Notes and Comment Blog


Unidirectional loyalty

Jun 20th, 2017 10:24 am | By

Robert Reich on Trump’s insistence on loyalty at the expense of integrity:

Last Monday, the White House invited reporters in to watch what was billed as a meeting of Trump’s Cabinet. After Trump spoke, he asked each of the Cabinet members around the table to briefly comment.

Their statements were what you might expect from toadies surrounding a two-bit dictator.

“We thank you for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda,” said Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. “Greatest privilege of my life, to serve as vice president to a president who’s keeping his word to the American people,” said Vice President Mike Pence.

Reich points out that when he was sworn in as Clinton’s Labor Secretary he pledged loyalty to the Constitution, not to Bill Clinton.

That oath is a pledge of loyalty to our system of government – not to a powerful individual. It puts integrity before personal loyalty. It’s what it means to have a government of laws.

And specifically of laws, not of persons. It stands in opposition to monarchy and dictatorship and hero cult and all such forms of authoritarian bow-to-daddy rule. It’s a huge step in human progress, and we need to keep it.

But Trump is all about the loyalty, and the slavish loyalty at that. He demanded it from Comey before the inauguration crowds had gone home. He tried to get it from Preet Bharara, who was in a position to prosecute him should occasion arise.

In his first and best-known book, “The Art of the Deal,” Trump distinguished between integrity and loyalty – and made clear he preferred loyalty.

Trump compared attorney Roy Cohn – Senator Joe McCarthy’s attack dog who became Trump’s mentor – to “all the hundreds of ‘respectable’ guys who make careers out of boasting about their uncompromising integrity but have absolutely no loyalty … What I liked most about Roy Cohn was that he would do just the opposite.”

Wo. That’s an admission. That’s a scalding admission. Frank contempt for the very idea of integrity, and frank preference for unconditional loyalty…to him.

Trump continues to prefer loyalty over integrity.

His top advisers are his daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The White House director of social media is Dan Scavino Jr., who had been Trump’s caddie.

Lynn Patton, just appointed to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s important New York office, knows nothing about housing. She had organized golf tournaments for Trump and planned his son Eric’s wedding.

None of this is about loyalty in the abstract, of course. It’s certainly not about mutual loyalty. It’s about slavish loyalty to Trump no matter what; slavish loyalty to Trump even if Trump turns and bites you. All good things are owed to Trump, and all bad things must be unloaded onto Trump’s loyal slaves. All the world owes loyalty to Trump, while Trump owes nothing to anyone. Trump, in short, is the only person in the world who matters.

No wonder he shoved Duško Marković out of his way. Trump is the only person in the world who matters, so naturally he gets to shove the peasants aside if they’re disloyal enough to wander into his path.

The horrifying reality is that in Trumpworld, there is no real “public” role. It’s all about protecting and benefiting Trump.

When loyalty trumps integrity, we no longer have a government of laws. We have a government by and for Trump.

We knew this, but the depth and breadth of it is taking time to sink in.



The way forward

Jun 20th, 2017 9:36 am | By

Guy Harrison on Facebook:

Please don’t hate, disown, or ostracize rabid Trump supporters. Yes, it may be necessary to maintain some distance for comfort’s sake. But if you turn your back on them you are no better than the Scientologists and Mormons who shun their friends and relatives for waking up. The most committed Trump supporters are lost and afraid, as we all are to some degree. That’s where their anger and prejudice come from. They aren’t aliens. They aren’t evil. And it’s not helpful to dismiss them as hopelessly crazy and stupid. Yes, they hitched their wagon to an incompetent lunatic of a leader, but they are still part of “us”. We are a bunch of inventive, neurotic apes, stumbling around on a warm rock in cold, dark space. We are in this together. Turning your back and giving up on them is not the way forward.

What bullshit. We’re not obliged to be cozy with Trump supporters, especially not rabid ones – as a matter of fact I don’t much want to be cozy with rabid people no matter what they’re rabid about. Combine rabies and Trump support and you’ve got yourself one unpleasant person, and we all get to turn our backs on unpleasant people.

The claim about Scientologists and Mormons is ludicrous. Yes as a matter of fact we are better than they are, in the sense that our reasons are better. On the most stripped-down level sure, walking away from people is walking away from people, no matter what the reasons are – but then walking away from people isn’t automatically or necessarily a bad thing (unless they’re your dependent children). It depends. It depends on circumstances, degree and kind of relationship, and reasons. Total incompatibility of thought and conscience is a perfectly good reason for walking away from most people.

And then the claim that the “most committed Trump supporters are lost and afraid” is wholly unsupported, and I don’t believe it for a second. No doubt that describes some of them, but the entirety of the set? Please. He must be swallowing the absurd myth that Trump’s supporters are all abandoned rust belt workers desperate for jobs in coal mines. Nope: lots of them are The Very Rich, looking forward to tax cuts funded by dumping people off health insurance. There’s no reason whatever to assume that all Trump supporters are lost and afraid. Some are found and emboldened and full of venom.

Nor do we know that being lost and afraid is where their anger and prejudice come from. That’s just another made-up fact pulled out of the air. It may apply to some, but why should we agree it applies to all? Maybe the anger and prejudice of many or most of them just comes from anger and prejudice. Maybe there’s no need to look for sentimental “there there sweetiepie” sources, maybe there just are a lot of furious malevolent bullies cheering for Trump.

Yes they are “aliens” in some senses. They’re not from other planets, but they are from an alien moral universe.

The rest of it is just tedious platitudes and more unsupported assertions. Why is turning our backs on rabid Trump supporters not the way forward? How do we know it isn’t? Maybe it is; maybe it’s a necessary division of labor; maybe their friends and relations can work to redeem them morally while everyone else concentrates on getting Trump the fuck out of there.



Bang bang you’re dead

Jun 19th, 2017 4:16 pm | By

The BBC reports a horrifying statistic:

About 1,300 US children under the age of 17 die from gun-related injuries per year, a government study has found.

Researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also found that guns seriously wounded about 5,800 children each year.

We’re horrified by all the people who died or were injured in Grenfell Tower, and this number dwarfs that.

“Firearm injuries are a leading cause of death among US children aged one to 17 years and contribute substantially each year to premature death, illness and disability of children,” said CDC’s Katherine Fowler, who led the study.

“About 19 children a day die or are medically treated in an emergency department for a gunshot wound in the US,” she told Reuters.

CDC researchers examined national data in what they describe as “the most comprehensive examination of current firearm-related deaths and injuries among children in the United States to date”.

The study found a 60% increase in gun suicides from 2007-15, according an analysis of national injury records.

A Grenfell Tower every few days, not because a tower block catches fire but because there are way too many guns floating around in this country.



Where is Shakespeare County, anyway?

Jun 19th, 2017 3:12 pm | By

Boy, that Shakespeare guy, he had a hell of a nerve, right? Insulting our president that way. Somebody ought to go spit on that church in Stratford – in Connecticut is it? Alabama? Idaho? I forget. Anyway they should, and all his novels should be banned out of the schools and libraries, and his descendants should be thrown out of their local churches what denominationsoever they may be. Plus those government art Nazis should all be fired.

Several theatres in the US have received threats and complaints after a show in New York depicted the assassination of a Julius Caesar made to look like President Donald Trump.

Messages wished death upon theatre staff at unrelated establishments in an apparent mix-up.

It appears complainers did not check which theatre they were angry about.

Never mind that, smarty, it’s all part of the same conspiracy.

Although the show’s run has now ended, protesters have been getting in touch with theatres with Shakespeare in the name to voice their disgust.

Shakespeare Dallas, in Texas, has had 90 emails, while Shakespeare & Company in Massachusetts has had nearly 50, plus about 10 angry phone calls.

I should hope so. That guy was a Democrat, and a Muslim, and a faggot, and a witch-hunter, and an FBI director. He was a bad hombre.

Shakespeare & Company shared some of the messages with the BBC. (Some have been edited to remove swearing.) They included:

  • “Your play depicting the murder of our President is nothing but pure hatred. You are vial [sic] despicable excuses for human beings. I wish you all the worst possible life you could have and hope you all get sick and die.”
  • “Hope you all who did this play about Trump are the first to die when ISIS COMES TO YOU… scumbags.”
  • “What exactly were you idiots thinking about producing a play that depicts the killing of our President? Does anyone over there have an ounce of morality, decency, and or common sense? Your organization is a disgrace to the community and to the arts. If you have a problem with the president protest, as is your constitutional right or just vote him out. I will do my best to ensure taxpayers’ dollars are not used in the future to fund your disrespect and stupidity!”

And your dressing rooms, and your roof, and your costume department, so there!



5Pillars of defamation

Jun 19th, 2017 11:58 am | By

Roshan Salih of 5Pillars is defaming Sara Khan and Maajid Nawaz by way of responding to the Finsbury Park terror. The result of course is that horrible people are rushing to harass and abuse them.

That’s simply a lie, a Trump-level lie. Sara and Maajid are Muslims, so what sense does it make to call them part of “the Islamophobia industry”? Advocacy of reform≠hatred or phobia.

For…? For not inciting hatred, perhaps? And what of the hatred Roshan Salih is inciting?



It’s all very hush-hush

Jun 19th, 2017 11:23 am | By

Paul Krugman is scathing about the Republican senators’ super-secret take-away-health-care bill.

Last month House Republicans rammed through one of the worst, cruelest pieces of legislation in history. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the American Health Care Act would take coverage away from 23 million Americans, and send premiums soaring for millions more, especially older workers with relatively low incomes.

This bill is, as it should be, wildly unpopular. Nonetheless, Republican Senate leaders are now trying to ram through their own version of the A.H.C.A., one that, all reports suggest, will differ only in minor, cosmetic ways. And they’re trying to do it in total secrecy. It appears that there won’t be any committee hearings before the bill goes to the floor. Nor are senators receiving draft text, or anything beyond a skeletal outline. Some have reportedly seen PowerPoint presentations, but the “slides are flashed across the screens so quickly that they can hardly be committed to memory.”

Clearly, the goal is to pass legislation that will have devastating effects on tens of millions of Americans without giving those expected to pass it, let alone the general public, any real chance to understand what they’re voting for. There are even suggestions that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, might exploit loopholes in the rules to prevent any discussion on the Senate floor.

Evil, isn’t it.

When it comes to the Republican replacement for Obamacare, however, it’s not just the process that’s secretive; so is the purpose. Vox.com asked eight Republican senators what problem the legislation is supposed to solve, and how it’s supposed to solve it. Not one offered a coherent answer.

Of course, none brought up the one obvious payoff to taking health care away from millions: a big tax cut for the wealthy.

It’s their One True Thing – keep making the extremely rich even richer. It’s a bonus to get to fuck over the poor and middling to do it, but the core goal is to keep feeding more billions to the billionaires.



What we notice and what we ignore

Jun 19th, 2017 10:20 am | By

Philip Bump at the Post notices Trump’s Twitter silence about Finsbury Park:

Donald Trump tweeted about the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 about 3½ hours after they occurred. The following month, he tweeted about the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., 90 minutes after the violence began. It took fewer than 12 hours from the time an EgyptAir flight went missing in May 2016 for Trump to speculate publicly that the attack was terror-related. More than a year later, it’s still not clear what happened to the plane.

When terrorists drove a van into a crowd on London Bridge earlier this month, Trump tweeted about the need to be “smart, vigilant and tough” even before authorities identified terror as the motive behind the attack.

But now, bupkis.

In response to a crisis, one of the simplest responses from a president is a carefully worded statement of support, condolence or outrage. Simpler still is a brief message on social media. Trump built his political career in part on his willingness to jump into any number of frays by tweeting about them. As we’ve noted in the past, he shows little reticence to tweet about things he sees on television right after he sees them. Yet, Monday morning: silence.

Trump’s use of Twitter betrays his interests and disinterests. On Sunday, Father’s Day, Trump tweeted, in order:

  • A two-part defense of his political success.
  • An outlier poll showing him as more popular than he is.
  • A retweet of the performers Diamond and Silk criticizing the media.
  • A retweet of his son critical of former president Barack Obama.
  • Praise for Camp David, where he spent the weekend.
  • And finally, a retweet of the White House’s “Happy Father’s Day” message that morning.

That Trump hasn’t mentioned the attacks on Muslims in London isn’t surprising, mind you. It took days for him to praise the two men who were stabbed to death in Portland, Ore., while defending Muslim women on a train. It took almost a week for him to speak out about the shooting of two Indian men in Kansas by someone who thought that they were Muslim.

He’s too stupid even to fake it for appearances’ sake.



A deliberate attack on innocent Londoners

Jun 19th, 2017 9:35 am | By

Finsbury Park.

One man was killed and another nine people are in hospital [after] a van drove into worshippers close to a mosque in north London.

The terror attack happened shortly before 00:20 BST on Monday, 19 June, when the vehicle mounted the pavement outside the Muslim Welfare House on Seven Sisters Road, near Finsbury Park Mosque.

A number of people on the street had just taken part in evening prayers after breaking the Ramadan fast.

A group were helping an elderly man who had fallen down in Whadcoat Street – a short road off Seven Sisters Road – as they waited for their next set of prayers.

It was then that a white van came down the street, mounted the pavement and drove into people.

The man who was driving the van was restrained by people at the scene.

An imam from Finsbury Park mosque then stopped some of the crowd from attacking the suspect.

Police arrived; more than 60 medical people arrived; Theresa May said the attack was “declared a terrorist incident within eight minutes” of the emergency call being received.

Police confirmed early on Monday that one person had died following the attack, but that person has not yet been named.

The man who died was the same person who had received first aid before the attack.

Police said they would investigate whether he died as a result of the attack or something else. Officers are trying to contact the next of kin.

He had fallen down on the street before the van crashed into people. Ramadan is hard on the body, especially when it happens during the summer solstice. I watched CNN last night at 4 to 4:30 London time and by 4:30 the sunlight was strong. That is one long day there.

A 48-year-old white man, who police said was the driver of the van, has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.

He was first detained by members of the public as they waited for police to arrive on the scene.

Eyewitness Abdul Rahman told the BBC: “When the guy came out from his van he wanted to escape, run away, and he was saying ‘I want to kill Muslims. ‘I want to kill Muslims.'”

Police said he was taken to hospital as a precaution. Security minister Ben Wallace said the man was not known to the police or security services, and it is thought he acted alone.

Last night CNN was saying two other men had run away, but apparently that’s no longer the police view.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan promised additional policing to reassure communities, especially those observing Ramadan. He has also asked people to “remain calm and vigilant”.

“We don’t yet know the full details, but this was clearly a deliberate attack on innocent Londoners, many of whom were finishing prayers during the holy month of Ramadan,” he said.

“While this appears to be an attack on a particular community, like the terrible attacks in Manchester, Westminster and London Bridge, it is also an assault on all our shared values of tolerance, freedom and respect.”

Of course IS will be overjoyed by this – it’s exactly what they want – religious war. We oppose them not by defending one “community” while driving trucks into another, but by defending our shared values of tolerance, freedom and respect.

Has Donald Trump tweeted his compassion and support for the victims? No he has not.



The yearning for dominance and praise

Jun 18th, 2017 5:37 pm | By

David Remnick on the cesspit that is Trump’s white house.

The yearning in the character of Donald Trump for dominance and praise is bottomless, a hunger that is never satisfied. Last week, the President gathered his Cabinet for a meeting with no other purpose than to praise him, to note the great “honor” and “blessing” of serving such a man as he. Trump nodded with grave self-satisfaction, accepting the serial hosannas as his daily due. But even as the members declared, Pyongyang-style, their everlasting gratitude and fealty to the Great Leader, this concocted dumb show of loyalty only served to suggest how unsustainable it all is.

The reason that this White House staff is so leaky, so prepared to express private anxiety and contempt, even while parading obeisance for the cameras, is that the President himself has so far been incapable of garnering its discretion or respect. Trump has made it plain that he is capable of turning his confused fury against anyone in his circle at any time. In a tweet on Friday morning, Trump confirmed that he is under investigation for firing the F.B.I. director James Comey, but blamed the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, for the legal imbroglio that Trump himself has created. The President has fired a few aides, he has made known his disdain and disappointment at many others, and he will, undoubtedly, turn against more. Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions, Sean Spicer­—who has not yet felt the lash?

It’s hard not to be pleased that the adder is striking at them. They found his venom acceptable enough to agree to work for him, so it’s cosmic justice that he’s spitting it at them now.

Trump’s egotism, his demand for one-way loyalty, and his incapacity to assume responsibility for his own untruths and mistakes were, his biographers make plain, his pattern in business and have proved to be his pattern as President.

Veteran Washington reporters tell me that they have never observed this kind of anxiety, regret, and sense of imminent personal doom among White House staffers—not to this degree, anyway. These troubled aides seem to think that they can help their own standing by turning on those around them—and that by retailing information anonymously they will be able to live with themselves after serving a President who has proved so disconnected from the truth and reality.

It’s unkind to say it serves them right, but all the same, it does.



The wrong panels

Jun 18th, 2017 4:50 pm | By

Oh guess what, the cladding on Grenfell Tower that went up like a torch wasn’t supposed to be there.

The cladding used on Grenfell Tower, which has been widely blamed for spreading the blaze, is banned in the UK on buildings of that height, Philip Hammond has said.

The chancellor told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “My understanding is the cladding in question, this flammable cladding which is banned in Europe and the US, is also banned here.

“So there are two separate questions. One: are our regulations correct, do they permit the right kind of materials and ban the wrong kind of materials? The second question is: were they correctly complied with?

“That will be a subject that the inquiry will look at. It will also be a subject that the criminal investigation will be looking at.”

Regulations are there for a reason…



Exciting the unstable

Jun 18th, 2017 3:47 pm | By

Dayum, talk about one-sided…

Peggy Noonan has a think piece at the Wall Street Journal deploring all this uncontrolled rage.

What we are living through in America is not only a division but a great estrangement. It is between those who support Donald Trump and those who despise him, between left and right, between the two parties, and even to some degree between the bases of those parties and their leaders in Washington. It is between the religious and those who laugh at Your Make Believe Friend, between cultural progressives and those who wish not to have progressive ways imposed upon them. It is between the coasts and the center, between those in flyover country and those who decide what flyover will watch on television next season.

That’s all very hackneyed and not terribly applicable to the rage we’re seeing right now, but maybe she gets better as she goes on?

She says that violent art, unlike witty art, excites unstable young men.

They don’t have the built-in barriers and prohibitions that those more firmly planted in the world do. That’s what makes violent images dangerous and destructive. Art is art and censorship is an admission of defeat. Good judgment and a sense of responsibility are the answer.

That’s what we’re doing now, exciting the unstable—not only with images but with words, and on every platform. It’s all too hot and revved up. This week we had a tragedy. If we don’t cool things down, we’ll have more.

We had tragedies before this week, too. But no doubt she’s getting to that?

Tuesday I talked with an old friend, a figure in journalism who’s a pretty cool character, about the political anger all around us. He spoke of “horrible polarization.” He said there’s “too much hate in D.C.” He mentioned “the beheading, the play in the park” and described them as “dog whistles to any nut who wants to take action.”

“Someone is going to get killed,” he said.

That was 20 hours before the shootings in Alexandria, Va.

The gunman did the crime, he is responsible, it’s fatuous to put the blame on anyone or anything else.

But we all operate within a climate and a culture. The media climate now, in both news and entertainment, is too often of a goading, insinuating resentment, a grinding, agitating antipathy. You don’t need another recitation of the events of just the past month or so. A comic posed with a gruesome bloody facsimile of President Trump’s head. New York’s rightly revered Shakespeare in the Park put on a “Julius Caesar” in which the assassinated leader is made to look like the president. A CNN host—amazingly, of a show on religion—sent out a tweet calling the president a “piece of s—” who is “a stain on the presidency.” An MSNBC anchor wondered, on the air, whether the president wishes to “provoke” a terrorist attack for political gain. Earlier Stephen Colbert, well known as a good man, a gentleman, said of the president, in a rant: “The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c— holster.” Those are but five dots in a larger, darker pointillist painting. You can think of more.

Hm. Striking, isn’t it – it’s all about angry rhetoric hostile to Donald Trump – none of it is about angry rhetoric issuing directly from Trump’s stubby thumbs on the Twitter machine.

It takes some fucking gall to point the Finger of Rebuke at people who react with rage to Trump while ignoring Trump’s countless public fits of rage before an audience of billions.

Trump, don’t forget, paid for a full page ad in the New York Times to demand the death penalty for the Central Park 5 – who were later demonstrated not to have committed the crime at all.

Trump promoted birtherism for years. How many acts of racist violence do we suppose that inspired? We of course don’t know, but then neither does Noonan know whether or not the Alexandria shootings were inspired by Stephen Colbert.

We have been seeing a generation of media figures cratering under the historical pressure of Donald Trump. He really is powerful.

They’re losing their heads. Now would be a good time to regain them.

They have been making the whole political scene lower, grubbier. They are showing the young what otherwise estimable adults do under pressure, which is lose their equilibrium, their knowledge of themselves as public figures, as therefore examples—tone setters. They’re paid a lot of money and have famous faces and get the best seat, and the big thing they’re supposed to do in return is not be a slob. Not make it worse.

By indulging their and their audience’s rage, they spread the rage. They celebrate themselves as brave for this. They stood up to the man, they spoke truth to power. But what courage, really, does that take? Their audiences love it. Their base loves it, their demo loves it, their bosses love it. Their numbers go up. They get a better contract. This isn’t brave.

If these were only one-offs, they’d hardly be worth comment, but these things build on each other. Rage and sanctimony always spread like a virus, and become stronger with each iteration.

And it’s no good, no excuse, to say Trump did it first, he lowered the tone, it’s his fault. Your response to his low character is to lower your own character? He talks bad so you do? You let him destabilize you like this? You are making a testimony to his power.

Fine, but it’s hardly fair to rebuke the tone of the Griffins and Colberts while not even mentioning Trump’s long long history of abusive public rhetoric.



The details of mental capacity

Jun 18th, 2017 12:45 pm | By

What qualities does one need to be a good leader? Prudence Gourguechon discovered that it’s not easy to find definitive answers to that question.

Although there are volumes devoted to outlining criteria for psychiatric disorders, there is surprisingly little psychiatric literature defining mental capacity, even less on the particular abilities required for serving in positions of great responsibility. Despite the thousands of articles and books written on leadership, primarily in the business arena, I have found only one source where the capacities necessary for strategic leadership are clearly and comprehensively laid out: the U.S. Army’s “Field Manual 6-22 Leader Development.”

That makes sense. They really need to know.

The Army’s field manual on leadership is an extraordinarily sophisticated document, founded in sound psychological research and psychiatric theory, as well as military practice. It articulates the core faculties that officers, including commanders, need in order to fulfill their jobs. From the manual’s 135 dense pages, I have distilled five crucial qualities:

Trust

According to the Army, trust is fundamental to the functioning of a team or alliance in any setting: “Leaders shape the ethical climate of their organization while developing the trust and relationships that enable proper leadership.” A leader who is deficient in the capacity for trust makes little effort to support others, may be isolated and aloof, may be apathetic about discrimination, allows distrustful behaviors to persist among team members, makes unrealistic promises and focuses on self-promotion.

I assumed before I read the paragraph that “trust” meant the trust of others in the leader, but no, it means the leader’s ability to trust other people. That’s very interesting.

Discipline and self-control

…The disciplined leader does not have emotional outbursts or act impulsively, and he maintains composure in stressful or adverse situations.

…In psychiatry, we talk about “filters” — neurologic braking systems that enable us to appropriately inhibit our speech and actions even when disturbing thoughts or powerful emotions are present. Discipline and self-control require that an individual has a robust working filter, so that he doesn’t say or do everything that comes to mind.

Aka impulse control aka self-inhibition. It’s that prefrontal thing that takes so long to develop.

Judgment and critical thinking

These are complex, high-level mental functions that include the abilities to discriminate, assess, plan, decide, anticipate, prioritize and compare. A leader with the capacity for critical thinking “seeks to obtain the most thorough and accurate understanding possible,” the manual says, and he anticipates “first, second and third consequences of multiple courses of action.” A leader deficient in judgment and strategic thinking demonstrates rigid and inflexible thinking.

The fourth is self-awareness, aka knowing one’s own faults.

Empathy

Perhaps surprisingly, the field manual repeatedly stresses the importance of empathy as an essential attribute for Army leadership. A good leader “demonstrates an understanding of another person’s point of view” and “identifies with others’ feelings and emotions.” The manual’s description of inadequacy in this area: “Shows a lack of concern for others’ emotional distress” and “displays an inability to take another’s perspective.”

It’s not all that surprising, really, since a leader by definition has to interact with people. An engineer can do without empathy, but a leader not so much.



Outta there

Jun 18th, 2017 12:21 pm | By

People are walking away.

Six members of the group that advises the White House on HIV and Aids have quit their posts – claiming that the Trump administration does not care about the issue.

In a letter of resignation that was published on a US news site, the experts claimed the government had no meaningful policy on tackling Aids, failed to listen to advice from those working in the field, and actually promoted legislation that harmed individuals living with the disease.

Other than that, everything’s great.

“We have dedicated our lives to combating this disease and no longer feel we can do so effectively within the confines of an advisory body to a president who simply does not care,” wrote Scott Schoettes, project director at Lambda Legal, a New York-based LGBTQ-rights group and a member of the advisory panel.

The council members said that Mr Trump took down the Office of National Aids Policy website when he took office and had failed to appoint anyone to lead the White House Office of National Aids Policy.

“We will be more effective from the outside, advocating for change and protesting policies that will hurt the health of the communities we serve and the country as a whole if this administration continues down the current path,” the letter said.

Don’t worry, he’s making Murica great again.



Patterns? What patterns?

Jun 18th, 2017 11:45 am | By

Inside Higher Ed reports:

The Department of Education last week outlined changes to civil rights investigations that advocates fear will mean less consistent findings of systemic discrimination at colleges.

Under the Obama administration, certain types of civil rights complaints would trigger broader investigations of whether a pattern of discrimination existed at a school or college.

But Candice Jackson, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights, told regional directors for the Office for Civil Rights in a memo that the Department of Education would no longer follow those guidelines. In detailing the latest civil rights shift under Secretary Betsy DeVos, Jackson wrote that the department was setting aside existing rules and empowering investigators with more discretion to clear case backlogs and address complaints in a timely manner.

Ah yes. Treating everything as a one off does indeed speed things up. Consider Grenfell Tower for instance. If there’s no need to see it as part of a pattern of saving money by not getting the fire retardant building material, then it becomes just a matter of tidying up and moving on.

The shift is significant because many of the violations OCR has found in recent years have involved systemic issues that go beyond the original complaint that prompted investigators to look into a college or school.

Former department officials and advocates for victims of discrimination say it’s critical to examine individual cases in the context of wider practices at an institution — and to apply that standard consistently across various OCR offices.

That’s critical unless you’re a libertarian. If you’re a libertarian, there’s no such thing as a “wider practice.” All is random and uncaused, a matter of free people freely choosing, and there’s no need to look for patterns and explanations.



And then stood like this

Jun 17th, 2017 5:23 pm | By

Joe Biden was on Fresh Air the other day. There was this one bit that started with Twitter…

GROSS: So, like, what are the rules for communication? Like, ’cause he – is it OK – did you have social media when you were vice president? And, like, what rules were you expected to follow?

BIDEN: Not that old. Yes, I…

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: I had social media.

GROSS: I thought they take that stuff away from you.

BIDEN: I have social media – had it. And we have millions of people following us. But there’s a difference between using the modern media and the means of communication than there is being irresponsible or irrational in the way you do it and just venting. You know, words matter. Words matter. When presidents speak, the world listens. And look, the idea that somebody, no matter what they do – no matter what their profession or their interest is – that gets up at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and tweets vitriol, what it does – it fundamentally alters the view of the character of the presidency in the rest of the world.

You know what I heard? I was just in Greece and Italy and meeting a lot of national figures in each of those countries. You know the one thing that’s done the most damage? When the president of the United States stiff-armed and moved – no, I mean it. I’m not joking. I’m not – and then stood like this. That was the image of America, almost the image of the ugly American. That it just – it has such resonance.

It’s not a joke at all.

Image result for trump shoves duško marković

Image result for trump shoves duško marković



King was sure the letter had come from the FBI

Jun 17th, 2017 4:14 pm | By

Let’s look back at a little history: the FBI and the Kennedy brothers versus Martin Luther King.

Beveryl Gage starts with a typed anonymous letter sent to King in late 1964.

The unnamed author suggests intimate knowledge of his correspondent’s sex life, identifying one possible lover by name and claiming to have specific evidence about others. Another passage hints of an audiotape accompanying the letter, apparently a recording of “immoral conduct” in action. “Lend your sexually psychotic ear to the enclosure,” the letter demands. It concludes with a deadline of 34 days “before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

“There is only one thing left for you to do,” the author warns vaguely in the final paragraph. “You know what it is.”

When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received this letter, nearly 50 years ago, he quietly informed friends that someone wanted him to kill himself — and he thought he knew who that someone was. Despite its half-baked prose, self-conscious amateurism and other attempts at misdirection, King was certain the letter had come from the F.B.I. Its infamous director, J. Edgar Hoover, made no secret of his desire to see King discredited. A little more than a decade later, the Senate’s Church Committee on intelligence overreach confirmed King’s suspicion.

Why? Because Communists.

The F.B.I.’s entanglement with King began not as an inquiry into his sex life but as a “national security” matter, one step removed from King himself. In 1961, the bureau learned that a former Communist Party insider named Stanley Levison had become King’s closest white adviser, serving him as a ghostwriter and fund-raiser. The following year, Attorney General Robert Kennedy approved wiretaps on Levison’s home and office, and the White House advised King to drop his Communist friend.

Or, according to John Meroney in The Atlantic in 2011, they told him to.

In the summer of 1963, Hoover wasn’t the only one preoccupied with King. So was the Kennedy White House. That was because one of King’s closest advisers, Stanley David Levison, and another man who ran one of King’s offices, Jack O’Dell, were secret Communist Party operatives. For at least a year, the president and his attorney general brother had been receiving classified data, transcripts of wiretapped telephone calls (which they sanctioned), and intelligence reports confirming the men’s affiliation with the Soviet-controlled Party. This information also chronicled the work they were then doing for King.

President Kennedy didn’t worry about an espionage leak, or that the men would necessarily insert propaganda into King’s speeches—although some King advisers apparently did see to it that King’s plans to criticize communism (“that it was an alien philosophy contrary to us,” is how King said he intended to describe it) were scrapped. Rather, the president feared the political fall-out that would come if it were revealed that the nation’s foremost civil rights leader had advisers with ties to the Soviet Union. In May, President Kennedy told his brother he didn’t want the minister anywhere near him. “King is so hot that it’s like Marx coming to the White House,” he says on a White House tape.

But by June, the president had grown weary of the risks King was causing him and decided to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with the minister in Washington. In the Rose Garden, he exhorted King that Levison, was, as Kennedy described him, a “Kremlin agent.” Get rid of him, demanded the president.

King said he would, but he didn’t. Meroney says it was Robert Kennedy’s idea to have King’s phones tapped.

“I asked the FBI to make an intensive investigation of Martin Luther King,” Robert Kennedy later privately acknowledged to journalist Anthony Lewis, “to see who his companions were and, also, to see what other activities he was involved in. This is also the reason that President Kennedy and I and the Department of Justice were so reserved about him, which I’m sure he felt. We never wanted to get close to him just because of these contacts and connections that he had, which we felt were damaging to the civil rights movement and because we were so intimately involved in the struggle for civil rights, it also damaged us. It damaged what we were trying to do.”

Back to the Times account:

The following year, Attorney General Robert Kennedy approved wiretaps on Levison’s home and office, and the White House advised King to drop his Communist friend. But thanks to their surveillance, the bureau quickly learned that King was still speaking with Levison. Around the same time, King began to criticize bureau practices in the South, accusing Hoover of failing to enforce civil rights law and of indulging the racist practices of Southern policemen.

All true, as far as I know, which is why there was so much irritation when the movie Mississippi Burning portrayed the FBI as being allies of the civil rights activists.

This combination of events set Hoover and King on a collision course. In the fall of 1963, just after the March on Washington, the F.B.I. extended its surveillance from Levison and other associates to King himself, planting wiretaps in King’s home and offices and bugs in his hotel rooms. Hoover found out very little about any Communist subterfuge, but he did begin to learn about King’s extramarital sex life, already an open secret within the civil rights movement’s leadership.

Hoover and the Feds seem to have been genuinely shocked by King’s behavior. Here was a minister, the leader of a moral movement, acting like “a tom cat with obsessive degenerate sexual urges,” Hoover wrote on one memo. In response, F.B.I. officials began to peddle information about King’s hotel-room activities to friendly members of the press, hoping to discredit the civil rights leader. To their astonishment, the story went nowhere. If anything, as the F.B.I. learned more about his sexual adventures, King only seemed to be gaining in public stature. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act passed Congress, and just a few months later King became the youngest man ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

At this point Hoover decided to escalate his campaign. On Nov. 18, 1964 — 50 years ago this week — Hoover denounced King at a Washington news conference, labeling him the “the most notorious liar in the country.” A few days later, one of Hoover’s deputies, William Sullivan, apparently took it upon himself to write the anonymous letter and sent an agent to Miami, to mail the package to Atlanta.

That didn’t do them any good either.

Luckily, in 1964 the media were far more cautious. One oddity of Hoover’s campaign against King is that it mostly flopped, and the F.B.I. never succeeded in seriously damaging King’s public image. Half a century later, we look upon King as a model of moral courage and human dignity. Hoover, by contrast, has become almost universally reviled. In this context, perhaps the most surprising aspect of their story is not what the F.B.I. attempted, but what it failed to do.

The current F.B.I. director, James Comey, keeps a copy of the King wiretap request on his desk as a reminder of the bureau’s capacity to do wrong. But elsewhere in Washington, the debate over how much the government should know about our private lives has never been more heated: Should intelligence agencies be able to sweep our email, read our texts, track our phone calls, locate us by GPS? Much of the conversation swirls around the possibility that agencies like the N.S.A. or the F.B.I. will use such information not to serve national security but to carry out personal and political vendettas. King’s experience reminds us that these are far from idle fears, conjured in the fevered minds of civil libertarians. They are based in the hard facts of history.

Beverly Gage is a professor of American history at Yale.

Just a few years later it was Nixon’s turn.



He is strained by the demanding hours of the job

Jun 17th, 2017 12:17 pm | By

What will happen if Trump runs out of Justice Department people to fire? Will the gears just freeze and everything stop and time come to an end?

Since taking office, the Trump administration has twice rewritten an executive order that outlines the order of succession at the Justice Department — once after President Donald Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to defend his travel ban, and then again two months later. The executive order outlines a list of who would be elevated to the position of acting attorney general if the person up the food chain recuses himself, resigns, gets fired or is no longer in a position to serve.

In the past, former Justice Department officials and legal experts said, the order of succession is no more than an academic exercise — a chain of command applicable only in the event of an attack or crisis when government officials are killed and it is not clear who should be in charge.

But Trump has been burning through DoJ people as a hungry man burns through two scoops of ice cream. Sessions is recused from all the things, and Trump has fixed his beady eye on Rosenstein. There aren’t a lot of people left.

“We know Rachel Brand is the next victim,” said Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the editor-in-chief of Lawfare, referring to the former George W. Bush official who was recently confirmed as associate attorney general, the third-highest position in the Justice Department.

“For those of us who have high confidence in Rachel — the more confidence you have in someone in this role, the less long you think they’ll last,” said Wittes, who said he considers Brand a friend. “That does put a very high premium on the question of who is next.”

That question, however, has become more complicated because the Trump administration has been slow to fill government positions and get those officials confirmed. Typically, the solicitor general would be next in line after the associate attorney general, followed by the list of five assistant U.S. attorneys, the order of which would be determined by the attorney general. But none of those individuals have been confirmed by the Senate, and they would be unable to serve as acting attorney general without Senate confirmation.

Well you can’t blame them for that, they’ve been terribly busy tweeting.

Some former Justice Department officials said they would find it inconceivable for Trump to clean house, or to fire Mueller — even taking into account the sometimes erratic behavior of the commander in chief.

“This president is so unpredictable, it’s hard to say,” said Emily Pierce, a former Justice Department official in the Obama administration. “It would be the craziest thing he’s done to date if he were to start firing the special counsel or Rosenstein. I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt that he realizes how much trouble he may be in — and that with the firing of Comey, he wouldn’t do that.”

A reasonable person wouldn’t do that. You can provide the next sentence without my help.

“I think the Watergate scenario would make most self-respecting lawyers loath to put themselves in the role that Bork ended up playing,” said Brian Fallon, a former Obama Justice Department and Hillary Clinton spokesman. “Most career-minded independent lawyers that have high regard for the Justice Department as an institution would be loath to be the modern-day equivalent to Bork.”

But Trump, too, is cognizant of the comparison to Nixon, according to one adviser. The president, who friends said does not enjoy living in Washington and is strained by the demanding hours of the job, is motivated to carry on because he “doesn’t want to go down in history as a guy who tried and failed,” said the adviser. “He doesn’t want to be the second president in history to resign.”

Oh Don. You’re so stupid. That ship has sailed. Best case scenario you’re going down in history as a joke. Best case.



All he’s gotta do’s fire him

Jun 17th, 2017 11:02 am | By

Newt Gingrich spelled out the core issue while chatting at the National Press Club:

By the way, technically, the president of the United States cannot obstruct justice. President of the United States is the chief executive officer of the United States: if he wants to fire the FBI director, all he’s gotta do’s fire him.

And yet, as many many people rushed to point out, that’s sure as hell not what Gingrich was saying when it was Bill Clinton in the cross-hairs. At that time he said the opposite.

So, is it bullshit, or is it true?

Clearly as a matter of outcome, it depends on who has the votes. As a matter of brute fact, it depends on power, not law and not morality.

But as a matter of moral fact? Yes of course the president can obstruct justice, and obviously Trump is trying hard to do just that.

Absurdly, Gingrich goes on to give what he calls a “very good test”:

If John F Kennedy had fired J Edgar Hoover over investigating and wiretapping Martin Luther King Junior, would people have thought it was obstruction. [smug nod]

John F Kennedy wasn’t the same person as Martin Luther King, so no, that is not a “very good test”; it’s a ridiculous test. Trump is trying to obstruct an investigation of himself.



Congress must unite to stop him – but will it?

Jun 17th, 2017 10:20 am | By

Adam Schiff said a thing yesterday about Trump’s possible plans to fire Mueller.

It has become clear that President Trump believes that he has the power to fire anyone in government he chooses and for any reason, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller. That is not how the rule of law works, and Congress will not allow the President to so egregiously overstep his authority.

If President Trump were to try to replicate Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre by firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in addition to Mueller, Congress must unite to stop him – without respect to party, and for the sake of the nation.

Congress can defend our system of checks and balances by passing an independent counsel law that empowers an independent prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation and anything that arises from it. Such a law should allow for the reappointment of Bob Mueller, someone who has served Presidents of both parties and whom Democrats and Republicans have come to admire. We cannot allow the President to choose who will conduct this investigation or to interfere with its progress in any way.

I find that more unnerving than reassuring. Note that it doesn’t say Congress will unite to stop him – it says Congress must. Well, yeah, it must, but will it? It must do a lot of things, but it doesn’t.

It is being underlined every day that in reality the president has way too much absolute power and that the “checks and balances” are a fraud. It’s being constantly demonstrated that there are no checks and balances if the executive and Congress are both in the hands of the same party (and that party has no scruples or conscience or integrity). The truth is that Trump could fire Mueller and get away with it. The truth is that we don’t know that Republicans would join Democrats to stop him.

This country is a menace.



Budget cuts in departments that oversee civil rights

Jun 17th, 2017 9:57 am | By

Mueller and the FBI aren’t the only ones investigating Trump.

Not only did he allude through a tweet on Friday that he is the subject of an internal investigation by special counsel, but on the same day, an independent federal agency commissioned under Congress also said “grave concerns” were prompting an investigation into federal civil rights enforcement within his administration.

The United States Commission on Civil Rights, a bipartisan agency charged with advising the president and Congress on civil rights matters, unanimously approved a comprehensive two-year probe into the “degree to which current budgets and staffing levels allow civil rights offices to perform” their functions within the administration, said the agency in a statement.

The federal watchdog group became concerned about the Trump administration after several agencies announced budget and personnel cuts in departments that oversee civil rights. The “proposed cuts would result in a dangerous reduction of civil rights enforcement across the country, leaving communities of color, LGBT people, older people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups exposed to greater risk of discrimination,” said the statement.

Huh. You mean Trump doesn’t have Absolute Power to defund all that and thus make it die and go away and get in the sea?

The commission, created under the Civil Rights Act and funded by Congress, expressed specific worry in seven agencies under the president, including the Department of Education and the Department of Justice.

The “repeated refusal” of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to commit to enforcing federal civil rights during Congressional testimony coupled with deep budget cuts within the agency’s Office of Civil Rights is “particularly troubling,” the agency added in the statement.

Well Trump could slash their budget some more and then there’d be no one left to issue statements.

The commission also wants to look into the Department of Justice, which it says has completely changed its priorities.

“Actions by the Department indicate it is minimizing its civil rights efforts,” the statement said. “For example, a majority of the Commission criticized DOJ’s decision to site Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers in courthouses as a dangerous impediment to access to justice for all Americans,” the statement said.

The investigation will also look into the departments of Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Environmental Protection Agency and the Legal Services Corporation — which are all expected to slash budget and personnel that monitor civil rights.

But what about the civil rights of corporations? Those come first, surely.

While the commission does not have the ability to enforce the findings of its investigation, it will present the final report to Congress at the end of 2019. After that, it’s up to legislators to act.

Ah. Well we know where that will go then – straight into the bin. The trash bin; there won’t be any recycle bins by that time.