Notes and Comment Blog

Restoring the L-word

Sep 4th, 2018 9:42 am | By

The word “lesbian” used to be considered ooky because lesbians were considered ooky. Then there was Stonewall, and activism, and increased visibility, and Alison Bechdel, and Ellen, and Maddow. And then the word somehow became ooky again, apparently because it was somehow not “inclusive” enough. So when York Civic Trust put up a plaque to honor Ann Lister it carefully avoided That Word. It said “Gender-nonconforming entrepreneur. Celebrated marital commitment, without legal recognition, to Ann Walker in this church. Easter, 1834.”

And there was a stink, and a petition, and it worked.

A draft of the new wording will be proposed and opened for public comment in the coming weeks.

An online petition calling on York Civic Trust to change the wording attracted more than 2,500 signatures. The petition said: “Anne Lister was, most definitely, gender non-conforming all her life. She was also, however, a lesbian. Don’t let them erase this iconic woman from our history.”

“Gender non-conforming” is fine in its way, but it’s far from identical to “lesbian.” To spell it out there are lesbians who are not particularly gender-nonconforming (except for the not hooking up with men part), and gender non-conforming women who are not lesbians.

Julie Furlong, who started the petition, told the BBC she was pleased the wording was to change: “I am very happy that they have realised that lesbian erasure is not acceptable, but I will wait to hear on the final wording before expressing opinion as to that.”

The trust said following a meeting with the Churches Conservation Trust, York LGBT Forum and York LGBT History Month, a joint decision was made to change the wording on the plaque. It added: “The plaque is intended to be a positive celebration of the union of Anne Lister and Ann Walker, and this remains the case. The last thing we wanted to do was to cause offence or upset to any community.”

Oh? But that’s a hopeless way to look at it. They’re going to cause offence and upset to the “community” of people who hate the whole idea of same-sex love and attraction, just for one thing. So in trying to avoid annoying any “community” they managed to erase the very “community” the plaque is about. Ironic, isn’t it.

To people with a slightly firmer grip on reality

Sep 4th, 2018 8:46 am | By

James Kirkup on Greens and Challenors and Terfblockers:

Aimee Challenor was a prominent Green activist. She was the party’s spokesperson on equalities issues and a candidate for the party’s deputy leadership. Aimee Challenor was a Green candidate in the 2017 general election and the 2018 local government elections. In both elections, her election agent was her father, David “Baloo” Challenor.

David Challenor was last month convicted of torturing and raping a ten-year old girl in the attic of the family home. He was charged with those crimes in 2016. So Aimee Challenor was nominated for public office for the Green Party by a man awaiting trial for the most serious sexual offences against a child. (Read more about this here, if you want to.) Aimee Challenor was aware of her father’s arrest at the time she accepted his nomination; at least some Green Party officials knew too.

Questions are being asked, inquiries are being predicted, tweets are being deleted.

Aimee Challenor was an active Green campaigner on transgender issues. As the party’s equalities spokesperson, she was an enthusiastic participant in the debate about changing the law on legal gender, arguing in favour of rules where a person can legally chose their own gender (and gain the relevant legal rights) without external check or verification.

Critics of such a “self-ID” policy say that among the issues it raises are worries about safeguarding and access to girls or vulnerable women. They fear that allowing any man who says “I am a woman” to be treated as a woman could allow unscrupulous men to declare themselves female in order to gain privileged access to female-only spaces or to supervise girls through organisations such as Girl Guides.

To summarise, then, a politician stood for public office knowing her election agent was awaiting trial for the rape and torture of a young girl. The politician also advocated a policy that some people fear could make it easier for sexual predators to get access to girls.

Not only do some people fear the policy of self-declared trans womanhood could make it easier for sexual predators to get access to girls, they also have a very hard time seeing how anyone can promise that would not happen. It’s not just “self-declaration could make it easier for sexual predators to get access to girls,” it’s also “you have not enunciated any way to ensure sexual predators would not get access to girls via self-declaration.”

The Green Party ardently defended Aimee Challenor when all this came out.

All of this focussed some attention, in the Green Party and elsewhere, on those safeguarding questions some people raise about the gender policy Aimee Challenor so enthusiastically promoted.

Some Green Party members suggested that Lucas should listen to the people who asked those questions. Some suggested she should meet A Women’s Place UK (WPUK) a group of (mostly) left-wing women who organise public meetings to discuss gender law. To some transgender activists, WPUK are a hate-group spewing out bigotry. To people with a slightly firmer grip on reality, WPUK are a bunch of ordinary women who talk earnestly about equality law and can’t quite believe that the politicians who are supposed to represent them aren’t doing their jobs and debating this stuff themselves. Sometimes they have biscuits too.

So, credit to Lucas for saying that she would indeed meet WPUK and listen to what they have to say:

I saw that tweet yesterday. I also saw the predictable avalanche of oh noooooooo they are monsters, you mustn’t.

Never mind that Lucas had been an outspoken advocate of trans rights in general, and of Aimee Challenor in particular. Never mind that all she said she would do is meet some people and listen to them. None of that could mitigate her sins against transgenderism. The online mob quickly gathered to ensure Lucas was suitably chastised: she said she’d talk to witches, so she must be a witch! Burn her!

(As is common here, lots of the abuse directed at Lucas came from men keen to tell women what to do, say and think. My favourite reprimand was this one:  “Sincere word of warning Caroline: the people you’re agreeing to have dialogue w/ may appear to be reasonable & well-meaning individuals – couldn’t be more untrue. #WPUK and its associates spread hateful rhetoric, & seek to deny #trans people their existing legal rights. Avoid.” That came from a person using the name Adrian Harrop and claiming to be an NHS doctor; I assume it’s a parody account because the alternative explanation – that an actual real person is so comically stupid and awful – is too troubling to contemplate.)

He’s joking, of course. Adrian Harrop is all too real, and a genuine NHS doctor. He spends a great deal of time verbally abusing feminist women on Twitter.

So then Lucas was added to “Terfblocker” – the one set up by the Challenors themselves. The circle was closed.

Good job Jeff

Sep 3rd, 2018 5:58 pm | By

Josh Dawsey at the Post explains Trump’s self-incriminating tweets:

“Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department,” he said on Twitter. “Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time.”

“Good job Jeff……” he added, in a sarcastic comment. Calling the agency the “Jeff Sessions Justice Department” is the president’s ultimate insult, Trump advisers say.

Trump did not address the charges themselves or name the congressmen, but the tweet was apparently referring to the indictments this summer of Reps. Chris Collins of New York and Duncan D. Hunter of California, the president’s two earliest congressional endorsers.

Collins was charged with insider trading, accused by federal prosecutors of tipping off his son about a biotechnology company’s failed drug trial to avoid significant investment losses. The alleged tip-off took place not during the Obama administration, as Trump’s tweet suggests, but in 2017, after Trump had become president.

Hunter was charged with using more than $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses, including family vacations, school tuition and theater tickets.

And this is outrageous, you see, because the Justice Department should be prosecuting Democrats only. Duh. Don’t they know anything? Republicans are allowed to do whatever they want.

The tweet on Sessions was an unusually harsh salvo, even for a president who sometimes expresses his thoughts on Twitter to the chagrin of his staff. The tweet indicated that his attorney general should base law enforcement actions on how it could affect the president and the Republican Party’s electoral success. It also seemed to indicate that electoral popularity should influence charges.

Yeah, so? And the biggest guy is supposed to get whatever he can grab, and losers are supposed to lose.

Trump’s attacks on Sessions — and his efforts to force his attorney general to quit his post after Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — are now part of an obstruction investigation into the president by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team.

So it’s very clever of Trump to do more obstruction right out in the open. It’s like a triple bluff, ya know?

Trump stayed at the White House on Monday, watching television. He emerged earlier in the day, apparently about to join a waiting motorcade, before returning inside.

To watch more television.

Not some banana republic

Sep 3rd, 2018 5:43 pm | By

Trump, insane:

Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff……….The Democrats, none of whom voted for Jeff Sessions, must love him now. Same thing with Lyin’ James Comey. The Dems all hated him, wanted him out, thought he was disgusting – UNTIL I FIRED HIM! Immediately he became a wonderful man, a saint like figure in fact. Really sick!

Ben Sasse – a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee – responds:

The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice – one for the majority party and one for the minority party. These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence, not because of who the President was when the investigations began. Instead of commenting on ongoing investigations and prosecutions, the job of the President of the United States is to defend the Constitution and protect the impartial administration of justice.

True, but…not what’s happening.

Well if you feel that strongly about it

Sep 3rd, 2018 3:54 pm | By

Now David Remnick has changed his mind and canceled the Bannon gig.

There are many ways for a publication like ours to do its job: investigative reporting; pointed, well-argued opinion pieces; Profiles; reporting from all over the country and around the world; radio and video interviews; even live interviews. At the same time, many of our readers, including some colleagues, have said that the Festival is different, a different kind of forum. It’s also true that we pay an honorarium, that we pay for travel and lodging. (Which does not happen, of course, when we interview someone for an article or for the radio.) I don’t want well-meaning readers and staff members to think that I’ve ignored their concerns. I’ve thought this through and talked to colleagues––and I’ve re-considered. I’ve changed my mind. There is a better way to do this. Our writers have interviewed Steve Bannon for The New Yorker before, and if the opportunity presents itself I’ll interview him in a more traditionally journalistic setting as we first discussed, and not on stage.

–––David Remnick

So that was interesting.

He isn’t interesting

Sep 3rd, 2018 3:15 pm | By

Hmmm this seems pretty nuts: Steve Bannon Headlines New Yorker Festival.

Readers of The New Yorker prize the magazine for its wide-ranging collection of perspectives. From Oct. 5 to 7, The New Yorker Festival, now in its 19th year, will bring some of these voices to venues around New York City.

Political figures feature prominently in this year’s lineup, which includes Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, who will be interviewed by the magazine’s editor, David Remnick, a frequent critic of the administration.

“I have every intention of asking him difficult questions and engaging in a serious and even combative conversation,” Mr. Remnick said in a phone interview.

And of giving even more publicity and platform space to his poisonous “opinions.”

You know who else gots lots and lots of free publicity and attention and platform space from the mainstream media? Donald Trump. Hey maybe Steve Bannon will be the next president; that would be exciting.
Reactions are not universally ecstatic.

I was thinking along similar signs when I saw the headline. Why on earth? He’s not a public intellectual or an interesting writer or a thoughtful observer, so why is The New Yorker even interested in him? Stephen Miller is at least still there, still pulling the levers. Bannon is just a random crank with poisonous racist views, so why amplify and normalize them?

Massacre v massacre

Sep 3rd, 2018 2:31 pm | By

Commenter Kalyani alerted us to another massacre in Burma, this time by the Rohingya rather than to them. There’s nothing surprising in that, of course – no magic law makes the victims of massacres, let alone members of the category of people targeted for massacres, perfect.

Amnesty International reported last May 22:

A Rohingya armed group brandishing guns and swords is responsible for at least one, and potentially a second, massacre of up to 99 Hindu women, men, and children as well as additional unlawful killings and abductions of Hindu villagers in August 2017, Amnesty International revealed today after carrying out a detailed investigation inside Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Based on dozens of interviews conducted there and across the border in Bangladesh, as well as photographic evidence analyzed by forensic pathologists, the organization revealed how Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) fighters sowed fear among Hindus and other ethnic communities with these brutal attacks.

At around 8am on 25 August 2017, ARSA attacked the Hindu community in the village of Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik, in a cluster of villages known as Kha Maung Seik in northern Maungdaw Township. At the time of the attack, the Hindu villagers lived in close proximity to Rohingya villagers, who are predominantly Muslim. Rakhine villagers, who are predominantly Buddhist, also lived in the same area.

Armed men dressed in black and local Rohingya villagers in plain clothes rounded up dozens of Hindu women, men and children. They robbed, bound, and blindfolded them before marching them to the outskirts of the village, where they separated the men from the women and young children. A few hours later, the ARSA fighters killed 53 of the Hindus, execution-style, starting with the men.

Eight Hindu women and eight of their children were abducted and spared, after ARSA fighters forced the women to agree to “convert” to Islam. The survivors were forced to flee with the fighters to Bangladesh several days later, before being repatriated to Myanmar in October 2017 with the support of the Bangladeshi and Myanmar authorities.

Bina Bala, a 22-year-old woman who survived the massacre, told Amnesty International:

“[The men] held knives and long iron rods. They tied our hands behind our backs and blindfolded us. I asked what they were doing. One of them replied, ‘You and Rakhine are the same, you have a different religion, you can’t live here. He spoke the [Rohingya] language. They asked what belongings we had, then they beat us. Eventually I gave them my gold and money.”

Then Burma’s military took revenge.

Clown Giuliani

Sep 3rd, 2018 12:33 pm | By

A few highlights from Jeffrey Toobin’s long piece on Giuliani at the New Yorker:

He reflected on the tumultuous six months he has spent thus far representing Trump in the investigation led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Giuliani’s work has involved countless television appearances—often featuring false or misleading claims—as well as frequent phone calls with the President and months of negotiations with Mueller about the possibility of Trump testifying.

Good to know where we are at the outset.

Like Trump, he characterizes the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt” and the prosecutors as “thugs.” He has, in effect, become the legal auxiliary to Trump’s Twitter feed, peddling the same chaotic mixture of non sequiturs, exaggerations, half-truths, and falsehoods. Giuliani, like the President, is not seeking converts but comforting the converted.

And he cheerfully lies.

Giuliani’s behavior has provoked disgust among some of his former fellow-prosecutors. “He has totally sold out to Trump,” John S. Martin, a predecessor to Giuliani as U.S. Attorney who later became a federal judge, said. “He’s making arguments that don’t hold up. I always thought of Rudy as a good lawyer, and he’s not looking anything like a good lawyer today.” Preet Bharara, who served as U.S. Attorney from 2009 until 2017, when he was fired by Trump, told me, “His blatant misrepresentations on television make me sad. It’s sad because I looked up to him at one point, and this bespeaks a sort of cravenness to a particularly hyperbolic client and an unnecessary suspension of honor and truth that’s beneath him. I would not send Rudy at this point in his career into court.”

If it were really beneath him he wouldn’t be doing it.

This spring, Giuliani met with Mueller and his staff, and Giuliani pressed the special counsel about whether he believed that a sitting President could be criminally indicted. According to a 1973 opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, a President should not be subject to indictment while in office because it “would interfere with the President’s unique official duties, most of which cannot be performed by anyone else.” (A 2000 legal opinion from the Justice Department reached a similar conclusion.) Giuliani recalled Mueller saying, “Well, we’re going to reserve our thinking on that.” Giuliani told me that after “two days, with a lot of going back and forth,” Mueller’s team affirmed that it wouldn’t indict, regardless of the result of the investigation. (Mueller’s spokesman declined to comment.)

This apparent concession has shaped Giuliani’s defense of Trump ever since. He now knew that there would never be a courtroom test of the President’s actions; the only risk to Trump was that Mueller’s report could lead Congress to impeach the President, a process that is political as much as it is legal. With impeachment, Giuliani explained to me, “the thing that will decide that the most is public opinion,” and the perception of Mueller is as important as that of Trump. “If Mueller remains the white knight, it becomes more likely that Congress might at some point turn on Trump,” he told me. As a result, Giuliani has set out to destroy Mueller’s reputation.

Which remains striking and repulsive no matter how familiar with it we already are. To save the evil and criminal Donald Trump from richly deserved justice, former prosecutor and mayor Giuliani sets out to destroy Robert Mueller’s reputation. It makes me want to puke.

With genocidal intent

Sep 3rd, 2018 11:27 am | By

Reuters has a detailed story on the framing of the two Reuters reporters in Burma.

Time and again, Myanmar’s government appeared at risk of blowing its prosecution of two young journalists who had exposed a massacre of 10 Muslim men and implicated security forces in the killings.

On April 20, a prosecution witness revealed in pre-trial hearings that police planted military documents on Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in order to frame them for violating the country’s Official Secrets Act. That admission drew gasps from the courtroom.

A police officer told the court that he burned notes he made at the time of the reporters’ arrest, but didn’t explain why. Several prosecution witnesses contradicted the police account of where the arrests took place. A police major conceded the “secret” information allegedly found on the reporters wasn’t actually a secret.

And outside the courtroom, military officials even admitted that the killings had indeed taken place.

But never mind all that –

On Monday, after 39 court appearances and 265 days of imprisonment, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were found guilty of breaching the Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Yangon northern district judge Ye Lwin ruled that the two reporters had breached the secrets act when they collected and obtained confidential documents. Delivering his verdict in the small courtroom, he said it had been found that “confidential documents” discovered on the two would have been useful “to enemies of the state and terrorist organizations.”

If that’s the criterion it probably covers all journalists.

A week before the ruling, United Nations investigators said in a report that Myanmar’s military had carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with “genocidal intent,” and that the commander-in-chief and five generals should be punished. The report also accused the government of Aung San Suu Kyi of contributing to “the commission of atrocity crimes” by failing to shield minorities from crimes against humanity and war crimes. Myanmar has rejected the findings.

Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader who spent some 15 years under house arrest during the junta era, has made few public statements about the case. In a rare comment in June, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate told Japanese broadcaster NHK that the reporters weren’t arrested for covering the violence in western Myanmar. “They were arrested because they broke the Official Secrets Act,” she said.

Some Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

At the time of their arrest in December, Wa Lone, now 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, now 28, were working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim villagers during an army crackdown in Rakhine State in the west of the country. The violence has sent more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, where they now live in vast refugee camps.

Reuters published its investigation into the massacre on Feb. 8. An account of the killing of eight men and two high school students in September in the village of Inn Din, the report prompted international demands for a credible probe into the wider bloodshed in Rakhine.

The story and its accompanying photographs provided the first independent confirmation of what took place at Inn Din. Two of the photos obtained by the reporters show the men kneeling, in one with their hands behind their necks and in a second with their hands tied behind their backs. A third picture shows their bodies, some apparently with bullet wounds, others with gashes, in a blood-stained, shallow grave.

Reuters includes the first photo in the story.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on the evening of Dec. 12. During hours of testimony in July, they described that night and the interrogations that followed. They told the court that their heads were covered with black hoods when they were transported to a police interrogation site. They testified they were deprived of sleep for three days during their grillings. At one point, Kyaw Soe Oo said, he was punished and made to kneel on the floor for at least three hours. A police witness denied that the reporters were deprived of sleep and that Kyaw Soe Oo was forced to kneel.

Describing the night of their arrest, Wa Lone said he and Kyaw Soe Oo were detained almost immediately after being handed some documents at a restaurant by a police lance corporal he had been trying to interview for the massacre story. The policeman had invited Wa Lone to meet and Kyaw Soe Oo accompanied him, Wa Lone testified.

When the two reporters exited the restaurant, they were grabbed by men in plain clothes, handcuffed and shoved into separate vehicles, they both testified. As they were driven to a police station, Wa Lone recalled in court, a man who appeared to be in charge called a senior officer and told him: “We’ve got them, sir.”

Wa Lone told the court that their interrogation was about their reporting, not the documents.

At one point, Wa Lone testified, the police chastised him for reporting on the Rohingya. “You are both Buddhists. Why are you writing about ‘kalars’ at a time like this? They aren’t citizens,” Wa Lone recalled being told. ‘Kalar’ is a slur widely used in Myanmar to describe Muslims, especially Rohingya and people of South Asian origin.

Of course. Can’t kill them if there isn’t a derogatory word for them.

Investigate a massacre, go to prison

Sep 3rd, 2018 11:08 am | By

This time it’s in Burma:

Two Reuters journalists arrested in Myanmar while investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslims have been found guilty of breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, are being held in prison in Yangon after being arrested in December, in a landmark case that has prompted international outrage and been seen as a test of progress towards democracy in the south-east Asian country.

(“Myanmar” was the choice of the generals, so I see using it as kind of like calling Senator Warren “Pocahontas.”)

Press freedom advocates, the United Nations, the European Union and countries including the US, Canada and Australia had called for the men to be acquitted.

The journalists were looking into the deaths of 10 Rohingyaat the hands of soldiers and Buddhist villagers in Inn Din, a village in the north of Rakhine state. After being invited to a dinner by officers, they were detained.

Prosecutors accused the men of obtaining secret state documents, in breach of the Official Secrets Act. The journalists said they were framed by police who gave them the documents during the dinner, and that they were targeted for their reporting. Kyaw Soe Oo said that while being investigated he was deprived of sleep, forced to kneel for hours and had a black hood placed over his head.

Concerned by what was widely seen as a draconian attack by Myanmar authorities on the free press, dozens of journalists and activists marched in Yangon on Sunday in support of the men.

The verdict was condemned by human rights activists, the UN, the US and Britain.

The verdict comes during a time of intense international scrutiny on Myanmar authorities following a damning UN report about the military’s treatment of the Rohingya, which it said amounted to ethnic cleansing. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to bordering Bangladesh over the past year after a campaign of violence by the military.

Last week, the UN said Myanmar army generals should be investigated and prosecuted for “gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law”. In the report, which was rejected by the Myanmar government, de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi was criticised for failing to support the Rohingya.

She’s not supporting the journalists, either.

What’s all this “tackling corruption” nonsense?

Sep 2nd, 2018 6:29 pm | By

Good ol’ Rudy:

Donald Trump’s attorney Rudolph Giuliani caused a diplomatic stir on Tuesday by complaining to the president of Romania about the country’s efforts to tackle corruption and calling for an amnesty for some convicted criminals.

In a letter to Romanian president Klaus Iohannis, which was published by Mediafax, Giuliani sharply criticised what he called “excesses made in the name of ‘law enforcement’” by Romania’s national anti-corruption directorate. The agency, he said, had used unfair tactics against suspects and intimidated judges and lawyers.

And you know what else? He did it because people paid him to.

Giuliani’s remarks aligned him with political forces in Romania who last month succeeded in ousting the country’s top corruption prosecutor, who had pursued senior politicians, prompting tumultuous public protests.

Gee, does that ring any bells? Any dingdingmuellerdingding?

His letter was written under the letterhead of Giuliani Partners, his private consultancy firm, and did not mention his role as personal lawyer to the US president. Giuliani said in a text message he was acting as a contractor for the Freeh Group, a consultancy run by his friend Louis Freeh, the former FBI director. Freeh is currently “advising a Romanian defendant contesting his conviction” by the anticorruption agency, according to an interview he gave Forbes last week.

He’s collecting a (doubtless large) paycheck for his efforts to impede Rumania’s efforts to get rid of corruption. Nice guy.

The State Department said “Giuliani Who?”

By then the former New York City mayor’s letter had been criticised by Romania’s ambassador to the US, George Maior, who said Giuliani appeared to be speaking on behalf of Romanians “who have problems with the justice system”.

Oh, coincidence, he’s doing the same thing in the US! Only, for “Romanians” swap “a president.”

Romania scores 48 out of 100 on a perceived government corruption scale measured by Transparency International, where 0 is the most corrupt and 100 least. Romania ranks joint 59th out of 180 countries, alongside Greece and Jordan.

Well so there’s plenty of room for Romania to become more corrupt. Shoulder to the wheel, Rudy.

Debt bubbles eventually burst

Sep 2nd, 2018 11:31 am | By

Robert Reich points out the well known fact that most people are not doing well in this economy and that there’s a huge gap between the rich and everyone else. Then he points out the not quite so well known consequence.

Last year, about 40 percent of American families struggled to meet at least one basic need – food, health care, housing or utilities, according to an Urban Institute survey. 

All of which suggests we’re careening toward the same sort of crash we had in 2008, and possibly as bad as 1929.

Clear away the financial rubble from those two former crashes and you’d see they both followed upon widening imbalances between the capacity of most people to buy, and what they as workers could produce. Each of these imbalances finally tipped the economy over.

If you insist on paying your workers a tiny wage then they’re not going to be able to buy your product, so then what, smart boss?

The same imbalance has been growing again. The richest 1 percent of Americans now takes home about 20 percent of total income, and owns over 40 percent of the nation’s wealth.

These are close to the peaks of 1928 and 2007.

The U.S. economy crashes when it becomes too top heavy because the economy depends on consumer spending to keep it going, yet the rich don’t spend nearly as much of their income as the middle class and the poor.

For a time, the middle class and poor can keep the economy going nonetheless by borrowing. But, as in 1929 and 2008, debt bubbles eventually burst.

I replied to Reich’s tweet sharing this post, before reading the post, “you mean we can’t just keep piling up debt forever??”

After the 1929 crash, the government invented new ways to boost wages – Social Security, unemployment insurance, overtime pay, a minimum wage, the requirement that employers bargain with labor unions, and, finally, a full-employment program called World War II.

After the 2008 crash, the government bailed out the banks and pumped enough money into the economy to contain the slide. But apart from the Affordable Care Act, nothing was done to address the underlying problem of stagnant wages.

That’s for sure. The Democratic party turned its back on that idea long ago.

Trump and his Republican enablers are now reversing regulations put in place to stop Wall Street’s excessively risky lending.

But Trump’s real contributions to the next crash are his sabotage of the Affordable Care Act, rollback of overtime pay, burdens on labor organizing, tax reductions for corporations and the wealthy but not for most workers, cuts in programs for the poor, and proposed cuts in Medicare and Medicaid – all of which put more stress on the paychecks of most Americans.

Yup. I’ve been saying it all along – it’s all about shoving more more more money to the rich, and grabbing everything away from everyone else.

Brace yourselves for the crash.

Heartless and despicable

Sep 2nd, 2018 10:44 am | By

The Des Moines Register has a guest column by Rob Tibbetts, father of Molly Tibbetts, the University of Iowa student who was murdered and hidden in a corn field last month.

Ten days ago, we learned that Mollie would not be coming home. Shattered, my family set out tocelebrate Mollie’s extraordinary life and chose to share our sorrow in private. At the outset, politicians and pundits used Mollie’s death to promote various political agendas. We appealed to them and they graciously stopped. For that, we are grateful.

Sadly, others have ignored our request. They have instead chosen to callously distort and corrupt Mollie’s tragic death to advance a cause she vehemently opposed. I encourage the debate on immigration; there is great merit in its reasonable outcome. But do not appropriate Mollie’s soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist. The act grievously extends the crime that stole Mollie from our family and is, to quote Donald Trump Jr., “heartless” and “despicable.”

The person who is accused of taking Mollie’s life is no more a reflection of the Hispanic community [than] white supremacists are of all white people. To suggest otherwise is a lie. Justice in my America is blind. This person will receive a fair trial, as it should be. If convicted, he will face the consequences society has set. Beyond that, he deserves no more attention.

To the Hispanic community, my family stands with you and offers its heartfelt apology. That you’ve been beset by the circumstances of Mollie’s death is wrong. We treasure the contribution you bring to the American tapestry in all its color and melody. And yes, we love your food.

My stepdaughter, whom Mollie loved so dearly, is Latina. Her sons — Mollie’s cherished nephews and my grandchildren — are Latino. That means I am Hispanic. I am African. I am Asian. I am European. My blood runs from every corner of the Earth because I am American. As an American, I have one tenet: to respect every citizen of the world and actively engage in the ongoing pursuit to form a more perfect union.

Which is better, really? Which is more conducive to being a decent person with a humane outlook – programmatic hatred of specified Other groups of people, or respect for every citizen of the world? The answer is obvious.

“Everyone has a gender identity”

Sep 2nd, 2018 10:25 am | By

This helpfully isolates one point of contention.

No. Really not. Everyone has a sex, a complicated one in the case of trans-sexual people. “Gender identity” is a neologism and what it names is just an idea about the self. It’s a particular, local, time-specific, constructed, contentious, culture-bound idea about the self, and one which not everyone signs up to, to put it mildly.

You might as well say everyone has a height identity or a species identity or an age identity. You might as well but you wouldn’t, because “activists” have not yet declared that that is 1. a thing and 2. mandatory for all. But they have declared that about “gender identity,” and that’s a pity, because it’s not true.

Ring ring

Sep 2nd, 2018 5:11 am | By

About those racist robo-calls in Florida

If nothing else, the minute-long audio clip is a clear sign of how quickly racism — subtle in some cases, overt in others — has entered the contest to determine who will lead Florida.

“Well hello there,” the call begins as the sounds of drums and monkeys can be heard in the background, according to the New York Times. “I is Andrew Gillum.”

“We Negroes . . . done made mud huts while white folk waste a bunch of time making their home out of wood an stone.”

A disclaimer at the end of the robo-call says it was produced by the Road to Power, a white supremacist and anti-Semitic group based in Idaho. The Southern Poverty Law Center has noted a recent rise in robo-calls across the country, describing them as a “new, high-tech, computer-delivered brand of hate,” according to the Times.

The Road to Power is also the group behind the most unsubtle attempt to turn the killing of Mollie Tibbetts in Iowa into anti-immigration policy and a 2018 campaign talking point.

The suspect, Cristhian Rivera, is an undocumented immigrant who worked on a dairy farm, and conservatives said Tibbetts’s death highlights the need for stronger immigration laws and even a wall on the southern border. Tibbetts’s family has pushed back against that argument, with her father speaking favorably of the local Hispanic community.

“If after her life has now been brutally stolen from her, she could be brought back to life for just one moment and asked what do you think now, Mollie Tibbetts would say, ‘Kill them all.’ ” an Iowa robo-call says. “Well, we don’t have to kill them all, but we do have to deport them all. The Aztec hybrids known as mestizos are low IQ, bottom feeding savages and is why the country they infest are crime-ridden failures.”

According to the Des Moines Register, the man producing the robo-calls is named Scott Rhodes, of Sandpoint, Idaho. He has been linked to similar campaigns in California, Alexandria, Va., and Charlottesville.

I don’t know what Idaho ever did to become the headquarters for white supremacists.

That bishop’s hand

Sep 2nd, 2018 4:38 am | By

Look, her tit was right there, what was he supposed to do, not grab it? But he said he was sorry anyway, just in case.

The bishop who led Aretha Franklin’s funeral has apologised to Ariana Grande after being accused of groping her on stage.

Or, in fact, after groping her on stage.

The preacher said he hugged all artists, male or female, during the ceremony commemorating the Queen of Soul.

But viewers began posting images from the service when Ariana got up to sing Aretha’s song (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.

I’m not sure I think his apology was entirely sincere.

Parched fields

Sep 1st, 2018 5:07 pm | By

Bloomberg on the drought:

The sweltering summer turned lush fields brown and led to shortages of fodder for the country’s millions of cows. Months of drought and heat have also caused problems across the European Union, the top milk exporter. Farmers from Ireland to Germany have had to cull herds or stop milking months early.

For the EU’s $12 billion dairy industry, parched fields have raised animal-feed costs, squeezing farmers’ profits. Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority expects dairy farms to earn half as much as last year. The feed situation could become critical and milk production may drop in the coming months, according to Arla Foods, the Nordic region’s biggest dairy company.

“In July, we brought in grass that should have been for winter feeding,” said Pat McCormack, who has 100 dairy cows in Ireland’s County Tipperary, where he’s worked for 21 years. “For a farmer with no grass, no silage, no money and kids going to college, it’s a big mental challenge.”

In Ireland, snow at the start of the year soaked fields so much that farmers began dipping into fodder reserves before the drought then hurt grass growth, causing them to use up next winter’s supplies this summer. Some have had to buy feed at extra cost with no crops of their own left to feed cattle.

Those who couldn’t afford to do that have culled herds. Since June, about 16 percent more cows than last year have been slaughtered weekly, according to Ireland’s agriculture department. In Germany, culling is up as much as 50 percent from a year earlier, farmer’s group DBV estimates.

It’s grim.

Hot and dry

Sep 1st, 2018 4:52 pm | By

Tiggerthewing has been telling us about the drought in Ireland, so let’s read more:

Ireland has been listed as one of the countries “most significantly” impacted by drought conditions over the summer months, according to a newly-published European Drought Observatory (EDO) report.

Comparing results for August to a previous assessment at the end of June, the report – carried out by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) – found that the overall situation “worsened” over Scandinavia, and substantially over Ireland and the UK.

Concerning agriculture, the report highlights that in the drought-affected zones, some national governments are discussing aid to farmers amid damage claims.

In addition, the livestock sector in many member states is also affected due to a lack of fodder.

The report states that yield for winter and spring cereals were confirmed as “seriously reduced” by the dry and hot weather that followed up in July.

Last month, a bulletin from the JRC on winter crop yield forecasts for Europe reported that water stress, associated with exceptionally dry and warmer-than-usual conditions, affected the flowering and/or grain filling of winter crops and spring cereals in large regions of northern central and northern Europe.

Winter and spring cereal yield forecasts were revised downwards in practically all northern and central European countries – including major producers Germany and Poland.

Not cheerful.

More forbidding and outraging and whying

Sep 1st, 2018 1:57 pm | By

Oh not this again.

Thousands of Islamists have set off on a protest march in Pakistan to demand Imran Khan’s new government sever diplomatic ties with the Netherlands over a “blasphemous” cartoon competition.

The march, organised by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a political party dedicated to the punishment of blasphemy, presents the first major test of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration. Last year, a similar protest by the TLP shut down the capital, Islamabad, for almost a month.

In June, Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam MP who leads the Netherlands’ second largest party and has been found guilty of inciting hatred, invited submissions of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, which Islam forbids. The $10,000 (£7,700) competition is due to open in November, with 200 entries so far.

That phrase “which Islam forbids” is meaningless. Islam isn’t the boss of us, so it can forbid until it’s blue in the face but we don’t have to obey. In reality even Muslims don’t have to obey, it’s just that some of them choose to be under its domination, and others don’t exactly choose to be but aren’t really free not to be. The Netherlands, at any rate, in no way has to pay any attention to what Islam forbids, and even if it did, it couldn’t extend that to Geert Wilders, unless it passed some very repressive laws.

People in Pakistan can march up and march down, but they can’t stop people in the Netherlands drawing cartoons, nor should they be able to.

Khadim Rizvi, the firebrand cleric who founded the TLP, said that condemnation of the contest by the Pakistani government was not enough and “only jihad” was the solution.

Before Pakistan’s general election last month, Rizvi said if he had the power he would order a nuclear strike against the Netherlands if its government allowed the competition to go ahead.

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has termed the event “disrespectful” but defended the right to hold it on the grounds of freedom of expression.

On Monday, Pakistan’s senate passed a resolution condemning the competition and Khan vowed to take up the issue at the UN general assembly in September. He said Islamic countries should cooperate to create laws against blasphemy similar to those against Holocaust denial in European countries.

“If they [western countries] feel pained discussing the Holocaust, why haven’t we been able to convey to the west how much we feel pained when they do blasphemous things against Islam and our beloved Holy Prophet, peace be upon him?” said Khan.

Because it’s not the same thing, obviously. The genocide of millions of people is not the same thing, or category of thing, as a Special Feeling about a religious figure. That’s why.

What polar ice cover?

Sep 1st, 2018 1:20 pm | By

Oh and about that warming Arctic Ocean?

The Arctic is in hot water, literally, following the discovery that heat has been accumulating rapidly in a salty layer of the Arctic Ocean 50 metres down. Currently, it’s being held at that depth by a less dense layer of freshwater overhead, but if the two layers start to mix it could melt all seasonal sea ice, accelerating the already-rapid loss of polar ice cover.

Researchers discovered the heat time-bomb after analysing publicly available data on ice cover, and at different depths on sea temperature, heat content and saltiness over the past three decades. The data was gathered around the Canadian Basin, a major basin of the Arctic Ocean fed by waters from the North Chukchi Sea, just north of the Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia.

Over this timespan, the heat content of the salty layer doubled, from 200 to 400 million joules per square metre, enough to reduce overall Arctic ice thickness by 80 centimetres.

The root cause is global warming, which has seen temperatures in the Arctic rise by 2 degrees from pre-industrial levels–twice the global average—leading to record-low sea ice coverage. The researchers found that with sea ice retreating, heat absorption by exposed surface waters has increased fivefold in 30 years, mainly from direct sunlight, which no longer gets reflected by ice.

5 x in 30 years…that seems like a lot in a little.

Winds are pushing the waters around now that there’s no ice in the way, and winds could cause the two layers to mix.

Not good.