Comey should be dismissed because of his handling of the Clinton email investigation. Unlike Mr. Trump’s letter, it made no mention of the times Mr. Comey had told the president he was not under investigation.

Mr. Rosenstein’s memo became the foundation for the terse termination letter that Mr. Trump had an aide attempt to deliver late on the afternoon of May 9 to F.B.I. headquarters in Washington. The White House made one significant revision, adding a point that was personally important to Mr. Trump: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau,” the letter said.

Rosenstein acted like Trump’s personal lawyer as opposed to a top official of the Justice Department. That seems all wrong.

Will he?

Sep 1st, 2017 4:08 pm | By

Trump says he’s going to donate a million dollars to the victims of Harvey. I’ll believe it when he actually does it. He has a history of saying he’s going to do things like that and then not doing them, and he does not have a history of doing things like that. Put the two together and you get a hard time believing he’ll actually do what he said he was going to do. He’s not a kind man, or a generous man, or a compassionate man. He’s a man who gets two scoops when everyone else gets one.

President Trump has pledged to donate $1 million from his personal fortune to storm victims in Texas and Louisiana.

“He would like to join in the efforts that a lot of the people that we’ve seen across this country do,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said Thursday during her daily briefing at the White House.

Ms. Sanders said the president has not decided when or where he will send the donation.

Yeah I bet he hasn’t, and he’ll still be mulling over it next week and next month and next year.

Mr. Trump’s pledge is one of the largest financial commitments made by a sitting president to a charitable cause. Ms. Huckabee, pressed by reporters, said she wasn’t sure whether the donation would come from Mr. Trump’s foundation or his own bank account, saying only that it would come from the president’s “personal” funds.

His foundation isn’t his personal funds. He’s not supposed to use it to pay for portraits of himself, and I doubt that he’s supposed to use it to make donations from himself personally. If the donation comes from his “foundation,” in other words, it’s not a personal donation and he doesn’t get to call it that.

Trump reportedly donates far less of his income and assets than many of his ultra wealthy peers, and this donation comes with questions attached. In the past, he has failed to follow through on promised donations from his nonprofit foundation.

Quite so. He wouldn’t even comp his facilities for a charity event one of his sons put on.

Other opps

Sep 1st, 2017 12:20 pm | By

Good news bad news. David Clarke has resigned his job as Milwaukee County sheriff…”to pursue other opportunities.” That probably means he’s going to be Trump’s new whatever – expert on human rights perhaps? Good for Milwaukee, bad for all of us.

“After almost 40 years serving the great people of Milwaukee County, I have chosen to retire to pursue other opportunities,” Clarke said. “I will have news about my next steps in the very near future” — in fact, he tweeted Friday that the announcement will come next week.

Earlier this year, jailers under his watch drew the attentions of prosecutors, who launched an investigation after an inmate died of dehydration. A jury recommended prosecutors file charges against more than half a dozen of Clarke’s employees for allegedly turning off water to the dead man’s cell.

Clarke, who was not charged himself, accepted the move as “part of the process” and denied any wrongdoing, noting he “cannot control someone who comes in in bad medical health that is a heroin user or has all of these other ailments and they happen to die inside that facility downtown.”

Later this year, CNN reported that Clarke plagiarized parts of his 2013 master’s thesis, failing “to properly attribute his sources at least 47 times.”

Incidents such as these — together with statements from the sheriff such as one declaring that blacks are “uneducated, they’re lazy, and they’re morally bankrupt” — have done little to curry favor with local politicians and national advocates.

That’s a stupid gloss. The issue isn’t “currying favor,” it’s being a decent human and public servant. I wish journalists would stop making it about public relations or “divisiveness” and focus on what’s important.

Delta flooding

Sep 1st, 2017 11:37 am | By

Speaking of floods

As the world’s media trains its sights on the tragic events in Texas and Louisiana, another water-driven catastrophe is unfolding in villages like Beraberi throughout Bangladesh and parts of Nepal and India.

There, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) estimates that at least 1,200 have died and more than 41 million people have been affected by monsoon rains and severe flooding as of June this year. The rains are now moving northwest towards Pakistan, where more devastation is expected.

At its peak on August 11, the equivalent to almost a week’s worth of average rainfall during the summer monsoon season was dumped across parts of Bangladesh in the space of a few hours, according to the country’s Meteorological Department, forcing villagers in low-lying northern areas to grab what few possessions they could carry and flee their homes in search of higher ground.

And still the rains keep coming. In Bangladesh alone, floods have so far claimed the lives of 142 people, and [affected] over 8.5 million.

In Beraberi, one of numerous island villages know as “chars” dotted along the Jamuna River, entire homes have been washed away, and crops and food supplies — including livestock — all but wiped out. When aid workers carrying relief parcels from the IFRC arrived by helicopter earlier this week, villagers described the rains as the “worst in living memory.”

It’s played hell with the rice crop.

This is just a taste of what global warming is going to do to Bangladesh. And that’s not even all.

The sheer number of displaced people would be a monumental challenge for any government, but in Bangladesh, where as many as 27,000 Rohingya refugees have this week arrived across the border from Myanmar — joining an estimated 85,000 currently housed in camps — the situation becomes additionally perilous.

Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries on the planet.

The destroyer

Aug 31st, 2017 5:40 pm | By

That disgusting pig, that thieving racist billionaire, is slashing funding for the outreach that helps people sign up for health insurance. He’s deliberately causing poor people to fail to get health insurance out of spite and political revenge.

The Trump administration will significantly scale back Obamacare outreach efforts for the upcoming enrollment season, slashing spending on advertising and funding to community groups deployed to boost enrollment.

Senior HHS officials on Thursday afternoon said the federal government will cut the Obamacare advertising budget from $100 million to $10 million in the upcoming 2018 enrollment season. Funding for so-called navigator organizations that help people enroll will be cut from $63 million last year to roughly $37 million.

The announcement is the latest sign that President Donald Trump, who has vowed to let Obamacare collapse, will significantly diminish Obamacare implementation after the repeal effort in Congress stalled a month ago.

He wants it to fail. It’s not named after him, so he wants it to fail.

Trump is escalating his attack on the courts into concrete actions

Aug 31st, 2017 5:26 pm | By

Jennifer Rubin explains one line of argument against Trump’s pardon of Arpaio.

Meanwhile, Protect Democracy, an activist group seeking to thwart Trump’s violations of legal norms, and a group of lawyers have sent a letter to Raymond N. Hulser and John Dixon Keller of the Public Integrity Section, Criminal Division of the Justice Department, arguing that the pardon goes beyond constitutional limits. In their letter obtained by Right Turn, they argue:

While the Constitution’s pardon power is broad, it is not unlimited. Like all provisions of the original Constitution of 1787, it is limited by later-enacted amendments, starting with the Bill of Rights. For example, were a president to announce that he planned to pardon all white defendants convicted of a certain crime but not all black defendants, that would conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Similarly, issuance of a pardon that violates the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause is also suspect. Under the Due Process Clause, no one in the United States (citizen or otherwise) may “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” But for due process and judicial review to function, courts must be able to restrain government officials. Due process requires that, when a government official is found by a court to be violating individuals’ constitutional rights, the court can issue effective relief (such as an injunction) ordering the official to cease this unconstitutional conduct. And for an injunction to be effective, there must be a penalty for violation of the injunction—principally, contempt of court.

Put simply, the argument is that the president cannot obviate the court’s powers to enforce its orders when the constitutional rights of others are at stake. “The president can’t use the pardon power to immunize lawless officials from consequences for violating people’s constitutional rights,” says one of the lawyers who authored the letter, Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech for People. Clearly, there is a larger concern here that goes beyond Arpaio. “After repeatedly belittling and undermining judges verbally and on Twitter, now President Trump is escalating his attack on the courts into concrete actions,” says Ian Bassin, executive director of Protect Democracy. “His pardon and celebration of Joe Arpaio for ignoring a judicial order is a threat to our democracy and every citizen’s rights, and should not be allowed to stand.”

It seems compelling, doesn’t it. The Due Process clause exists. People have a right to due process. A court found that Arpaio was violating that right. Trump tore that finding up – meaning the right wasn’t enforced. A right is worthless if an authoritarian chief executive is going to prevent courts from enforcing it.

Those challenging the pardon understand there is no precedent for this — but neither is there a precedent for a pardon of this type. “While many pardons are controversial politically, we are unaware of any past example of a pardon to a public official for criminal contempt of court for violating a court order to stop a systemic practice of violating individuals’ constitutional rights,” Fein says. He posits the example of criminal contempt in the context of desegregation. “In 1962, after the governor and lieutenant governor of Mississippi disobeyed a court order to allow James Meredith to attend the University of Mississippi, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered the Department of Justice to bring criminal contempt charges, which it then did,” Fein recalls. “Eventually, while the criminal contempt case was pending, the Mississippi officials relented and allowed Meredith (and others) to attend the university. But if the president had pardoned the Mississippi officials from the criminal contempt, it would have sent a clear message to other segregationist officials that court orders could be ignored.”

And that would have been awful.

Didn’t do it and had every right to do it

Aug 31st, 2017 5:03 pm | By

Trump’s lawyers have been spamming Mueller with memos saying he didn’t do it plus he had every right to do it plus Comey is an unreliable witness.

(I know. Trump calling someone else a liar. I know.)

President Donald Trump’s legal team has met with and sent memos to special counsel Robert Mueller arguing that Trump did not obstruct justice when he abruptly fired James Comey as FBI director in May, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter.

In one June memo, Trump’s lawyers reportedly argued that the president has full authority, granted by the Constitution, to hire or fire whomever he wants, and therefore did not obstruct justice.

Yeah! He can do anything he wants to, the Constitution says so!

Another memo expressed doubt that Comey would be a reliable witness, accusing him of being prone to exaggeration, providing unreliable congressional testimony, and leaking information to reporters, according to the Journal.

Trump’s lawyers are claiming Comey is prone to exaggeration. I know, it’s what lawyers do, but still.

According to the Journal, Mueller did not respond to the memo that declared Trump had not obstructed justice by firing Comey, nor did he respond to the argument questioning Comey’s reliability as a witness.

Nor did he send Trump a dozen roses and an apology.

Culturally sensitive

Aug 31st, 2017 1:38 pm | By

There’s such a thing as being too “culturally sensitive”

Shawn Shirazi is angry about cultural relativism and the growing unwillingness of people here to criticize radical Islam for fear of being labelled racist or Islamophobic.

Born in Iran, Shirazi immigrated to Vancouver where he became a founding member of Cirque de So Gay, an activist group of gay and transgender Middle Eastern men. For several years, the group marched in the Pride Parade and even won an award for their originality. But this year, its application was rejected as “culturally insensitive.”

The rejection is a microcosm of what Shirazi calls “hypocrisy” when it comes to global human rights, but what others argue is showing respect for other cultures and religious traditions.

Its application described it as “casting off the shroud of oppression to unveil the Persian Princess beneath … The Islamic attire is more than just a piece of black fabric. It’s a tool used by governments to impose absolute control and authority over their citizens and even tourists.”

The intent was to encourage dialogue about oppression and individual freedom, “so people can express themselves as they choose, without threat of being flogged, stoned or beheaded.”

But the organizers didn’t want to encourage that particular dialogue.

Vancouver Pride Society’s co-executive director Andrea Arnot said in an interview that organizers thought Cirque de So Gay made light of a nuanced issue.

“Many women choose to wear burkas. It’s part of their identity, their religion and their culture,” she said. “Of course, there are places where it’s enforced.”

Arnot says organizers found its proposal “quite shocking.”

“When I asked other people who are from that cultural or religious background, they said it was offensive,” she said. “I definitely wanted to be sensitive to what is happening in our communities right now.”

Yet, what Cirque de So Gay proposed was exactly what it did at the 2011 Vancouver Pride Parade — dancers threw off their body and face coverings to reveal very little underneath.

You know…if the organizers asked people from the conservative Christian “communities” what they thought of Pride, they would say it was offensive too. If they asked very conservative people of any kind they would say it was offensive. Lesbian and gay rights shouldn’t be contingent on approval by people in very conservative “communities” because it won’t be forthcoming. That’s kind of a given, you know? Editors of lefty magazines don’t seek approval from conservatives either, and vice versa. People differ. If you water down Pride parades until they appeal to absolutely everyone, what will you have?

Cloaked within the niqab debate, hidden by notions of cultural relativism, multiculturalism and accommodation is the more serious question.

What exactly are Canadians doing within all communities both here and abroad to promote, empower and enhance women’s rights so that women can make choices about everything from what they will wear to what they will do with their lives?

Iranian exile and activist Alinejad frequently talks about being silenced.

“It doesn’t matter where I am whenever I want to talk about women’s rights, there are a lot of people saying ‘Shhh, not now here in the West,’” she said recently.

“‘Shhh. Islamophobia. Donald Trump is around.’ ‘Shhh. This is not the right time now to talk about extremism and the restrictive laws, the Sharia laws.’”

In their small way, that silencing is what Shirazi and his group, who have their own experiences with oppression, thought they could highlight.

But what they were told was ‘Shhh. Not here. Not now. We don’t want to fuel Islamaphobia.’

Maryam on Facebook:

Shawn Shirazi and his group Cirque de So Gay were denied entry to the Pride Parade by the Victoria Pride Society because their float of scantily clad bodies unveiled under chadors was deemed to be ‘not culturally sensitive.’ They had done something similar in 2011 but it seems Iranian culture has changed since then… Of course that is absurd.

Everyone knows the chador was imposed by brute force in Iran and for that matter in many places. But throw enough acid in women’s faces and beat unveiled women enough or imprison them over decades as has been done in Iran and you can always find collaborators like those at Victoria Pride saying it’s our culture, shut up and enjoy the oppression.

Sure some women like wearing it just as some men willingly go to gay conversion sessions and exorcisms but you don’t stop defending gay or women’s rights because some have bought into the religious-Right’s narrative and culture.

Don’t forget culture isn’t homogenous. For every person defending FGM, the veil, therapies for ‘curing’ LGBT, there are plenty of people opposing them and the Iranian regime’s ‘culture’ imposed by brute force.

Good thing the Victoria Pride Society wasn’t around to tell the suffragettes demanding women’s right to vote or the black civil rights activists entering white only diners to end segregation to shut up and go home and be more ‘culturally sensitive’. If they were around in the 1970s even, they could have told those organising Pride Vancouver to leave homophobia alone so they can avoid being culturally insensitive… Where would any of us be if we listened to those more concerned with maintaining the status quo than changing things for the better.

Yes I know racism exists. We all live it as we do sexism and homophobia and xenophobia but what does that have to do with our being able to challenge the Iranian regime, the veil, misogyny, homophobia…

Victoria Pride has done the Iranian regime proud. It had a lot of explaining and apologising to do including making sure Cirque de So Gay is there next year.

Damn right.

Destroying the State Department

Aug 31st, 2017 1:07 pm | By

Daniel Drezner has a horrifying piece in the Post about the damage Tillerson is doing – on purpose – to the State Department. He’s gutting it, not carelessly but as a matter of policy.

Did Trump even run on that? Were we ever told that a Trump administration would gut the State Department?

Tillerson’s emphasis on reorganization has resulted in the hemorrhaging of human capital from the State Department. There are myriad examples of top-notch Foreign Service officers retiring rather than having to endure the caprice of Tillerson’s obsession with reorganization. A month ago, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen collected some astonishing on-the-record quotes from recently departed Foreign Service officers:

An exodus is underway. Those who have departed include Nancy McEldowney, the director of the Foreign Service Institute until she retired last month, who described to me “a toxic, troubled environment and organization”; Dana Shell Smith, the former ambassador to Qatar, who said what was most striking was the “complete and utter disdain for our expertise”; and Jake Walles, a former ambassador to Tunisia with some 35 years of experience. “There’s just a slow unraveling of the institution,” he told me.

Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer note in Foreign Policy that one of Foggy Bottom’s top lawyers stepped down this week. Lynch and Gramer’s story is devastating to any defense of Tillerson’s management acumen:

Veteran employees have been leaving in droves since January, when the Trump administration forced the State Department’s top career diplomats, including Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management, and Tom Countryman, the acting undersecretary for arms control, to pack their bags. “This is extraordinary…I’ve never seen anything like it,” said one senior career State Department official….

“When serious hardcore professional diplomats that have records of exemplary service serving both Republicans and Democrats are deciding to head for the door rather than stick it out, something is very wrong,” said Reuben Brigety, dean of George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and former U.S. ambassador to the African Union.

“If you wanted to actually set out to break American diplomacy, this is how you’d do it,” Brigety said.

Just as State’s most senior staff is leaving, Tillerson has halted the pipeline of any fresh infusion of human capital. State’s hiring freeze has been extended to fellowship programs designed to entice the best of the best to consider a career in diplomacy.

This is “draining the swamp” with a vengeance…and with a very twisted interpretation of “the swamp.”

Tillerson is such a bad manager that he has spurned both free money and free talent. The State Department has not spent $80 million authorized by Congress to fight misinformation and Russian propaganda. According to Politico, “Tillerson aide R.C. Hammond suggested the money is unwelcome because any extra funding for programs to counter Russian media influence would anger Moscow, according to a former senior State Department official.” Furthermore, State has spurned all of the Council on Foreign Relations’ International Affairs Fellows. This is a program that makes talented scholars freely available to U.S. foreign affairs agencies for a year. Council president Richard Haass confirmed to me that State has not accepted any of this year’s fellows, despite the fact that they come with zero cost.

Let’s be very clear: Rex Tillerson is purposefully downsizing the State Department.

Last month, the American Conservative’s Daniel Larisonexplained why the crippling of the State Department would be a long-run catastrophe:

Trump and Tillerson are not only hamstringing this administration’s foreign policy in another example of self-sabotage, but they are ensuring that future administrations will inherit a diminished, dysfunctional department. They are going to make it harder to secure U.S. interests abroad in the near term, and they are practically guaranteeing the erosion of U.S. influence everywhere. Insofar as the State Department is the chief institution responsible for American “soft” power, weakening the institution simply makes it easier for an already intervention-prone Washington to rely on “hard” power to respond to crises and conflicts. That means more unnecessary wars, at least some of which might have otherwise been avoided.

That makes my blood run cold.

On ne rit pas

Aug 31st, 2017 12:10 pm | By

Oh, ick. Pas drôle, Charlie.

“God exists! he’s drowned all the Neo-Nazis in Texas.”

Not true, not funny, not humane.

Manafort’s notes included the word “donations”

Aug 31st, 2017 11:21 am | By

Benjamin Wittes tweeted a new “BOOM” four minutes ago. NBC News:

Manafort Notes From Russian Meet Contain Cryptic Reference to ‘Donations’

Well that could certainly be interesting.

Paul Manafort’s notes from a controversial Trump Tower meeting with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign included the word “donations,” near a reference to the Republican National Committee, two sources briefed on the evidence told NBC News.

The references, which have not been previously disclosed, elevated the significance of the June 2016 meeting for congressional investigators, who are focused on determining whether it included any discussion of donations from Russian sources to either the Trump campaign or the Republican Party.

It is illegal for foreigners to donate to American elections. The meeting happened just as Trump had secured the Republican nomination for president, and he was considered a longshot to win. Manafort was the campaign chairman at the time.

It’s almost as if there are actually drawbacks to having a lying cheating thieving gangster running for president.

Manafort’s notes, typed on a smart phone and described by one briefed source as cryptic, were turned over to the House and Senate intelligence committees and to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. They contained the words “donations,” and “RNC” in close proximity, the sources said.

Oh well, maybe he was just fantasizing.

NBC News reported earlier this week that Mueller’s investigators are keenly focused on President Donald Trump’s role in crafting a response to a the New York Times article that first disclosed the meeting.

The sources told NBC News that prosecutors want to know what Trump knew about the meeting and whether he sought to conceal its purpose.

The president dictated a statement sent out under the name of his son that was drafted aboard Air Force One, people familiar with the matter have said.

And was a pack of lies.

A person familiar with Mueller’s strategy said that whether or not Trump made a “knowingly false statement” is now of interest to prosecutors.

“Even if Trump is not charged with a crime as a result of the statement, it could be useful to Mueller’s team to show Trump’s conduct to a jury that may be considering other charges,” the person said.

Goes to intent, m’lud.

Any offence caused

Aug 31st, 2017 10:55 am | By

More foolery.

Usborne publishing has apologised and announced it will revise a puberty guide for boys that states that one of the functions of breasts is “to make the girl look grown-up and attractive”.

Published in 2013, Growing Up for Boys by Alex Frith is described by Usborne as a “frank and friendly book offering boys advice on what to expect from puberty and how to stay happy and confident as they go through physical, psychological and emotional changes”. According to the publisher, it “covers a range of topics, including moods and feelings, what happens to girls, diet, exercise, body image, sex and relationships, self-confidence, alcohol and drugs”.

It is the section on breasts that has drawn criticism, after writer and blogger Simon Ragoonanan, who blogs about fatherhood at Man vs Pink, posted a page from the book on Facebook. “What are breasts for?” writes Frith in the extract. “Girls have breasts for two reasons. One is to make milk for babies. The other is to make the girl look grown-up and attractive. Virtually all breasts, no matter what size or shape they end up when a girl finishes puberty, can do both things.”


Sure, and by the same token, humans have ears for two reasons: to hear, and to hang glasses on. We have feet for two reasons: to walk, and to wear Jimmy Choo shoes. We have elbows for two reasons: to connect the two bits of arm, and to prod people on crowded buses. That’s science.

Page taken from Growing Up for Boys by Alex Firth

After a campaign led by parent group Let Books Be Books three years ago, Usborne announced that it would discontinue publishing gendered titles, such as its pink Girls’ Activity Book and blue Boys’ Activity Book.

I bet we can guess what those color-coded activities were like.

A spokesperson from Usborne Publishing told the Guardian: “Usborne apologises for any offence caused by this wording and will be revising the content for reprinting.”

Identical wording to that in the response from Tatton Park to the “future footballers wife” hat – “any offence” – which tidily avoids actually acknowledging what was wrong with the wording, and translates the objections into silly ruffled feelings as opposed to reasoned arguments against treating girls and women as stupid fluffy empty playthings for the real people, who are male.