Notes and Comment Blog

Discriminate more

Sep 9th, 2016 10:58 am | By

Facebook v Norway, part 2.

Facebook has deleted a post by the Norwegian prime minister in an escalating row over the website’s decision to remove content featuring the Pulitzer-prize winning “napalm girl” photograph from the Vietnam war.

One doesn’t know whether to laugh or swear or question one’s grip on reality.

Erna Solberg, the Conservative prime minister, called on Facebook to “review its editing policy” after it deleted her post voicing support for a Norwegian newspaper that had fallen foul of the social media giant’s guidelines.

Solberg was one of a string of Norwegian politicians who shared the iconic image after Facebook deleted a post from Tom Egeland, a writer who had included the Nick Ut picture as one of seven photographs he said had “changed the history of warfare”.

But Facebook’s algorithm doesn’t take any crap from Scandinavian prime ministers.

In her intervention on Friday, the Norwegian prime minister wrote that the photograph, entitled The Terror of War and featuring the naked nine-year-old Kim Phúc running away from a napalm attack, had “shaped world history”.

Solberg added: “I appreciate the work Facebook and other media do to stop content and pictures showing abuse and violence … But Facebook is wrong when they censor such images.”

The Guardian asked her what she thought of Facebook’s deletion of her post. She said, probably sardonically, at least we have to give them credit for not discriminating. Yes it’s very egalitarian, but on the other hand not discriminating between child porn and the photo of Kim Phúc is not the right kind of non-discrimination.

Now I have to go post that photo on Facebook.

Hansen v Zuckerberg

Sep 9th, 2016 10:21 am | By

Oh, Zuckerberg.

The Guardian headline: Mark Zuckerberg accused of abusing power after Facebook deletes ‘napalm girl’ post

Yes that sounds like Facebook. Remember the time there was that group posting photos of an allegedly gay man being burned alive, and Facebook kept telling us (and many others) it didn’t violate Facebook’s community standards? But it’s well known that photos of women nursing infants do violate those standards.

Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco reports:

Norway’s largest newspaper has published a front-page open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, lambasting the company’s decision to censor a historic photograph of the Vietnam war and calling on Zuckerberg to recognize and live up to his role as “the world’s most powerful editor”.

Espen Egil Hansen, the editor-in-chief and CEO of Aftenposten, accused Zuckerberg of thoughtlessly “abusing your power” over the social media site that has become a lynchpin of the distribution of news and information around the world, writing, “I am upset, disappointed – well, in fact even afraid – of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society.”

“I am worried that the world’s most important medium is limiting freedom instead of trying to extend it, and that this occasionally happens in an authoritarian way,” he added.

The controversy stems from Facebook’s decision to delete a post by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland that featured The Terror of War, a Pulitzer prize-winning photograph by Nick Ut that showed children – including the naked 9-year-old Kim Phúc – running away from a napalm attack during the Vietnam war. Egeland’s post discussed “seven photographs that changed the history of warfare” – a group to which the “napalm girl” image certainly belongs.

You know the photo of course.

The historic photo from the Vietnam war that was censored.

Nick Ut/AP

But it gets worse.

Egeland was subsequently suspended from Facebook. When Aftenposten reported on the suspension – using the same photograph in its article, which was then shared on the publication’s Facebook page – the newspaper received a message from Facebook asking it to “either remove or pixelize” the photograph.

You know someone who gets suspended from Facebook regularly? Meaning often? Maryam, that’s who. Maryam Namazie, human rights activist.

In his open letter, Hansen points out that Facebook’s decision to delete the photograph reveals a troubling inability to “distinguish between child pornography and famous war photographs”, as well as an unwillingness to “allow[ing] space for good judgement”.

“Even though I am editor-in-chief of Norway’s largest newspaper, I have to realize that you are restricting my room for exercising my editorial responsibility,” he wrote. “I think you are abusing your power, and I find it hard to believe that you have thought it through thoroughly.”

Hansen goes on to argue that rather than fulfill its mission statement to “make the world more open and connected”, such editorial decisions “will simply promote stupidity and fail to bring human beings closer to each other”.

In his open letter, Hansen points out that the types of decision Facebook makes about what kind of content is promoted, tolerated, or banned – whether it makes those decisions algorithmically or not – are functionally editorial.

“The media have a responsibility to consider publication in every single case,” he wrote. “This right and duty, which all editors in the world have, should not be undermined by algorithms encoded in your office in California.”

“Editors cannot live with you, Mark, as a master editor.”

Speaking in Rome last month, Zuckerberg addressed the question of Facebook’s role in the news media and appeared to downplay his editorial responsibilities.

“We are a tech company, not a media company,” he said. “The world needs news companies, but also technology platforms, like what we do, and we take our role in this very seriously.”

Yes, Facebook is a platform, not a “media company” – it aggregates and shares content as opposed to creating it. But that’s still an editorial thing to do, and they do edit, so they need to edit well instead of badly.

The outrage one might expect

Sep 8th, 2016 6:09 pm | By

Siri Hustvedt on the subtle (I don’t think it’s all that subtle myself) misogyny of Matt Lauer’s performance in those back to back “interviews” with Clinton and Trump.

I am interested in the far more subtle variation of the misogyny illness, the one that lurks behind phrases such as “even-handed” and “fair-minded,” that low-grade fever that caused Matt Lauer to continually interrupt Hillary Clinton’s sharp, specific answers to his questions in the Commander in Chief Forum on NBC (thank god Clinton stood up and ignored him), and which also prompted him to allow Donald Trump to ramble on in incoherent sentence fragments about secret plans for defeating ISIS in thirty days, as if such nonsense were serious political discourse. Would our “fair-minded” journalist have treated a male candidate the way he treated Hillary Clinton? I ask you to search your souls, men and women alike. My answer is no.

And isn’t it interesting that after all these decades of talking about this shit, professional media types like Matt Lauer (who is paid 20 million dollars a year for his professionalism) still don’t bother to watch for that kind of thing, and correct it? It’s certainly interesting to me.

It fascinates me that although few Democrats would deny that deep-seated prejudices against women exist in our culture, the sexism that has dogged Hillary Clinton her entire career, the absurd scrutiny of her hair and clothing and cleavage, has not elicited the outrage one might expect in the popular media, despite the fact that feminist sites on the Internet have kept a scrupulous record of the ongoing petty assaults on Secretary Clinton. Matt Lauer has done the country a service, and I thank him for it. Interrupting women, treating them with condescension and disdain are symptoms of the low-grade infection caused by the virus that has afflicted millions of people in the United States, and not only in red states. Watching it play out on national television caused countless women and men to express justifiable fury. There is no pill for the virus. What is required of every one of us is self-examination and a high degree of reflective consciousness about who we are as citizens of the United States and who we want to be in the future.

But this is the United States in which Donald Trump is a candidate for president. We’re doomed.

You have to call the guy a liar

Sep 8th, 2016 5:22 pm | By

Apparently the news media are determined to help Trump win.

The NBC presidential forum on Wednesday night in Manhattan brought together the candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump to try to determine who has the strength, preparation and presence of mind to lead during a time of crisis.

It sure wasn’t Matt Lauer.

I’m not familiar with Matt Lauer. Apparently he’s on one of those morning tv chatter shows. Why get someone like that to interview candidates for president? Shouldn’t it be a journalist, or even an academic, rather than a chat show host?

Mr. Lauer interviewed the candidates in turn for a half-hour each. He began by asking Mrs. Clinton to defend her use of a private email server as Secretary of State. And asking again. And again.

Roughly a third of his questioning dealt with the emails — a matter certainly connected to national security, but also a staple issue of this year’s campaign-trail reporting. It suggested, as the rest of the forum confirmed, that Mr. Lauer was steadiest handling issues familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of the morning politics headlines.

That emphasis left relatively little time for the forum’s foreign-policy and military subjects. Mr. Lauer and the audience asked about complex topics — the Middle East, terrorism, veterans’ affairs — and Mr. Lauer pressed for simple answers. “As briefly as you can,” he injected when an audience member asked how Mrs. Clinton would decide whether to deploy troops against the Islamic State.

That’s infuriating. The email issue isn’t that important and wasn’t really her fault to begin with, and it’s been covered endlessly. Trump on the other hand is an actual crook and fraud, and a liar and bully, and a cheat and a thief – and that hasn’t been covered anywhere near enough. But apparently the talk show host spent so much time on the email non-issue that he didn’t leave Clinton enough time to talk about the substance.

There’s a difference between an interviewer who has questions and one who has knowledge, and Mr. Lauer illustrated it. He seemed to be plowing through a checklist, not listening in the moment in a way that led to productive follow-ups. Short on time, he repeatedly interrupted Mrs. Clinton in a way he didn’t with Mr. Trump. (“Let me finish,” she protested at one point.)

He interrupted her but not Trump. Unbelievable.

Does this country know how to tie its own god damn shoes? Are determined to sleepwalk into fascism just for the fun of it?

Candidates should expect to be challenged. They’re applying for a challenging job. But where Mr. Lauer treated Mrs. Clinton like someone running for president, he treated Mr. Trump like someone running to figure out how to be president, eventually.

That interview was the apotheosis of this presidential campaign’s forced marriage of entertainment and news. The host of NBC’s morning show interviewed the former star of its reality show “The Apprentice,” and the whole thing played out as farce.

Why? Why? Why? Why are we doing it this way? What next – the hosts of America’s Got Talent?

Mr. Lauer’s questioning of Mr. Trump was like watching one student quiz another to prep for a test neither had done the reading for. The host asked soft open-ended questions that invited the candidate to answer with word clouds.

Mr. Lauer prefaced one question by saying that “nobody would expect you” to have read deeply into foreign policy before running for president. He asked Mr. Trump if he would be “prepared on Day 1,” a yes-or-no question that will elicit only one answer from any candidate not about to drop out.

Yeah good point – don’t worry about foreign policy, Donny! Plenty of time to study up on that when you’re sitting on the White House toilet.

Mr. Lauer, fortunately, is not going to moderate a presidential debate. But Fox News’s Chris Wallace is, and he recently said that he does not consider it his job to truth-squad candidates as a moderator. Let’s not mistake who this helps most: the fact-checking website PolitiFact has found far more false statements from Mr. Trump than from Mrs. Clinton.

Why would a journalist be allergic to verifying the truth? On an MSNBC panel, Chris Matthews guessed that Mr. Lauer didn’t correct Mr. Trump on Iraq because of perceptions. “You have to call the guy a liar when you do that,” he said. “That’s the difficult thing for a Matt Lauer to do, because it sounds like an opinion.”

But it’s not. When a candidate says he didn’t say something that he did, that’s a matter of fact. Here’s what an opinion looks like: It’s a travesty to be steamrolled by a candidate because you’re worried that doing your job will look bad.

To put it in military terms, weakness is an invitation to attack. Going into the debates, what we saw at NBC’s forum should make you very, very worried about our first line of defense.

I guess they want a fascist. A lying, thieving, cheating, racist, misogynist fascist – what could possibly go wrong?

Trump cheats people who work for him

Sep 8th, 2016 1:34 pm | By

Trump had a policy team in DC but it faded away because he refused to pay people. How presidential!

The Trump campaign built a large policy shop in Washington that has now largely melted away because of neglect, mismanagement and promises of pay that were never honored. Many of the team’s former members say the campaign leadership never took the Washington office seriously and let it wither away after squeezing it dry.

He cheats people. It’s what he does. He’s a crook and he cheats people.

Trump has never acknowledged the policy shop based in Washington that has been doing huge amounts of grunt work for months without recognition or compensation.

Since April, advisers never named in campaign press releases have been working in an Alexandria-based office, writing policy memos, organizing briefings, managing surrogates and placing op-eds. They put in long hours before and during the Republican National Convention to help the campaign look like a professional operation.

But then it collapsed in August, because promised checks never appeared. Trump stiffed them. He’s a crook who cheats people out of money he owes them because they worked for him.

Three former members, all of whom quit in August, told me that as early as April they were promised financial compensation but were later told that they would have to work as volunteers. They say the leaders of the shop, Rick Dearborn and John Mashburn, told many staffers that money was on the way but then were unable to deliver.

Trump cheated them.

The last straw for some came in early August, when the Washington policy shop held two marathon work sessions designed to plan out how to get Trump ready for the policy portions of the upcoming presidential debates. The Washington policy team came up with detailed plans about who would brief Trump on specific policy topics over the course of several weeks.

But after Dearborn worked his staff overtime to get the recommendations, the campaign leadership decided to go in a different direction. “The New York office realized that their candidate would not be receptive to that level of intense preparation,” one former adviser said.

No of course he wouldn’t. He has zero intellectual curiosity, so naturally he wouldn’t want serious briefings. He doesn’t want to know anything, he just wants to shout at audiences and get cheers in response.

The Trump campaign doesn’t appear to think policy depth is a required quality for a presidential candidate or a presidential campaign to succeed. That may prove to be right, but those who gave their time to work for Trump’s Washington shop didn’t know that upfront. They do now.

“If people are going to vote for Trump, it’s not going to be for policy. That’s not who Trump is; that’s not the campaign,” said one former adviser.

Of course it’s not. Trump is a reality tv personality, not a policy expert. He thinks of the presidency as the ultimate reality tv performance.

Every corner

Sep 8th, 2016 12:24 pm | By

Via a friend on Facebook

While other women are fair game for it

Sep 8th, 2016 12:04 pm | By

Samantha Rea says there was the Twitter lark about #IfMenHadPeriods and then there was the inevitable ridiculous reaction to same.

It was a bit of fun, but not everyone thought so. One Twitter user wrote, “While this highly cisnormative hashtag is trending, I want to remind everyone that trans men do exist + some have periods.” Another complained, “Men do have periods. Not every man is cis and it’s disgusting for people to still be assuming that they are.” There were numerous other tweets along these lines.

I’m sorry, Social Justice Warriors, but here’s the science bit: Men don’t have periods – women do. That’s biology. It doesn’t matter how we identify, what we wear, who we sleep with, or which pronouns we prefer – our reproductive organs simply don’t care.

Some people have decided that’s not how we define “women” and “men” any more. They’ve decided it no longer is to do with reproductive organs, it’s to do with declaration. Period. If you say you’re a man you’re a man, therefore menstruation isn’t something only women do any more. It used to was, but now we know so much better. How? People on Twitter telling us so.

You cannot choose your sex, and neither can you change it. Gender is a set of stereotypes associated with each sex. They’re society’s ideas about how men and women should behave, and how they should appear. A woman may prefer the stereotypes associated with being male, but identifying as a man won’t stop her getting pregnant, and nor will it necessarily stop men from treating her as a woman, in the very ways she wishes they wouldn’t.

In Canada, also in May this year, a woman who identifies as a transgender man was sexually assaulted by a taxi driver. The victim of the assault has been quoted as saying: “I think he just didn’t care that I was a trans man… he still continued to call me a woman even though I had explicitly told him I was a male and I had been transitioning for a while.” It’s almost as if the victim thinks that identifying as male gives her an opt-out from sexual assault, while other women are fair game for it. But it didn’t matter how she identified, the taxi driver still recognised her as a woman, and he still sexually assaulted her.

And the issue there isn’t that he didn’t care that the victim was a trans man – it’s that he didn’t care that the victim didn’t want to be raped.

Instead of trying to “opt out” of being a woman, in order to avoid the worst bits, how about working towards a safer and more equal society for everyone – regardless of how they identify. Nobody can actually change sex, but what we can do is challenge the gender stereotypes, and break down the cultural constructions that leave women lying in the wet patch.

And that leave men thinking they’re entitled to rape women.

These men are cowboys

Sep 8th, 2016 11:07 am | By

So it really is all about dressing up and let’s pretend and how awesome do I look in these cowboy boots and never mind what I did, how’s my image?

Ammon Bundy’s lawyer asked a judge to rule on a very important request Wednesday: that his client be able to wear cowboy boots to the trial for several Oregon standoff defendants, according to The Oregonian.

Bundy’s lawyer, J. Morgan Philpot, told the judge that because his client is a “cowboy” and has not yet been convicted of any charges, he should be able to dress however he pleases, which includes cowboy boots, neckties and belts.

“These men are cowboys, and given that the jury will be assessing their authenticity and credibility, they should be able to present themselves to the jury in that manner,” Philpot wrote in a motion, according to The Oregonian.

Ahhhhhh yes. The whole thing hangs on whether or not they’re “authentic” cowboys. If they are, well then, they have every right to seize public lands at gunpoint, because that’s so cowboy. It’s all John Wayne in the doorway all the time, and that’s really all we need to know.

Would you tell that guy no he can’t have Malheur? Of course you wouldn’t. You would know he should have Malheur, because he’s so authentic.

This is America. This is the land of guys with guns on their hips and boots on their feet. All the rest of you effete inauthentic pussies should just fuck right off back to Pussyville, with your shoes where the boots should be.

In the same room where musical instruments are being played

Sep 8th, 2016 10:36 am | By

Child abuse in Toronto:

When music class begins this week at Toronto’s Donwood Park elementary school, Mohammad Nouman Dasu will send a family member to collect his three young children. They will go home for an hour rather than sing and play instruments – a mandatory part of the Ontario curriculum he believes violates his Muslim faith.

The school tried to accommodate the religious fanatic, but nothing would do – music has to be banned from his children’s lives entirely.

According to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail, some parents insist they cannot allow their children to be in the same room where musical instruments are being played. Mr. Dasu, a Koran teacher who sometimes leads prayers at Scarborough’s Jame Abu Bakr Siddique mosque, says he has led the fight on behalf of parents. He has consulted with national Islamic bodies, and requested a letter from the leader of his mosque.

“We here believe that music is haram [forbidden]. We can neither listen to it, nor can we play a role in it,” said the mosque’s imam, Kasim Ingar.

That’s one of religion’s more disgusting tricks – declaring beautiful aspects of life and of human culture Forbidden. This man’s unfortunate children are to be prevented from sharing the joys of music, because it’s Forbidden.

Conceding that Muslims have to adjust when they send their kids to public school, he suggested that some matters, such as teaching music, are beyond debate.

“We do not compromise with anyone on the clear-cut orders and principles conveyed by the Prophet,” said Mr. Ingar, who also leads the Scarborough Muslim Association.

That’s your biggest mistake right there – refusing to rethink particulars, and just mandating a mindless, slavish, obedient Rule instead. Humans who forbid themselves to rethink particulars are dangerous.

Repeal the 8th

Sep 8th, 2016 9:38 am | By

Yesterday evening in Dublin about 200 people showed up to protest outside that “clinic” that tells women lies about abortion.

In a report for The Times (Ireland edition), reporters Ellen Coyne and Catherine Sanz secretly recorded a consultation in the clinic between a staff member and a woman seeking advice on a crisis pregnancy.

It is alleged a staff member at the Women’s Centre, on Berkeley Street in Dublin 7, advised the woman that abortion increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer and that women who have had abortions are “known to neglect their children”.

It’s alleged and it’s on video that we can all look at.

Protesters – some carrying placards, others wearing high-vis clothing – began to gather outside the centre at around 6.30pm. The centre is located next door to Reproductive Choices, an advice clinic aligned to the Marie Stopes organisation.

AAA-PBP TD Bríd Smith and a number of other speakers addressed the demonstration. Many protesters wore ‘Repeal the 8th’ t-shirts and sweatshirts.

Rónán Duffy (who wrote this article) tweeted photos:

He says this priest walked past twice.

Ireland still priest-ridden.

Trump’s epic corruption

Sep 7th, 2016 4:59 pm | By

The Times is also paying attention to Trump’s corruption.

Mr. Trump’s payment of a $2,500 penalty to the Internal Revenue Service over that 2013 campaign gift amounted to only the latest slap of his wrist in a decades-long record of shattering political donation limits and circumventing the rules governing contributions and lobbying.

In the 1980s, Mr. Trump was compelled to testify under oath before New York State officials after he directed tens of thousands of dollars to the president of the New York City Council through myriad subsidiary companies to evade contribution limits. In the 1990s, the Federal Election Commission fined Mr. Trump for exceeding the annual limit on campaign contributions by $47,050, the largest violation in a single year. And in 2000, the New York State lobbying commission imposed a $250,000 fine for Mr. Trump’s failing to disclose the full extent of his lobbying of state legislators.

Oh well it’s not as if Trump had any business interests in New York State.


Testifying in 1988 about a $50,000 bank loan he had first guaranteed, and then repaid, on behalf of Andrew J. Stein’s successful campaign for New York City Council president, Mr. Trump made no bones about the move.

“I was under the impression that I was getting my money back,” he told the New York State Commission on Government Integrity.

Is that corrupt enough? From the guy who calls other people “crooked”?

Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for the liberal-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Mr. Trump’s donation to Ms. Bondi gave new meaning to his more recent boasts about the efficacy of his political giving. “It sure looks like that is what is going on here,” said Mr. Libowitz, whose group filed a complaint about the donation with the I.R.S.

Though Mr. Trump denies it in the case of Ms. Bondi, he has been brazen in asserting that he has used political donations to buy influence — and routinely asks voters to trust that, because he possesses that insider’s knowledge, he can reform a system that he calls “rigged.”

Hmm. We’re supposed to trust him because he’s so corrupt? A corrupt insider is just the kind of person to make the system less corrupt?

I think I’d rather not take the chance.

During a Republican debate last summer, Mr. Trump responded about his ability to curry favor with public officials when he was confronted with one of his own statements: “When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”

“You’d better believe it,” Mr. Trump responded. He added: “When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.”

You know something? That’s not how it’s supposed to work. That’s how it does work, but it’s not how it’s supposed to work. Bribery is supposed to be a no-no. Trump may be such a psychopath that he doesn’t understand the distinction, but there is one.

[I]n 2000, Mr. Trump apologized for failing to disclose to New York State officials that he had spent $150,000 to finance ads opposing a proposed casino in the Catskills, which he saw as a threat to his Atlantic City properties. The ads were created and placed by a political consultant, Roger Stone, and appeared under the name of a front group, the Institute for Law and Society.

A settlement led to what, at the time, was the largest penalty imposed by the state lobbying commission: Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts paid $50,000, and Mr. Stone and the front group each paid $100,000, without admitting wrongdoing. In a statement, all three said they “apologize if anyone was misled.”

If. That “if” is rich. “If anyone was misled by our carefully disguised front group.”

Lying dog.

In recent years, Mr. Trump has made tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to at least four state attorneys general — Ms. Bondi of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, both Republicans, and the Democrats Eric Schneiderman of New York and Kamala Harris of California — whose offices have looked into complaints about Trump University.


Let’s repeat that.

In recent years, Mr. Trump has made tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to at least four state attorneys general — Ms. Bondi of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, both Republicans, and the Democrats Eric Schneiderman of New York and Kamala Harris of California — whose offices have looked into complaints about Trump University.

That should be game over. Game fucking over. He’s bribed at least four state attorneys general whose offices were looking at his fake bogus fraudulent cheating storefront not-university.

He’s bribed at least four state attorneys general whose offices were looking at his fake bogus fraudulent cheating storefront not-university.

This is just beyond contemptible.

It seems more than coincidental

Sep 7th, 2016 4:13 pm | By

That little slip-up where Trump appears to have bribed Florida’s Attorney General to decide not to investigate his not-university – that slip-up seems to be getting more journalistic attention. The Boston Globe for instance:

“A minor issue,” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks told NBC.

That’s disingenuous spin of the first order. It’s also illegal. The Donald J. Trump Foundation, which is organized under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code, clearly violated its tax-exempt status by making the contribution — a fact brought to light in March by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. But this is more than an accounting error. There’s a whiff of scandal that demands full attention from voters who might otherwise be trying to make their post-Labor Day peace with the fact that Trump is now the Republican standard-bearer.

Whiff? More like stench.

It seems more than coincidental that the donation from the foundation was made on Sept. 17, 2013, four days after reports emerged that Bondi’s office was mulling an investigation of fraud charges against Trump University. Bondi never pressed ahead with any probe, and endorsed Trump’s candidacy.

Stenchy enough?

I’ve never liked Bill Clinton’s breezy dismissal of the problem with taking money from bankers and corporations. I hate it that he said “Money shouldn’t buy you influence but it should buy you access.” I hate the way both Clintons have milked their White House tenure for enormous speaking fees. But I’m not aware of anything as stenchy as this apparent bribe to an AG to quash an investigation – and I know they’ve never done anything as stenchy as setting up a disgustingly fraudulent university to winkle money out of desperate, naïve people. They’re not crooks the way Trump is – yet he has the gall to call her “Crooked Hillary.”

Trump has slammed Hillary Clinton about potential conflicts of interest involving Clinton Foundation donors when she was secretary of state. And this page has called on Clinton to shut down the foundation if she is elected. But there is no indication that the Clinton Foundation has misreported donations or made illegal political contributions.

Besides, Trump’s explanation defies belief: Presumably, a real estate tycoon running on his business acumen understands the tax code. And the Huffington Post reported that Trump held a fund-raiser in 2014 for Bondi, after she had decided not to investigate.

Yet there must be trillions of words out there about Clinton’s emails, compared to a few thousand about this skeevy mess.

It’s messed up.


Sep 7th, 2016 3:15 pm | By

University students in South Africa are protesting student fees. Last night a historic college law library was torched.

Fabian Lemuel Pillay

The Independent reports:

South African politicians have united to condemn the burning of one of the country’s finest law libraries during protests over university fees, in which students say a female classmate has been raped.

The book burning was likened to the activities of the youth wing of the Nazi party in 1930s Germany in a statement by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

Dasen Thathiah

A law lecturer at UKZN, Franaaz Khan, told TMG Digital that while fire fighters had managed to bring the fire under control‚ the faculty had lost priceless material, including rare books dating back to the foundations of modern-day South African law in the 17th century.

“Many date back to early Roman-Dutch time,” she said. “Some are rare as well. It is devastating to watch the library in which you spent many hours as a student burn up in flames.”

Don’t burn the libraries.

Compassion is greatest

Sep 7th, 2016 12:31 pm | By

Anjem Choudary was sentenced to 5.5 years yesterday.

As he was sentenced, Choudary’s supporters stood up in the public gallery and shouted: “Allahu Akbar” – Arabic for God is greatest. He smiled and disappeared down to the cells.

For 20 years Choudary has been the police’s headache – now he is the prison service’s. He will start time in the high security unit – a prison within a prison – at HMP Belmarsh in south-east London. Only a few of the most dangerous individuals in the country are ever held there at one time – and the priority will be keeping him apart from the impressionable minds whom Mr Justice Holroyde said he did so much to influence.

Whether the prison service will succeed is unclear. Only last month it published a report that raised serious questions about how well the UK manages violent extremists behind bars. So what happens to Choudary from now on may demonstrate whether jails can securely hold people like him and prevent them from doing further harm.

A good outcome would be if he converted to liberal values – not libertarian, but liberal – the way Maajid Nawaz did.

The head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter terrorism command, Commander Dean Haydon, said the pair caused “frustration for both law enforcement agencies and communities as they spread hate”.

“We have watched Choudary developing a media career as spokesman for the extremists, saying the most distasteful of comments, but without crossing the criminal threshold,” he said.

“This has been a significant prosecution in our fight against terrorism, and we will now be working with communities to ensure that they are not replaced by others spreading hate.”

Kalsoom Bashir from counter-extremism organisation Inspire, said she was relieved the law had caught up with Choudary, saying he has been described as “the gateway to terror”.

“He has enticed those individuals who were on the fringes of society towards supporting violent extremism and giving them, behind closed doors, justification for committing acts of violence in the name of terror – those who heard him then went on to commit those acts of terror.”

They’re good people at Inspire. It would be a good outcome if Choudary decided he wanted to work with them instead of with Daesh.

Just distribute photos

Sep 7th, 2016 12:10 pm | By

The Statesman, India, on another view of “Mother” Teresa:

As the Vatican conferred sainthood on Mother Teresa, an organisation promoting scientific thinking on Sunday ridiculed Indian politicians for attending the canonisation ceremony that “promoted superstition” and asked them to distribute her pictures instead of opening hospitals.

The city-based Science and Rationalists’ Association of India (SRAI), on the day held a meet opposing Teresa’s canonisation at the Vatican City which was attended by host of leaders from across the globe including Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

“By attending the canonisation ceremony our leaders have certified that they believe in miracles and hocus-pocus. So now, instead of spending tax payers money on hospitals, the government should start distributing Teresa’s pictures for curing people,” said SRAI general secretary Prabir Ghosh.

Or just pray for them. Or just think about praying for them. It’s all much the same thing.

The poor did not get their bread

Sep 7th, 2016 11:52 am | By

Ten years ago Walter Wuellenweber asked in Stern where “Mother” Teresa’s millions were. The Science and Rationalists’ Association of India republished it.

It quotes some people who have found MT’s putative saintliness not all that generous or useful.

In Calcutta, one meets many doubters.

For example, Samity, a man of around 30 with no teeth, who lives in the slums. He is one of the “poorest of the poor” to whom Mother Teresa was supposed to have dedicated her life. With a plastic bag in hand, he stands in a kilometre long queue in Calcutta’s Park Street. The poor wait patiently, until the helpers shovel some rice and lentils into their bags. But Samity does not get his grub from Mother Teresa’s institution, but instead from the Assembly of God, an American charity, that serves 18000 meals here daily.

“Mother Teresa?”says Samity, “We have not received anything from her here. Ask in the slums — who has received anything from the sisters here — you will find hardly anybody.”

Serving meals wasn’t her thing. Her thing was “caring for the dying” – which can mean anything or nothing, and in her case it meant mostly nothing – a minimal bed and some aspirin now and then. It wasn’t medical care and it wasn’t genuine comfort – it was parsimonious shelter and lashings of piety.

Pannalal Manik also has doubts. “I don’t understand why you educated people in the West have made this woman into such a goddess!” Manik was born some 56 years ago in the Rambagan slum, which at about 300 years of age, is Calcutta’s oldest. What Manik has achieved, can well be called a “miracle”. He has built 16 apartment buildings in the midst of the slum — living space for 4000 people. Money for the building materials — equivalent to DM 10000 per apartment building — was begged for by Manik from the Ramakrishna Mission [a Indian/Hindu charity], the largest assistance-organisation in India. The slum-dwellers built the buildings themselves. It has become a model for the whole of India. But what about Mother Teresa? “I went to her place 3 times,” said Manik. “She did not even listen to what I had to say. Everyone on earth knows that the sisters have a lot of money. But no one knows what they do with it!”

What they don’t do with it, however, is share it with the poor or afflicted. That’s apparently too worldly for their taste.

Compared to other charitable organisations in Calcutta, the nuns with the 3 blue stripes are ahead in two respects: they are world famous, and, they have the most money. But how much exactly, has always been a closely guarded secret of the organisation. Indian law requires charitable organisations to publish their accounts. Mother Teresa’s organisation ignores this prescription! It is not known if the Finance Ministry in Delhi who would be responsible for charities’ accounts, have the actual figures. Upon STERN’s inquiry, the Ministry informed us that this particular query was listed as “classified information”.

That’s all wrong. Charities should be on the record. Charities should be accountable.

The organisation has 6 branches in Germany. Here too financial matters are a strict secret. “It’s nobody’s business how much money we have, I mean to say how little we have,” says Sr Pauline, head of the German operations. Maria Tingelhoff had had handled the organisation’s book-keeping on a voluntary basis until 1981. “We did see 3 million a year,” she remembers. But Mother Teresa never quite trusted the worldly helpers completely. So the sisters took over the financial management themselves in 1981. “Of course I don’t know how much money went in, in the years after that, but it must be many multiples of 3 million,” estimates Mrs Tingelhoff. “Mother was always very pleased with the Germans.”

It’s not true that it’s no one’s business how much money they have. They solicit and accept donations; that makes it everyone’s business how much money they have and what they do with it.

Perhaps the most lucrative branch of the organisation is the “Holy Ghost” House in New York’s Bronx. Susan Shields served the order there for a total of nine and a half years as Sister Virgin. “We spent a large part of each day writing thank you letters and processing cheques,” she says. “Every night around 25 sisters had to spend many hours preparing receipts for donations. It was a conveyor belt process: some sisters typed, others made lists of the amounts, stuffed letters into envelopes, or sorted the cheques. Values were between $5 and $100.000. Donors often dropped their envelopes filled with money at the door. Before Christmas the flow of donations was often totally out of control. The postman brought sackfuls of letters — cheques for $50000 were no rarity.” Sister Virgin remebers that one year there was about $50 million in a New York bank account. $50 million in one year! — in a predominantly non-Catholic country. How much then, were they collecting in Europe or the world? It is estimated that worldwide they collected at least $100 million per year — and that has been going on for many many years.

While the people they were supposedly “helping” went without medical care, privacy, clean bedding – nearly everything they needed.

England is one of the few countries where the sisters allow the authorities at least a quick glance at their accounts. Here the order took in DM5.3 million in 1991. And expenses (including charitable expenses)? — around DM360,000 or less than 7%. Whatever happened to the rest of the money? Sister Teresina, the head for England, defensively states, “Sorry we can’t tell you that.” Every year, according to the returns filed with the British authorities, a portion of the fortune is sent to accounts of the order in other countries. How much to which countries is not declared. One of the recipients is however, always Rome. The fortune of this famous charitable organistaion is controlled from Rome, — from an account at the Vatican bank. And what happens with monies at the Vatican Bank is so secret that even God is not allowed to know about it. One thing is sure however — Mother’s outlets in poor countries do not benefit from largesse of the rich countries. The official biographer of Mother Teresa, Kathryn Spink, writes, “As soon as the sisters became established in a certain country, Mother normally withdrew all financial support.” Branches in very needy countries therefore only receive start-up assistance. Most of the money remains in the Vatican Bank.

No wonder they made her a saint – she increased their fortune by perhaps billions.

The millions that are donated to the order have a similar fate. Susan Shields (formerly Sr Virgin) says, “The money was not misused, but the largest part of it wasn’t used at all. When there was a famine in Ethiopia, many cheques arrived marked ‘for the hungry in Ethiopia’. Once I asked the sister who was in charge of accounts if I should add up all those very many cheques and send the total to Ethiopia. The sister answered, ‘No, we don’t send money to Africa.’ But I continued to make receipts to the donors, ‘For Ethiopia’.”

And people in Ethiopia continued to starve, while that money – which the donors had intended for famine relief in Ethiopia – went to the Vatican Bank.

By the accounts of former sisters, the finances are a one way street. “We were always told, the fact that we receive more than other orders, shows that God loves Mother Teresa more. ,” says Susan Shields. Donations and hefty bank balances are a measure of God’s love. Taking is holier than giving.

The sufferers are the ones for whom the donations were originally intended. The nuns run a soup kitchen in New York’s Bronx. Or, to put in straight, they have it run for them, since volunteer helpers organise everything, including food. The sisters might distribute it. Once, Shields remembers, the helpers made an organisational mistake, so they could not deliver bread with their meals. The sisters asked their superior if they could buy the bread. “Out of the question — we are a poor organisation.” came the reply. “In the end, the poor did not get their bread,” says Shields.

This is, to put it plainly, fraud. “Mother” Teresa defrauded millions of people who gave what they thought was money for relief of poverty and illness but in fact was just more wealth and power and influence for the Catholic church. She wasn’t just not a saint, she was a crook. Probably not a conscious crook, but a crook all the same.

Because of the tightfistedness of the rich order, the “poorest of the poor” — orphans in India — suffer the most. The nuns run a home in Delhi, in which the orphans wait to be adopted by, in many cases, by foreigners. As usual, the costs of running the home are borne not by the order, but by the future adoptive parents. In Germany the organisation called Pro Infante has the monopoly of mediation role for these children. The head, Carla Wiedeking, a personal friend of Mother Teresa’s, wrote a letter to Donors, Supporters and Friends which ran:

“On my September visit I had to witness 2 or 3 children lying in the same cot, in totally overcrowded rooms with not a square inch of playing space. The behavioural problems arising as a result cannot be overlooked.” Mrs Wiedeking appeals to the generosity of supporters in view of her powerlessness in the face of the children’s great needs. Powerlessness?! In an organisation with a billion-fortune, which has 3 times as much money available to it as UNICEF is able to spend in all of India? The Missionaries of Charity has have the means to buy cots and build orphanages, — with playgrounds. And they have enoungh money not only for a handful orphans in Delhi but for many thousand orphans who struggle for survival in the streets of Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta.

That’s like the nuns and priests who ran the horrible industrial “schools” in Ireland that locked up the children of the poor and treated them like garbage. The state gave them money for the support of the children, and the church kept much of it for itself.

It’s a multi-level multi-country crime; it’s fraud on a massive scale. And what do we see? “Sainthood” and fawning coverage by the global news media.

Daddy held her down while ex strangled her

Sep 7th, 2016 10:19 am | By

Heads we win, tails you lose. Jon Boone reports from Islamabad:

Family members accused of killing Samia Shahid, a British citizen who divorced and remarried without their permission, planned to use Pakistan’s much-criticised “blood money” laws to forgive her killer, a report into the case has alleged.

Police findings say the 28-year-old was the victim of “premeditated and cold-blooded honour killing”, which her family had hoped to get away with by exploiting Islamic laws the government has repeatedly promised to scrap.

The laws in question allow family members to pardon people who kill other family members – which of course makes “honor” killing risk-free: Daddy kills his daughter and her brother pardons Daddy. Everybody’s happy except the daughter, but she was their property anyway so that doesn’t matter.

Under Pakistan’s 25-year-old blood money laws, the guardians of murder victims can forgive their killers in return for compensation, even though family members often conspire with each other to commit such crimes.

Rights campaigners say the effective impunity created by the laws has helped fuel the problem of so-called “honour killings”. There were more than 1,000 such killings reported to police last year, although the real number is thought to be far higher.

Pakistan keeps saying it’s going to scrap those laws, but somehow the lawmakers never get around to it.

The report said Samia was sufficiently worried about her security not to tell her family when she was arriving and to arrange to be collected from the airport by a childhood friend, with whom she left her passport and return ticket as a safety measure.

The report said they decided to kill her the day before she was due to return to Dubai, having failed to persuade her to stay in Pakistan.

Shakeel was said to have confronted Samia in an upstairs bedroom of his large house in Pandori and demanded to know where her passport and return ticket were. After she refused to tell him, he attacked and raped her, the report said.

While trying to leave the house and threatening to alert the British government, she was confronted on the stairs by her father, it was claimed. Shakeel then strangled her with a scarf while her father held her legs, the report said.

That’s her father and the “husband” he forced on her.

Pakistan’s government has won international plaudits by repeatedly promising to reform the blood money laws in a move that could trigger angry opposition from some hardline clerics. Sharif promised to take action in February after a Pakistani documentary about “honour killings” was nominated for an Oscar.

In July, Sharif’s daughter, Maryam, said the law would be changed “within weeks”. While a bill is ready to go before both houses of parliament, no legislative action has been taken.

No problem. Take your time. There’s no hurry.

She decided not to pursue the case

Sep 6th, 2016 6:17 pm | By

David Fahrenthold at the Washington Post last week:

Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year, an official at Trump’s company said, after it was revealed that Trump’s charitable foundation had violated tax laws by giving a political contribution to a campaign group connected to Florida’s attorney general.

The improper donation, a $25,000 gift from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, was made in 2013. At the time, Attorney General Pam Bondi was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University. She decided not to pursue the case.

Sigh. Trump gave the Attorney General money, and she dropped the investigation into fraud allegations against his fraudulent not-university. Why isn’t this an issue?

The sequence began when Bondi herself solicited a donation from Trump. That solicitation was reported this year by the Associated Press. That request came as Bondi was considering allegations that Trump University — a real estate seminar business — had defrauded customers in Florida.

Let me get this straight. She was the Attorney General. She was considering fraud allegations against Trump’s ridiculous “university.” She asked him for money.

He gave her the money. She dropped the case.

How is that not obviously grossly corrupt? What is the matter with everyone?

Paul Waldman did a piece for the Post on Trump’s corruption yesterday, which is where I saw the link to the Farenthold piece.

In the heat of a presidential campaign, you’d think that a story about one party’s nominee giving a large contribution to a state attorney general who promptly shut down an inquiry into that nominee’s scam “university” would be enormous news. But we continue to hear almost nothing about what happened between Donald Trump and Florida attorney general Pam Bondi.

…The story re-emerged last week when The Post’s David A. Fahrenthold reported that Trump paid a penalty to the IRS after his foundation made an illegal contribution to Bondi’s PAC. While the Trump organization characterizes that as a bureaucratic oversight, the basic facts are that Bondi’s office had received multiple complaints from Floridians who said they were cheated by Trump University; while they were looking into it and considering whether to join a lawsuit over Trump University filed by the attorney general of New York State, Bondi called Trump and asked him for a $25,000 donation; shortly after getting the check, Bondi’s office dropped the inquiry.

Maybe it was all just a mistake, Waldman says, but we can’t tell, because nobody is digging into it.

And the comparison with stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails or the Clinton Foundation is extremely instructive. Whenever we get some new development in any of those Clinton stories, you see blanket coverage — every cable network, every network news program, every newspaper investigates it at length. And even when the new information serves to exonerate Clinton rather than implicate her in wrongdoing, the coverage still emphasizes that the whole thing just “raises questions” about her integrity.

There are lots of reporters covering the Clinton stories all the time; Trump not so much.

When it comes to Trump, on the other hand, we’ve seen a very different pattern. Here’s what happens: A story about some kind of corrupt dealing emerges, usually from the dogged efforts of one or a few journalists; it gets discussed for a couple of days; and then it disappears. Someone might mention it now and again, but the news organizations don’t assign a squad of reporters to look into every aspect of it, so no new facts are brought to light and no new stories get written.

The end result of this process is that because of all that repeated examination of Clinton’s affairs, people become convinced that she must be corrupt to the core. It’s not that there isn’t plenty of negative coverage of Trump, because of course there is, but it’s focused mostly on the crazy things he says on any given day.

But the truth is that you’d have to work incredibly hard to find a politician who has the kind of history of corruption, double-dealing, and fraud that Donald Trump has. The number of stories which could potentially deserve hundreds and hundreds of articles is absolutely staggering. Here’s a partial list:

  • Trump’s casino bankruptcies, which left investors holding the bag while he skedaddled with their money
  • Trump’s habit of refusing to pay contractors who had done work for him, many of whom are struggling small businesses
  • Trump University, which includes not only the people who got scammed and the Florida investigation, but also a similar story from Texas where the investigation into Trump U was quashed.
  • The Trump Institute, another get-rich-quick scheme in which Trump allowed a couple of grifters to use his name to bilk people out of their money
  • The Trump Network, a multi-level marketing venture(a.k.a. pyramid scheme) that involved customers mailing in a urine sample which would be analyzed to produce for them a specially formulated package of multivitamins
  • Trump Model Management, which reportedly had foreign models lie to customs officials and work in the U.S. illegally, and kept them in squalid conditions while they earned almost nothing for the work they did
  • Trump’s employment of foreign guest workers at his resorts, which involves a claim that he can’t find Americans to do the work
  • Trump’s use of hundreds of undocumented workers from Poland in the 1980s, who were paid a pittance for their illegal work
  • Trump’s history of being charged with housing discrimination

And there’s more! I’ve blogged about some of that list, trying to do my little bit to boost the exposure of those stories…but, I admit, I blog more about the gruesome things he says.

Maybe journalists are thinking it’s “fair and balanced” this way? Clinton isn’t the hateful racist shithead that Trump is, so to be fair and even things out they blow up her emails and speaking fees to match the size of his shitheadism? While mostly ignoring his horrendous business practices over the past forty years? People shafted right and left? In other words Trump is vastly worse than she is in multiple areas, so they help him out by neglecting most of his bad shit – to make it fair and balanced.

Sick, isn’t it.

Who counts

Sep 6th, 2016 5:08 pm | By

What’s the weather like down there in the bottom of the barrel?

Bill Cosby’s lawyers said Tuesday that the comedian — who will stand trial in June for allegedly drugging and sexually molesting a woman — is a victim of “racial bias.”

What does that sound like – oh yes, O J Simpson’s lawyers claiming that the prosecution of Simpson was “racial bias” when in fact the LA police had been cutting him way too much slack for years.

It sounds like angry, entitled men who destroy or damage women and when caught pretend they’re the ones being wronged.

“For Mr. Cosby, this is a version of the ‘shoot now, ask questions later’ approach to judicial justice that you’re seeing in the streets,” defense lawyer Angela Agrusa told reporters outside a Pennsylvania courthouse.

Because arrest and prosecution are the same thing as shooting now, except for the shooting now part.

[Attorney Gloria] Allred, who just held a press conference in California calling for the elimination of the statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault, dismissed the Cosby lawyers’ claims as an act of desperation by Cosby.

“He complains about racial bias but what about the African American women whom I represent who accuse him of sexual assault or rape and who refuse to remain silent about what they say they have suffered?” Allred said in a statement issued Tuesday evening.

They don’t count, because they’re not Bill Cosby. Bill Cosby is important. They’re not.

Really no go ahead and try him out

Sep 6th, 2016 9:43 am | By

Don’t forget how Keith Vaz talked about his entertainment for the evening.

Keith Vaz

“Have you ______ him yet?” The obscured word being presumably “fucked” – although “raped” might be more accurate.

Keith Vaz

“Someone will need to break him tonight.”

As one breaks in a new pair of shoes.