Notes and Comment Blog

Five exclamation points

Jul 10th, 2018 8:17 am | By

Silke-Maria Weineck in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Is there anything more gratifying to a nice, liberal academic than turning on NPR and hearing them talk about a book you have written? In that lovely, calm, reasonable NPR voice that makes you think all will be well with the world, if only we can all learn to talk to one another in that lovely, calm, reasonable voice?

Not a lot, I would guess, although I myself have gone all the way off the NPR voice, because to me it sounds not so much lovely calm reasonable as soporific, exaggeratedly slow, and determinedly middlebrow. In reality I would of course rejoice at the publicity and expansion of readership, but I bet I wouldn’t much relish the actual discussion. If NPR had ever done a chat about Does God Hate Women? for instance? It would have been massively (however calmly-soporifically) censorious about it. It would have had a nice liberal priest and Linda Sarsour on to discuss and they would have shredded it for being so blunt and unkind and hostile to religion. Come to think of it, I’ve actually done the BBC version of that chat; they had Madeleine Bunting and Humera Khan to do the shredding.

Anyway, that aside, yes it’s highly gratifying to have one’s book discussed on Serious Radio.

And is there anything more aggravating than hearing that voice attribute the book you wrote to your male co-author? The very same voice that interviewed you for half an hour about this very book, of which you wrote the introduction, the first chapter, the last chapter, and the conclusion?

Here is what happened. Over the last year, I teamed up with Stefan Szymanski, a wildly successful sports economist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, to explore a very odd phenomenon: the screeching fury that, across the globe, greets the word “soccer.”…

So of course we were thrilled when Anders Kelto said he wanted to do a segment on it for All Things Considered. Stefan is an old hound at this kind of thing, but I got a huge kick out of going to the little studio in Ann Arbor to get my visitor’s badge, sit down in front of one of those big microphones, put on my headphones, and hear that soothing NPR voice in my ears.

They had a good long detailed conversation.

Saturday morning, we got an email: “Hey Stefan and Silke, Just a quick heads up that NPR is planning to run the ‘football vs. soccer’ story today on Weekend All Things Considered, in case you want to listen live. It’s slated for 5:41 p.m., but just keep in mind that breaking news can cause schedules to change….. Oh, and because of the way the story came together, I was only able to use clips from Stefan — sorry, Silke!!!!!”

I get five exclamation marks! I suspect he would have dotted his i’s with hearts, if he could have. Not that he had anything to do with my erasure: The story just came together that way, you understand; there was no human involvement.

Also, women’s voices are so irritating, right?

I spent the day quietly fuming, but resigned to my fate. After all, I do not have NPR voice, whereas Stefan has a British accent and an established reputation. All I have to show for myself is a measly book prize from the Modern Language Association. Nobody ever wants to hear from the humanities, anyway, including people who say that the humanities are really, really important.

Then I get a text from a colleague who is listening to the story. It starts with “O god,” and informs me that not only are there no quotes from me in the story, as I already know, but that the book is now attributed exclusively to Stefan. My friend has already written to NPR in protest. He thinks I should ask for a retraction.

That cannot be, I think; surely he misheard. Kelto talked to me for half an hour. He has the book. My name is on the cover. Because I wrote half of it…So I go online and find the segment, and there it is: “Stefan Szymanski is the author of a new book, ‘It’s Football, Not Soccer….’”

I listen to the segment in mounting disbelief. It turns out that Kelto wasn’t satisfied to air just one voice on this segment. One guy with a British accent won’t do. Whom else could he possibly ask to comment, to make this an appropriately diverse NPR segment? Yes, he finds another guy with a British accent, who repeats what the first guy with the British accent said.

But there wasn’t room for the other author.

I share this new development with what is by now my Facebook support group. Pretty much all of them write books, so they all understand what it means to hear on NPR about a book you have written but has now been written without you. A bunch of them write to NPR, including the formidably kind (and kindly formidable) Rebecca Solnit of Men Explain Things to Me fame, who knows a thing or two about how this stuff works. One of them demands that Kelto be suspended, but I think he should simply be sentenced to reporting only on women’s work for a year…

Oh, I think for the rest of his career, don’t you?

What was that about submission again?

Jul 9th, 2018 3:05 pm | By

Not such good news. Sylvia Acosta on Facebook:

I just experienced a Handmaidens Tale moment at the DFW airport by Customs and Border Protection. I was traveling back from Rome and stopped by US customs. I was asked if Sybonae was my daughter and I said yes. Then they asked why if she was my daughter I didn’t have the same last name. I told them I had already established my career and earned my doctorate with my last name Acosta so I had decided not to change it. That is why we had different names. Then the customs office said, well maybe you should have taken your husbands last names so you could prove you were her mom. I told him I had a lot of proof she was my daughter without having had his last name. He then took me to another room where they proceeded to interrogate me and my daughter to prove I was her parent. I had to reexplain why we didn’t share last names and again one said well maybe you should consider changing your name to reflect that you are her mother. I then proceeded to tell them that they were perpetuating an institutionalized misogynistic system which required that a woman take her husbands name and after that and a whole lot more about what I thought about what they had said to me that they let us go. I am furious.

It’s had 13,584 shares as of this moment.


Jul 9th, 2018 2:13 pm | By

A nice piece of news for a change. Reirani Kiri Taurima on Facebook:

This is The Prime Minister Of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. She’s 37. She’s the youngest head of government in the world. She’s also the first western woman to give birth while in power. 2 days after the baby was born – with midwives, standard in NZ hospitals – she introduced her to the country during a press conference on the nightly news. It was really lovely. She named her Neve Te Aroha. Te Aroha means “The Love” in Maori. It represents ALL the names that were submitted (upon her request) from various tribes throughout the country, and was her attempt at capturing them all.

This is her and her partner, no, he’s NOT her husband (gasp!), walking to the press conference. He’s TV fishing show Host Clarke Gayford, and HE will be staying at home with baby Neve when his lady goes back to running the country in 6 weeks. Clarke sports a snazzy sweater he picked up at the op-shop (second-hand store) in Gisborne, and thinks its just kinda logical that he gives up his day job to stay home and look after the baby.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and shoes

A week after the birth on July 1st Jacinda introduced a $5billion Families Package that she’d drafted on the floor of her friends house in Hastings – before her pregnancy. It’s based on the knowledge that the first few years of a babies life are the most important. The package gives an extra $75 a week to low-income families with new babies, and an extra $700 to families for winter heating costs as well (it’s cold as hell down there in the winter). It also increases the Paid Leave for all new parents from 20 weeks to 22 weeks. She announced the details via Facebook live, from her couch, right after she’d finished breastfeeding the baby. Because Kiwis. Some of the most down-to-earth, no-drama-having, just-do-it kind of people you’ll ever meet.

And because Women. We really do know how to lead, and to do it well.


Welcome to the world Neve Te Aroha.

Oh no you don’t

Jul 9th, 2018 11:43 am | By

Another religious maniac heard from:

Leaders must once again acknowledge the importance of submission to God in a free society.

If “leaders” must acknowledge the importance of submission to God then we’re not talking about a free society, are we. The mandate is not free, the “acknowledgement” of a lie is not free, the citation of a non-existent entity is not free, and above all the demand for submission to a god is the very opposite of freedom. It’s the opposite of freedom in its arbitrary substitution of fictions for reality, in its assumption of shared beliefs when no such assumption is warranted or fair, and in its valorization of submission, of all things.

A free society spits on the whole idea of submission.

Marketing homeopathics

Jul 9th, 2018 10:46 am | By

A CFI press release:

The Center for Inquiry has filed a lawsuit in the District of Columbia on behalf of the general public against drug retailer CVS for consumer fraud over its sale and marketing of useless homeopathic medicines. CFI, an organization advancing reason and science, accused the country’s largest drug retailer of deceiving consumers through its misrepresentation of homeopathy’s safety and effectiveness, wasting customers’ money and putting their health at risk.

Click here to access the official complaint (PDF).

Homeopathy is an 18th-century pseudoscience premised on the absurd, unscientific notion that a substance that causes a particular symptom is what should be ingested to alleviate it. Dangerous substances are diluted to the point that no trace of the active ingredient remains, but its alleged effectiveness rests on the nonsensical claim that water molecules have “memories” of the original substance. Homeopathic treatments have no effect whatsoever beyond that of a placebo.

“Homeopathy is a total sham, and CVS knows it. Yet the company persists in deceiving its customers about the effectiveness of homeopathic products,” said Nicholas Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel. “Homeopathics are shelved right alongside scientifically-proven medicines, under the same signs for cold and flu, pain relief, sleep aids, and so on.”

“If you search for ‘flu treatment’ on their website, it even suggests homeopathics to you,” said Little. “CVS is making no distinction between those products that have been vetted and tested by science, and those that are nothing but snake oil.”

I did a post back on January 17 2014 about the homeopathic asthma remedy for sale at my local chain drugstore. The bogus “remedy” for a disease that can kill you.

Safecare AsthmaCare

It clearly suggests it’s a treatment for shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness in chest – yet it has no active ingredient. It’s water. Strength to Nick’s sword arm.

Apart from being a waste of money, choosing homeopathic treatments to the exclusion of evidence-based medicines can result in worsened or prolonged symptoms, and in some cases, even death. Several products have been found to contain poisonous ingredients which have affected tens of thousands of adults and children in just the last few years.

“CVS is taking cynical advantage of their customers’ confusion and trust in the CVS brand, and putting their health at risk to make a profit,” said Little. “And they can’t claim ignorance. If the people in charge of the country’s largest pharmacy don’t know that homeopathy is bunk, they should be kept as far away from the American healthcare system as possible.”

“We made a number of efforts to discuss this situation with CVS, but the concerns we raised were ignored,” said Robyn Blumner, president and CEO of CFI. “Homeopathy is a multi-billion dollar consumer fraud. If CVS would rather line its pockets than protect Americans’ health, we have no choice but to take this fight to the courts.”

CFI has for many years lobbied for tighter regulation of homeopathic products, and has been invited by the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission to provide expert testimony. As a result, the FTC declared in 2016 that the marketing of homeopathic products for specific diseases and symptoms is only acceptable if consumers are told: “(1) there is no scientific evidence that the product works and (2) the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.” And last year, the FDA announced a new “risk-based” policy of regulatory action against homeopathic products.

“CVS should be warned, the evidence for our case is extremely strong,” said Blumner. “And if CVS’s endorsement of homeopathy is any indication, evidence will not be their strong suit.”


For a series of offensive rants

Jul 9th, 2018 9:58 am | By

More Trump dragging us all down down down: a California prosecutor calls Representative Maxine Waters a cunt and a bitch and says she should be killed.

The lead hard-core gang prosecutor in the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office is under investigation for a series of offensive rants on social media, triggering demands for his dismissal.

Deputy District Attorney Michael Selyem, who joined the D.A.’s Office 12 years ago, targeted outspoken U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, former first lady Michelle Obama, Mexican immigrants and the victim of a police shooting in Facebook and Instagram posts labeled by one critic as “hateful rhetoric.”

Of Waters, Selyem said: “Being a loud-mouthed c#nt in the ghetto you would think someone would have shot this bitch by now …”

Free speech, first amendment, yadda yadda, but do D.A.s generally want their offices brought into disrepute by prosecutors who barf out misogynist racist insults and death-hopes on social media?

In an online argument with someone over the police shooting of a civilian, Selyem wrote, “That shitbag got exactly what he deserved. … You reap what you sow. And by the way go fuck yourself you liberal shitbag.” [I filled in the redactions]

Selyem also posted a doctored picture of Michelle Obama holding a sign saying, “Trump grabbed my penis.”

Some already have called for Selyem’s termination, saying the posts were not only offensive, unprofessional and beneath the dignity of a public prosecutor, but that anyone who publicly espouses such sentiments cannot impartially administer justice.

“It is disgusting that a public official sworn to protect the public would have these ugly viewpoints,” said Zeke Hernandez, president of the Santa Ana League of United Latin American Citizens No. 147. “The district attorney needs to take any and all appropriate action to let the public know that it does not agree with Selyem’s hateful rhetoric.”

That includes Selyem’s dismissal, Hernandez said.


I suppose a compromise could be moving Selyem to a less fraught branch of prosecution – bank fraud type of thing. But really? Yes, I think a guy like that shouldn’t be working in law enforcement.

To manufacture 140,000 pairs of shoes

Jul 9th, 2018 8:41 am | By

One rule for Them, another rule for Us.

Donald Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods won’t touch Ivanka Trump’s foreign-made products for her fashion line.

While Trump rails at Harley-Davidson motorcycles for moving some production to Europe to dodge EU tariffs, the first daughter and senior White House adviser has never manufactured a single product for her Ivanka Trump brand on American soil.

Because it’s so much cheaper to outsource manufacturing to countries where wages are even lower than they are here.

Trump enacted tariffs Friday morning on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods, affecting hundreds of products from boats to medical devices and auto parts. Products spared include those manufactured by his daughter.

That means Chengdu Kameido Shoes in Sichuan province can continue to supply shoes for the Ivanka Trump brand as it has in the past. It’s currently bidding for a new contract to manufacture 140,000 pairs of shoes for Trump’s company, a spokesman told The South China Morning Post.

I’m sure there’s some convincing explanation that has to do with a technical skill that no one in the US has but millions of people in Sichuan province rejoice in.

Until January 2017 all of Ivanka Trump’s products were made in factories in China and Hong Kong, research director Chris Rogers at Panjiva, a global trade data tracking company headquartered in New York, told Politico. Since then, some manufacturing has apparently been moved to other overseas factories in Indonesia, South Korea and Vietnam.

Only people in East Asia know how to make vulgar shoes for low wages. It’s a very geographically-specific skill.

Other enterprises and workers in the U.S., meanwhile, are already feeling the heat from a trade war. China’s retaliatory tariffs have targeted U.S. seafood, soybeans, dairy products, cars, apples, whiskey, pet food and cigarettes, among several other products. Farmers are fearful they won’t be able to sell products they had earmarked for China. They also worry that suppliers from other countries will pick up the valuable market — for good — that they have worked for years to cultivate.

“Soybeans are the top agriculture export for the United States, and China is the top market for purchasing those exports,” Iowa soybean grower John Heisdorffer said in a statement. “The math is simple. You tax soybean exports at 25 percent, and you have serious damage to U.S. farmers.”

Despite the president’s mantra to “buy American and hire American” the Trump family retains major business operations overseas, and the Trump Organization continues to manufacture most Trump products in foreign factories.

Why it’s almost as if they’re morals-free tacky money-grubbing profit-seeking lying thieving grifters.

Froggy mustard outrage

Jul 8th, 2018 5:26 pm | By

A year ago Newsweek wryly pointed out that back in 2009 Fox News was so desperate for material on Obama that it had to resort to sneering at his lunch choices.

In news from eight years ago that appears to be from some alternate reality, Obama left the White House and went out for a local bite to eat with vice president and BFF Joe Biden in May. The two politicians ordered hamburgers, MSNBC journalist Andrea Mitchell reported at the time, with the sitting president requesting mustard on his red meat.

The story was featured on Sean Hannity’s show, Hannity’s America, as a screen showed a photoshopped image of Obama surrounded by bottles of mustard with the words “PRESIDENT POUPON” plastered on a red and white banner.

And Hannity actually did make an issue of the fact that Obama ordered mustard on his burger and then asked if they had spicy mustard, Dijon mustard. He actually did.

Something you haven’t had to deal with

Jul 8th, 2018 3:15 pm | By

I just love it when men explain to women how lucky they are to be free of oppression.

Yaaaaaaaz definitely, women never have to feel the prick (or stab) of being labeled. Nobody ever tells us what we are, corrects us about what we are no matter how vehemently we protest, calls us harsh names, teams up in groups to do all that. Lucky lucky lucky fortunate us.

Busted for dancing

Jul 8th, 2018 12:30 pm | By

The Guardian:

Iran has arrested a number of people for posting videos on Instagram, including a young woman whose targeting for her clips of her dancing to music has prompted outrage.

According to activists, Maedeh Hojabri, who appears to be in her late teenage years, was one of a number of users behind popular Instagram accounts who have been arrested. The identities of the other detainees have not been confirmed.

Her account, which has been suspended, was reported to have had more than 600,000 followers.

Hojabri has since appeared on a state television programme with other detainees, in which she and others made what activists say were forced confessions, a tactic often used by Iranian authorities.

State TV showed a young woman, her face blurred, crying and shaking while describing her motivation for producing the videos.


Floods and fires

Jul 8th, 2018 12:08 pm | By

One effect of global warming was always going to be more extreme weather events. That’s not in the future tense any more.

Japan is being swamped by rain.

Record rainfall continued to batter Japan on Sunday, with millions of people being urged to leave their homes because of the risk of flooding and landslides that have already killed dozens.

Government officials pleaded with affected residents to “take adequate actions and follow evacuation instructions issued by municipal governments” as forecasters predicted more rain in western and central Japan.

The flooding had killed at least 68 people by Sunday afternoon, and 56 more were missing. More than three million people were told to move to safer places such as school buildings or municipal shelters.

In the US the fires have started already.

Firefighters have been able to build containment around several destructive wildfires burning in California.

The state’s largest blaze, the 138-square-mile County Fire burning in Napa and Yolo counties, is 57 percent contained. It has destroyed 10 structures since it broke out June 30. It’s one of many fires burning around the drought-ridden states in the U.S. West.

In early July.

Trump is at his golf course today.

Popular with the girls

Jul 8th, 2018 11:57 am | By

Dan Balz at the Washington Post points out that Trump is not universally popular with women. Who knew?

Trump is doing nothing to mitigate the problem. Just the opposite. A man accused by multiple women of sexual misbehavior, he seems to take special delight in denigrating women, especially House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton. In one comment at a rally in Montana last Thursday, he mocked Warren and the #MeToo movement, and he also went after Waters.

And then there was the time he threw candy at Angela Merkel.

The latest Washington Post-Schar School poll, released Friday, highlights the differences in the way women and men see Trump. Overall, the president’s approval rating among men is 54 percent positive and 45 percent negative. Among women, it’s 32 percent positive and 65 percent negative.

So what have the 32% been smoking?

Embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers

Jul 8th, 2018 8:29 am | By

Ice cream, Mandrake? Children’s ice cream?

A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.

Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

Ahhh yes the interests of people who make $$$ by selling substitutes for human breast milk – of course they are self-evidently more important than the interest of billions of infants.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

The American officials didn’t get their way at first, so they resorted to threats.

Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

All that, to protect the profits of formula-makers against those pesky nursing babies.

“We were astonished, appalled and also saddened,” said Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, who has attended meetings of the assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, since the late 1980s.

“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on best way to protect infant and young child health,” she said.

But then the Russians introduced the measure and the US was all “oh well in that case by all means.”

Although lobbyists from the baby food industry attended the meetings in Geneva, health advocates said they saw no direct evidence that they played a role in Washington’s strong-arm tactics. The $70 billion industry, which is dominated by a handful of American and European companies, has seen sales flatten in wealthy countries in recent years, as more women embrace breast-feeding. Overall, global sales are expected to rise by 4 percent in 2018, according to Euromonitor, with most of that growth occurring in developing nations.

The intensity of the administration’s opposition to the breast-feeding resolution stunned public health officials and foreign diplomats, who described it as a marked contrast to the Obama administration, which largely supported W.H.O.’s longstanding policy of encouraging breast-feeding.

I expect it’s much like their intense opposition to any kind of environmental protections: nothing must be allowed to compete with profits. There is zero profit to be made from infants sucking down the breast milk, and that’s just a god damn waste, when money can be made by selling infant formula instead.

Non-optional goddery

Jul 7th, 2018 3:40 pm | By

I find this so infuriating – no doubt disproportionately so, but all the same.

When Tennessee K-12 public students begin classes next month, the national motto “In God We Trust” will be required to be posted somewhere in their schools.

That’s not a real thing – a “national motto.” Congress can make one up if it wants to, but it’s stupid. Congress can make up a national sandwich, a national rock song, a national hat, a national ice cream flavor – a national any damn thing, but it doesn’t mean anything. And as for making up a “national motto” that is a fact claim about a non-existent magical sky-pest – they can fuck right off with that. It’s grotesque that anyone should be forcing it on children who attend public schools. There is no god, and I don’t trust it an inch. Both.

What’s called the “National Motto Act” passed quietly at the Tennessee General Assembly last April.

The bill says local districts shall require each school to display ‘In God We Trust” in a prominent location such as an entry, cafeteria or common area.

The bill’s sponsor said there is no penalty for not displaying the motto.

Disgusting. Keep your god to yourselves.

Maybe everyone else is on holiday

Jul 7th, 2018 11:16 am | By

I’m wondering who runs the Richard Dawkins Foundation Twitter, because it’s someone surprisingly crude and ignorant and dogmatic. A very young intern? But I’m wondering why no adults are supervising.

What? The science is real that transgender people are valid?? What kind of bonkers claim is that? What does it even mean? That’s not something Dawkins would ever say so we know it’s someone else, and I’d be floored if Robyn Blumner said anything that absurd, so who is it?

And then the equally rude and stupid “learn about things” – what things? It sounds like Trump.

And it’s not a one-off.

“The question is settled” is not a good look, especially when it most emphatically is not.

Not even close. “The scientific literature” has nothing to say about whether particular people “are valid” because that’s not any kind of scientific claim to begin with. I’m not clear on what kind of claim it is, but I know it ain’t empirical. And these brisk insulting little commands are just rude-Twitter…they’re not the kind of thing you expect to see a foundation for science and reason pumping out.

It’s weird, I tells ya.

A gangster-like demand

Jul 7th, 2018 10:05 am | By

Oh yes, it’s all going very well.

North Korea accused the Trump administration on Saturday of pushing a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization” and called it “deeply regrettable,” hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his two days of talks in the North Korean capital were “productive.”

How is this possible? Trump just told us the problem was over, done, history,  finito. Fixed by him, he said it was.

On Saturday, Mr. Pompeo and his entourage offered no immediate evidence that they had come away with anything tangible to show that North Korea was willing to surrender its nuclear and missile weapons programs.

Tangible? Oh come now, that’s a very high bar. Surely Trump’s word is all that’s required.

Mr. Pompeo came to Pyongyang to try to get the North Koreans to match their vague commitment to denuclearization — signed by Kim Jong-un in the June meeting with President Trump — with some kind of action. Among the first priorities were a declaration of weapons sites, a timeline of deconstruction efforts and, perhaps, a written statement that the North’s definition of denuclearization matched Mr. Pompeo’s.

Asked if he had gotten any of those, Mr. Pompeo declined to divulge details.

In other words, no.

Privately, Mr. Pompeo has said that he doubts the North Korean leader will ever give up his nuclear weapons. And those doubts have been reinforced in recent days by intelligence showing that North Korea, far from dismantling its weapons facilities, has been expanding them and taking steps to conceal the efforts from the United States.

Mr. Trump has said his summit meeting with Mr. Kim was a success, and he has declared the North “no longer a nuclear threat.” Squaring Mr. Trump’s evaluation with what increasingly seems like a more troubling reality has become one of Mr. Pompeo’s greatest challenges as the United States’ chief diplomat.

That’s not a “challenge,” it’s an impossibility. Trump’s evaluation is sheer dictator-drivel, and there’s no way to “square” it with reality. The Times should skip that kind of evasive bafflegab.

Many people who have negotiated with North Korea in the past, or who follow the country closely, also express doubt that the North will surrender its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

But Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, denied on Saturday that Mr. Pompeo saw the process as doomed.

“There’s a lot of hard work that’s left to be done,” she said. “We never thought this would be easy, and that’s why consultations continue.”

Who’s “we”? Trump did. Trump told us he’d fixed it and that the threat was over.


Jul 7th, 2018 8:52 am | By

Fintan O’Toole explains Trump’s fascism tryouts:

To grasp what is going on in the world right now, we need to reflect on two things. One is that we are in a phase of trial runs. The other is that what is being trialled is fascism – a word that should be used carefully but not shirked when it is so clearly on the horizon.

Fascism doesn’t have to wear 1930s clothes to be fascism. It’s not a historical category, it’s a political one; it wasn’t killed, it was injured.

Trump is ignorant of almost everything but he does grok test marketing.

He created himself in the gossip pages of the New York tabloids, where celebrity is manufactured by planting outrageous stories that you can later confirm or deny depending on how they go down. And he recreated himself in reality TV where the storylines can be adjusted according to the ratings. Put something out there, pull it back, adjust, go again.

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

And there is no magic mechanism that is guaranteed to stop him before it’s too late. If only there were.

One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.

That all seems accurate and it’s terrifying how closely it matches what Trump has already done. Maybe the good news is that he’s so horrible that the 60% hates him just as intensely as the 40% hate us?

The next stage, O’Toole says, is to get people to accept outright cruelty. That’s the stage we’re in now.

To see, as most commentary has done, the deliberate traumatisation of migrant children as a “mistake” by Trump is culpable naivety. It is a trial run – and the trial has been a huge success. Trump’s claim last week that immigrants “infest” the US is a test-marketing of whether his fans are ready for the next step-up in language, which is of course “vermin”. And the generation of images of toddlers being dragged from their parents is a test of whether those words can be turned into sounds and pictures. It was always an experiment – it ended (but only in part) because the results were in.

I’m not sure he’s right that it’s been a big success. On the other hand it’s hasn’t been the crushing disastrous regime-ending failure it should have been.

He’s a country boy at heart

Jul 6th, 2018 4:48 pm | By

Trump is going to steer around the whole protest problem by…avoiding London.

He will hold talks with Prime Minister Theresa May at her 16th-century manor house, meet Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle and attend a black-tie dinner at the home of former World War Two leader Winston Churchill – all outside London.

Well that’s fine, there’s nothing of interest in London after all.

A spokeswoman for May said the British people were looking forward to his visit.

“We are looking forward to making sure the president has a chance to see and experience the UK beyond London and the south east,” she told reporters.

Definitely, because why would anyone with any sense want to go to London? There is literally nothing there.

On his arrival on Thursday afternoon, the president will travel to Blenheim Palace, the 18th-century mansion where Churchill was born and spent most of his childhood, eight miles (12 km) north of Oxford, according to May’s office.

He’ll like Blenheim. It’s very him – very gaudy and showy and massive.

Image result for blenheim

In the evening, May will host a black-tie dinner for Trump at the stately home that will be attended by about 100 business leaders from industries including finance, pharmaceuticals, defense and technology.

For the only time during his visit, Trump will then travel into London when he will stay overnight at the home of the U.S. ambassador in the center of the city.

On Friday, Trump and May will visit an undisclosed location to witness a display by British soldiers.

Trump will travel with May to Chequers, the prime minister’s official country residence. He will then go to meet the Queen at Windsor Castle, the family home of British kings and queens for almost 1,000 years.

Afterwards, the president will travel to Scotland, where he owns two golf courses.

Which will cost millions for security. Trump won’t be paying for it.

If only

Jul 6th, 2018 11:54 am | By


Aw come on. “In America, no one is above the law and common decency”? Really? Then how come so many people get away with being just that for so long? In America lots of people are above the law and common decency, and flourish like the green bay tree. Some of them are eventually brought to justice, but not all. It’s a pretty sentiment but it’s false, and we don’t need pretty but false sentiments right now. We don’t need them at this time when Trump is miles above the law and common decency, and laughing in our faces. Maybe he’ll be hauled down eventually but eventually is way too late for many people.

The linked piece is an op ed by Eisner and Noah Bookbinder about what a corrupt horror Scott Pruitt was.

Given the extent of Mr. Pruitt’s scandals and the damage he leaves behind, it is a wonder that he survived so long. Some may point to the fact that he doggedly pursued Mr. Trump’s environmental agenda, including the shredding of Obama-era commitments to reduce greenhouse emissions in the power and transportation sectors, but we are not convinced — after all, that effort didn’t work out as well as he had hoped.

Yes, but also to the fact that Trump has no objection to scandals and damage unless and until they interfere with his enjoyment. He welcomes most of them – he’s a scandals and damage kind of guy. His instincts are all toward vandalism…provided the vandals leave his solid gold living room alone.

A more likely explanation is that Mr. Trump did not want to let Mr. Pruitt go because the president was afraid of what it might mean for him. Mr. Trump too has endured in the face of mounting investigations and litigation. Between the Russia investigation, Michael Cohen’s potentially impending cooperation with the government, and a raft of civil cases, Mr. Trump surely knows that the legal flood around him is rising. Did he put off firing Mr. Pruitt because he was afraid to admit the taint of scandal on his administration?

Mr. Pruitt’s case demonstrates that in America, no one is above the law and common decency. Even if it’s possible to hold off the flood after the cracks in the dam begin to appear, at some point the dam eventually breaks.

“At some point” – but that could be 200 years in the future. It’s a pretty thought but it’s also very general – maybe the dam will finally break in 2030 and by then it will be far too late. Maybe the dam will eventually break but not until Trump has done damage that can never be repaired. Maybe the dam will eventually break but Trump has already ruined many people’s lives – those children yanked from their parents may never get over the trauma.

I think I get what they’re saying, I think the idea is that even Trump isn’t immune to the law if the cracks are many enough and wide enough. That may be true, I hope it is, but that claim is quite limited and quite different from “in America, no one is above the law and common decency.” Let’s be realistic about this: the US encourages certain kinds of lawlessness, and fails to do enough to prevent others. Corruption in many forms is easy and risk-free here. That’s the swamp.

To strive for a better relationship

Jul 6th, 2018 6:16 am | By

The delegation of Republican senators went to Russia and made fools of themselves.

Republican lawmakers who went to Russia seeking a thaw in relations received an icy reception from Democrats and Kremlin watchers for spending the Fourth of July in a country that interfered in the U.S. presidential election and continues to deny it.

Members of the delegation set off on their trip late last week promising to be tough with Russian officials ahead of the president’s visit, especially on matters of election interference. But they struck a conciliatory tone once there: The point of their visit, Shelby stressed to the Duma leader, was to “strive for a better relationship” with Moscow, not “accuse Russia of this or that or so forth.”

Ah yes, this or that or so forth like playing an uninvited part in our election and helping land us with the evil demon Trump. Republicans are fine with that because after all, Republican. If the Russians were helping Democrats it would be a different story, but since they’re not, well…

On Russian state television, presenters and guests mocked the U.S. congressional delegation for appearing to put a weak foot forward, noting how the message of tough talk they promised in Washington “changed a bit” by the time they got to Moscow.

“We need to look down at them and say: You came because you needed to, not because we did,” Igor Korotchenko, a Russian military expert, said on a talk show on state-run television.

A glorious moment.