Notes and Comment Blog


Sticks to jab into the soft spots in our culture

Jul 11th, 2017 12:08 pm | By

Adrian Chen at the New Yorker looks at what HanAssholeSolo and his apology tell us about the harassment culture on Twitter.

The apology is a fascinating document, in part because it is addressed to his fellow Internet trolls. “My fellow redditors,” he wrote. “First of all, I would like to apologize to the members of the reddit community for getting this site and this sub embroiled in a controversy that should never have happened.” The_Donald is a community of more than forty thousand users that has become the beating heart of Trump’s online grassroots army, producing a steady stream of bite-sized pro-Trump propaganda tuned perfectly to go viral. Within this community, the Internet is treated as a venue for bombastic Trumpian fantasy, completely detached from the real world. Users see themselves as engaged in a great “meme war” and call Trump their “God Emperor.” The derision and scorn heaped on them by outsiders—Quartz has described The_Donald as “a cesspool for unabashed racism”—only seems to make them stronger. Provoking strong reactions is seen as an end unto itself. HanAssholeSolo apparently subscribed to that philosophy until the moment that he felt public scrutiny coming down on him.

“I would also like to apologize for the posts made that were racist, bigoted, and anti-semitic,” he wrote. “I am not the person that the media portrays me to be in real life, I was trolling and posting things to get a reaction from the subs on reddit and never meant any of the hateful things I said in those posts.” As he told it, he had lost himself in the thrill of virtual provocation: “As time went on it became an addiction as to how far it could go with the posts that were made.”

It was tempting to write these words off as a lazy shirking of responsibility. Surely, only a psychopath would think that using the N-word or posting a photo of a burning Quran were harmless acts. Every few months, it seems, there’s a new psychological study that shows a connection between doing terrible things online and doing terrible things in real life. (The Times’ Anna North recently wrote about a study linking online trolling with psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and sadism.)

Trolls often justify their offensive behavior by insisting that they are simply doing it for “the lulz”—the laughs—and that they use offensive language as sticks to jab into the soft spots in our culture. I used to believe that such a detached approach was possible. The adherents of the hacktivist collective Anonymous, which emerged from the same message boards that would later feed into The_Donald, were fond of homophobic and sexist language even as they supported political goals generally in line with liberal values of equality and social justice.

But what “soft spots in our culture” is it possible to jab by calling women cunts and whores? Surely the only relevant “soft spots” are the ones that see it as a bad thing to bully subordinated people – and why would we need to poke those particular soft spots? Why not keep our jabbing of soft spots for soft spots that we actually don’t want, like rot in an apple? What work of de-rotting or firming up or disinfection is performed by targeting women or brown people or foreigners on Twitter? I just don’t see any point in that form of poking at soft spots.

These days, though, when I think of the lulz, I think of the notorious troll Andrew (Weev) Auernheimer. In the early twenty-tens, Aurenheimer was hailed as a geek hero for embarrassing technology companies such as A.T. & T. and LiveJournal by exposing security vulnerabilities with a trollish bravado. He also said a lot of racist and anti-Semitic things, but his many liberal supporters wrote these off. He was just trolling, they thought. Over time, however, his statements became more extreme. Today, he is a very sincere neo-Nazi and a frequent contributor to the white-supremacist blogosphere. After CNN announced that it had discovered HanAssholeSolo’s identity (the network chose not to publish his name), Auernnheimer called for a harassment campaign against CNN employees and staffers. “We are going to track down your spouses,” he said. “We are going to track down your children.”

Yet some libertarians were saying look out, look out, CNN is a powerful corporation, look out. Yes, CNN is a powerful corporation, but individual CNN reporters are not. They’re not the right kind of soft spot to jab, especially when the president of the US is so busy jabbing them himself.

Over the past few years, this kind of troll radicalization has become commonplace. In 2015, Joseph Bernstein, a writer for BuzzFeed, noticed a burgeoning online political movement that wove together two strands of the Internet’s message-board subculture. One strand comprised “threatened white men”—racists and anti-feminists who spread their extremist ideology online because it wasn’t acceptable anywhere else. The other strand was made up of nihilistic Internet trolls, like Auernheimer, who said that they were in it for the lulz. These individuals were prodigious creators of memes and online culture that often succeeded in crossing over into the mainstream. The new hybrid movement, which Bernstein called the Chanterculture, after the notorious message board 4chan, redirected this anarchic collective creativity toward political ends. It combined “age-old racist and sexist rhetoric with bleeding-edge meme culture and technology,” Bernstein wrote. Eventually, Chanterculture helped create the conditions for the rise of the alt-right.

And so we got Donald Trump. It’s all been a bit of a disaster, hasn’t it.

I have little doubt that, on some level, HanAssholeSolo genuinely viewed his online actions as detached from reality. The use of pseudonyms is an important feature of the Chanterculture, and while the users themselves often make appeals to safety or privacy, the effect of all these pseudonyms is to create the illusion of the Internet as a place where we can be something other than ourselves. On the wide-open plains of the Internet, the Chanterculture argues, offensive speech is not a problem, because one can simply turn off the computer or visit another Web site.

Ah but no, you see, because many people who use the Internet use it as themselves, with their names attached, often because that’s part of their work. Just visiting another Web site does nothing for people in that situation.

This idea feeds directly into the ideology of the alt-right, whose adherents see online outrage sparked by words, which they believe are little more than characters on a screen, as proof that the real goal of “social-justice warriors” is to silence them.

For HanAssholeSolo, though, his gif episode showed him what most of us instinctively know—that our online lives are intricately woven into our real ones, and that freedom of speech is not an excuse for a lack of empathy, even “behind a keyboard.” This was “an extreme wake up call,” he wrote in his apology. “To people who troll on the Internet for fun, consider your words and actions conveyed in your message and who it might upset or anger. Put yourself in their shoes before you post it.”

Not long after it was posted, HanAssholeSolo’s apology was erased from Reddit, along with the rest of his posts, but it lives on preserved as a screenshot on the Internet-culture database Know Your Meme. One would like to imagine that other trolls might read it and quit their idiotic hobby. Of course, this is hopelessly naïve. The trolls have gone pro.

Yep.



A very bright young man

Jul 11th, 2017 11:01 am | By

Republicans in Congress are assuring us there’s nothing to see here, move along.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said any time you’re in a campaign and you get an offer from a foreign government the answer is “no.”

Some Republicans — including Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley — defended Trump Jr.’s tweet as an example of transparency.

“I think the transparency is the proper thing to do and I think he’s shown that he wants everybody to know what the situation is, as I have found them on so many stories since the election,” Grassley told CNN.

Ah yes the transparency! So transparent, very forthcoming, much clarity. That’s why he told us all about it right after the New York Times told us all about it. It just doesn’t get any more transparent than that.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah described Trump Jr. as “a very bright young man,” but not a member of his father’s administration. He responded to Kaine’s accusations of treason with, “You got to be kidding.”

“He’s not in the administration,” Hatch said. “He may be the son of the president but he doesn’t have the authority to speak for the president. Look, I think this is overblown.”

Oh yes, definitely, Trump obviously keeps his adult children scrupulously separate from his presidency.



Don Junior publishes all the evidence on Twitter

Jul 11th, 2017 10:00 am | By

I was planning to go in a less-Trump-allthetime direction today but the Times’s latest cannot be ignored.

The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Boom. There go all Don 2’s lies about what they told him and how he saw the offer. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.

Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.

If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of a continuing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.

He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”

You know…it’s what you would do if you were a CIA agent testing a citizen’s willingness to work with a hostile foreign power. Spelling it out like that basically tells young Don: be very clear about what you’re getting into, Junior. Make no mistake about who we are and what we want.

So what did young Don do? He said hooray yes let’s do this thing.

Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would most likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.

On June 9, the Russian lawyer was sitting in the younger Mr. Trump’s office on the 25th floor of Trump Tower, just one level below the office of the future president.

…the email exchanges, which were reviewed by The Times, offer a detailed unspooling of how the meeting with the Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, came about — and just how eager Donald Trump Jr. was to accept what he was explicitly told was the Russian government’s help.

what he was explicitly told was the Russian government’s help.

The Justice Department, as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, is examining whether any of President Trump’s associates colluded with the Russian government to disrupt last year’s election. American intelligence agencies have determined that the Russian government tried to sway the election in favor of Mr. Trump.

And two days ago Don Senior told us that he “strongly pressed” Putin on the subject twice but that Putin “vehemently denied” it – as if that meant Putin were telling the truth. Hours later his son flips over the apple cart. Russia was involved and Don Junior has provided the evidence.

…in recent days, accounts by some of the central organizers of the meeting, including Donald Trump Jr., have evolved or have been contradicted by the written email records.

After being told that The Times was about to publish the content of the emails, instead of responding to a request for comment, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out images of them himself on Tuesday.

“To everyone, in order to be totally transparent, I am releasing the entire email chain of my emails” about the June 9 meeting, he wrote. “I first wanted to just have a phone call but when that didn’t work out, they said the woman would be in New York and asked if I would meet.”

Brilliant. Just really brilliant.

On Monday, Donald Trump Jr. said on Twitter that it was hardly unusual to take information on an opponent. And on Tuesday morning, he tweeted, “Media & Dems are extremely invested in the Russia story. If this nonsense meeting is all they have after a yr, I understand the desperation!”

Is there not a single competent lawyer on the payroll? Not one lawyer to tell him to shut the fuck up this instant? It’s like watching a child climb onto a windowsill on the 25th floor.

Updating to add: the Times has updated the story with a game-changer from Don Senior:

At a White House briefing on Tuesday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary, read a statement from President Trump in which he defended his son. “My son is a high-quality person, and I applaud his transparency,” the president said.

There ya go. End of story.



Steve Bonaparte

Jul 11th, 2017 9:08 am | By

I learned a new fact about Steve Bannon this morning. It’s a rather exhilarating fact.

Bannon became a vital figure in Trump’s orbit during the early days of his political rise. The two met late in 2010, when David Bossie, the veteran conservative activist, brought Bannon along on a trip to Trump Tower to offer advice about how Trump might prepare for a presidential run. Like Trump, Bannon was a businessman and born deal-maker. With experience on Wall Street and in Hollywood, he was nothing if not high energy, a mile-a-minute talker with a volcanic temper who rarely slept and possessed a media metabolism to rival Trump’s own. And Bannon, too, had a healthy self-regard. On his office wall hung an oil painting of Bannon dressed as Napoleon in his study at the Tuileries, done in the style of Jacques-Louis David’s famous neoclassical painting — a gift from Nigel Farage.

No. Really?

I don’t suppose we’ll ever get the chance to see the original, if it exists, but pending that glory the Daily Beast has given us a version:

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY KELLY CAMINERO

Their attitudes toward Russia differ slightly though.

 



Yes, Richard, they should

Jul 10th, 2017 4:47 pm | By

Speaking of grumpy dudes tweeting their quarrels with lefty ideas…

That’s no good, because it misstates the whole issue. The group isn’t merely PAST-wronged i.e. wronged by something that happened far in the past and is long over. The group has been held back and slowed down by ongoing wrongs many of which continue to this day. The group has been systematically prevented from accruing wealth for generations by deliberate government actions. The wrongs have not ended, and the damage they’ve done continues.

The rest of us have profited from the wrongs whether we wanted to or not, and whether we were aware of it or not. We’re richer because they’re poorer.

So yes, members of the group have every right to ask to be paid what was deliberately kept from them. It’s nothing to do with a “Vendetta” and that’s an ugly and uninformed thing to say.



Oooh a 90 pound weakling

Jul 10th, 2017 3:54 pm | By

Peter Boghossian has been needling people lately. Or maybe no more than usual, but he’s been doing it effectively enough that I hear about it even though I normally ignore him.

One reason I normally ignore him is his enthusiasm for pseudo-epigrammatic little quips that are actually just shallow and usually inaccurate oversimplifications. Yawn.

Like this one.

Why is it that nearly every male who’s a 3rd wave intersectional feminist is physically feeble & has terrible body habitus?

1. It isn’t.

2. Why do you ask?

3. What are you, six? Is this the playground? Is it Trump’s dining room? What are you doing jeering at people for not being Big n Strong enough?

4. The constant attacks on feminism get really tiresome, not to mention ugly.

And there was this.

If the left forgoes equality of outcome & the right agrees to steeper graduated income taxes then we can move toward equality of opportunity.

He’s so glib. He obviously fancies himself as a big thinker, but that’s what he comes up with.

The left doesn’t need to “forgo” equality of outcome because the left doesn’t demand or expect it in the first place. That label is bogus; it’s what the right says when it wants to pour scorn on progressive concerns about radically unequal outcomes and what is causing them. It’s entirely possible to think radically unequal outcomes have causes other than or in addition to a flawlessly pure relationship between outcomes and abilities, without therefore expecting all outcomes to be “equal.”

It’s not a matter of saying “fire all these white people right now and replace them with people of color.” It’s not a matter of saying all jobs must be 50/50 women and men. It’s a matter of looking into large disparities to find out what’s causing them and if it would be a good idea to try to reduce them.

Yet for some reason Peter Boghossian has a lot of admirers.



The direction we’re going

Jul 10th, 2017 11:55 am | By

The BBC reports on Hungary’s (or Orban’s) disgusting campaign against George Soros:

Giant posters vilifying the financier George Soros have gone up all over Hungary – the crudest step in the latest campaign by the rightwing Fidesz government against the 86-year-old Hungarian-born philanthropist.

Many Hungarian Jews fear that open or concealed anti-Semitism lies behind the campaign. The government strenuously denies this.

The posters show a grinning Mr Soros beside the words, “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh”.

In smaller letters at the top of the poster is the message, “99% reject illegal immigration.”

A poster showing George Soros, on which someone has written "dirty Jew"

AKOS STILLER

That scrawl on his forehead says “Dirty Jew.”

Last year, Hungary granted protection to just 550 people, one of the lowest rates in Europe, and has refused to accept a single person from the 1,294 quota allocated by the European Commission in September 2015. With Slovakia, the Fidesz government has also taken the Commission to the European Court of Justice over the quota allocations.

The Fidesz government is also trying to close the Central European University, founded by Mr Soros in Budapest in 1992, and has passed legislation forcing non-governmental organisations to declare themselves “foreign-funded” – and therefore suspect, in the increasingly xenophobic atmosphere in Hungary.

That legislation targets Soros-funded NGOs in particular.

A few days ago George Szirtes, no doubt in response to this kind of thing, wrote a post about Soros’s “foreign funding” on Facebook:

SO WHO IS SOROS AND WHAT HAS HE EVER DONE FOR US?

Nine facts about Hungary and the ‘evil’ George Soros’s Open Society Foundation:

1. 
Between 1985 and 1996 the Hungarian Soros Foundation gifted more than 4 million dollars worth of photocopiers to libraries, hospitals, and other public institutions so that, despite state control. there should be free access to ideas and information

2
Between 1991-1996 the Foundation gave over 5 million dollars so that over ten thousand schoolchildren should have free breakfasts at a time when countless families were suffering the problems of the transitional period after communism.

3
In the 1990s the Foundation supported the large-scale modernisation of health services whereby ultrasound scanners and other important diagnostic equipment was provided for many Hungarian hospitals.

4
Between 1997 and 2004 when the incidence of TB leapt among the homeless the Foundation, together with Hungarian Maltese Cross charity ensured that 40,000 people could be given proper medical checks.

5
Thanks to the Open Society Foundation over 3200 Hungarians – Viktor Orbán among them – were given the opportunity to study abroad.

Wicked stuff, huh?

6
George Soros donated over 250 million dollars towards the establishing of the Central European University. Open Society scholarships have enabled more than 2100 Hungarians to study there.

7
In 2010 the Open Society Foundation gave 1 million dollars in aid when the slurry reservoir of the aluminium works at Ajka burst its dam and andthe surrounding countryside was flooded with poisonous waste causing the death of ten people.

8
In 2008 following the world financial crisis, the Open Society Foundation gave 8.6 million dollars of emergency aid to over 150 local civic organisations helping the local population to overcome the ensuing social problems. As one of its projects, in Tarnabod, together with the Hungarian Maltese Cross, it offered those in difficult circumstances 1.6 million dollars in aid as a development fund

9
60 out of 100 of its employees in one of its regional centres, the Budapest office of the Open Society Foundation, is Hungarian.

———————————————

George Soros has, in effect, been the major 20th and 21st century benefactor to his birthplace

** Translated from the Hungarian. Figures from Open Society Website.

Sometimes it feels as if we’re living in a sinister fairy tale, in which the Forces of Evil have taken over everything.



Good morning Donald T

Jul 10th, 2017 10:37 am | By

Trump has been busy on Twitter this morning. Lashings of retweets of Fox & Friends, and libeling of James Comey, and lying about what he said about Putin – and the absurd claim that putting his clothing merchant daughter in his seat at the G20 was “standard.”

“Very standard” my ass. If it were very standard you would see other heads of state doing it, and you don’t. If it were very standard you would have seen other US presidents doing it, and you didn’t. It’s not standard at all, it’s grotesque, it’s Ruritanian, it’s Marx brothers territory.

Also what’s this “Angela M” shit? Is he so clueless that he even thinks it’s ok to refer to heads of state who are women in that condescending way? Funny otherwise that there’s no chat about Vladimir P, isn’t it.

If cats took over the State Department the dish would run away with the spoon. I can think of meaningless counterfactuals all day long; what’s his point?



Trump is the greatest threat to US national security

Jul 10th, 2017 10:06 am | By

Laurence Summers is not impressed by Trump’s latest junket.

[T]he president’s behavior in and around the summit was unsettling to U.S. allies and confirmed the fears of those who believe that his conduct is currently the greatest threat to American national security.

The existence of the G-20 as an annual forum arose out of a common belief of major nations in a global community with common interests in peace, mutual security, prosperity and economic integration, and the containment of global threats, even as there was competition among nations in the security and economic realms. The idea that the United States should lead in the development of international community has been a central tenet of American foreign policy since the end of World War II. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the aspiration to international community has been an aspiration to global community.

Trump’s rhetoric has rejected the concept of global community and expressed a strong belief that the United States should seek better deals rather than stronger institutions and systems. It has become clear that Trump’s actions will match his rhetoric.

It’s a sleazy, self-centered, small-minded worldview as well as policy. “Deals” aren’t the answer to everything, and a deal-maker is not automatically equipped to understand every issue. The current president has a small parochial mind, along with a galloping case of narcissism, so he understands almost nothing about his job.

The president chose hours before meeting with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin to cast doubt on judgments of the U.S. intelligence community regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. On the brink of the most important set of international meetings of his presidency so far, he put forward the absurd idea that a main G-20 discussion item involved Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, in the process making demonstrably false assertions about Podesta’s role.

It is rare for heads of government to step away from the table during major summits. When this is necessary, their place is normally taken by foreign ministers or other very senior government officials. There is no precedent for a head of government’s adult child taking a seat, as was the case when Ivanka Trump took her father’s place at the G-20 on Saturday. There is no precedent for good reason. It was insulting to the others present and sent a signal of disempowerment regarding senior government officials.

Along with a lot of other signals, none of them good. It sent a signal that knowledge and experience are considered entirely irrelevant and useless by the current administration, which in turn sends a signal that brute power is all there is. Ivanka Trump plunked herself down at that table because she could, because Daddy, and for no other reason. That’s just naked rude belligerent power, dressed up as a blonde princess.

The president’s pre-G-20 speech in Poland expressed the sentiment that the primary question of our time was the will of the West to survive. Such a sentiment is inevitably alienating to the vast majority of humanity that does not live in what the president considers to be the West. Manichaean rhetoric from presidents is rarely wise. George W. Bush’s reference to an “axis of evil” is generally regarded as a serious error, not because the regimes he referenced were not evil but because his rhetoric drew our adversaries together. Invoking the idea of “the West against the rest,” as President Trump did, is a graver misstep.

A corporate chief executive whose public behavior was as erratic as Trump’s would already have been replaced. The standard for democratically elected officials is appropriately different. But one cannot look at the past months and rule out the possibility of even more aberrant behavior in the future. The president’s Cabinet and his political allies in Congress should never forget that the oaths they swore were not to the defense of the president but to the defense of the Constitution.

The president’s Cabinet and his political allies in Congress are not going to lift a finger to stop him.



Not just harmless rants from a sad man in his bedroom

Jul 9th, 2017 5:05 pm | By

Again a woman says hey maybe it would be a good idea to stop harassing women every time a woman utters a thought; again the response is (of course) to harass her.

Labour needs to be a “broad-based party” and its supporters must stop engaging in “vitriolic abuse” online, Yvette Cooper said as she set out the steps needed to put Jeremy Corbyn in 10 Downing Street.

The senior Labour MP warned that the Donald Trump approach to politics was “normalising hatred” and the problem was not confined to the right wing.

She highlighted the “unacceptable” and “utterly shameful” abuse directed at Labour MP Luciana Berger, who has been targeted by supporters of Mr Corbyn over her past criticism of the leader.

And she also defended BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, who has been subjected to vitriol from all sides.

But if women don’t want to be abused, they shouldn’t say things.

Ms Cooper, speaking at the Fabian Society conference in London just hours after Theresa May met Donald Trump in the margins of the G20 summit, lashed out at the US president and condemned the Prime Minister’s failure to speak out against him.

Referring to Mr Trump‘s use of Twitter, she said: “These aren’t just harmless rants from a sad man in his bedroom.

“This is the bully pulpit of the most powerful man on the planet, broadcast direct to millions of people, echoed and amplified by the Breitbarts, the cheerleaders, the echo chambers.”

Ms Cooper, who set up the Reclaim The Internet campaign to challenge online abuse, said she was “sick to death of the vitriol poured out from all sides towards Laura Kuenssberg”.

“It is her job to ask difficult questions. It is her job to be sceptical about everything we say. Nothing justifies the personal vitriol, or the misogyny.”

Condemning the abuse aimed at Liverpool Wavertree MP Ms Berger, Ms Cooper said: “Frankly Labour Party members should be united in supporting Luciana, not targeting her or trying to intimidate her. Unacceptable always in the Labour party. Utterly shameful against someone who has stood up to fascists, someone who is on maternity leave.

“Nor is there any excuse for vitriolic abuse against our opponents. During this general election campaign some Tory women MPs and candidates were targeted with unacceptable personal abuse from the left.”

So…naturally:



The G20 is not Take Your Daughter to Work Day

Jul 9th, 2017 1:24 pm | By

The Ivanka Trump thing really annoys me…probably partly because it’s such a grotesque inversion of feminism. No no no no no no no, feminism is not about boosting unqualified inexperienced daughters into jobs in the Executive Branch because their daddies are president. No. That’s the opposite of feminism. It’s a grotesque leering parody of feminism. It’s insulting.

And it’s just all wrong. Heads of state don’t bring their toddlers with them to global meetings, and have them “sit in” while they’re away for a few minutes. They don’t bring their adult children either, or their cousins or siblings or any other relatives. That’s not how any of this works. It’s a break from diplomatic protocol.

Former NATO ambassador Nicholas Burns, who served as a diplomat under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said the incident was a breach of protocols for such summits. Those traditions are intended to send a clear message to world leaders about who has power in the government.

Burns said in his experience at summits, the secretary of state would take the president’s place at the table.

Of course Trump’s Secretary of State is also grossly underqualified, but at least he’s not a relative.

“This is a group of the 20 most powerful leaders in the world in the 20 most powerful countries in the world,” Burns said. “It conveys that impression and we are a democracy and that’s also important here.”

“Authority is not conferred upon family members because of the president’s position,” he added.

And normally, everybody knows that. Everybody.

Trump and other world leaders of the G-20 sat around a massive table for a working session on “Partnership With Africa, Migration and Health” when Ivanka relieved her father, who had to leave the room for additional meetings. The move placed her squarely between British Prime Minister Theresa May and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Yes, it stuck out,” said a senior European official who took part in the G-20 talks and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. “The very fact that his daughter is senior adviser smacks of the kind of nepotism not seen since John F. Kennedy named Robert F. Kennedy as attorney general.”

At least Robert Kennedy wasn’t a fashion marketer.

Some critics online compared Ivanka Trump’s presence at the table to a “banana republic” and argued that she is both “unelected” and “unqualified” to step into a role usually filled by officials with policy expertise.

What need is there to argue? Of course she’s neither elected nor qualified, and of course a job like that requires policy expertise. Ivanka Trump sells shoes and jewelry. She’s not qualified.

There were some tweets.



And a wheelbarrow to make off with the carcasses

Jul 9th, 2017 12:09 pm | By

Henry Farrell explains why Trump’s exciting new plan to team up with Russia to battle The Cyber is not all that practical.

First he points out that some co-operation even with rivals can work, as an Obama agreement with China has largely worked.

But.

As Trump has described his discussions with Putin, both want something much more far-reaching than the deal that Obama reached with China. Instead of setting up dialogue, Trump wants to engage in true cooperation. He wants to set up a joint “unit” that would handle election security issues so as to prevent hacking. This unit would, furthermore, be “impenetrable.”

It’s not hugely difficult to spot the flaw in that plan.

If the proposed cybersecurity unit were to work effectively, the United States would need to share extensive information with Russia on how U.S. officials defend elections against foreign tampering. The problem is, however, that information that is valuable for defending U.S. systems is, almost by definition, information that is valuable for attacking them, too. This is one reason U.S. officials have not previously proposed any far-reaching arrangement with Russia on cybersecurity. Providing such information would almost certainly give the Russians a map of vulnerabilities and insecurities in the system that they could then exploit for their own purposes.

It would not only provide the fox with a map of the henhouse, but give him the security code, the backdoor key, and a wheelbarrow to make off with the carcasses. U.S. officials have determined that Russian hackers have probed U.S. election systems, presumably to discover vulnerabilities that they could exploit. Although there is no evidence that Russia actually manipulated machines to alter the vote in the 2016 election, there is excellent reason to believe that Russia has carefully considered the pros and cons of direct intervention, as well as the hacking and leaking that it did engage in.

And we don’t actually want to help them do that even more.

But hey, look at it from Trump’s point of view. His ratings are in the toilet, so he’ll need extra help if he runs in 2020 (frankly I’m hoping he’ll be removed long before then). Maybe if he gives the Russians the security code and the key they’ll help him get re-elected.

Furthermore, when Trump says that this unit would be “impenetrable,” he implies that Russia and the United States would cooperate on making it secure against outside hacking by third parties. Again, such cooperation is wildly unlikely to work well. To make it work, the United States would have to share sensitive methods with Russia, as well as vice versa. Neither side is going to want to do this, because again it would provide potential adversaries with a deep understanding of protective measures, which might allow those adversaries to penetrate them.

In short, the kind of cooperation that Trump is proposing would be very hard to accomplish between close allies with deeply shared security interests (the United States shares a lot of secrets with select allies — but it does not share everything, for the same reasons that they do not share their deepest defensive secrets with the United States). It is more or less impossible to carry off with a state that not only is often an adversary but has recently demonstrated its desire to hack U.S. elections, if only it could get away with it.

Wouldn’t you think Trump could have figured this out for himself? Even as clouded and confused as he is?



Dear diary, he held my hand today

Jul 9th, 2017 11:02 am | By

Trump updated his diary on Twitter for us. Apparently he was brilliant at the G20 meeting, and he awed everyone, and the whole world fell to its knees in admiration of American and its Shining Golden Prince.

Mansplaining at its finest.

He’s so clueless and so narcissistic and so passionately in love with himself that he thinks he can Explain things to the rest of the world, and the rest of the world will listen and nod and understand. He fails to consider that the rest of the world doesn’t see him the way he sees himself. He thinks it sees him the way he sees himself, except with envy instead of glorious satisfaction.

He thinks the rest of the world agrees with him that he understands trade and economics and all other complicated subjects.

It doesn’t.

He also thinks, even  more fatuously, that the world sees US self-interest as its own, while not seeing its own self-interest as its own. He must think that, because otherwise he wouldn’t talk nonsense about explaining to the world what the US wants as if that were supposed to be a conversation stopper for countries that aren’t the US. It’s like saying “I’m really hungry!” as you grab a stranger’s sandwich, and expecting that to be sufficient justification.

That one will run and run. Oh well then – if he vehemently denied it, there’s no more to be said. Obviously he wouldn’t lie about it. Obviously he especially wouldn’t lie about it vehemently. Vehemence is proof; we all know that. Thank god Trump asked him about it, because otherwise we wouldn’t realize that he denies it. Especially thank god Trump strongly pressed him about it, because Trump is such a strong strong strong man, so if he strongly presses you, there’s no resisting him. That wimp Obama would have merely asked, and Putin probably could have resisted that, but our strong strong strong golden-haired Prince sweeps all before him with his strongly pressing. His strength is strongly strong as his hair is goldenly golden.

If only Trump had been invited to ask Bernie Madoff if he was running a Ponzi scheme.

Note the way he takes for granted exactly what Putin wants him and everyone to take for granted – that Putin and Trump together run the world.

This one too will run and run – Trump gloating at his success in persuading the fox to help him guard the chickens. Trump gloating at his success in enlisting Putin in a project that will make hacking our elections and all other government work so much easier. It’s as if Chamberlain had returned from Munich not merely rejoicing at Peace in Our Time but also congratulating himself for persuading Hitler to examine British military intelligence from then on.

Again he trashes US institutions to his BFF Putin. It’s kind of not a million miles from treason. It’s certainly childish and disgusting.

More of the same. Gee, Vlad, doncha just hate the New York Times and US intelligence agencies? Doncha?

Translation: I went totally belly-up for Putin because he flattered me and I really am that vain and stupid.

The conclusion was that projectile-vomit-inducing video.



Hello fascism

Jul 9th, 2017 9:53 am | By

Oh sweet jesus.



Whether the West has the will to survive

Jul 8th, 2017 4:57 pm | By

Peter Beinart decodes Trump’s Warsaw speech.

In his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to “the West” and five times to “our civilization.” His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means. It’s important that other Americans do, too.

The West is not a geographic term. Poland is further east than Morocco. France is further east than Haiti. Australia is further east than Egypt. Yet Poland, France, and Australia are all considered part of “The West.” Morocco, Haiti, and Egypt are not.

Poland is not always considered part of “the West,” I think. It’s considered liminal, semi-Western, Westernish. But for Trump? That’s another matter.

 

The West is not an ideological or economic term either. India is the world’s largest democracy. Japan is among its most economically advanced nations. No one considers them part of the West.

Well, again – sometimes the word is used to mean mostly economically advanced, and it does include Japan. It’s become a very baggy word that way.

But Beinart’s basic point is that Trump wasn’t using it that way.

The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white. Where there is ambiguity about a country’s “Westernness,” it’s because there is ambiguity about, or tension between, these two characteristics. Is Latin America Western? Maybe. Most of its people are Christian, but by U.S. standards, they’re not clearly white. Are Albania and Bosnia Western? Maybe. By American standards, their people are white. But they are also mostly Muslim.

“Preferably Catholic” is doubtful too. Italy, Portugal and Spain (and of course Poland) used to be considered almost third world, and certainly not in the same league as the Protestant countries.

Beinart says usage changed when the Cold War ended; that US presidents stopped identifying with “the West” and instead talked about universal values.

Every president from George H.W. Bush to Barack Obama emphasized the portability of America’s political and economic principles. The whole point was that democracy and capitalism were not uniquely “Western.” They were not the property of any particular religion or race but the universal aspiration of humankind.

To grasp how different that rhetoric was from Trump’s, look at how the last Republican President, George W. Bush, spoke when he visited Poland. In his first presidential visit, in 2001, Bush never referred to “the West.” He did tell Poles that “We share a civilization.” But in the next sentence he insisted that “Its values are universal.” Because they are, he declared, “our trans-Atlantic community must have priorities beyond the consolidation of European peace. We must bring peace and health to Africa. … We must work toward a world that trades in freedom … a world of cooperation to enhance prosperity, protect the environment, and lift the quality of life for all.”

Bush’s vision echoed Francis Fukuyama’s. America and Europe may have been further along the road to prosperity, liberty, capitalism, and peace than other parts of the world, but all countries could follow their path. And the more each did, the more America and Europe would benefit. In deeply Catholic Poland, Bush sprinkled his speeches with religious references, but they were about Christianity as a universal creed, a moral imperative that knew no civilizational bounds. By contrast, when Trump warned Poles about forces “from the south or the east, that threaten … to erase the bonds of culture, faith, and tradition,” he was talking not about Christianity but about Christendom: a particular religious civilization that must protect itself from outsiders.

Or he was talking about an amalgam of Christendom and Enlightenmentdom and popular culture – he was talking about What We’re Used To as opposed to What’s Different. Along with race, of course. He was talking about his knee-jerk dislikes and his loathing of foreigners, especially brown foreigners.

The most shocking sentence in Trump’s speech—perhaps the most shocking sentence in any presidential speech delivered on foreign soil in my lifetime—was his claim that “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.” On its face, that’s absurd. Jihadist terrorists can kill people in the West, but unlike Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, they cannot topple even the weakest European government. Jihadists control no great armies. Their ideologies have limited appeal even among the Muslims they target with their propaganda. ISIS has all but lost Mosul and could lose Raqqa later this year.

Trump’s sentence only makes sense as a statement of racial and religious paranoia. The “south” and “east” only threaten the West’s “survival” if you see non-white, non-Christian immigrants as invaders. They only threaten the West’s “survival” if by “West” you mean white, Christian hegemony. A direct line connects Trump’s assault on Barack Obama’s citizenship to his speech in Poland. In Trump and Bannon’s view, America is at its core Western: meaning white and Christian (or at least Judeo-Christian). The implication is that anyone in the United States who is not white and Christian may not truly be American but rather than an imposter and a threat.

Pretty much. Anyone who is not like Trump and Trump’s family and acquaintances, basically. He likes his steak well done, he likes his chocolate cake, he likes to sleep in his own bed, and he likes to see people who look pretty much like the people he’s used to, and not scarily exotic and different. He’s a racist of the crudest kind, with no more deep thought to it than that.

America is racially, ethnically, and religious[ly] diverse. So when Trump says being Western is the essence of America’s identity, he’s in part defining America in opposition to some of its own people. He’s not speaking as the president of the entire United States. He’s speaking as the head of a tribe.

Of course. We’ve always known that. He’s speaking as the head of the tribe of rich white American guys, especially the ones who play golf.



Human rights? A free press? Meh

Jul 8th, 2017 4:18 pm | By

Masha Gessen gives an unsurprising but deeply depressing summary of Trump’s date with Putin.

Mr. Putin has for years — 17 years, to be exact, for this is how long he has been in power — been clear about what he wanted from his relationship with the United States president: He wants to be treated as an equal partner on the world stage and not to be questioned about or pressed on the Russian government’s actions inside Russia or in what he considers his sphere of influence. Despite the friendly tenor of Mr. Putin’s relationship with George W. Bush and the offer of a “reset” made by Barack Obama’s administration, Mr. Putin never achieved his objective — until now. His fourth American president has given him exactly what he wanted: respect, camaraderie and freedom from criticism.

The one accomplishment of the meeting — a limited cease-fire in Syria— is exactly what Mr. Putin wanted. Not the cease-fire, that is: He wanted an acknowledgment that the United States and Russia are equal negotiating parties in the Syrian conflict. He spent years cajoling and then blackmailing the Obama administration into accepting Russia’s decisive role in the Middle East. Now, Mr. Trump has handed him much more than that. He has demonstrated that Russia and the United States can negotiate Syrian life and death without involving any Syrians.

Trump and Tillerson both act as if they had no idea of any of that.

Gessen lists rights violations and suppressions that appear to have gone unmentioned (appear because of course we don’t know what happened during those two hours the two bros spent together). It’s a crowded list.

Since at least the 1970s, Russian leaders and Soviet leaders before them had to face questions about political freedoms and human rights whenever they met with their American counterparts. The Trump administration has ended that tradition. In May, Mr. Tillerson, in a rare public statement on policy, said that American economic and strategic interests had to take precedence over human rights advancement. When he traveled to Moscow in April, he declined to meet with human rights activists, breaking with decades of tradition. It is no surprise that Mr. Trump broached none of these issues. No wonder Mr. Putin and his news media view the meeting as a triumph.

It’s as if the Mafia had taken over the Executive Branch.



A pat on the back from Don

Jul 8th, 2017 12:06 pm | By

Dan Rather yesterday:

The first thing President Trump did when meeting Russia’s Putin in a social gathering in Germany today was shake his hand warmly, then pat him fondly on the back. There it was and remains for the world to see.

All indications are that Putin helped orchestrate an attack on the sovereignty of the United States during the last U.S. election and has made similar moves in other Western counties, seeking to undermine confidence and stability in democratic institutions and ideals. Now he gets a pat on the back from the leader of the free world.

It was a disturbing if not sickening display. But it is theatrics for now. The real showdown comes when the two meet and talk formally.
Putin is widely known to respect strength and he has a nostril for weakness. He is an experienced and shrewd operator, while Mr. Trump has proven to be a bumbling novice who seeks affirmation. It is a recipe for disaster.

For all the damage Mr. Trump and his policies can do domestically, what is happening on the world stage – from dangerous posturing on North Korea, to risking a trade war with Europe, to pulling out of the climate pact – is truly frightening. The number one job of the President of the United States is to protect the safety and security of the nation. Mr. Trump is in far over his head, and the most dangerous thing is he doesn’t know it and his enablers who should know better don’t seem to care.

No one is arguing that seeking peace and lowering tensions with Russia isn’t necessary. But demonstrating strength and resolve, in ways small and large, is an imperative in trying to reach those ends. That and making it abundantly clear that mucking around in American elections will not be tolerated.

A pat on the back is not an encouraging way to start.

Sure enough, the meeting was a bad joke.

Image result for trump putin handshake

Image result for obama putin



What Anita Sarkeesian gets in a week on Twitter

Jul 8th, 2017 11:42 am | By

A Barry Deutsch cartoon:

Image may contain: text



“A guy creating silly gifs”

Jul 8th, 2017 10:53 am | By

This is the “respectable” version of #CNNBlackmail:

There’s some truth in it, but it’s incomplete.

One, it’s not exactly the giant corporation with endless money and power that’s going after guy creating silly gifs, it’s one reporter for that corporation who researched and wrote about guy creating silly gifs.

Yes, the reporter works for the giant corporation with endless money and power, of course, but then that tends to be how market-based journalism works. Do we recoil from investigative journalism by the New York Times because the Times has (less than endless) money and power? Sometimes the capitalist ties and/or the social power may shape what’s reported or investigated for the worse, but that’s not just automatic.

Two, it wasn’t really a matter of “going after” the guy creating silly gifs. It was a matter of finding out who he was and why he created the meme, which was worth knowing because of the use of the meme by the president of the US to bully the giant corporation. That’s rather important.

Three, the guy is not just a creator of silly gifs. He’s a creator of harshly racist content and part of a social media movement of harshly racist and misogynist content-creators. It’s not just “silly.”

Four, the reporter himself and his family are receiving death threats.

Five, the most important item Dave Rubin left out: CNN isn’t just any old giant corporation, it’s a significant branch of the free press, the free press that is under constant, relentless, dishonest, malevolent attack from the head of state.

Again: it’s true that in many ways it’s unfortunate that CNN is both – a giant corporation and a significant branch of the free press. That’s the reality, though, and I think the Twitter libertarians should keep it more in mind. It’s just not the case that there is only one bully here and CNN is it. CNN itself is being bullied daily by someone who has more untrammeled state power than any other person in the country. It may be true that the reporter shouldn’t have talked about the gif-maker’s identity and CNN’s ability to make it public if it chose to, but that’s not a good reason to distort the facts of the matter.



Next up: Trump’s youngest grandchild fills in for him

Jul 8th, 2017 8:13 am | By

This is ridiculous and embarrassing. They all pretend it isn’t, but of course it is. Ivanka Trump sitting at the heads of state table at the G20 is ridiculous and embarrassing.

The first daughter was spotted slipping into Trump’s seat at a working session on “Partnership with Africa, Migration and Health,” putting her shoulder to shoulder with British Prime Minister Theresa May. Russian President Vladimir Putin was sitting one seat down.

This is an ex-model turned fashion marketer. Period. That’s her CV; she has no relevant experience or education or training whatsoever. It was nepotism that Robert Kennedy was his brother’s Attorney General, but at least he was an actual lawyer with government experience. Ivanka Trump is someone who sells dresses and shoes. She shouldn’t be there. She shouldn’t be in the administration, she shouldn’t be part of the US delegation, she most certainly should not be sitting at the table.

Trump’s presence at the high-level table was somewhat unusual, given that government ministers or senior officials are typically the ones called to stand in for heads of state at such sessions. But she is both the president’s daughter and an unpaid “assistant to the president” who focuses on issues of women’s empowerment and workplace development, and she maintains broad influence in the administration.

Yes, she’s the president’s daughter and an unpaid “assistant to the president” and that’s why she should be nowhere near this event.

It isn’t the first time Ivanka Trump has participated in high-level meetings at the summit. On Thursday night, she and her husband, Jared Kushner, another Trump adviser, joined the president at a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Kushner also participated in Trump’s bilateral meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Friday.

All bad. They’re both relatives, so should have been excluded from the outset. They’re both wholly unqualified, so should have been excluded from the outset. They both have massive conflicts of interest, so should have been excluded from the outset.

Earlier on Saturday, Ivanka Trump and her father participated in a World Bank session on women’s entrepreneurship, an issue that she has been particularly focused on.

She can be focused on it all she likes; that still doesn’t make her qualified to meddle in it at this level. She’s a former model who markets clothing.

Ivanka Trump has taken up a slate of issues since taking a role in the West Wing, including workforce training, paid family leave and women’s economic empowerment.

Stop it. That doesn’t mean anything. That just normalizes this grotesque farce. “Taking up” a slate of issues means nothing; she’s not qualified to have a role in the executive branch. She’s Trump’s pretty daughter; that’s not a qualification.