Notes and Comment Blog


Who gets the extra ice cream?

Jun 10th, 2017 3:18 pm | By

A couple of weeks ago there was an evangelical Christian conference in Sydney “devoted to what it means to be a godly woman.” Oooh I know this one! It means to be obedient, submissive, subordinate, compliant, complaisant, “sweet,” deferential, self-effacing, and not at all in any way challenging to the Authority and Superiority of Men.

During a talk about the meaning of Bible verses on male headship — where men are leaders in the home and the church — an image of newly-shorn actress Kristen Stewart flashed onto an overhead screen.

Actress Kristen Stewart poses with close cropped hair as she arrives for the premiere of her new film "Personal Shopper"

Was this platinum blonde buzz cut, asked the speaker, Carmelina Read, appropriate for a woman? Was it feminine and submissive, or instead flagging independence and rebellion?

Women should have long hair to serve as convenient handles.

But what annoyed some of the thousands of women there was a claim that “women should also consider themselves ‘helpers’ of men in the workplace.”

Sure. Even if she has more talent, experience, education, and knowledge than the nearest man, she should consider herself his helper. Always inferior, you see; it’s god’s divine rule.

While it is generally accepted amongst conservative Christians that “headship” means women should submit to men at home and in the church, extending the idea to the world beyond is considered controversial, a form of mission creep.

So there’s a lot of arguing going on.

The doctrine of headship means, in short, that men are to be the heads of women in the church as well as in marriage. The verses being discussed in 1 Corinthians 11 say:

“… the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head — it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.”

The idea of headship has long divided Protestants in Australia, with the conservative pockets — where women are not allowed to be priests, such as the Sydney Anglican diocese, and Presbyterian church — adhering to it most vigorously.

Those who argue for male headship are called complementarians; the idea being that women and men are equal before God, but have different and complementary roles to play (as per literal interpretations of verses in Ephesians 5, where wives are told to submit to their husbands as their heads, and 1 Timothy 2, where women are told not to teach or have authority over a man).

By an amazing coincidence, that’s also the view of the Catholic church, bless its heart. Naturally this was just men dressing up their determination to be the boss of everything as somehow holy, but I think after all these centuries we can let it go now. Men are not the heads of women. Women have their own damn heads.

H/t Barry Duke



Morrison v Olson

Jun 10th, 2017 10:47 am | By

Alan Dershowitz has been telling the world that Trump can’t be charged with obstruction of justice. Rick Pildes at Lawfare explains what he’s ignoring.

The reason, according to Dershowitz, is that the Constitution gives the exclusive power to the President to control all federal law-enforcement investigations—and  thus to shut any of them down for any reason the President sees fit.  In other words, the President can never commit obstruction of justice by shutting down a criminal investigation or prosecution.

But Dershowitz fails to take into account that the Supreme Court has decisively rejected this view.  In Morrison v. Olson (1988), a 7-1 Supreme Court turned back constitutional challenges   to Congress’ creation of the Act that gave us the office of the Independent Counsel—and in doing so, dismissed exactly the argument that Dershowitz now seeks to invoke.

The Ethics in Government Act was created out of the recognition that the President should be taken out of the process of controlling investigations and prosecutions that involved potential crimes by himself or high-ranking government officials—i.e., close aides of the President.

The act was passed in 1978. That seems awfully…delayed.

The Act created a process that could lead to the appointment of an Independent Counsel for this role, and the entire point of the Act was to insulate the Independent Counsel—and hence the investigation and prosecution of crimes involving the President and his or her  top aides—from the President’s complete control.  The Act essentially put the powers of the Department of Justice in the hands of the Independent Counsel:  it vested him or her with the “full power and independent authority to exercise all investigative and prosecutorial functions and powers of the Department of Justice [and] the Attorney General.”

Then, to even further ensure that the President not have unfettered control when potential crimes involving himself and his top aides were at stake, the Independent Counsel, once appointed, was wrapped in several layers of additional insulation from presidential control.  Thus, the only person who could remove the counsel from office was the Attorney General—and, very importantly, the Attorney General could only do that for limited and specific reasons (“good cause”), such as misconduct in office or inability to perform the counsel’s duties.*  If the Attorney General did remove a counsel, the AG had to file a report with Congress and the courts stating the factual basis for this removal.

Ah, but then what if one party is in control of all of them, and has a dismal record of holding its own members to account for violations of law, norms, ethics and the like? What then? I ask because that’s the situation right now, at a time when the worst human being on the planet sits at the apex of the whole thing.



At his core a dishonest and untrustworthy man

Jun 10th, 2017 10:02 am | By

At this point the people who don’t think Trump is a confirmed resolute habitual liar would fit comfortably inside a boutique coffee shop in Sausalito. Dana Milbank won’t be sharing a table with them.

In the three hours I sat transfixed in Room 216 of the Hart Building, 15 feet behind the fired FBI director, the line that chilled me more than any other was Comey’s account of why he wrote extensive, real-time notes of his conversations with Trump. “The nature of the person,” Comey explained in part. “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.”

The nature of the person.

This was the essence of Comey’s testimony: that the president of the United States is at his core a dishonest and untrustworthy man. It was judgment on character, not a legal opinion, and even Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee made no real attempt to dispel it.

Dishonest and untrustworthy as well as self-interested and greedy as well as malevolent and aggressive as well as too stupid and ignorant to hide any of that.

(And yet with all that he still got elected. That says something about us, and that something is not a good something.)

Republicans on the committee defended Trump on some technical points but not on matters of integrity. Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) called Comey’s testimony “as good as it gets” for legal writing and accepted that “we know exactly what happened” between him and Trump. Collins said Trump “never should have cleared the room, and he never should have asked you, as you reported, to let it go — to let the investigation go.”

Trump is growing lonely in his protestations of his own probity. Friday morning he inexplicably claimed “total and complete vindication.” Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders vouched that “the president is not a liar. I think it’s frankly insulting that that question would be asked.”

She’s one of the customers at that coffee shop. I hope the scones are good.



The most explosive aspect

Jun 10th, 2017 9:40 am | By

Asha Rangappa writes that the real shocker in Comey’s testimony is Trump’s total indifference to the damage Russia did to us and continues to do.

[A]s a former FBI counterintelligence agent, what I saw as the most explosive aspect of the testimony didn’t involve any legal violation of the U.S. code or questions about whether Comey had broken established Department of Justice protocols. Instead, it was the prima facie evidence that Comey presented that Trump appears unwilling to uphold his oath “to preserve, protect, and defend” the country — which puts the security of our nation and its democracy at stake. In the nine times Trump met with or called Comey, it was always to discuss how the investigation into Russia’s election interference was affecting him personally, rather than the security of the country. He apparently cared little about understanding either the magnitude of the Russian intelligence threat, or how the FBI might be able to prevent another attack in future elections.

Well that’s one of the things about him, of course – he’s always interested primarily in himself and his wants and his worries. To the extent that he does take an interest in external issues – NATO and all those pesky European countries that he thinks owe us munny, Chye-nah and its currency manipulation, immigration, and the like – it’s as part of his persona rather than genuine concern. He’s the cool new tough guy who tells it like it is to all those weird foreigners; that’s about the extent and quality of his interest. His ego blots out the sky.

It’s worth noting that there is unanimity among senior intelligence officials that the Russian interference in our election not only happened, but that it was extraordinary and unprecedented. In previous testimony, Comey described Russia as the “greatest threat of any country on earth,” and he warned Thursday that Russia is “coming after America,” regardless of party, “to undermine our credibility in the rest of the world.”

But it worked out well for Trump, you see, so you can hardly expect him to care that it’s bad for everyone else. He’s a novice at being human.

For any president to ignore the situation is shocking. My former colleagues at the FBI who are working on this case and have uncovered the full scale of Russia’s efforts must be incredulous at Trump’s cavalier attitude.

To understand their perspective, consider this happening in the context we normally think of as a national security threat: Imagine that during the 2016 presidential election, a candidate publicly invited the Islamic State to bomb the Democratic Party headquarters. And then imagine that such a bombing in fact took place, resulting in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Now further imagine that the new president not only had no interest in learning more about who caused the attack or bringing them to justice, but in fact went out of his way to make nice with the Islamic State and offer them political and diplomatic concessions. Finally, imagine that there may be evidence that members of the president’s campaign or other American citizens were actively or passively involved in facilitating such an attack.

Well when you put it that way…



Senators rush to take health care away from millions

Jun 10th, 2017 5:07 am | By

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are stealthily pushing through the no health care for you bill without hearings.

Republican senators are quietly moving toward something that has been their party’s goal for nearly eight years: dismantling the Affordable Care Act. The question, of course, is how they plan to replace it.

Republicans in the Senate will need 50 votes to pass their version of the American Health Care Act. Several senators have expressed reservations about the House version of the bill, which withdraws federal support for Planned Parenthood and rolls back the Medicaid expansion accomplished by the A.C.A.. Despite the lack of consensus within the party, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, on Wednesday began the process of fast-tracking the bill under Rule 14, which enables the Senate to bypass the committee process and instead move the bill on to the Senate calendar for a vote as soon as it is ready.

Yes, hurry up with this bill to take Medicaid away from people who need it, because what could be more urgent than that.

The A.H.C.A.’s fast-tracking is not driven by necessity, but rather by the concern that a more transparent legislative process would lay bare the reality that the bill, if passed, would cause millions of Americans to lose their health insurance and drive up costs for millions of others.

Pause to reflect on that. These people are rushing to force the bill through with no hearings because they don’t want the public to notice that it will cause millions of Americans to lose their health insurance and drive up costs for millions of others. It will do what Republicans always do: take funding away from the poor and middling in order to shunt it to the very rich.

With only 20 percent of Americans supporting the A.H.C.A. (and only 8 percent believing the Senate should pass the House version of the bill), and support for Obamacare at an all-time high, Senate Republicans are in a bind. While abandoning the A.H.C.A. in favor of fixing Obamacare would reflect the will of the majority of the American people, it would require abandoning a central campaign pledge to the Republican base and result in an untenable reconciliation process with the more conservative House. But pursuit of a deeply unpopular policy that is likely to have disastrous health and economic consequences for millions could be far costlier as the Republicans face the possibility of a stinging defeat in 2018.

But much more to the point – it is likely to have disastrous health and economic consequences for millions. Can we keep our eye on the damn ball here? Can we forget the inside baseball for one second in order to focus on the horrific consequences for living breathing people?



When the subject is spilling beans

Jun 10th, 2017 3:53 am | By

There’s another likely explanation for why Comey didn’t tell Trump he was being inappropriate:

During the hearing, several senators pressed Comey about why he didn’t ask obvious follow-up questions, as when Trump allegedly said to the director, “We had that thing.” What thing? Comey also might have queried, “Mr. President, what do you mean when you say you ‘hope’?” Or, as various commentators have suggested, why didn’t Comey say, “I’m sorry, Mr. President, but this is highly inappropriate and I’m going to have to excuse myself”?

Ask any reporter, whose skills are essentially investigative, and the answer is: You don’t ever interrupt when the subject is spilling beans.

Ohhhh. Of course. Comey’s the head of the FBI and there’s Trump at least approaching criminal behavior. Explaining the rules to Trump would have been one option, but a competing one would have been to wait to see how far he would go.

Remember that Flynn was under investigation at the time, as was Trump’s campaign, though apparently not Trump himself. All of this was surely in Comey’s mind when Trump allegedly expressed his hope.

So he would have been thinking not just “this is all wrong and I shouldn’t be here,” but also “damn he’s incriminating himself right this minute, listen carefully and remember.”

For Comey, what was the higher moral position? To stop the president of the United States from talking — or keep the conversation going while you gather your wits and see what else might be forthcoming but could aid in an ongoing investigation? Most likely, Comey’s mind was frantically trying to assess the situation and wondering, Lordy, why didn’t I wear a wire?

I have repeatedly wished he’d had a little recording device in his pocket he could have surreptitiously switched on.



The dinner was far worse than the speech

Jun 9th, 2017 6:18 pm | By

Trump’s European jaunt was even worse than we knew.

After a public showing on May 25 in which Trump refused to endorse NATO’s collective defense clause and famously shoved the Montenegrin leader out of the way, leaders of the 29-member alliance retired to a closed-door dinner that multiple sources tell Foreign Policy left alliance leaders “appalled.”

Trump had two versions of prepared remarks for the dinner, one that took a traditional tack and one prepared by the more NATO-skeptic advisors, Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. “He dumped both of them and improvised,” one source briefed on the dinner told FP.

During the dinner, Trump went off-script to criticize allies again for not spending enough on defense. (The United States is one of only five members that meets NATO members’ pledge to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.)

Several sources briefed extensively on the dinner say he said 2 percent wasn’t enough and allies should spend 3 percent of GDP on defense, and he even threatened to cut back U.S. defense spending and have Europeans dole out “back pay” to make up for their low defense spending if they didn’t pony up quickly enough. Two sources say Trump didn’t mention Russia once during the dinner.

“Oh, it was like a total shitshow,” said one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to discuss the closed-door dinner.

“The dinner was far worse than the speech,” said a former senior U.S. government official briefed on dinner. “It was a train wreck. It was awful.”

Great. He slobbers all over the Saudi dictators, and insults the democratic heads of state of Europe. Awesome.



We had that thing you know

Jun 9th, 2017 6:04 pm | By

Ana Marie Cox notes that some people think of John Dean as the parallel to Comey but she has been thinking of Anita Hill.

To be completely honest, I didn’t just think of Hill’s experience, either. I thought of mine. Indeed, anyone who has been the target of sexual harassment or sexual abuse would have trouble not hearing echoes of their own story in what Comey had to say about the president. When I noted on Twitter that Trump’s behavior with Comey sounded a lot like that of a sexual predator, my timeline exploded with grim confirmation. And I wasn’t the only one making that connection.

The president went out of his way to let Comey know he was being watched, under the thin excuse of calling “just to tell me I was doing an awesome job.” Trump was persistent and intentionally obtuse in his requests, cloaking his predation in false familiarity and phrases that could be taken as jokes or as threats (“Because I have been very loyal to you,” Trump allegedly told Comey, “very loyal; we had that thing you know.”)

Comey’s responses to this campaign of harassment were disturbingly familiar as well: In order to keep his job and not make the situation even more awkward, Comey let Trump think he was getting his way. “It is possible we understood the phrase ‘honest loyalty’ differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further,” Comey testified in his written statement, even though, as he added today, what “[my] common sense told me is he’s looking to get something for granting my request for staying in the job.”

At the hearing he was asked why he didn’t Just Say No. Of course he was.

There is always something obscene about the abuse of power, even if it isn’t sexual. Authoritarians count on their subjects to internalize this obscenity and feel reluctant to comment on it. We sometimes giggle about the violations when we should be shouting. It was easy to joke about similarities before the details emerged: Headlines such as “Comey asked Sessions not to leave him alone with Trump” practically begged for a lighthearted “Same. —Women” response.

But the richness of Comey’s specific recollections should force us to grapple with the dark reality before us: We elected a sexual predator to the highest office in the land, and he is continuing to act like one.

When you’re a star they let you.



Put a hold on the glitterpants

Jun 9th, 2017 5:33 pm | By

Scalzi:

Do you still think James Comey wasn’t very good at his job?

Kind of? I think what his testimony solidified for me is that James Comey was probably pretty good at the day to day minutiae of his former gig, and also that within the context of that gig he was pretty ethical. But I also think he made some high-profile bad calls, and that very same desire for ethical action caused him to exacerbate rather than mitigate some of those bad calls.

At this point I’ve gotten used to thinking of Comey as something of a tragic figure, whose greatest virtue — a desire to act ethically and above the usual boundaries of politics in the execution of his duties — ended up precipitating a national and global crisis. Because make no mistake that we have a President Trump in large part because of him. I suspect that eats at him even if he believes all his actions during 2016 were ultimately correct and appropriate, as the head of the FBI.

Yeah. I keep having to remind myself that Trump is his own damn fault.

The House is as likely to vote to impeach Trump on this or indeed any other illegal/unethical thing he’s actually currently doing as I am to sprout a peach tree out of my tailbone. This is your occasional reminder that today’s GOP has no moral or ethical center, and apparently works under the belief that the entire point to the life of the average American citizen is to fork over their progressively declining wages to large companies to make the very rich that much richer. Trump’s helping with that goal, so why would they get in the way with that?

So, yeah. Don’t pick out your glittery impeachment pants just yet.

Damn.



Guest post: Reading Whipping Girl 6

Jun 9th, 2017 3:52 pm | By

Guest post by Lady Mondegreen.

Chapter 6 of Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl begins thusly:

“As a transsexual woman, I am often confronted by people who insist that I am not, nor can I ever be, a ‘real woman.’ One of the more common lines of reasoning goes something like this: There’s more to being a woman than simply putting on a dress.” I couldn’t agree more.

So what does Serano think a woman is? We’ll have to skip ahead to the end of the chapter to find anything like an answer:

The one thing that women share is that we are all perceived as women, and treated accordingly. As a feminist, I look forward to a time when we finally move beyond the idea that biology is destiny, and recognize that the most important differences that exist between women and men in our society are the different meanings that we place onto one another’s bodies.

So “women” refers to the class of people perceived as women and treated accordingly. (Why are they “perceived as” women? Never mind.)

So is that why trans women transition? So they can be perceived as women and treated accordingly?

But Serano insists that women—including trans women—are more than the “social meanings that we place onto one another’s bodies”. Yes, of course, but so then what besides those social meanings makes trans women “women”?

Serano doesn’t say. She does say, though, that not all trans women are–

…on a quest to make ourselves as pretty, pink, and passive as possible. While there are certainly some trans women who buy into mainstream dogma about beauty and femininity, others are outspoken feminists and activists fighting against all gender stereotypes. But you’d never know it by looking at the popular media, which tends to assume that all transsexuals are male-to-female, and that all trans women want to achieve stereotypical femininity

Point taken. Nevertheless, a big part of Serano’s aim in this book is to tell us that feminism should embrace “femininity” and everyone who is feminine-presenting. In Chapter 19, Putting the Feminine Back into Feminism, she writes

…[F]eminine self-presentation is often framed as though it solely exists to entice or attract men. This assumption denies any possibility that those who are feminine might wish to adorn themselves for their own benefit or pleasure.(Page 327.)

The existence of transsexuals—who transition from one sex to the other and often live completely unnoticed as the sex “opposite” to the one we were assigned at birth—has the potential to challenge the conventional assumption that gender differences arise from our chromosomes and genitals in a simple, straightforward manner.

How do trans people challenge those norms any more than gender-nonconforming non-trans people do? (Don’t bother asking.)

We can wreak havoc on such taken-for-granted concepts as woman and man, homosexual and heterosexual. These terms lose their cut-and-dried meaning when a person’s assigned sex and lived sex are not the same

And we know how much Julia Serano hates cut-and-dried meanings. Or even coherent ones.

If you don’t have the actual physical equipment, I don’t know how you can claim to “live” the sex you aren’t. You can live as if you were the other sex by imitating them in appearance. If your definition of a given sex is “people perceived and treated as such,” that should be enough, I suppose. No word here from Serano on the ontological status of trans women who don’t pass.

Again. Look. If “sex” is not about the body, it must be about…something else. I can’t think of a better word for the something else than “gender.” But gender, for Serano, means whatever she wants it to mean

So once again, we’re swimming in a sea of vague assertions.

But because we are a threat to the categories that enable traditional and oppositional sexism, the images and experiences of trans people are presented in the media in a way that reaffirms, rather than challenges, gender stereotypes. (pg 36)

Gee, I wonder why. Maybe if popular trans activists like Julia Serano offered us a definition of trans people that isn’t utter genderbabble, we would have a better way of understanding the phenomenon, one that doesn’t endlessly refer back to common societal gender signals. But they haven’t. And so the media focus on gender signals like lipstick and high heels when portraying trans women, and Julia Serano—despite her insistence later in the book that such things are all about strength, empowerment, and we-do-it-for-ourselves-not-for-men—doesn’t like that one bit:

Pgs 43-44:

Mass media images of “biological males” dressing and acting in a feminine manner could potentially challenge mainstream notions of gender, but the way they are generally presented in these feminization scenes ensures that this never happens. The media neutralizes the potential threat that trans femininities pose to the category of “woman” by playing to the audience’s subconscious belief that femininity itself is artificial

How? By portraying trans women applying makeup and such. The dastards!

After all, while most people assume that women are naturally feminine, they also (rather hypocritically) require them to spend an hour or two each day putting on their faces and getting all dressed up in order to meet societal standards for femininity (unlike men, whose masculinity is presumed to come directly from who he is and what he does). In fact, it’s the assumption that femininity is inherently “contrived,” “frivolous,” and “manipulative” that allows masculinity to always come off as “natural,” “practical,” and “sincere” by comparison.*

Yes, Julia, makeup and such—which you champion—is a big part of contemporary femininity—of being perceived as feminine. And of course it is artificial. It is artificial by fucking definition—it’s makeup. It’s artifice.

If you understand that “femininity” is not synonymous with “womanhood” you should not have a problem acknowledging that. But if your ideology leads you insist that femininity is somehow an inherent part of some people’s identity, and moreover that identity is all there is to womanhood, admitting the artifice involved gets…tricky.

Julia Serano wants us to pay no attention to the person behind the curtain. The one with $200 worth of Lancome spread out in front of them.

Thus, the media is able to depict trans women donning feminine attire and accessories without ever giving the impression that they achieve “true” femaleness in the process.

Note the scare quotes. Let’s skip for the moment the interesting implication that femaleness is something to be “achieved.” What is this true femaleness that Serano complains the media don’t grant to trans women? She doesn’t say. Doesn’t say how the media could depict trans women “achieving” it, either.

…[T]he media tends not to notice—or to outright ignore—trans men because they are unable to sensationalize them they do trans women without bringing masculinity itself into question….

Once we understand how media coverage of transsexuals is informed by the different values our society assigns to femaleness and maleness, it becomes obvious that virtually all attempts to sensationalize and deride trans women are built on a foundation of unspoken misogyny.

This is why trans women like myself, who rarely dress in an overly feminine manner and/or who are not attracted to men, are such an enigma to many people. By assuming that my desire to be female is merely some sort of femininity fetish or sexual perversion, they are essentially making the case that women have no worth beyond the extent to which they can be sexualized.

Well, no. The theory that some men transition in order to attract male sexual partners, and that others transition because they are autogynephiles, is not a mere “assumption.” Scientific theories, right or wrong, are more than assumptions. Serano is priming her readers to reject Blanchard and Bailey’s theory, which she will address in chapter 7.

Be that as it may, “they are essentially making the case that women have no worth beyond the extent to which they can be sexualized” is a non sequitur. “Women’s only/primary worth is as sex objects,” is a belief that causes untold harm, but it does not follow from the contentious claim that “some males’ desire to be female is due to a paraphilia.”

* Feminists have long recognized the way that masculinity tends to be perceived as more “natural” than femininity, and pointed out that masculinity also involves contrivance.

For a sad-funny glimpse of how artificial masculinity – trans and otherwise – can be, see here.



A very close friend of Putin’s

Jun 9th, 2017 3:32 pm | By

Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz:

Kasowitz worked for the law firmMayer Brown. In 1993 Kasowitz, 18 lawyers and two clients left Mayer Brown to establish the Kasowitz Benson Torres law firm.[4][12]

He has also defended Bill O’Reilly from allegations of sexual harassment,[13] and is defending Sberbank of Russia. Additionally, Kasowitz represents a company run by a Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who is a very close friend of Vladimir Putin and who employed Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort for several years.[14]

I think we’re done here.



The bad man talks back

Jun 9th, 2017 2:48 pm | By

The lying sack of shit is fighting back. He threw a news conference this afternoon along with another hapless head of state, and seized the opportunity to say Comey lied under oath.

President Trump on Friday accused James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, of lying under oath to Congress in testimony that the president dismissed as a politically motivated proceeding.

“Yesterday showed no collusion, no obstruction,” Mr. Trump said in the White House Rose Garden, during a news conference with the visiting Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis.

“That was an excuse by the Democrats, who lost an election they shouldn’t have lost,” he said. “It was just an excuse, but we were very, very happy, and, frankly, James Comey confirmed a lot of what I said, and some of the things that he said just weren’t true.”

Yeah who ya gonna believe, a former FBI director and Deputy Attorney General and prosecutor, or a real estate huckster and fraudulent “university” figurehead and tv star? Which one has a long documented history of fraud, wage theft, bankruptcies, sexual assault accusations, racist housing practices and the like? Gee I just can’t tell which one is more likely to be telling the truth.

Mr. Trump’s comments prompted swift action by congressional investigators participating in the Russia inquiry. Representative K. Michael Conaway, Republican of Texas, and Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, announced that they had written to Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, requesting that any recordings or memos about Mr. Trump’s conversations with Mr. Comey be furnished to the intelligence committee within two weeks. They also made a formal request to Mr. Comey for copies of the memos he testified about on Thursday or notes reflecting the meetings.

Mr. Trump denied that he had ever asked Mr. Comey to drop the F.B.I. investigation into ties of his former national security adviser and Russia, or asked for a pledge of loyalty, as Mr. Comey asserted Thursday. Those conversations are reflected in memos Mr. Comey wrote, and now are in the possession of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in the Russia investigation who was named after Mr. Comey’s firing.

“I didn’t say that,” Mr. Trump said of the request regarding the former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. “And there’d be nothing wrong if I did say it.”

Ah that’s so Trump. I didn’t do it, plus it wasn’t that bad, plus other people do it too, plus I probably won’t do it again.

It’s disgusting that he would say there would be nothing wrong if he did say it. Yes, Donald, there is something wrong with obstruction of justice. You’re not a dictator, you’re a head of state who is accountable to the law and the people.

About the loyalty pledge from Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump said, “I hardly know the man; I’m not going to ask him to pledge allegiance.”

Non sequitur, dude.

Mr. Trump’s team, led by his personal lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, on Friday was preparing a counterattack on Mr. Comey based in part on his admission that he arranged the leak of his account of the conversation with Mr. Trump in which he says the president suggested the F.B.I. halt its investigation into Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser.

The president’s lawyers plan to file a complaint with the Justice Department inspector general next week arguing that Mr. Comey should not have shared what they call privileged communications, according to two people involved in the matter.

Privileged semi-criminal communications that Trump forced on Comey – yeah that should go well for him.



Because he’s a beastly minotaur and no chains can bind him

Jun 9th, 2017 12:03 pm | By

Benjamin Wittes on the Comey hearing as a matter of honor and dishonor:

It is a clarifying moment whenever an honorable person speaks plainly in public about a person he or she evidently regards as dishonorable on a matter of public moment. And today, a nation not normally riveted by congressional hearings got a chance to see what I was talking about. In three hours of testimony characterized by well-controlled but palpable anger, Comey attacked what he described as “lies” about the FBI and “defam[ation]” about himself; he accused the President of the United States of implicitly directing him to drop a major criminal investigation of a former senior official; he described a pattern of disrespect for the independence of the law enforcement function of the FBI; he alleged that the President made repeated misstatements of fact in his public accounts of their interactions; and he stated flatly that he believed that the President had fired him because of something related to the Russia investigation—an investigation that directly involves the President’s business, his campaign, his subordinates in the White House, and his family.

Throughout it all, the sense that he had spent four months dealing with people who were not honorable was, once again, written on every line of his face and evident in the tone he took when describing the President.

So what do we do with this, Wittes asks.

Remember that Comey was not just speaking publicly. He was speaking under oath. Remember also that he was speaking about matters in which he was a first-hand participant. Remember also that the only person who can meaningfully contest his allegations is Donald Trump.

Which is exactly why I find it surprising and absurd that Trump’s lawyer doesn’t hesitate to contest his allegations by flat-out saying Trump never did. He can’t meaningfully say that because he wasn’t there. Unless there are indeed tapes and they are untampered with and they show that Trump never did. That’s a very big unless.

Marc Kasowitz, President Trump’s lawyer in the Russia matter, has already declared that Comey “admitted that he unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the President”—as though the President has a reasonable expectation that he can fire someone and lie about the reasons and expect that person’s confidence in the exercise.

And as though the President has a reasonable expectation that he can trap Comey into an unwanted and inappropriate one-on-one meeting and then demand respect for the privacy of the meeting.

Talking about Comey and his choices won’t change the fundamental problem, which is about the Trump presidency, not about the former FBI director. And infantilizing the President won’t help either, because the office is no place for infants.

At the end of the day, the problem we face is stark. It is not okay to have a president who—as Jack Goldsmith put it last night—”does not remotely understand his role, status, and duties as President and Chief Executive” and for whom “this failure infects or undermines just about everything he does.” It is not okay to have a President who has so little regard for his oath of office that he cannot appreciate his deficiencies, has no desire to remedy them, and is thus prone consistently to behave in fashions repugnant to the very nature of the presidency. Comey said in his testimony today that he began taking notes immediately after meeting privately with Trump for the first time because of the “nature of the person” he was speaking to. It is not okay to have a president whose FBI director so mistrusts his “nature” on first meeting him that he feels compelled immediately to begin writing memos to file to have a permanent record of his interactions with the man.

Indeed it is not.

The greatest Onion news video ever made parodies the debate over interrogation in the Bush administration. It depicts a panel discussion of whether housing detainees in a labyrinth with a violent minotaur constitutes torture. At one point, the spoof former Bush administration official delivers the immortal line: “Even if the Minotaur did act inappropriately, and I’m not saying it did, the United States cannot be held responsible for its actions, because it is a beastly minotaur and no chains can bind it.”

This is the Trump presidency. There is no evidence that any chains can bind this president: not lawyers, not norms, not procedures, not repeated screw-ups of the sort that educate other leaders, and certainly not the mere expectations of decent public servants. But the problem is that the United States is responsible for his actions—and we are paying daily the price for them, particularly in our international relations but also in our domestic governance. It simply will not do any more for politicians to shield their eyes and say the equivalent of, “even if Trump did act inappropriately, and I’m not saying he did, it’s not my problem because he’s a beastly minotaur and no chains can bind him.”

It’s time to engineer the chains that can indeed bind him.



Comey set so many perjury traps for them

Jun 9th, 2017 10:31 am | By

Another thing I’ve been wondering is how reckless it is or is not for Trump’s lawyer to make sweeping assertions of fact that he can’t possibly know. The Times yesterday:

Before firing Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump was dogged by the F.B.I. inquiry into his campaign’s ties to Russia. But he was never personally under investigation.

Now, he faces the prospect of an obstruction investigation, inquiries by emboldened congressional officials and questions from both parties about whether he tried inappropriately to end the F.B.I. inquiry into Michael T. Flynn, his former national security adviser.

Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, flatly denied any obstruction. “The president never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone,” he said.

How can he possibly know that? It’s an absurd claim. Some in Trump’s circle apparently think so too:

Gradually, however, the concerns of any single news cycle are giving way to longer-term worries about the course of the investigation, and several West Wing aides have expressed concern about the possibility of being blindsided by new revelations.

Several current and former Trump aides said they were especially concerned about Mr. Kasowitz’s unqualified assertion that the president had “never told Mr. Comey, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,’” as Mr. Comey said on Thursday.

“I can’t believe they are worried about public opinion on a day like this, when Comey set so many perjury traps for them,” said Jennifer Palmieri, a veteran Democratic operative who served as Mrs. Clinton’s communications director during the 2016 campaign.

Is Kasowitz walking straight into the traps?

I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know. I’ll be interested to find out.



Behind closed doors

Jun 9th, 2017 9:39 am | By

The Times reported yesterday that Trump is feeling all happy and fighty about the Comey hearing.

President Trump dipped in and out of the small dining room off the Oval Office on Thursday to monitor a television as James B. Comey, the ousted F.B.I. director, told a tortured tale — and to insist to his huddled legal team, “I was right.”

Many Democrats and some legal analysts predicted big trouble for the president after Mr. Comey’s blow-by-blow description to the Senate Intelligence Committee of Mr. Trump’s efforts to steer the investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, behavior they think amounted to obstruction of justice.

But Mr. Trump and many of his aides believe that Mr. Comey’s unexpected admission that he leaked details of private Oval Office discussions to the news media, along with questions he raised about the conduct of Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama’s second attorney general, has given them fresh ammunition for a political counterattack that Mr. Trump badly wants to wage.

Set aside the Loretta Lynch part. I’m interested in the other one. I’m interested in this “admission that he leaked details of private Oval Office discussions to the news media.” How is it an admission? How is it leaking? How were the details private?

Trump forced Comey into those “private” discussions.

First he sprang a surprise same-day dinner invitation on him, by calling him at lunchtime and saying “Are you free for dinner?” Comey didn’t feel able to decline. Trump also tricked him by not saying it would be just the two of them. Comey did not willingly and cheerfully agree to a private dinner with Trump in January.

And then he forced a private Oval Office discussion on him by telling everyone but Comey to leave after a meeting. Comey in no way consented to the privacy of that discussion, and later implored the Attorney General never to let it happen again.

So how does Comey have any obligation to keep those forcibly-private discussions private? It doesn’t work that way. If you kidnap someone, you don’t get any expectation of “privacy” for your shared discussions.

And another thing. Does that sound at all familiar, that invitation to dinner that the underling doesn’t feel able to decline? Does it sound at all like generations of male bosses who invite the female underling for a drink after work? Does it sound at all like priests who get that one choirboy to stay behind after the others have gone home?

The fact that Trump made his Oval Office conversation with Comey private is the very thing Comey cited as the chief reason for taking Trump’s “I hope” as a directive, even though he agreed to RubioRisch’s point that Trump didn’t say “I order you to drop the investigation.” The privacy itself is a smoking gun. It could be a bit stupid for Trump and his people to make a big fuss about the “private” Oval Office discussions that Comey never wanted to have.

Privacy has been a wall concealing abuse of children and women since forever. Mustn’t betray the family secrets! Must be loyal! An exhibitionist narcissist like Trump has only one use for privacy, and that’s nothing to do with executive privilege.



Meet the DUP

Jun 9th, 2017 8:39 am | By

Adam Ramsay at Open Democracy guesses people might want to know more about the DUP along about now.

The Democratic Unionist Party now look like the Tories preferred coalition partners. The DUP, which is the biggest Unionist (ie pro-UK) party in Northern Ireland, are often treated as though they are just the same as the other Unionist party they have essentially replaced – the Ulster Unionists. But while the UUP have a long running relationship with the Tories, and are a centre right party, the DUP are another thing entirely. The idea that they are near power in Westminster should worry us all. Here are some things you need to know.

Theresa May’s new partners in government have strong historical links with Loyalist paramilitary groups. Specifically, the terrorist group Ulster Resistancewas founded by a collection of people who went on to be prominent DUP politicians. Peter Robinson, for example, who was DUP leader and Northern Ireland’s first minister until last year, was an active member of Ulster Resistance. The group’s activities included collaborating with other terrorist groups including the Ulster Volunteer Force, to smuggle arms into the UK, such as RPG rocket launchers.

Of course, Northern Ireland has moved towards peace, and the DUP, like their opponents in Sinn Fein, have rescinded violence. As part of that normalisation, the fact that parties which include people who have rescinded violence can be brought into the democratic process is a good thing. But for the Tories to end an election campaign which they spent attacking Corbyn for his alleged links to former Northern Irish terrorists by going into coalition with a party founded by former Northern Irish terrorists would be a deep irony.

Kind of the presence of Steve Bannon in the White House.



Total and complete vindication

Jun 9th, 2017 7:44 am | By

He’s back, unimproved by his day off from the tweet-machine.

He accuses Comey of lies – he does, the guy who lies to our faces about stuff we’ve watched him do and say.

And it’s not “leaking” to share your own unclassified notes.

Yeah, great reporting by the most dishonest major “news” outlet we’ve got.

After that he retweeted Dershowitz:

Apparently he overlooked the bit about political sins, probably because he doesn’t understand the concept.



Repeal all the rules!

Jun 8th, 2017 5:20 pm | By

Meanwhile the House Republicans have done their bit to take us back to the fun roller coaster ride of 2008.

The House approved legislation on Thursday to erase a number of core financial regulations put in place by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, as Republicans moved a step closer to delivering on their promises to eliminate rules that they claim have strangled small businesses and stagnated the economy.

Because everything was so much better in 2008.

Apparently it’s not likely to pass the Senate though.

Yet the bill’s passage in the House, by 233 to 186, keeps alive the Republican Party’s dream of unwinding one of President Barack Obama’s signature accomplishments. The vote quickly drew the ire of Democrats who argued that Republicans were giving a handout to Wall Street while putting everyday investors at risk.

The bill has maintained a low profile compared with Republican plans on health care and taxes, but rolling back Dodd-Frank represents a major part of the Republican agenda. The Trump administration hopes that by unshackling businesses from burdensome regulations, renegotiating trade deals and cutting tax rates, it can help the economy grow faster and well-paying jobs will become more plentiful.

Because that worked so well in the years just before the crash. If we can do that and then jump off just before the crash – we’ll survive and everything will be awesome.

“Ultimately the Financial Choice Act is a jobs bill,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan said on the House floor on Thursday.

Or you could say it’s a bankruptcies bill,  a good bye life savings bill, a wow look at all these derelict houses bill. It’s a bill for people who look forward to paying off a mortgage on a house that is worth far less than the mortgage because the bottom dropped out.

In addition, the legislation would weaken the powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Under the proposed law, the president could fire the agency’s director at will and its oversight powers would be curbed.

The bill would also eliminate the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule, which requires brokers to act in the best interest of their clients when providing investment advice about retirement. The first parts of the rule are scheduled to go into effect on Friday. The rule was completed last spring under Mr. Obama after years of development.

Awesome. Less protection for consumers, more freedom for people who want to take all their cash. Why should brokers have to work in the best interest of their clients instead of stuffing their own pockets with cash? This is America!

On the floor of the House on Thursday, as Democrats in lock step expressed their opposition to the bill they have nicknamed the Wrong Choice, they argued that Republicans had forgotten the lessons of the 2008 financial crisis.

“These are not the choices that the American people want,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, the minority leader. “House Republicans are feeding American families to the wolves on Wall Street.”

Oh well. The next crash is probably ten years off, so why worry about it?



It was a suggestion

Jun 8th, 2017 4:43 pm | By

The Times is understandably proud of the part it played.

James B. Comey, the recently fired F.B.I. director, said Thursday in an extraordinary Senate hearing that he believed that President Trump had clearly tried to derail an F.B.I. investigation into his former national security adviser and that the president had lied and defamed him.

Mr. Comey, no longer constrained by the formalities of a government job, offered a blunt, plain-spoken assessment of a president whose conversations unnerved him from the day they met, weeks before Mr. Trump took office. His testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee provided an unflattering back story to his abrupt dismissal and squarely raised the question of whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct justice.

Answering that falls to the Justice Department special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. Comey revealed that he gave all of the memos he wrote on his interactions with the president to Mr. Mueller’s investigators, the first suggestion that prosecutors would investigate Mr. Comey’s firing last month.

The first suggestion? I thought everyone had been suggesting that from the second the news of the firing came out. How could they not investigate that? Especially after Trump so artlessly confided to a journalist that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation.

Republicans who came to Mr. Trump’s defense argued that he had been making a suggestion, not ordering Mr. Comey to drop the investigation into the former adviser, Michael T. Flynn. Mr. Comey demurred on whether the president’s actions had amounted to a felony, but said the intent was clear: “I took it as a direction.” If Mr. Trump had had his way, Mr. Comey said, “We would have dropped an open criminal investigation.”

Sure, just a suggestion, one that Comey was entirely at liberty to take or to ignore. The fact that he didn’t take it and was fired weeks later is neither here nor there.

In the month since he fired Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump has faced a crush of damaging news stories about the nature of their private conversations. During his testimony on Thursday, Mr. Comey revealed that he had helped feed that coverage.

Two days after Mr. Comey was ousted, The New York Times reported that Mr. Trump had asked him to pledge loyalty to him. The president then tweeted that Mr. Comey had “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’” of their meetings.

That post inspired Mr. Comey, who responded by allowing a friend to read portions of a memo about his interactions with the president to The Times. Mr. Comey said Thursday that he had hoped to spur the appointment of a special counsel. He succeeded. A day after The Times revealed the contents of that memo, which described the conversation about Mr. Flynn, the Justice Department appointed Mr. Mueller to take over the investigation.

That’s the Times taking a bow. Fair enough.



A glimmer of hope

Jun 8th, 2017 4:21 pm | By

Oh look, the Tories may lose their majority.

Following a tumultuous, unpredictable snap election, Prime Minister Theresa May, a Conservative, appeared on the verge of losing her overall parliamentary majority, according to a national exit poll released just after voting ended on Thursday night.

If confirmed by the actual vote count, the result would be a major setback for Mrs. May. She called this election three years early, expecting to cruise to a smashing victory that would win her a mandate to see Britain through the long and difficult negotiations with the European Union about withdrawing from the bloc.

According to the exit poll, Mrs. May may have lost the extraordinary gamble she made in calling the election — and Britain may be headed for a hung Parliament, in which no party has a majority.

The Guardian’s live update:

Labour is starting to feel more confident about the exit poll. It has just put out this statement, from a spokesperson.

If this poll turns out to be anywhere near accurate, it would be an extraordinary result. Labour would have come from a long way back to dash the hopes of a Tory landslide.

There’s never been such a turnaround in a course of a campaign. It looks like the Tories have been punished for taking the British people for granted.

Labour has run a positive and honest campaign – we haven’t engaged in smears or personal attacks.

Labour’s poll standing and Jeremy Corbyn’s standing surged as people were able to hear our message, policies and Jeremy directly.

Labour poured energy and resources into voter registration – and an extra 3 million people registered in the five weeks between the election being called and the deadline.

It looks like their voice has been heard.

Better than a complete Tory shellacking.