Notes and Comment Blog

Permission is one thing, a right is another

Mar 1st, 2019 5:02 pm | By

Wait, what are we saying here?

Does he? Does Trump have “an absolute right” (Conway’s term) to launch a nuclear attack? No matter what? According to whom?

No he doesn’t. He doesn’t have a “right” to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack on, say, Kenya, just because he feels like it or is grumpy or wants to distract people long enough for him to escape.

It may be that US rules are written in such a way that he is technically permitted to launch a nuclear attack [end of story, no further specific required], but that doesn’t translate to a “right.” The US president isn’t king of the planet, and no he does not have a “right” to drop nukes any time he feels like it. It’s not just that it’s not a wise idea, it’s that the Allies hanged people at Nuremberg for less. It would be a gross crime against humanity and he does not have anything that can be called a “right” to do it.

The tide may be turning

Mar 1st, 2019 3:32 pm | By

I feel that my life thus far has not been sufficiently devoted to paying attention to Mark Meadows. I hope to do better.

Kashana Cauley wrote about his dramatic tantrum at the Cohen hearing in the Times:

“You and I,” he said to Representative Elijah Cummings, the Oversight Committee chairman, who is black, “have a personal relationship that isn’t based on color.” He insisted that he couldn’t be racist because he had nieces and nephews of color.

It was a performance that he’s clearly hoping will win him one of next year’s Oscars. He defended his record on race, so we should cast aside that time in 2012 when he embraced the racist birtherism theory to his supporters by saying that “2012 is the time we’re going to send Mr. Obama back home to Kenya or wherever it is.”

Is that something people commonly say about white presidents or senators or representatives? Do people talk about sending the senator back to Ireland or Germany or Cornwall? Not a lot. No, the whole “Kenya hurrhurr” thing was always intensely racist, and Mark Meadows is a revolting hypocrite for putting on that display.

Mr. Meadows threw a fit during a hearing where Mr. Cohen claimed the president had said black people were too stupid to vote for him and had called African nations “shithole” countries. There was actual proof of Mr. Trump’s racism on offer, and Mr. Meadows chose to flip out about an accusation instead. It appears that to him, accusations of racism are more dangerous than racist acts themselves.

Priorities. He’s showing us what his are.

Mr. Meadows’s hissy fit and Ms. Tlaib’s words feel like a microcosm of where we are right now in America on race. The tide may be turning. The increased visibility of people of color in all sectors, including Congress, and the fearlessness of people of color to speak out about racism are moving us forward.

It’s all too easy, given the past demographic and ideological makeup of Congress, to picture a version of yesterday’s hearing where there was no Rashida Tlaib there to remind us that racist acts outweigh accusations of racism.

Where no woman of color stood up against a white man’s insistence on trying to distract us from evidence of racist acts by focusing on his hurt feelings.

Mr. Cummings, in his closing remarks, said that he thought America was “better than this,” a statement that referred to Mr. Trump’s alleged crimes. But it could have also been applied to Mr. Meadows’s belief that accusations of racism are worse than the real thing.

As a country, are we better than this? Yes — Rashida Tlaib showed us that we can be.

Yep. Rock on.

Nice little community theater you got here

Mar 1st, 2019 2:41 pm | By

What bullshit is this?!

From Massachusetts to Utah, small community theater productions of To Kill a Mockingbird are being shut down under threat of a lawsuit by the producer of the new Broadway production.

It doesn’t matter that the new version, penned by Aaron Sorkin, is completely different from the Christopher Sergel play that’s been performed by high school students and community theater actors for decades. Nor does it matter that the community theaters paid a licensing fee of at least $100 per performance to the Dramatic Publishing Company, which owns the rights to the earlier version of the play.

What matters, lawyers for Broadway producer Scott Rudin say, is that according to the contract between Dramatic and the Harper Lee estate, most amateur performances can’t proceed now that a new version of the story is on Broadway.

That 1969 contract, according to The Times, blocks Mockingbird performances within 25 miles of cities that had a population of 150,000 or more in 1960 while a “first-class dramatic play” based on the book is playing in New York or on tour.

Gee. Are people allowed to read the novel within 25 miles of cities that had a population of 150,000 or more in 1960? Are enforcers with To Kill a Mockingbird-radar combing the environs of every sizable city in the country even as we speak?

It’s not just community theaters in the U.S. that have been forced to shut down their productions. Last month a touring version of the Sergel play, set to run in the U.K. and Ireland, was canceled after being faced with legal threats.

Rudin “made it clear” that his company “would commence legal proceedings against the tour’s producer, originating theatre and all venues where it was due to be presented if the tour were not cancelled with immediate effect,” the tour’s producers said in a statement, according to Playbill.

The show must go on! Unless it’s competition.

Statement on pronouns

Mar 1st, 2019 2:23 pm | By

I saw this the other day but didn’t get around to it.

We will work with E. J. Levy to publish her novel with sensitivity to the issues that have been raised, including the use of the proper pronouns to describe Dr. Barry’s embodiment.

The “proper pronouns” forsooth – they might as well be obeying a demand for submission from the god-emperor. Use the proper pronouns or it’s ten years in the slammer for lèse-majesté.

It’s interesting to think about how many novels there have been in which women are portrayed as evil schemers, bloodsucking sex fiends, stupid empty dependents, silly vain dolls, barely perceptible nonentities…yet have women ever once been able to pressure a publisher into telling an author to do a better job with the female characters? Maybe some female editors have, but groups of women outsiders forming pressure groups? Not that I’ve ever heard of; do let me know if I’m wrong.

Totally fine

Mar 1st, 2019 11:01 am | By



Yes, that’s a male body in the middle.

Still, the case dragged on

Mar 1st, 2019 10:14 am | By

CREW re-upped this yesterday.

Oh yes, I remember that. I blogged it the day it appeared. Remember the exciting new development overlooking the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, where you could pay a huge price to buy a hotel room that you could occupy a maximum of 120 days a year? And the DA, Cyrus Vance, dropped the case?

In 2010, when the Major Economic Crimes Bureau of the D.A.’s office opened an investigation of the siblings, the Trump Organization had hired several top New York criminal-defense lawyers to represent Donald, Jr., and Ivanka. These attorneys had met with prosecutors in the bureau several times. They conceded that their clients had made exaggerated claims, but argued that the overstatements didn’t amount to criminal misconduct. Still, the case dragged on. In a meeting with the defense team, Donald Trump, Sr., expressed frustration that the investigation had not been closed. Soon after, his longtime personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, entered the case.

Kasowitz, who by then had been the elder Donald Trump’s attorney for a decade, is primarily a civil litigator, with little experience in criminal matters. But, in 2012, Kasowitz donated twenty-five thousand dollars to the reëlection campaign of the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, Jr., making Kasowitz one of Vance’s largest donors. Kasowitz decided to bypass the lower-level prosecutors and went directly to Vance to ask that the investigation be dropped.

On May 16, 2012, Kasowitz visited Vance’s office at One Hogan Place, in downtown Manhattan—a faded edifice made famous by the television show “Law & Order.” Dan Alonso, the Chief Assistant District Attorney, and Adam Kaufmann, the chief of the investigative division, were also at the meeting, but no one from the Major Economic Crimes Bureau attended. Kasowitz did not introduce any new arguments or facts during his session. He simply repeated the arguments that the other defense lawyers had been making for months.

Ultimately, Vance overruled his own prosecutors. Three months after the meeting, he told them to drop the case. Kasowitz subsequently boasted to colleagues about representing the Trump children, according to two people. He said that the case was “really dangerous,” one person said, and that it was “amazing I got them off.” (Kasowitz denied making such a statement.)

Vance defended his decision. “I did not at the time believe beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime had been committed,” he told us. “I had to make a call and I made the call, and I think I made the right call.”

Just before the 2012 meeting, Vance’s campaign had returned Kasowitz’s twenty-five-thousand-dollar contribution, in keeping with what Vance describes as standard practice when a donor has a case before his office. Kasowitz “had no influence, and his contributions had no influence whatsoever on my decision-making in the case,” Vance said.

But, less than six months after the D.A.’s office dropped the case, Kasowitz made an even larger donation to Vance’s campaign, and helped raise more from others—eventually, a total of more than fifty thousand dollars. After being asked about these donations as part of the reporting for this article—more than four years after the fact—Vance said he now plans to give back Kasowitz’s second contribution, too. “I don’t want the money to be a millstone around anybody’s neck, including the office’s,” he said.

So there’s that.

America’s exceptionally low social mobility

Mar 1st, 2019 9:02 am | By

Paul Krugman gives himself a break from thinking about Trump to think about the Trump Princess.

You see, recently she said something that would have been remarkable coming from any Republican, but was truly awesome coming from the Daughter in Chief.

The subject under discussion was the proposal, part of the Green New Deal, that the government offer a jobs guarantee. Ms. Trump trashed the notion, claiming that Americans “want to work for what they get,” that they want to live in a country “where there is the potential for upward mobility.”

O.K., this was world-class lack of self-awareness: It doesn’t get much better than being lectured on self-reliance by an heiress whose business strategy involves trading on her father’s name.

Right? What real work has Princess Ivanka ever done? Mincing around the landscape looking like a Barbie doll doesn’t count.

But Krugman’s point is that the upward mobility thing is bullshit; we have less of it than the other developed countries, not more. This comes as zero surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the ever-growing gulf between rich and poor here.

America’s exceptionally low social mobility is distinct from its exceptionally high income inequality, although these are almost surely related. Among advanced countries, there is a strong negative correlation between inequality and mobility, sometimes referred to as the “Great Gatsby curve.” This makes sense. After all, huge disparities in parents’ income tend to translate into large disparities in children’s opportunities.

Witness the Trump and Kushner offspring, talentless dweebs to a person.

Where do people from poor or modest backgrounds have the best chance of getting ahead? The answer is that Scandinavia leads the rankings, although Canada also does well. And here’s the thing: The Nordic countries don’t just have low inequality, they also have much bigger governments, much more extensive social safety nets, than we do. In other words, they have what Republicans denounce as “socialism” (it really isn’t, but never mind).

What does that translate to? Universal health care, better schools, more public housing. What does that help foster? New generations who get decent schooling and a safe place to do homework and get enough sleep. You do the math.

Easy for him

Mar 1st, 2019 8:37 am | By

News out of Missouri:

The Missouri House of Representatives voted 117-39 Wednesday to approve a bill that would effectively ban abortions in Missouri except for medical emergencies.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is usually around six weeks of pregnancy.

The legislation, sponsored by someone who will never, under any circumstance, be forced to undergo 9 months of increasing physical strain and then hours of trauma, to force people of the sex he is not to undergo 9 months of increasing physical strain and then hours of trauma. A man sponsored legislation that would (if passed) force women to suffer pregnancy and then childbirth against their wills. That’s what this legislation does: it forces women to suffer trauma they don’t want.

Supporters of the legislation called it the “strongest pro-life bill in the country” at a time when Missouri has only one abortion provider.

“I think here in Missouri, we know that life is precious. We want to give women, men, young people the choice: the choice to live,” Schroer said.

Women? No. They are not giving women the choice. They are hoping to force women to continue pregnancies that they don’t want.

“So no special treatment”

Mar 1st, 2019 7:59 am | By

Stone cold liar.

Girl privilege

Feb 28th, 2019 5:26 pm | By

Via Acolyte of Sagan, a hideous crime in Argentina:

An 11-year old girl who became pregnant after being raped was forced to give birth after Argentine authorities refused to allow her the abortion to which she was entitled.

11. She’s 11. ELEVEN.

The authorities ignored repeated requests for an abortion from the child, called “Lucía” to protect her identity, as well as her mother and a number of Argentine women’s right activists. After 23 weeks of pregnancy, she had to undergo a caesarean section on Tuesday. The baby is unlikely to survive.

They wouldn’t let her end the pregnancy that was criminally forced on her, then they ripped her open. In other words the rapist raped her and then the authorities committed GBH on her.

Lucía told the psychologist at the hospital to which she was admitted after two suicide attempts: “I want you to remove what the old man put inside me.”

Lucía, the youngest of three sisters, became pregnant after she was abused by her grandmother’s 65-year-old partner. She was placed under her grandmother’s care in 2015, after her two older sisters were reportedly abused by her mother’s partner.

So I guess the authorities felt her life hadn’t been shit enough yet, and they needed to make it much more so.

Just give him the damn secrets already

Feb 28th, 2019 5:09 pm | By

No surprise, but still horrifying. The (non-)mystery of Prince Jared’s security clearance is solved:

President Trump ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer, four people briefed on the matter said.

Sure, that’s fine – that scummy little weasel of a real estate hustler can’t possibly do any harm with access to top-secret intelligence, any more than his wife’s father can do any harm with access to top-secret intelligence and nuclear weapons.

Mr. Trump’s decision in May so troubled senior administration officials that at least one, the White House chief of staff at the time, John F. Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been “ordered” to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance.

The White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, also wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that had been raised about Mr. Kushner — including by the C.I.A. — and how Mr. McGahn had recommended that he not be given a top-secret clearance.

Yeah great. They wrote memos. That’ll fix everything.

Trump lied to the Times about it last month. Of course he did.

Kushner’s lawyer lied about it. Princess Ivanka lied about it.

Asked on Thursday about the memos contradicting the president’s account, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said, “We don’t comment on security clearances.”

We hand them out to criminals and gangsters, and we lie to anyone who asks us about it, but we don’t comment. Peasants.

Mr. Kushner has spent this week abroad working on a Middle East peace plan. Among his meetings was one with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

He’s not qualified to be “working on a Middle East peace plan.” He’s a crooked little weasel with no relevant education or training or experience. He should be selling cheap condos in Pierre, South Dakota.

Miscellany Room 2

Feb 28th, 2019 4:45 pm | By

Not actually new; just tweaking the date.

Time for a new one.

An item or two I want to look into further.

Okay four. We live in interesting times.

Another tool in the fight against human trafficking

Feb 28th, 2019 2:15 pm | By

Another clash between people who oppose the buying and selling of women and people who favor it:

A London sex-work researcher is adding her voice to the growing dismay over the police decision to begin releasing the names of men accused of buying sex, as a petition demanding police reverse the policy is launched.

Chief John Pare announced the new policy at last week’s police board meeting, touting the move as another tool in the fight against human trafficking.

The change was championed by the London Abused Women’s Centre and others advocating for an end to prostitution, but it drew a swift backlash from organizations representing sex workers and their allies advocating for the continuation of prostitution.

“I don’t know how the decision was made. It is a perfect illustration of ignoring research in favour of moralizing,” said Treena Orchard, a health studies researcher at Western University.

Moralizing? It’s moralizing to work to prevent trafficking? It’s worth sneering at those efforts in order to make sure prostitution remains a job option?

Experts have identified London as a hub for human trafficking — defined as the exploitation of people for profit through force, fraud or coercion — because of its location along Highway 401 between Toronto and the U.S. border.

Tut, more moralizing.


Nearly 10 thousand people are talking about this

Feb 28th, 2019 2:00 pm | By


Interesting, but full of holes. “Gaetz was heard” by whom? Where was this? Would Gaetz really exchange criminal chitchat with Trump in the presence of witnesses? How does Dovere know it was Trump? How does whoever heard what Gaetz said know it was Trump?


Keep the grades a secret

Feb 28th, 2019 1:21 pm | By

Also threatened were

Leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump directed his personal attorney at the time to threaten legal action against the colleges and high school he attended if they publicly released his grades or standardized test scores, the attorney, Michael Cohen, told Congress on Wednesday.

“When I say conman, I’m talking about a man who declares himself brilliant but directed me to threaten his high school, his colleges and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores,” he said.

Somehow I always kind of suspected the “brilliant” part was shaky.

In support of his testimony, Cohen provided a May 2015 letter he penned to the president of Fordham University, the New York school Trump attended for two years in the 1960s before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania.

The letter warns that media outlets had requested Trump’s records but were denied by his legal team. Cohen reminded the school that Trump’s student records were protected by federal law, and he threatened to hold the school liable “to the fullest extent of the law” if the university released them.

Cohen emphasized that violating Trump’s confidentiality could result in “both criminal and civil liability and damages including, among other things, substantial fines, penalties and even the potential loss of government aid and other funding. This criminality will lead to jail time.”

The laws are real and Trump’s grades have never been released.

Now, this is Trump. If his grades were impressive, they’d be out there. What are we to conclude? That he’s every bit as thick as he appears to be, which is thick as two short planks.

Cohen said in his testimony that “the irony wasn’t lost on me” that Trump in 2011 criticized President Barack Obama for not releasing his records. He attached to his testimony an Associated Press story that quotes Trump as saying, “How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard? I’m thinking about it, I’m certainly looking into it. Let him show his records.”

Whatever the wizardry was, it didn’t get Trump into Columbia and Harvard.

No idea, he had no idea

Feb 28th, 2019 12:53 pm | By

Trump explains why he takes Kim’s word for it that he had no idea anyone was being harsh to Otto Warmbier.

Chris Cillizza has doubts:

Trump said this of Warmbier and North Korea: “He tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word.” Trump added that Kim “felt badly about it. He felt very badly.”

Trump is, apparently, taking the word of a brutal dictator who had his half-brother murdered with nerve gas at an airport and who continues to live a posh lifestyle while his country suffers the effects of staggering economic sanctions? The guy who North Korean media says began driving a car at age 3, helped cure Ebola and can control the weather? We’re going to believe THAT guy???

On its face, Kim’s claim that he was unaware of Warmbier’s arrest and treatment is beyond laughable. Kim rules North Korea with an iron fist. He wouldn’t know that an American college student had been arrested in his country? He would miss how Warmbier’s arrest and incarceration became a massive national and international story? And at no time in the 18 months Warmbier was held would anyone in Kim’s government ever see fit to mention that they were holding an American prisoner?

The questions answer themselves.

Francis’s efforts to get a grip on sexual abuse

Feb 28th, 2019 12:23 pm | By

Michael Cohen kept me from other things yesterday, so now: Cardinal Pell found guilty.

Of what?

Raping children.

Cardinal George Pell, once the third most powerful man in the Vatican and Australia’s most senior Catholic, has been found guilty of child sexual abuse after a trial in Melbourne.

Pell, who is on leave from his role in Rome as Vatican treasurer, was found guilty of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16 as well as four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16. The offences occurred in December 1996 and early 1997 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, months after Pell was inaugurated as archbishop of Melbourne.

Pope Francis, who has previously praised Pell for his honesty and response to child sexual abuse, has yet to publicly react, but just two days after the unreported verdict in December the Vatican announced that Pell and two other cardinals had been removed from the pontiff’s council of advisers.

Pell’s conviction and likely imprisonment will cause shockwaves through a global Catholic congregation and is a blow to Francis’s efforts to get a grip on sexual abuse.

It comes just days after an unprecedented summit of cardinals and senior bishops in the presence of the pope at the Vatican, intended to signal a turning point on the issue that has gravely damaged the church and imperilled Francis’s papacy.

Well, if they will insist on claiming to be representatives of Mister God, raping children isn’t a good look on them.

H/t Rob

But there is a study!

Feb 28th, 2019 11:40 am | By

Rod Liddle congratulates the men winning women’s competitions:

Already a Democratic party representative, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, is insisting that the US powerlifting tournaments allow transgender women to compete, so that people who look very much like Geoff Capes, and have the same chromosomes as Geoff Capes, and the same bone structure and musculature, can compete against women. Meanwhile, the fastest female college sprinter in the US is CeCe Telfer, who, once again, is not what you or I or science would call a lady, and one of the world champions in women’s cycling is a chap called Rachel McKinnon, whom I have mentioned here before.

Those who support the rights of transgender women to compete in women’s sports often cite the only piece of research done on the issue which ‘proves’ that it is a myth that transgender women have an advantage over normal women. This study was published in 2015 and is cited every time the issue arises — but I have one or two problems with it, to tell you the truth. First, it concerned a total of just eight athletes, which is a smallish sample (no control group, either). Second, it was not carried out by a qualified geneticist or social scientist, but by a ‘medical physicist’ by the name of Joanna Harper. And third, Joanna Harper, once an athlete herself, was, um, how can I put this, not always called Joanna. She was raised as a boy and transitioned to being a fairly fast lady in her thirties. So she has skin in the game and we might surmise that she, or he, set out to prove a thesis, rather than, in good Popperian practice, trying to disprove it.

Other than that

The chronic ward of the prion disease

Feb 28th, 2019 11:17 am | By

Charles Pierce is blistering about the Republicans’ performance in that hearing yesterday.

Not one Republican asked a question about the specific offenses that Cohen had illuminated in his opening statement.

Why is that? I suppose because they don’t doubt any of it? But then why do they continue to support him? Because it’s worth it to them to stick it to women, stick it to the poor, stick it to brown immigrants, stick it to people of color generally.

And everybody kept yielding time to the egregious ranking Republican member, Jim Jordan of Ohio, or to Jordan’s fellow Freedom Caucasian, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, and those two jamokes couldn’t get out of their own way.

Jordan insisted that some dark—Dare he say, Clintonian?—forces were behind Cohen’s testimony, using the name of Lanny Davis, the old Clinton hand who is Cohen’s attorney, as a conjuring word. Jordan expressed surprise that Cohen might have consulted with the chairmen of other committees before which he might testify. He got so insufferable that Steve Lynch, Democrat of Massachusetts, went all Southie on Jordan’s mug, running through a litany of people connected with the Trump campaign and/or the administration* who have been arrested, indicted, convicted, or copped a plea.

Crime isn’t crime unless it happens in Chicago.

This was a vivid look into the chronic ward of the prion disease that has eaten away the higher functions of American conservatism—and, thus, those of the Republican Party as well—since Ronald Reagan first served up the monkey brains almost 40 years ago. These are the complete creatures of the talk-show culture, the perfect products of two and three generations of gerrymandered in-breeding. These are the monsters from inside The Bubble.

And the gerrymandering continues, so they will only get worse.

It turns out…

Feb 28th, 2019 8:16 am | By

A theme emerges.