Notes and Comment Blog

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.

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What Anita Sarkeesian gets in a week on Twitter

Jul 8th, 2017 11:42 am | By

A Barry Deutsch cartoon:

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“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.

There was not a lot of re-litigating of the past

Jul 7th, 2017 3:31 pm | By

John Cassidy at the New Yorker wonders if the US got much out of Trump’s date with Putin.

Some White House officials were reportedly so worried about the Russian leader taking advantage of Trump that they wanted to expand the meeting to involve other aides, such as H. R. McMaster, the national-security adviser, and Fiona Hill, a Russia expert on the National Security Council. Ultimately, though, all staffers were excluded from the meeting—there weren’t even any official note-takers in the room. (On social media, some of Trump’s critics lightheartedly noted that this would make it easier for the President to slip some state secrets to Putin, or perhaps promise him Alaska in exchange for a new hotel in Moscow.)

Lightheartedly? Because it was a joke? I don’t think it’s a joke; I think it’s the pathetic reality.

After the journalists left, the talks went on and on. As the world waited, it was tempting to speculate on why the confab was lasting so long. Putin chooses his words carefully; Trump, even now, is known to regale almost everyone he meets with details of his election victory. Maybe that was it.

No doubt that was it for ten minutes or so…but that still leaves 125 minutes for giving away Alaska and giggling over Putin’s success at hacking our election.

[W]hen Tillerson personally delivered the post-meeting readout to reporters, he said that Trump had started out “by raising the concern of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. Tillerson went on: “The President pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past.” The Russian leader also asked the U.S. side to provide proof of Russian involvement, Tillerson said.

Since Trump said as recently as Thursday that “nobody really knows” who interfered in the election, he was hardly in a position to contradict Putin’s denials, even if he had wanted to. In any case, Tillerson made clear that really confronting Putin, or punishing him, was far from the President’s intention. “He pressed him and then felt like, at this point let’s talk about, how do we go forward?” Tillerson said. The two leaders then moved onto other issues, including Syria, for which they discussed a new ceasefire that is supposed to go into effect in the southeast of the country, Tillerson said. “There was a very clear positive chemistry between the two. . . . There was not a lot of re-litigating of the past,” he said.

Ah yes, “re-litigating the past,” i.e. making it clear to Putin that it’s not ok for him to hack US elections. (The US has hacked other people’s elections, and worse; it has supported coups to overthrow elected leaders and install dictators. We should be making major reparations. That doesn’t mean Putin is the guy to punish us.) It’s interesting that the “Secretary of State” i.e. former Exxon CEO in way over his head thinks it appropriate to belittle the idea of holding Putin accountable for hacking our election.

It should be noted that Lavrov, Tillerson’s opposite counterpart, put a very different spin on the meeting when he spoke to reporters. Lucian Kim, NPR’s Moscow correspondent, tweeted, “Lavrov: Trump mentioned that in US certain circles still inflate subject of Russian meddling in elections, even though they have no proof.” In another tweet, Kim said, “Lavrov: Trump said he heard Putin’s statements that Russia didn’t hack election and accepts them.”

Without access to a transcript, which seemingly doesn’t exist, it was hard to know what to make of these two accounts of the meeting, or whether they can be reconciled. But a few things did seem clear.

Putin had got what he wanted from the meeting: a commitment from the U.S. to move on from the election controversy and normalize relations. In addition to working toward a ceasefire in Syria, Lavrov said that the two sides had agreed to name new ambassadors, establish a working group on cybersecurity, and open a channel of discussion about Ukraine. Speaking to Russian reporters, Putin himself said, “We’ve had a very long discussion with the U.S. President. Many issues accrued, including Ukraine, Syria, and other problems, as well as some bilateral issues.” He didn’t mention anything about Trump bringing up Russian meddling.

Trump, for his part, could claim that he had raised the question of Russian interference, even if he did so only in the most perfunctory of fashions. But, in substantive terms, what had he gotten back from Putin? There was no word from Tillerson on any Russian concessions on North Korea, a pressing issue on which Moscow has sided with Beijing in opposing further U.N. sanctions. Indeed, Lavrov mentioned North Korea as one of two issues the two sides couldn’t agree on.

Trump got to meet his hero. End of story. Can we move on now?

The T word

Jul 7th, 2017 3:08 pm | By

NPR’s Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim tweets:


Jul 7th, 2017 12:24 pm | By

A thing you can join if you’re in or near London:

Gender Segregation at School X: Inspire and Southall Black Sisters are intervening at the Court of Appeal, and BMSD is supporting them.

Inspire and SBS are mobilising a cross section of advocacy groups for the Court of Appeal hearing on 11 and 12 July 2017 from 9.30am onwards at Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, WC2A 2LL.

They urge you to join us by:

· protesting outside the court on both days;

· packing out the public gallery in the court so that the judiciary is under no illusion as to what is at stake.

· publicising our campaign widely and encouraging others to join us.

We ask for your solidarity in what is becoming a key battle between feminists and fundamentalists.

School X’s approach is consistent with Muslim fundamentalist ideologies that strive to create a fundamentalist vision of education in the UK: one that discourages mixed-gender activities as ‘Un-Islamic’ and ultimately legitimises patriarchal power structures. Their aim is to reinforce the different spaces – private and public – that men and women must occupy, and their respective stereotyped roles, which accord them differential and unequal status. This approach constitutes direct discrimination under the UK’s Equality Act 2010. It also violates International human rights laws, standards and principles on equality and non-discrimination such as CEDAW and Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals, to which the UK has signed up. Women’s rights must take priority over intolerant beliefs that are used to justify sex discrimination.

Southall Black Sisters and Inspire are intervening in the case because of its great public importance – especially for the rights of minority women and girls. Although, gender segregation and its implications are not specific to School X, but apply equally to a number of other faith schools, the point of our intervention is two-fold:

First, to show how the growing practice of gender segregation in education is not a benign development: Like racial segregation in the USA and South Africa, gender segregation within BME communities in the UK, has a social, and political history that can be traced back to the Rushdie Affair when religious fundamentalists sensed an opportunity to seize education as a battleground and a site on which to expand their influence. Since then, we have seen emboldened fundamentalists in South Asian communities attempting to impose gender segregation in schools and universities. Mr Justice Jay did not look into the wider social and political context in which gender segregation is practiced in minority communities. Had he done so, he would have seen its broad-ranging and devastating long-lasting effect on all areas of women’s lives: that gender segregation is a political choice and that the struggle against it mirrors the struggle against racial segregation.

Second, we want to ensure that gender equality is placed at the heart of Ofsted inspections in all schools, irrespective of their status and composition. We recognise that gender segregation can sometimes be educationally beneficial. But in the hands of ultra-conservatives and fundamentalists, it has an entirely different intent and consequence which is to mount a wholesale assault on women’s rights: socially, culturally and politically.

A violation of human rights

UN human rights experts have noted that ‘fundamentalists everywhere target education in different ways: In some places, they kill teachers or carry out acid attacks on students. Elsewhere they attempt to impose gender segregation in schools or to exclude women and girls altogether. In other places, they seek to change the content of education, removing sex education from the curriculum or censoring scientific theories with which they do not agree.’

Trump went on meeting right through his nap time

Jul 7th, 2017 12:14 pm | By

Tillerson says Putin denies hacking the election.

Ok, that settles it, we can all relax now.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who attended the two-hour-and-fifteen-minute meeting, said it did not focus on the United States moving to punish Russia for the allegations that it hacked and leaked information that would help Trump win the election. Instead, Tillerson said the two leaders discussed “how do we move forward from what may be simply an in­trac­table disagreement at this point” regarding the election-hacking issue.

“The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement,” Tillerson said. “President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past.”

Tillerson said the White House was not “dismissing the issue” but wanted to focus on “how do we secure a commitment” that there will not be interference in the future.

Sure sure sure. Take Putin’s word for it and move on. Why not after all?

Tillerson would not say whether Trump flatly told Putin that Russia interfered in the election, saying instead: “He pressed him and then felt like at this point, how do we go forward?”

The meeting lasted much longer than expected. At one point, Trump’s wife entered the room to try to see if it could wrap up soon, but it continued much longer.

“We went another hour [after] she came in to see us, so clearly she failed,” Tillerson said.

What? Why the hell did she do that? Is that normal? What – “Honey, your lunch is getting cold, it’s time to come home now – you can play with Vlad again tomorrow”? Is it normal for spouses of heads of state to try to bring an end to meetings?

That just sounds deranged.

Maybe she was worried that his cognitive issues would be getting worse and more obvious as the time drew out. I expect they probably were.

Our whack job POTUS

Jul 7th, 2017 10:38 am | By

Trump earlier today at the G20:

That’s so typical of his tiny provincial mind. Is it likely that “everyone” at a global meeting is talking about some bit of minutia from US domestic politics / technology? Of course it’s not. Oddly enough people in the rest of the world have their own concerns, not all of which center on Donald Trump of Queens, New York.

John Podesta is more polite than I am:

He can’t. He doesn’t know how. He doesn’t know what it means. He doesn’t know what his head is, or how to access it, or how to get it in the game. He has no control over any of this. He has only blurts.

Discussing various things

Jul 7th, 2017 10:03 am | By

Meanwhile it was The Meeting of the Dictators today.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin met on Friday, and while their face-to-face encounter was not officially the main event at the G-20, for many, it might as well have been. Scores of journalists shouted questions as the two leaders sat side by side for photographs before the actual meeting.

“President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it’s going very well,” Mr. Trump said. “We look forward to a lot of very positive happenings for Russia and for the United States, and for everyone concerned.”

See we don’t actually want “a lot of very positive happenings for Russia” when Russia=Putin. That’s not the goal.

Only six people attended the meeting: Mr. Trump and his secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson; Mr. Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov; and two interpreters.

So that won’t go well…and furthermore we won’t even know what happens.

All hail the blood of the patriarchs

Jul 7th, 2017 9:52 am | By

Updating to add:

The “patriarchs” thing was an accident – a typo for “patriots.” What he actually said:

The memories of those who perished in the Warsaw Uprising cry out across the decades, and few are clearer than the memories of those who died to build and defend the Jerusalem Avenue crossing. Those heroes remind us that the West was saved with the blood of patriots; that each generation must rise up and play their part in its defense, and that every foot of ground, and every last inch of civilization, is worth defending with your life.

Of course, he didn’t rise up and play his part in its defense. He had “bone spurs.” He didn’t defend jack shit, and he didn’t spill a drop of patriotic blood. He went to business school and learned how to sell real estate to white people only.


Oh god.


Trump Twitter scream: THE WEST WILL NEVER BE BROKEN. Our values will PREVAIL. Our people will THRIVE and our civilization will TRIUMPH!

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Get out, ladies

Jul 6th, 2017 5:18 pm | By

Harvard is still Harvard.

Harvard University’s exclusive and historic Fox Club — whose members have included Bill Gates and T.S. Eliot — has reverted to male-only after revoking membership for its nine “provisional” female members, according to The Harvard Crimson, the university’s daily newspaper.

The traditionally all-male social club had given the nine women “provisional” status in the face of looming sanctions by Harvard on single-gender groups, The Crimson reported on Monday. But screenshots obtained by the newspaper of messages allegedly among recent graduates indicate that the club’s graduate board revoked membership for all of its provisional members and invited only the men to reapply for full membership.

Well you know how it is. Harvard is Harvard. It’s the top – it’s Napoleon brandy. How can it go on being the top if it has to let women into its supercool Sekrit clubs? Women are second rate, so they would drag the clubs down, and that would drag Harvard down, and it would no longer be top. Some Politically Correct university in Correctoville, Idaho would be top. We can’t have that.

Fox Club first became co-ed in October 2015, when its undergraduate members admitted a group of junior and senior female students. But the Rev. Douglas W. Sears, who served as graduate board president when the women joined the club, told NBC News that the decision drew protests from some of the graduate board leaders.

The club’s graduate leadership ended up letting the young women remain, but only as “provisional” members. Some male members became provisional members, as well, “in solidarity with the women,” he said.

“A minority of the graduates inclusive of the graduate board are not in favor of women joining the club, so in this case. We have an example of a republic prevailing over a democracy,” he said.

“The young women who came in the club were just such wonderful people in this instance and tremendously accomplished,” he said, adding that he felt the club was on the wrong side of history.

Maybe, but which is more important, being on the right side of history, or being top?

Clearly marked as tile samples

Jul 6th, 2017 1:48 pm | By

Huh. It turns out that Hobby Lobby is a tad lacking in the scruples department.

The packages that made their way from Israel and the United Arab Emirates to retail outlets owned by Hobby Lobby, the seller of arts and craft supplies, were clearly marked as tile samples.

But according to a civil complaint filed on Wednesday by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, they held something far rarer and more valuable: ancient clay cuneiform tablets that had been smuggled into the United States from Iraq.

Prosecutors said in the complaint that Hobby Lobby, whose evangelical Christian owners have long maintained an interest in the biblical Middle East, began in 2009 to assemble a collection of cultural artifacts from the Fertile Crescent. The company went so far as to send its president and an antiquities consultant to the United Arab Emirates to inspect a large number of rare cuneiform tablets — traditional clay slabs with wedge-shaped writing that originated in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago.

In 2010, as a deal for the tablets was being struck, an expert on cultural property law who had been hired by Hobby Lobby warned company executives that the artifacts might have been looted from historical sites in Iraq, and that failing to determine their heritage could break the law.

But Hobby Lobby bought them anyway. I guess Baby Jesus told them it would be ok.

Hobby Lobby’s purchase of the artifacts in December 2010 was fraught with “red flags,” according to the prosecutors. Not only did the company get conflicting information about the origin of the pieces, its representatives never met or spoke with the dealer who supposedly owned them, according to the complaint.

Instead, on the instructions of a second dealer, Hobby Lobby wired payments to seven separate personal bank accounts, the prosecutors said. The first dealer then shipped the items marked as clay or ceramic tiles to three Hobby Lobby sites in Oklahoma. All of the packages had labels falsely identifying their country of origin as Turkey, prosecutors said.

Yes but they’re Christians, ok? That means whatever they do is Christian, and thus good. It’s like how whatever Trump does is presidential and legal, because he’s the president. That’s how it works.

Public service is a public trust

Jul 6th, 2017 1:22 pm | By

The director of the Office of Government Ethics is resigning.

Walter M. Shaub Jr., the government’s top ethics watchdog who has repeatedly gone head-to-head with the Trump administration over conflicts of interest, said on Thursday that he was calling it quits.

Mr. Shaub’s five-year term as the director of the Office of Government Ethics is not set to expire until January, but with little chance of renewal and an appealing offer in hand from a nonpartisan advocacy group, he said the time was right to leave.

“There isn’t much more I could accomplish at the Office of Government Ethics, given the current situation,” Mr. Shaub said in an interview on Thursday. “O.G.E.’s recent experiences have made it clear that the ethics program needs to be strengthened.”

But of course now that Trump will be appointing a new director, it won’t be.

In a short letter informing President Trump of his decision, Mr. Shaub did not offer a specific reason for his departure but extolled “the principle that public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws and ethical principles above private gain.” He had not been pressured to resign, he said.

A rather pointed observation, but it won’t make a dent in Trump, because nothing does. Narcissists are like that.

The intensity of feeling over what is usually an obscure job speaks to the central role ethics have come to play in Mr. Trump’s Washington, where the vast holdings of the president and his cabinet, as well as an influx of advisers from businesses and lobbying firms, have raised a rash of accusations of conflicts of interest.

A rash of accusations that reflect a rash of realities.

Mr. Shaub, 46, has faced an uncertain future at the agency since Mr. Trump took office in January. In the weeks between the president’s unexpected election victory and his inauguration, Mr. Shaub had taken an extraordinary gamble: He advocated very publicly on Twitter, and in a rare public speech, that Mr. Trump liquidate his vast business and personal holdings. The arrangement, Mr. Shaub argued, was the only truly ethical option.

Mr. Trump did not heed his advice, and by the middle of January, Mr. Shaub thought he might be fired. To minimize his attachment to the position, he packed up the personal possessions that filled his office.

But he was not fired, even as he continued to spar with Mr. Trump’s aides over a range of ethical concerns, including the ethics office’s authority to exercise oversight of the White House.

In February, he recommended that the White House disciplineKellyanne Conway, a top adviser to the president, after she made an on-air endorsement of the clothing line of Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter. The White House Counsel’s Office disagreed and took no disciplinary action.

More recently, Mr. Shaub and the administration fought over a routine request by the ethics office for copies of waivers issued to White House appointees to work in the Trump administration. The Office of Management and Budget initially balked at the request, challenging Mr. Shaub’s legal authority even to ask for the information and asking him to withdraw it. After Mr. Shaub fired back with a stern 10-page letter shooting down the argument, the White House backed down.

The White House eventually released the waivers, showing it had granted at least a dozen exemptions for aides to work on policy matters they had handled as lobbyists or to engage with former colleagues in private-sector jobs. Mr. Shaub objected to the fact that many of the waivers were undated and unsigned, and that some gave approvals for acts retroactively.

In short, Trump presides over an ethical sewer.

He had to cut his nails

Jul 6th, 2017 12:50 pm | By

Does it matter that Trump didn’t go to the Warsaw Ghetto? Yes, it matters.

In a statement released Wednesday, Jewish community leaders expressed regret that the U.S. president would not be visiting the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes.

“Ever since the fall of Communism in 1989, all U.S. presidents and vice-presidents visiting Warsaw had made a point of visiting the Monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto,” the statement read. “They did this in the name of the American people, who had played such a central role in bringing down fascism, and in that of the universal commemoration of the victims of the Shoah, and condemnation of its perpetrators, that people of all nationalities and religions express.”

The statement — signed by Anna Chipczynska, president of the Jewish Community of Warsaw, Lesław Piszewski, president of the Union of the Jewish Communities in Poland, and Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland — noted that Trump was speaking nearby. “We deeply regret that President Donald Trump, though speaking in public barely a mile away from the Monument, chose to break with that laudable tradition,” it concluded. “We trust that this slight does not reflect the attitudes and feelings of the American people.”

Well it does reflect the attitudes and feelings of an unpleasantly large segment of the American people…but not all of us.

Presidential records and news reports show that every president since 1989 had visited the Warsaw Ghetto on their first state visit to Poland. President George H.W. Bush had been the first to visit the site in July 1989, when he attended a wreath-laying ceremony during a two-day trip to Poland just months after communism ended in the country. President Bill Clinton attended ceremonies commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in July 1994. President George W. Bush laid a wreath at the ghetto when he visited in 2001, as did President Barack Obama in 2011.

So why didn’t Trump? Laziness? Indifference? Casual rudeness? Cluelessness? All those?

I don’t know. He’s an empty-headed real estate grifter, and empty-headed real estate grifters can’t be expected to know what the Warsaw Ghetto even was, let alone care enough about it to go visit it when they’re a mile away. Basically that may be all that’s necessary when wondering why Trump does something or neglects something for no clear reason. There’s just nothing much there. He’s an empty suit. He’s the kind of guy you want to get away from if he happens to corner you at a gathering, because he’s so empty. He’s a howling desert wilderness of nothing.

Trump skipped the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial

Jul 6th, 2017 12:16 pm | By

Apparently Polish state tv has said that Trump’s Warsaw speech was influenced by a very right-wing and anti-Semitic historian…but so far I haven’t been able to find any other source for the claim, so I don’t know if it’s true or not.

Hope Not Hate is the only online source, via the Polish state tv claim.

Donald Trump’s visit to Poland on 5-6 July has been marred by controversy over the alleged influence of a well-known far right activist.

Trump is going to speak at a public rally near the 1944 Warsaw Uprising monument. Right-wing groups are organising buses to transport people from all over Poland in order to provide a big crowd for the event. Apparently it is the first US President in many years whose visit to Poland does not include a tribute to the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial that is a short walking distance from the other monument at a time when antisemitism has been reportedly on the rise in both USA and Poland.

Well, that’s Trump – skip the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial because, you know, Jews, so probably lefties too, plus Jews, not the nice kind like Ivanka and Jared but the Jewie Jew kind.

On 3 July, Polish state television reported in its main news broadcast that Trump’s speech at the rally has been drawn up in consultation with Polish-American historian Marek J. Chodakiewicz.

Chodakiewicz himself appeared in the report and commented on the speech’s contents. It has also been reported Chodakiewicz is to be a member of the presidential delegation flying to Warsaw.

The report raised eyebrows because of Chodakiewicz’s long record of far right links. He is mostly known as a denier of Polish responsibility for acts of antisemitism, including the infamous Jedwabne pogrom of 1941.

He has repeatedly claimed Jews themselves were chiefly responsible for the hostility of their Polish neighbours. Accusations of Jewish involvement with Communism have been present in many of Chodakiewicz’s writings.

A frequent contributor to Polish right-wing media, he has recently referred to Bernie Sanders as “a Jewish bolshevik”.

He defended a Breitbart News writer who attacked Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum by calling her a “Polish, Jewish, American elitist” and accusing her of having “global media contacts”.

Chodakiewicz teaches at a Washington DC-based institution, the Institute of World Politics, but he has been active on the Polish far right spectrum. For example, he spoke at a rally organised by the extreme-right Nationalist Movement (Ruch Narodowy, RN) in June 2014. During his speech, he exclaimed: “We want a Catholic Poland, not a bolshevik one, not multicultural or gay!”

In other words, utterly repellent and probably dangerous, so it would be highly newsworthy if he really is part of Trump’s gang in Poland. But it’s not clear that that’s true.

Back in 2009, the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, assisted by the Warsaw-based Never Again Association, exposed Chodakiewicz’s far right views and connections in a widely-commented article.

For example, Jan T. Gross, a Princeton University history professor known for his books on anti-Jewish pogroms was quoted saying about Chodakiewicz: “The guy is an ideologist of the radical right, (…) I don’t have any doubts that he’s anti-Semitic.”

In the wake of the SPLC publication, Chodakiewicz lost his seat on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum Council, a position he had received, to the surprise of many, on George W.Bush’s nomination.

We’ve learned lately how wrong the SPLC can be, but that doesn’t mean it’s always wrong.

On 4 July 2017, Polish state television repeated the assertion that Chodakiewicz had an influence in Trump’s planned speech in Warsaw. A right-wing columnist Stanislaw Janecki spoke approvingly about Chodakiewicz’s influence and suggested the emphasis on the Polish uprising of 1944, rather than the Jewish Ghetto uprising of 1943, was attributable to Chodakiewicz’s advice.

Chodakiewicz himself has bragged to media about his allotted seat on board Air Force One. Days after the original report on Polish TV, US officials stopped short of clearly confirming or denying Chodakiewicz’s involvement in the presidential visit.

So who knows. I would like to know. Let us know if you hear anything.

Not sorry

Jul 6th, 2017 11:25 am | By

Jared Yates Sexton on what it’s like to report on threat-mongering fascists in Trump’s Modern Presidential.

It only took a few minutes to figure out that HanAssholeSolo, the person behind President Donald Trump’s most retweeted tweet, had also used racial slurs and posted derogatory comments about Muslims. Then, there was the one that caused all the problems: a thread entitled, “Something Strange About CNN…can’t quite put my finger on it…,” with a graphic of dozens of the network’s talents with tiny blue Stars of David.

This one:

Image result for cnn star of david

Daily News

My reporting on the Stars of David meme quickly went viral. At this moment it’s been shared more than 14,000 times by the likes of CNN’s own Jake Tapper and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who’s had his own run-ins with the president as of late. In the past, when a post or story of mine has garnered that much attention, I’ve always dealt with the inevitable criticism and harassment that follows. Sure enough, it wasn’t far behind.

Before the hour was up I was receiving messages from the usual customers: anonymous accounts with Pepe avatars and bios declaring themselves “ethnonationalists” and “white identitarians.” Despite my southern Baptist upbringing, they assumed I was Jewish because I’d uncovered anti-Semitism, and so the threats and memes predictably featured pictures of Adolf Hitler, scenes from the Holocaust and other anti-Semitic garbage. I was peppered with the usual slurs and insults before a user calling his or herself “Pepe’s Imam” told me: “There’s a civil war coming, leftist. Memes are the least of your problems.”

Over the past few weeks I’d heard plenty of talk about a new civil war, this one supposedly the looming violent clash between left and right. Since last year I’ve been threatened regularly, including an incident in which somebody circled my house at four in the morning, and so I’ve kept a close eye on extreme rightwing communities. In their posts and on the subculture’s favorite media outlet InfoWars, I’d heard talk of that conflict, but now the rhetoric seemed universal.

With some of them, it’s “just” talk. But we don’t know what percentage that “some” is, so we don’t know what percentage the others are – the ones for whom it’s not just talk. It’s fatuous to pretend this kind of mutual frotting of rage is entirely inert. Some people act on their rages, and the more rages are stoked and amplified, the more people will be inspired to make them physical. Circling someone’s house at 4 in the morning is not inert.

Other threats appeared on related sites, particularly on 4chan, the wild west of internet forums. Here, in reference to my reporting, they talked openly about “the Journocaust,” a term some used in place of the civil war. The fantasy seemed to be open hostilities in which journalists, academics and liberals could be hung in public, an event some called “The Day of the Rope” after a plot point in William Pierce’s The Turner Diaries, a 1978 novel about a fictional race war some in the extreme right hold as a holy book of sorts.

One anonymous member counseled on how to intimidate and threaten me without running afoul of social media moderators and the authorities. Another posted excerpts from a short story about killing journalists with lines like, “the media lies, the media dies” and “a traitor in front of a camera is still just a traitor.” Yet another said death was too good for journalists and “they should have their flesh twisted from their bones.”

And then, this:

I mean, he’s not wrong. If I could slit his flabby neck and dump him in a ditch somewhere without getting caught, I absolutely would in a heartbeat.

Same goes for pretty much any shitlib whiny or fake-news propagandist. The only thing stopping me is that it would be inconvenient, and the fact that the law enforcement apparatus is still semi-functional.

Again – could be just hot air – or could be the literal truth. It’s not reassuring.

Things didn’t slow down.

The Daily Stormer, the most popular Neo-Nazi publication in America, set its sights on me and declared my agenda as “Jewish.”

Then, former imperial wizard of the Ku-Klux-Klan and recent U.S. Senate candidate David Duke, one of the leaders in white supremacist thought, weighed in and said people like me had “promoted the mass collective guilt of Whites and laughed about it,” a charge that seemed to open the door for more white supremacists to come after me.

Still not reassuring.

Trump intensifies his attack on the free press

Jul 6th, 2017 10:48 am | By

Trump is in Poland, and he’s done a press conference and then a speech. The speech was ok because of course someone else wrote it and he simply read it. The presser was the usual embarrassment.

Then there is Trump’s willingness to continue his ongoing war with the media while abroad — and not just abroad but in a country where freedom of the press has been considerably curtailed in recent years.

The first question Trump took in Thursday’s press conference was from David Martosko, the US politics editor for and a man who was once mentioned as a possible press secretary in this White House. And it was focused on CNN’s alleged “fake news” coverage of the president.

Past presidents traveling abroad might have deflected the question, acknowledging that the press didn’t always get it right but pivoting to a broader defense of the absolute necessity of a free and independent media.

Not Trump.

“I think what CNN did was unfortunate for them,” he said. “As you know, they now have some pretty serious problems. They have been fake news for a long time. They have been covering me in a very dishonest way.”

That right there? Wholly inappropriate. Fifth Column level inappropriate. Quisling level inappropriate. It’s a frank lie that CNN is fake news, and he’s basically flinging shit at his own country and its institutions by saying it is…along with demonstrating just how self-centered and narcissistic he is, in case Poland had missed it until now.

After asking the Polish prime minister whether they had that same problem with the media — Nota bene: Recent crackdowns on the Polish media have led to the country dropping from 18th in 2015 to 54th in 2017 in the World Press Freedom Index — Trump offered up another broadside on the American media:

What we want to see in the United States is honest, beautiful, free, but honest press. We want to see fair press. I think it is a very important thing. We don’t want fake news. And by the way, not everybody is fake news. But we don’t want fake news. Bad thing, very bad for our country.

That’s Trump aggressively undermining the free press while in a country that has worked to stifle media dissent in recent years. That’s truly remarkable.

Yes, it is. Remarkable and horrifying and profoundly dismal.