Notes and Comment Blog

When the line gets crossed

Nov 9th, 2017 12:46 pm | By

Louis C. K.’s turn.

In 2002, a Chicago comedy duo, Dana Min Goodman and Julia Wolov, landed their big break: a chance to perform at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo. When Louis C.K. invited them to hang out in his hotel room for a nightcap after their late-night show, they did not think twice. The bars were closed and they wanted to celebrate. He was a comedian they admired. The women would be together. His intentions seemed collegial.

As soon as they sat down in his room, still wrapped in their winter jackets and hats, Louis C.K. asked if he could take out his penis, the women said.

They thought it was a joke and laughed it off. “And then he really did it,” Ms. Goodman said in an interview with The New York Times. “He proceeded to take all of his clothes off, and get completely naked, and started masturbating.”

In 2003, Abby Schachner called Louis C.K. to invite him to one of her shows, and during the phone conversation, she said, she could hear him masturbating as they spoke. Another comedian, Rebecca Corry, said that while she was appearing with Louis C.K. on a television pilot in 2005, he asked if he could masturbate in front of her. She declined.

Sweet of you to offer, but no thanks.

The stories told by the women raise sharp questions about the anecdotes that Louis C.K. tells in his own comedy. He rose to fame in part by appearing to be candid about his flaws and sexual hang-ups, discussing and miming masturbation extensively in his act — an exaggerated riff that some of the women feel may have served as a cover for real misconduct. He has all but invited comparison between his private life and his onscreen work, too: In “I Love You, Daddy,” which is scheduled to be released next week, a character pretends to masturbate at length in front of other people, and other characters appear to dismiss rumors of sexual predation.

At the same time, Louis C.K. has also boosted the careers of women, and is sometimes viewed as a feminist by fans and critics. But Ms. Goodman and Ms. Wolov said that when they told others about the incident in the Colorado hotel room, they heard that Louis C.K.’s manager was upset that they were talking about it openly. The women feared career repercussions. Louis C.K.’s manager, Dave Becky, was adamant in an email that he “never threatened anyone.”

For comedians, the professional environment is informal: profanity and raunch that would be far out of line in most workplaces are common, and personal foibles — the weirder the better — are routinely mined for material. But Louis C.K.’s behavior was abusive, the women said.

“I think the line gets crossed when you take all your clothes off and start masturbating,” Ms. Wolov said.

You’re supposed to do that on the subway in front of strangers, not in a hotel room in front of friends.

Goodman and Wolov told people about it the next day, figuring they should at least warn people, but Dave Becky got word of it and told them to stop. He’s a mover and shaker in their world, so that limited their career.

Ms. Goodman and Ms. Wolov moved to Los Angeles shortly after the Aspen festival, but “we were coming here with a bunch of enemies,” Ms. Goodman said. Gren Wells, a filmmaker who befriended the comedy duo in 2002, said the incident and the warning, which they told her about soon after Aspen, hung heavily over them both. “This is something that they were freaked out about,” Ms. Wells said.

In the years since, Ms. Goodman and Ms. Wolov have found some success, but they remained concerned about Mr. Becky and took themselves out of the running for the many projects he was involved in. Though their humor is in line with what he produces, “we know immediately that we can never even submit our material,” Ms. Wolov said.

So that’s great. He does skeevy creepy thing and their careers take a hit.

Tig Notaro, the comedian whose Amazon series, “One Mississippi,” lists Louis C.K. as an executive producer, is one of the few in the fiercely insular comedy world to speak out against him. Her career received a huge boost when he released her 2012 comedy album, about her cancer diagnosis. But their relationship has crumbled and she now feels “trapped” by her association with him, she wrote in an email.

Her fear is that “he released my album to cover his tracks,” she said. “He knew it was going to make him look like a good guy, supporting a woman.” Ms. Notaro said she learned of his reputation after they sold the series to Amazon, and a recent story line is a fictional treatment of the alleged masturbation episodes.

“Sadly, I’ve come to learn that Louis C.K.’s victims are not only real,” she said by email, “but many are actual friends of mine within the comedy community,” like Ms. Corry, who confided in her, she said.

Ms. Goodman and Ms. Wolov said that with other allegations swirling around the entertainment world, they could no longer stay silent. “Because of this moment, as gross as it is, we feel compelled to speak,” Ms. Goodman said.

Ms. Notaro said she was standing in support of those with the courage “to speak up against such a powerful figure,” she said, “as well as the multitude of women still out there, not quite ready to share their nightmares.”

Brought to you by The Harvey Weinstein Moment.

There aren’t enough Americans

Nov 9th, 2017 11:04 am | By

Of course they are.

President Donald Trump’s upscale Mar-a-Lago club received permission from the federal government to temporarily hire 70 foreign housekeepers, waiters and cooks to fill out its staff during its upcoming busy season, with its managers attesting there aren’t enough Americans qualified, willing and available to do the work.

Liars. When Americans apply to do the work Mar-a-Lago doesn’t hire them.

The president’s hiring of foreign workers at the Florida resort over several years was criticized by his opponents during the 2016 campaign after he slammed companies for moving jobs out of the U.S. and others for hiring immigrants in the country illegally. During the Republican primary debates, Trump defended Mar-a-Lago’s hiring practices, saying not enough Americans apply for its low-end service jobs and if his managers didn’t recruit outside the country “we might as well just close the doors.”

Or his managers could up the pay offered – ever think of that? If you pay a decent wage, enough Americans damn well will apply for those service jobs, and those decent wages will help boost the local economy; win-win.

Under requests approved by the U.S. Labor Department, Mar-a-Lago can employ 35 foreign waiters, 20 cooks and 15 housekeepers to help serve its 500 members starting this month through May 31. The waiters will receive $11.88 an hour with no tips, the cooks $13.34 an hour and the housekeepers $10.33 an hour. The waiters’ and cooks’ wages are slightly above the national average for those fields and the housekeepers’ slightly below, according to Labor Department statistics.

So pay the waiters and housekeepers $20 and the cooks $25. Spread the wealth a little.

Mar-a-Lago has made similar requests in recent years, ranging from 88 employees in 2014 down to 64 last year.

And Mar-a-Lago is not alone. Many other high-end resorts and clubs in Palm Beach County annually receive similar approvals from the government, including 141 foreign employees this year for The Breakers, a historic beachfront hotel near Mar-a-Lago, and 65 for The Polo Club of Boca Raton. All are offering wages roughly similar to Mar-a-Lago, according to their Labor Department filings. The area’s peak tourist season is from about Thanksgiving to Easter.

The workers are hired under the H-2B visa program, which is for seasonal, non-agriculture employees and is capped at 66,000 nationally per year.

How does Trump know they’re not Sekrit Mooslim Terrorisssts?

Into an eternity of righteousness and peace

Nov 9th, 2017 10:17 am | By

Hans Fiene at the Federalist comes right out and says it – God did those people killed in Sutherland Springs a favor.

For those with little understanding of and less regard for the Christian faith, there may be no greater image of prayer’s futility than Christians being gunned down mid-supplication. But for those familiar with the Bible’s promises concerning prayer and violence, nothing could be further from the truth. When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered yesterday, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.

“Deliver us from evil.” Millions of Christians throughout the world pray these words every Sunday morning. While it doesn’t appear that the Lord’s Prayer is formally a part of the worship services at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, I have no doubt that members of that congregation have prayed these words countless times in their lives.

So then everyone should just die right now, infants included.

When we pray these words, we are certainly praying that God would deliver us from evil temporally—that is, in this earthly life. Through these words, we are asking God to send his holy angels to guard us from those who would seek to destroy us with knives and bombs and bullets. It may seem, on the surface, that God was refusing to give such protection to his Texan children. But we are also praying that God would deliver us from evil eternally. Through these same words, we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.

So the best thing is to be dead, so everyone should just get dead as fast as possible. Why isn’t Hans Fiene getting dead?

We also pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s will be done. Sometimes, his will is done by allowing temporal evil to be the means through which he delivers us from eternal evil. Despite the best (or, more accurately, the worst) intentions of the wicked against his children, God hoists them on their own petard by using their wickedness to give those children his victory, even as the wicked often mock the prayers of their prey.

Well that’s really nice of God, but why not just prevent us from being born in the first place? If we need to be delivered, why not just skip the whole thing?

Because of Christ’s saving death and resurrection, death no longer has any power over those who belong to him through faith. So the enemies of the gospel can pour out their murderous rage upon Christians, but all they can truly accomplish is placing us into the arms of our savior.

So atheists should do believers a favor and kill them all? Does he really want to say that?

So when a madman with a rifle sought to persecute the faithful at First Baptist Church on Sunday morning, he failed. Just like those who put Christ to death, and just like those who have brought violence to believers in every generation, this man only succeeded in being the means through which God delivered his children from this evil world into an eternity of righteousness and peace.

But if that’s true, why aren’t God’s children walking off cliffs and in front of trains?

Obama said the same thing at the funeral for Clemenza Pinckney in Charleston, you may remember – he said the “he works in mysterious ways” thing. It is indeed mysterious.

Basil in China

Nov 9th, 2017 8:27 am | By

Trump in China sounds like Basil Fawlty meeting Lord Melbury (who in fact is a conman).

President Trump heaped praise on President Xi Jinping of China on Thursday, blaming Mr. Trump’s own predecessors for China’s yawning trade surplus with the United States and saying he was confident that Mr. Xi could defuse the threat from North Korea.

Mr. Trump’s warm words, on a state visit to China replete with ceremony but short of tangible results, showed a president doubling down on his gamble that by cultivating a personal connection with Mr. Xi, he can push the Chinese leader to take meaningful steps on North Korea and trade.

In public, Mr. Trump projected an air of deference to China that was almost unheard-of for a visiting American president. Far from attacking Mr. Xi on trade, Mr. Trump saluted him for leading a country that he said had left the United States “so far behind.” He said he could not blame the Chinese for taking advantage of weak American trade policy.

You just know what he looked like. He’s no better at that kind of thing than he is at its opposite – he’ll have been pure Basil fawning on the conman pretending to be a toff.

Mr. Trump marveled at the reception Mr. Xi had given him, from a full-dress military parade in Tiananmen Square to a sunset tour of the Forbidden City. He congratulated him on consolidating power at a recent Communist Party congress, declaring, “Perhaps now more than ever we have an opportunity to strengthen our relationship.”

“You’re a very special man,” he told Mr. Xi in an appearance before reporters, at which they did not take questions.

Of course he did; that’s our Basil.

Mr. Xi, for his part, did not return Mr. Trump’s fulsome personal praise, seeming to treat him like any other American leader.

Because he’s not stupid enough to think that gross obvious asskissing is effective.

At their joint appearance, Mr. Trump turned to the Chinese president and declared, “A great responsibility has been placed on our shoulders. It is truly a great responsibility.”

What’s he trying to say? Something about a great responsibility, is it? It’s all a bit over my head.


Illegitimate retaliation against the press

Nov 8th, 2017 5:09 pm | By

Corrupt much?

On Monday, November 6, AT&T C.E.O. Randall Stephenson was in Washington, D.C., for a meeting with Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department’s new anti-trust chief, who was confirmed by the Senate in late September. They were there to discuss AT&T’s long-awaited purchase of Time Warner, which has been in the final stages of a protracted regulatory review. According to three people briefed on the conversation, Delrahim told Stephenson that if AT&T wanted the D.O.J. to green-light the $85 billion mega merger, he would have have to either sell Turner Broadcasting, the parent entity of CNN, which AT&T would acquire as part of the deal, or sell DirecTV, the satellite provider AT&T acquired in 2015.

To Stephenson, both choices were thoroughly unpalatable: ditch the company you’ve spent the past two years painstakingly integrating into your business, or ditch the portfolio of premium broadcast brands—which in addition to CNN includes TBS, TNT, N.B.A. and March Madness games, and other prominent television assets—that accounts for more than half of the profits of the company you’ve spent the past year gearing up to own. Stephenson’s response, according to the people briefed on the interaction with Delrahim, was more or less: We’ll see you in court. (The Financial Times first reported on Wednesday, citing three unnamed sources with knowledge of the negotiations, that “AT&T has been told by the U.S. Department of Justice that it needs to sell CNN to get its $84.5bn acquisition of the media company approved.”)

Few people I spoke to at AT&T or Time Warner believe that anti-trust concerns are driving this hard bargain. Rather, they believe it’s about politics, and CNN in particular. CNN is media-enemy No. 1 for President Donald Trump, who had expressed his distaste for the AT&T-Time Warner merger early on. He even threatened to kill it, and had reportedly toyed with the idea of using CNN as a bargaining chip. The Justice Department’s late-stage requirements for the merger seemed to confirm people’s fears.

Ethics boffins on Twitter are going ballistic.

In response to an account that was circulating on Wednesday, apparently from the Department of Justice, that AT&T had offered to divest itself of CNN to let the deal go through, Stephenson, through a spokesperson, was unequivocal. “Until now, we’ve never commented on our discussions with the D.O.J. But given D.O.J.’s statement this afternoon, it’s important to set the record straight,” he told Vanity Fair.“Throughout this process, I have never offered to sell CNN and have no intention of doing so.”

I’m not a fan of media mergers or tech mergers or media&tech mergers – but I’m even less of a fan of strongarming by Donald Trump and his goons.

Inside CNN, the mood was as charged as you’d expect it to be. “This is political, this is unprecedented, and the only explanation is political pressure from the White House,” a CNN employee told me. “There’s a contingent here that felt like, you have a litigious, vindictive commander in chief with the opportunity to take a poke at a network he believes covers him unfairly. How did we think this is gonna end? It’s outrageous.” Another insider told me that people throughout the Turner portfolio are “freaking out.” They’d finally gotten their heads around the idea that they would soon be owned by AT&T, a Dallas-based operation with no media or entertainment experience. Today’s news “caught 99 percent of the people at the company by surprise,” the source said. “Everybody’s like, what the fuck?

Mount Samalas

Nov 8th, 2017 3:11 pm | By

There was a big die-off in Northern Europe in 1258.

When archaeologists discovered thousands of medieval skeletons in a mass burial pit in east London in the 1990s, they assumed they were 14th-century victims of the Black Death or the Great Famine of 1315-17. Now they have been astonished by a more explosive explanation – a cataclysmic volcano that had erupted a century earlier, thousands of miles away in the tropics, and wrought havoc on medieval Britons.

Scientific evidence – including radiocarbon dating of the bones and geological data from across the globe – shows for the first time that mass fatalities in the 13th century were caused by one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the past 10,000 years.

It was a big famine, but it was a big famine caused by a Very Damn Big Volcano that threw sulfuric gases so high into the atmosphere that they veiled the whole planet and ruined the crops.

Mass deaths required capacious burial pits, as recorded in contemporary accounts. In 1258, a monk reported: “The north wind prevailed for several months… scarcely a small rare flower or shooting germ appeared, whence the hope of harvest was uncertain… Innumerable multitudes of poor people died, and their bodies were found lying all about swollen from want… Nor did those who had homes dare to harbour the sick and dying, for fear of infection… The pestilence was immense – insufferable; it attacked the poor particularly. In London alone 15,000 of the poor perished; in England and elsewhere thousands died.”

It was just one of those things – a bad year for the crops.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the volcano’s exact location has yet to be established.

This Guardian piece is from 2012. Last night I watched a new Nova about the famine, the mystery, and the solution of the mystery. It’s pretty fascinating. Step one was pinning down the chemical composition of the gas cloud via ice cores from Greenland – they did that and found a massive spike in 1257 that made the one from Krakatoa look puny. Step two was checking both poles – they did that and found the spike on both, which meant the volcano had to be near the equator. Step three was checking on Indonesia to see if there were any likely-looking culprits, and finding one on Lombok island. Step four was going there to check out the pumice fields around the volcano, which are much deeper than any others they knew of, indicating a huge pyroclastic flow. Final step was comparing a sample to the ones from the ice cores: bingo. The Mount Samalas eruption. At least three of the authors on that Nature article were talking heads on the Nova. Here’s the abstract:

Large explosive eruptions inject volcanic gases and fine ash to stratospheric altitudes, contributing to global cooling at the Earth’s surface and occasionally to ozone depletion. The modelling of the climate response to these strong injections of volatiles commonly relies on ice-core records of volcanic sulphate aerosols. Here we use an independent geochemical approach which demonstrates that the great 1257 eruption of Samalas (Lombok, Indonesia) released enough sulphur and halogen gases into the stratosphere to produce the reported global cooling during the second half of the 13th century, as well as potential substantial ozone destruction. Major, trace and volatile element compositions of eruptive products recording the magmatic differentiation processes leading to the 1257 eruption indicate that Mt Samalas released 158 ± 12 Tg of sulphur dioxide, 227 ± 18 Tg of chlorine and a maximum of 1.3 ± 0.3 Tg of bromine. These emissions stand as the greatest volcanogenic gas injection of the Common Era. Our findings not only provide robust constraints for the modelling of the combined impact of sulphur and halogens on stratosphere chemistry of the largest eruption of the last millennium, but also develop a methodology to better quantify the degassing budgets of explosive eruptions of all magnitudes.

Their version of my crude summary of Nova’s adventure storytelling version of how they figured it out:

The 1257 eruption of Mt Samalas, a part of the Rinjani volcanic complex (Fig. 1) on Lombok Island (Indonesia), has been recognized as the “mystery eruption”7 associated with the largest sulphate spike of the last 2.3 ky recorded in cores from both Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets8. This continuous four-phase eruption evacuated 40 ± 3 km3 of trachydacitic magma during tens of hours, producing plinian plumes that rose up to 43 km in the stratosphere and tephra fingerprinted up to 660 km from the source, thus standing as the most powerful eruption of the last millenium9. Archaeologists recently determined a date of 1258 for mass burial of thousands of medieval skeletons in London10, that could be linked in some respect to climatic perturbations in the Northern Hemisphere by the 1257 Samalas eruption. Indeed, medieval chronicles in Northern Europe7 document the occurrence of initial warming in the early winter of 1258 just following the eruption, that was followed by extensive wet and cold climatic conditions in 1259 that may have impacted crops and contributed to the onset and magnitude of famines at that time for some regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The 1257 Samalas eruption might also have contributed to the onset of the Little Ice Age11.

It’s damn interesting. Also tragic – a third of the population of London died.

Maine’s governor says No

Nov 8th, 2017 12:03 pm | By

Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion but the governor says they have to pay for it first.

Voters in Maine approved a ballot measure on Tuesday to allow many more low-income residents to qualify for Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, The Associated Press said. The vote was a rebuke of Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who has repeatedly vetoed legislation to expand Medicaid.

At least 80,000 additional Maine residents will become eligible for Medicaid as a result of the referendum. Maine will be the 32nd state to expand the program under the health law, but the first where voters, not governors or legislators, decided the issue. Other states whose leaders have resisted expanding the program were closely watching the campaign, particularly Utah and Idaho, where newly formed committees are working to get Medicaid expansion on next year’s ballots.

Supporters, including advocacy groups that collected enough signatures to get the question on the ballot, said the measure would help financially fragile rural hospitals, create jobs and provide care for vulnerable people who have long gone without.

Mr. LePage and other opponents, including several Republicans in the state Legislature, said Medicaid expansion would burden the taxpayers and the state budget, and described it as a form of welfare.

“The truth is that Medicaid expansion will just give able-bodied adults free health care,” Mr. LePage said in a recent radio address. “We don’t mind helping people get health care, but it should not be free. ‘Free’ is very expensive to somebody.”

And he’s not letting a little thing like a vote change his mind.

November 8, 2017

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Contact: Julie Rabinowitz, Press Secretary, 207-287-2531

AUGUSTA – Governor Paul R. LePage has issued a statement in response to Mainers approving a referendum that will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to give “free” health care to working-age, able-bodied adults, most of whom do not have dependents.

“The last time Maine experimented with Medicaid expansion in 2002 under then-governor Angus King, it created a $750 million debt to hospitals, resulted in massive budget shortfalls every year, did not reduce emergency room use, did not reduce the number of uninsured Mainers and took resources away from our most vulnerable residents—the elderly and the intellectually and physically disabled,” said Governor LePage.

“Credit agencies are predicting that this fiscally irresponsible Medicaid expansion will be ruinous to Maine’s budget. Therefore, my administration will not implement Medicaid expansion until it has been fully funded by the Legislature at the levels DHHS has calculated, and I will not support increasing taxes on Maine families, raiding the rainy day fund or reducing services to our elderly or disabled.”

Vote all you like, peasants; the answer is still no.

Barak confirms

Nov 8th, 2017 11:20 am | By

Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker story is dated two days ago; today the Guardian adds a bit of confirmation:

The former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak has said he introduced the disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein to a Tel Aviv-based investigations firm made up of former spies reportedly hired by the producer to suppress sexual abuse allegations against him.

Weinstein allegedly hired an “army of spies” in an attempt to stop accusers from going public with sexual misconduct claims against him, according to a report in the New Yorker this week.

The magazine claims that among the private security agencies hired by Weinstein, starting from around autumn 2016, was Black Cube, which is largely run by former officers of Israeli intelligence agencies, including Mossad.

“Over a year ago, Barak was asked by Harvey Weinstein if he knew an Israeli company he had heard of, that was capable of helping him with business issues he had. Barak confirmed to [Weinstein] the company he heard of was likely Black Cube,” a spokesperson for Barak said in a statement.

What next? Trump offered him CIA help?

The New Yorker reports that Weinstein sought the assistance of ex-employees from his movie enterprises to help collect names and place calls. Investigations also allegedly sometimes went through Weinstein’s lawyers. Among them, the New Yorker claims, was David Boies, who represented Al Gore in his 2000 presidential election dispute with George W Bush.

The New Yorker claims Boies signed a contract demanding that Black Cube seek to uncover information to stop the publication of a New York Times story about Weinstein’s sexual abuse when his firm was also representing the Times in a libel case. Boies told the magazine “it was a mistake” to have been involved with the investigators.

There’s no business like show business, eh? As is only underlined by the fact that it’s Ronan Farrow reporting on this in the New Yorker.

Meanwhile, another person alleged to have been spied on, the actor Asia Argento, described the revelations as terrifying, writing on Twitter:

Police in London, Los Angeles and New York have launched investigations into the alleged behaviour by Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual assault and harassment by more than 90 women.

What’s the therapy for that?

One of the spies pretended to be a women’s-rights advocate

Nov 8th, 2017 10:56 am | By

Here’s another jaw-dropper from Ronan Farrow.

In the fall of 2016, Harvey Weinstein set out to suppress allegations that he had sexually harassed or assaulted numerous women. He began to hire private security agencies to collect information on the women and the journalists trying to expose the allegations. According to dozens of pages of documents, and seven people directly involved in the effort, the firms that Weinstein hired included Kroll, which is one of the world’s largest corporate-intelligence companies, and Black Cube, an enterprise run largely by former officers of Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies. Black Cube, which has branches in Tel Aviv, London, and Paris, offers its clients the skills of operatives “highly experienced and trained in Israel’s elite military and governmental intelligence units,” according to its literature.

That’s shocking enough. The next paragraph is worse.

Two private investigators from Black Cube, using false identities, met with the actress Rose McGowan, who eventually publicly accused Weinstein of rape, to extract information from her. One of the investigators pretended to be a women’s-rights advocate and secretly recorded at least four meetings with McGowan. The same operative, using a different false identity and implying that she had an allegation against Weinstein, met twice with a journalist to find out which women were talking to the press.

That is filthy.

The explicit goal of the investigations, laid out in one contract with Black Cube, signed in July, was to stop the publication of the abuse allegations against Weinstein that eventually emerged in the New York Times and The New Yorker. Over the course of a year, Weinstein had the agencies “target,” or collect information on, dozens of individuals, and compile psychological profiles that sometimes focussed on their personal or sexual histories. Weinstein monitored the progress of the investigations personally. He also enlisted former employees from his film enterprises to join in the effort, collecting names and placing calls that, according to some sources who received them, felt intimidating.

Well thank god he’s now getting “therapy,” right? I’m not sure what illness it is that causes a guy to hire spies to trick women he’s raped into confiding in them, but I’m definitely glad he’s getting “therapy” for it.

Techniques like the ones used by the agencies on Weinstein’s behalf are almost always kept secret, and, because such relationships are often run through law firms, the investigations are theoretically protected by attorney-client privilege, which could prevent them from being disclosed in court. The documents and sources reveal the tools and tactics available to powerful individuals to suppress negative stories and, in some cases, forestall criminal investigations.

Now is that the same illness or an additional one?

Unclear what they can do

Nov 8th, 2017 10:14 am | By

Let’s hope this is spoiling Trump’s fun adventure in Chy-nah: voters said a big Nope.

Republicans awoke Wednesday to a series of aftershocks following Democratic victories across Virginia and other local elections that far exceeded either side’s expectations.

That performance, particularly in key suburban battlegrounds across the nation, validates a strategy that Democrats on Capitol Hill had embraced earlier this year: trying to win back the majority by riding a wave of liberal resentment toward President Trump while also promising rational governance to centrist swing voters.

The resounding victory by Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D) tells only part of the story of Tuesday’s “old-fashioned thumping,” as former Virginia congressman Tom Davis called it. Beneath the top-of-the-ticket races, in many fundamental places, the ground shifted against Republicans in ways that have properly struck fear in the hearts of GOP consultants.

What, just because Republicans are standing by and watching their president destroy everything?

The Republicans were dejected seeing the results — left to question how much of a downballot effect Trump’s unpopular presidency will have on them next year, and unclear what they can do to appeal to voters.

Wellllll, they could impeach Trump.

No one showed up to be briefed

Nov 7th, 2017 5:13 pm | By

Michael Lewis on Fresh Air yesterday on how Trump appointees in the departments of Energy and Agriculture are “ill-prepared for the jobs they have and uninterested in the work of the departments they’re running” and how bad and dangerous that is.

MICHAEL LEWIS: Well, my mind when Trump was elected was on the subject of risk because I just finished a book, “The Undoing Project,” about people’s – the difficulty people had processing risk, in evaluating risk. And I was wondering what risks Trump brought with him. I then saw that the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration basically didn’t happen, (laughter) that – what normally happens after a new president comes in is that the day after the election, dozens of people roll into each of the agencies and start getting briefings from the people who are on their way out or from the career civil servants.

And across the government, there were people waiting inside the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, and no one showed up to be briefed. And so I thought, well, maybe this is a way to get at the question of what risk we’re running with this new kind of president, go in and get the briefings myself that they didn’t get and see and ask them. Like, what are the risks to the society if the government is neglected or mismanaged or misunderstood?

What does the Department of Agriculture do? A lot more than you think, Lewis says.

LEWIS: You know, so – right, if I ask you, the USDA shoots geese at LaGuardia airport so they don’t get into airplane engines – if you answered no, you’d be wrong. They – the USDA polices essentially all conflict between animals and people in the country.

The USDA makes sure that circus elephants aren’t being abused. The USDA makes sure that each of the 9 billion birds we kill each year to eat are – aren’t going to make us sick. The USDA oversees firefighting in the country while firefighting and the National Forest Service and 200 million acres of national forest. The USDA funds a vast majority of the science research into food production. The USDA feeds poor people and schoolchildren who can’t afford school lunches.

I mean, it goes on and on. And the actual farming part of it, the agricultural part of it, the farm subsidy part of it, even if you count it generously, is less than 10 percent of the budget.

And they were ready to brief the Trump people, and the Trump people never showed up.

DAVIES: Did – were they really expecting people the day after the election? Is that…

LEWIS: Oh, my God. They had parking spots reserved, and they had offices set aside and the briefing books on the table. And they’d arranged Wi-Fi for the computers and passwords for everybody and, you know, badges to get in and out of the buildings. They expected a team of people to show up. And this wasn’t just the Department of Agriculture. There were other agencies where they were similarly prepared that just wondered, where is everybody?

And then days passed, and they finally kind of get word that, well, they’re a little disorganized, and nobody’s coming. And it was actually the better part of two months before anybody shows up who’s going to be – who’s going to represent Trump’s transition to the Department of Agriculture. So they had – they were just left waiting for a long time.

They were expected the day after the election, and it took them two months. That’s the level of incompetence and indifference here. If they just drove tanks through all the buildings it couldn’t be worse.

And the thing that’s bewildering to the people inside the USDA who thought they were going to be passing the baton and explaining to the Trump administration how the Department of Agriculture works is that they thought this is a job for 20 people to be done over 80 days, not one person over a couple of weeks. So the feeling generally inside the institution was that the transition never really happened, and the people who eventually come in never really got the briefings.

DAVIES: And so Klippenstein wasn’t interested in details.

LEWIS: Well, according to my sources, he was interested in some things and not others. And he took a peculiar interest in anything having to do with climate change. He wanted to know who inside the agency had been responsible for responding to climate change. And this also happened in the Department of Energy.

Essentially there was a witch hunt across the government for scientists, policy people who were responsible for responding to climate change because the position of the Trump administration was that basically it didn’t exist. And so the career civil servant who was asked for the names of people in the Department of Agriculture who might be involved in, say, researching climate change refused to give up names. So that got shut down right away.

It goes on like that. It’s enraging.

Bad poll numbers

Nov 7th, 2017 11:35 am | By

There was this:

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, beard and text

But now there isn’t.

It is with regret that we advise that the 2018 Global Atheist Convention has been cancelled. More details at

Thank you to all ticket purchasers and supporters.

They didn’t sell enough tickets so they canceled.

The deep rot of bad faith

Nov 7th, 2017 10:41 am | By

Greg Sargent at the Post on Trump’s nonsense about the Texas slaughter:

(I know, I’m harping on it, but Trump’s disgusting cynical frivolity about this cries out for obsessive finger-pointing.)

It has become an Internet meme that Donald Trump favors extreme vetting for arriving immigrants, but not for would-be gun buyers, and today in South Korea, Trump was confronted by a question about this contrast. It produced a useful answer — one that once again illustrated the deep rot of bad faith at the core of his approach to difficult policy questions.

You can see that bad faith when he closes his eyes. He’s taking a second to think up a way to sell the lies.

It’s being widely reported that the Air Force failed to follow the proper policies that would have barred Devin Patrick Kelley, who killed 26 people in a Texas church, from buying firearms. Kelley was discharged from the Air Force after a conviction for domestic violence — including cracking his toddler stepson’s skull — but this information, which could have stopped him from buying the guns he obtained, was not properly transmitted to the FBI or entered into the federal background check database. The Air Force has launched an internal investigation.

So this morning the reporter asked her question and Trump blatted out his lies.

“If you did what you’re suggesting, there would have been no difference three days ago. And you might not have had that very brave person who happened to have a gun or a rifle in his truck go out and shoot him and hit him and neutralize him. If he didn’t have a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead.”

The claim that there would have been “no difference” if Kelley had undergone “extreme vetting” is another way of saying that an improved gun background check system would not have stopped this shooting. But Trump has no earthly way of knowing this one way or the other.

But he’s too thick to understand that he can’t know it, and too callous and frivolous to care.

Trump told us that his thinly veiled Muslim ban was necessary so that we could review our vetting procedures and see where they need to be improved. Applying his own logic to the gun debate should lead to a similar place: If our current system of background checks is inadequate, we should review it to see whether it needs to be improved, too.

Trump, of course, does not believe that the gun background check system should be improved. He is entitled to that view. But the notion that this shooting shows that improving the system wouldn’t make any difference is utter nonsense. What it really shows is that Trump views the flaws he sees in our system of vetting new arrivals as a threat worth addressing, but does not view the flaws in our gun background check system as a threat worth addressing.

My point is not that the Texas shooting itself makes the case for any particular set of background check improvements. It doesn’t, and again, seizing on isolated events isn’t how we should be debating policy. The Air Force’s review of its mistakes here is an appropriate response to this particular horror. Rather, my point is this: Either you believe, in a broad sense, that we should be trying to improve our background check system to make it harder for prohibited people to get guns, or you do not. Trump’s silly misdirection tells us that he does not believe this — and that he probably hasn’t thought seriously about the question for even a second.

Exactly, which is what I mean by callous and frivolous. He’s too frivolous to do the work and too callous to care that he’s not doing it. He’s fine with his own lazy ignorance and brutality.


Nov 7th, 2017 10:13 am | By

Trump said if there had been “extreme vetting” of the guy who slaughtered all those people in Texas, “you would have had hundreds more dead.” You can watch him close his eyes while he pretends to think. You can see him end triumphantly with his cherished cliché “the great state of” Texas.

We could let a little time go by

Nov 7th, 2017 10:01 am | By

Trump, today, at a press conference in South Korea:

Reporter: You’ve talked about wanting to put extreme vetting on people trying to come into the United States, but I wonder if you would consider extreme vetting for people trying to buy a gun.

Trump: Well…you know you’re bringing up a situation that probably shouldn’t be discussed too much right now, we could let a little time go by, but it’s ok if you feel that that’s an appropriate question.

Trump a week ago, immediately after a perp in a truck killed eight people and injured more in lower Manhattan:

Trump the next day:

President Trump said Wednesday that he is considering sending the Uzbek immigrant accused of killing eight people in Tuesday’s terrorist attack in New York to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that the United States must be “much tougher” with its treatment of terror suspects.

Trump also called on Congress to immediately dismantle the State Department’s Diversity Visa Lottery program, through which authorities have said the suspected attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, came to the United States from Uzbekistan.

“Diversity lottery — sounds nice. It’s not nice,” Trump told reporters at the White House during a meeting with his Cabinet. “It’s not good. It’s not good. It hasn’t been good. We’ve been against it.”

He added, “I am today starting the process of terminating the diversity lottery program. I am going to ask Congress to immediately initiate work to get rid of this program.”

Speaking generally, Trump said U.S. immigration laws and the criminal justice system’s handling of suspects are “a joke” and “a laughingstock.”

“We have to get much tougher,” he said. “We have to get much smarter. And we have to get much less politically correct. We’re so politically correct that we’re afraid to do anything.”

Trump said the United States needs a system of “punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now. They’ll go through court for years… We need quick justice, and we need strong justice.”

Referring to Saipov as an “animal,” Trump said the 29-year-old was responsible for the entry of 23 immigrants, many of them family members. The president said this “chain migration” endangers national security.

“This man that came in, or whatever you want to call him, brought in with him other people, and he was the primary point of contact for — and this is preliminarily — 23 people that came in or potentially came in with him,” Trump said. “That’s not acceptable.”

Asked whether Saipov’s family members represent a security threat, Trump said, “They certainly could. He did. They certainly could represent a threat.”

When a reporter asked whether Saipov should be sent to Guantanamo Bay, Trump replied, “I would certainly consider that, yes. Send him to Gitmo. I would certainly consider that.”

It wasn’t too soon for all of that the same day and the next day when it was some Mooslim immmmigrant, but it’s too soon two days later when it’s a white guy with a gun.

Prominent intellectual

Nov 6th, 2017 4:22 pm | By

Oxford is apparently making a dog’s breakfast of the Tariq Ramadan situation. Tendance Coatesy gathered some reporting:

Here is the Telegraph’s report on the latest developments.

Oxford professor accused of sexual misconduct with Swiss minors

An Oxford University professor and government adviser on tackling extremism is facing new allegations ​including sexual misconduct with minors.

Prof Tariq Ramadan was accused of rape last month by a French feminist author. He has denied the allegation and said he will sue for libel.

He is now facing new accusations from four Swiss women who say he made sexual advances to them when they were studying under him as teenagers in Geneva.

One of the women told Tribune de Geneve newspaper Prof Ramadan made unsuccessful sexual advances to her when she was 14 years old.

Another alleged he had sexual relations with her in the back of his car when she was 15 years old.

The other two women said they were 18 when they had sexual relations with him, but accused him of abusing his position of power as their teacher.

Prof Ramadan was accused of rape by the French author Henda Ayari last month.

Since then two more women have accused him of rape. He has denied the accusations and filed a case for libel in the French courts.

In statements posted on Facebook, he claims he is being targeted by “a campaign of slander clearly orchestrated by my longtime adversaries” and says he has been advised by his lawyers not to comment further.

Currently Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford, he was chosen by Tony Blair to work on a task force to help tackle extremism in the UK following the 7/7 attacks in London in 2005.

Not, mark you, Gita Sahgal or Maryam Namazie or any other human rights-oriented activist but Tariq “moratorium on stoning” Ramadan. Why? Because of the inch-deep veneer of “sophistication” and academic cred? Because he’s a dude? I really don’t know.

We learnt this last week, (Cherwell 3rd of November).

Students at the Oxford Middle East Centre have reacted in anger to the University’s response to the mounting accusations of rape against Islamic professor Tariq Ramadan, accusing senior figures of acting “as if nothing had happened”.

Ramadan is currently being investigated by French authorities over two allegations of rape, sexual assault, violence and harassment. Ramadan has described the allegations as a “campaign of lies” and said he is suing the alleged victims for “slander”.

Since the first allegation of rape surfaced two weeks ago, the professor has reportedly taught a seminar in Oxford and been seen “laughing” with faculty members.

In response to requests from students, senior figures in the faculty held a meeting on Tuesday “to address implications for student welfare arising from the allegations”.

The faculty told students they intend Ramadan to continue to both tutor and supervise on his return to Oxford from Qatar – although students may ask for another faculty member to be in the room if they wish.

At the meeting, held at St Antony’s College, several students expressed anger at the “lack of communication” from the University, claiming they had heard of the allegations by “word of mouth” without any acknowledgement from the department.

Director of the Middle East Centre Eugene Rogan repeatedly apologised to students for taking ten days to respond to the allegations, blaming the delay on the fact that the controversy was happening in another country with a different legal system.

This is worth noting,

Rogan reminded students: “It’s not just about sexual violence. For some students it’s just another way for Europeans to gang up against a prominent Muslim intellectual. We must protect Muslim students who believe and trust in him, and protect that trust.”

Oh dear god, there it is. He’s Muslim, therefore we have to let him rape girls and women, because otherwise we would be Europeans ganging up on him. As for “prominent Muslim intellectual” – Oxford itself is helping him be a prominent intellectual by employing him. Why him? Why not someone better? Less compromised? Less theocratic? More intellectually honest? Someone who wouldn’t refuse to say that stoning is bad?

Many staff members encouraged those present not to speak to the media about the furore. Professor Rogan told students: “We can’t tell you what you should say. But I encourage everyone to use their moral judgement about how they voice their concerns – not to victimise the women who’ve made the allegations or the men who’ve been accused of things they’ve not yet had the chance to defend themselves against.”

One postgrad said: “There should have been a more open and frank discussion with female students about how to make them feel safer,” she said. “Women won’t come forward here and say how they feel.”

A number of students expressed concern about Ramadan continuing to teach and be present in the faculty. One claimed that immediately following the first allegation, Ramadan was seen “walking and laughing in the hall as if nothing had happened.”

Well, he’s prominent Tariq Ramadan. He’s protected.

I signed yesterday.

An ongoing “domestic situation”

Nov 6th, 2017 3:51 pm | By

So maybe it wasn’t that the guy with the big gun wasn’t cray cray after all, despite Trump’s confident assertion that it was. (Where did he get that, by the way? Law enforcement wasn’t saying that, the media wasn’t saying that. Did Trump have Special Inside Presidential Intelligence about it? Or was he just talking at random as usual because he wanted us to shut up about guns.) It maybe was that he had a big mad for his mother-in-law. Angry domineering men often do, I think. Sheds a whole new light on all those mother-in-law jokes, doesn’t it. (Actually no, it doesn’t – it sheds the same old light. Mother-in-law jokes are classic misogyny. Why mother-in-law and not father-in-law? Oh, you know – because they’re too old to fuck, and they’re all bitches.)

The massacre of more than two dozen churchgoers — the youngest of whom was just 18 months old — occurred amid an ongoing “domestic situation” involving the gunman and his relatives, some of whom had attended the church, law enforcement officials said Monday.

While authorities have not publicly identified a motive for the attack, they emphasized that the shooting did not appear to be fueled by racial or religious issues, as has been the case with other rampages at U.S. houses of worship. Instead, they pointed to the gunman’s issues with his relatives, saying Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, had been sending “threatening texts” to his mother-in-law, who was not at the First Baptist Church when he opened fire on the congregation Sunday morning.

I suppose she wasn’t entirely friendly toward him because of the way he abused her daughter? Women are so annoying, aren’t they?

Precisely how Kelley obtained his guns remained a key question for investigators. Kelley had been court-martialed in 2012 and sentenced to a year in military prison for assaulting his then-spouse and her child, making him part of a long line of mass attackers or suspects with domestic violence in their pasts. He was reduced in rank and released with a bad-conduct discharge in 2014.

So if you’re mad at your mother-in-law, the thing to do is shoot up a church full of people?

Too much anger.

At the highest level

Nov 6th, 2017 2:23 pm | By

Trump says it’s not a guns situation. Nope nope nope. Not at all. It’s a bats in the belfry situation. It’s a MenTal HeAlth SituAtion. That’s what it is. The guy was cray cray. Nothing to do with guns at all. Could just as well have been a poisoned amuse-bouche. Could have been flung rocks. Could have been a rabid dog smuggled in under his coat. It just happened to be a semi-automatic rifle. Totally random.

Asked at a press conference in Tokyo what policies he might support in response to the shooting, Mr Trump said preliminary reports suggested the gunman was “a very deranged individual, [with] a lot of problems.”

Actually he said “a lot of problems over a long period of time.” He used that stupid canned phrase of his that signals how radically impoverished his vocabulary and mental activity are. The Indy left it out no doubt because of how stupid and knee-jerk it is.

“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isn’t a guns situation,” he said. “Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction.”

He said that. He did. He actually said that.

“This is a mental health problem at the highest level,” he added. “It’s a very, very sad event.”

The highest level? What highest level? The highest level of what?

More filler. More filler to attempt to disguise the emptiness of his mind and the nonexistence of his human feeling.

Earlier this Mr Trump signed a bill blocking plans that would have prevented an estimated 75,000 people with mental health disorders buying guns. The proposals were part of former president Barack Obama’s push to strengthen the federal background check system in the wake of the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School

Well that’s just Radical Left Craziness, because shootings are never caused or enabled or assisted by guns. Of course not. If it were not guns it would be strangling people one by one, which is not at all more difficult to carry out on a mass scale than shooting with a semi-automatic rifle.

Ruger AR-15

Nov 6th, 2017 8:14 am | By

The Times on Devin Patrick Kelley, the guy who murdered 26 people in a small town church in Texas:

Mr. Kelley was clad in all black, with a ballistic vest strapped to his chest and a military-style rifle in his hands, when he opened fire on parishioners, turning this tiny town east of San Antonio into the scene of the country’s newest mass horror.

He had served in the Air Force at a base in New Mexico but was court-martialed in 2012 on charges of assaulting his wife and child. He was sentenced to 12 months’ confinement and received a “bad conduct” discharge in 2014, according to Ann Stefanek, the chief of Air Force media operations.

What a coincidence – he was a violent bully to the people closest to him, and he went on to be a violent bully to people at more of a distance.

Mr. Kelley started firing at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs not long after the Sunday morning service began at 11 a.m., officials said. He was armed with a Ruger military-style rifle, and within minutes, many of those inside the small church were either dead or wounded. The victims ranged in age from 5 to 72, and among the dead were several children, a pregnant woman and the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter. It was the deadliest mass shooting in the state’s history. At least 20 more were wounded.

Will we do anything about it? No.

Speaking at a news conference in Japan, the first stop on his tour of Asia, President Trump called the shooting a “mental health problem at the highest level” and not “a guns situation,” adding the gunman was a “very deranged individual.”

And President Trump knows that how, exactly?

Isn’t it interesting that the truck slaughter in Manhattan was all about bad people getting into the country while the gun slaughter in Texas was all about a mental health problem.

The authorities said Mr. Kelley used an Ruger AR-15 variant — a knockoff of the standard service rifle carried by the American military for roughly half a century.

Almost all AR-15 variants legally sold in the United States fire only semiautomatically, and they were covered by the federal assault weapons ban that went into effect in 1994. Since the ban expired in 2004, the weapons have been legal to sell or possess in much of the United States, and sales of AR-15s have surged.

Ruger’s AR-15s made for civilian markets sell for about $500 to $900, depending on the model.

Institute Extreme Vetting for immigrants, but don’t even think about the surge in sales of AR-15s. If you’re killed by some rage-boy with an assault rifle, enjoy the experience knowing he’s a native son of the dear old USofA.

Unless you’ve agreed to confidentiality, it ain’t confidential

Nov 5th, 2017 4:45 pm | By

What was that we were saying about how it doesn’t work to send someone a furious abusive email and then announce that it’s confidential? How you can’t just send people shit they didn’t ask for and then order them to keep it secret? Behold Marc Randazza in 2014 saying exactly that, and unlike me he’s a lawyer.

This happens to all of us, from time to time. A lawyer sends you a letter with some threatening language on it that he thinks accomplishes his goal of making it “confidential.” You know, like this:


The correct legal response is “suck my ass” or whatever you want to say. Ok, fine, how about “your point is invalid”. Let’s go with that. It is nicer, after all. And I’m all about being nice.

Now here’s one thing you can rest assured of: If someone puts that foolishness on their letter, it is because they’re afraid of that letter getting out there. They can’t possibly have confidence in what’s in it. Look, I write a letter, I expect that it might wind up getting slapped on Simple Justice, with Greenfield making fun of it. Even then, I can’t seem to catch every typo. But you know what? If my name is on it, you can bet your ass that I’ll own it.

And here’s why you can make the chucklefuck who signed YOUR letter own it by publishing the shit out of it, if you want.

For starters, saying “This letter constitutes confidential legal communication and may not be published in any manner.” is about as legally compelling as Michael Scott yelling “I DECLARE BANKRUPTCY.” Lawyers do not have magic powers that turn letters into confidential communications. You’re more likely to find a lawyer who can turn water into funk than a lawyer who has the magic spell to make a letter confidential. Sure, there might be some rules that make them inadmissible for certain purposes in litigation. But, you wanna share that letter? Go right the fuck ahead. Unless you’ve agreed to confidentiality, it ain’t confidential.

And have you agreed to confidentiality? No you have not.

Here’s Michael Shermer trying it on that post of Phil Torres’s yesterday:

As for our email correspondence Torres, at the bottom of every email I’ve sent you appears this statement below. I have nothing to hide at all, but privacy laws exist for a reason and our correspondence is private. You asked if you could make it public and I declined. If you do not understand why the law protects peoples’ privacy, or why people want privacy, then you don’t understand what privacy means. Here is the statement that appears in every email I send out:

This private email message is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential information. Any unauthorized publication, broadcast, review, use, disclosure or distribution of its content, substance or meaning, by email, social media or any other means, is prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, contact the sender by reply email and destroy all copies of the original message.

So ridiculous. “Is prohibited” – it sounds so official but is so meaningless. Prohibited by whom, Kemosabe? You can’t just slap “is prohibited” on things you don’t want other people to do and expect them to obey. The “unauthorized” is equally ludicrous. We don’t have to be “authorized” to talk about stupid shit people have said to us without our inviting them to.

Marc Randazza again:

Bottom line, no court has ever held I DECLARE CONFIDENTIALITY to be valid, nor has any court supported the “DON’T MAKE FUN OF ME BECAUSE COPYRIGHT” position – but an undisturbed case, relying on mountains of precedent, refutes it.

Bottom line: you send me unsolicited insults, don’t expect me to protect your “privacy.”

Big thanks to Screechy Monkey for citing the Randazza post.