Notes and Comment Blog

Neville and Buzz and Elvis

Jul 1st, 2019 11:58 am | By

A few more.

Quis custodiet

Jul 1st, 2019 10:59 am | By

Pro Publica reports:

Members of a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility in Texas on Monday and posted a vulgar illustration depicting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in oral sex with a detained migrant, according to screenshots of their postings.

In one exchange, group members responded with indifference and wisecracks to the post of a news story about a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died in May while in custody at a Border Patrol station in Weslaco, Texas. One member posted a GIF of Elmo with the quote, “Oh well.” Another responded with an image and the words “If he dies, he dies.”

It’s inevitable, I suppose. People with humane generous instincts wouldn’t go into that line of work. I think that’s more the case than it is with for instance the police. Hopeful immigrants aren’t doing anything inherently wrong, so wanting to be in the Border Patrol probably has little to do with a taste for justice or the public good. But the attitudes coming from the top also make a difference, I should think.

“These comments and memes are extremely troubling,” said Daniel Martinez, a sociologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson who studies the border. “They’re clearly xenophobic and sexist.”

The postings, in his view, reflect what “seems to be a pervasive culture of cruelty aimed at immigrants within CBP. This isn’t just a few rogue agents or ‘bad apples.’”

Definitely the kind of thing you want to see from people who have power over others.

“These comments and memes are extremely troubling,” said Daniel Martinez, a sociologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson who studies the border. “They’re clearly xenophobic and sexist.”

The postings, in his view, reflect what “seems to be a pervasive culture of cruelty aimed at immigrants within CBP. This isn’t just a few rogue agents or ‘bad apples.’”

The Border Patrol Facebook group is the most recent example of some law enforcement personnel behaving badly in public and private digital spaces. An investigation by Reveal uncovered hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers who moved in extremist Facebook circles, including white supremacist and anti-government groups. A team of researchers calling themselves the Plain View Projectrecently released a hefty database of offensive Facebook posts made by current and ex-law enforcement officers.

And in early 2018, federal investigators found a raft of disturbing and racist text messages sent by Border Patrol agents in southern Arizona after searching the phone of Matthew Bowen, an agent charged with running down a Guatemalan migrant with a Ford F-150 pickup truck. The texts, which were revealed in a court filing in federal court in Tucson, described migrants as “guats,” “wild ass shitbags,” “beaners” and “subhuman.” The messages included repeated discussions about burning the migrants up.

Several of the postings reviewed by ProPublica refer to the planned visit by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, including Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Veronica Escobar, to a troubled Border Patrol facility outside of El Paso. Agents at the compound in Clint, Texas, have been accused of holding children in neglectful, inhumane conditions.

Hurr hurr, a burrito, get it?

The head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Joaquin Castro, reviewed the Facebook discussions and was incensed. “It confirms some of the worst criticisms of Customs and Border Protection,” said Castro, a Democrat who represents San Antonio. “These are clearly agents who are desensitized to the point of being dangerous to migrants and their co-workers.” He added that the agents who made the vulgar comments “don’t deserve to wear any uniform representing the United States of America.”

Next up: Trump will invite them all to sit with him at his July 4 Nazi Rally.

Updating to add: AOC points out that the membership of this group is nearly half of the total. Damn. I hadn’t realized that.

Women in astronomy, go to the back of the line

Jul 1st, 2019 10:12 am | By


RAS Diversity is a branch of the Royal Astronomical Society.

We very much encourage men who identify as women to apply for women only grants and awards.

Now, if you think this is at all wrong or unfair, RAS Diversity has an answer for you.

Nothing like a smartass gif to make a compelling argument.

Ivanka Zelig

Jul 1st, 2019 9:37 am | By


Nice one, because that’s Trump’s “mentor” and hero Roy Cohn there next to McCarthy.

She was there

Jul 1st, 2019 9:23 am | By

#UnwantedIvanka is trending. It’s hilarious.

A long way, baby

Jun 30th, 2019 5:37 pm | By

Yes, he really does say that.

Infinite power in all directions

Jun 30th, 2019 5:26 pm | By

Donald Ayer, who was Deputy Attorney General under George H. W. Bush before William Barr, says it’s been Barr’s lifetime goal to make the powers of the president all but infinite.

[I]n securing his confirmation as attorney general, Barr successfully used his prior service as attorney general in the by-the-book, norm-following administration of George H. W. Bush to present himself as a mature adult dedicated to the rule of law who could be expected to hold the Trump administration to established legal rules. Having known Barr for four decades, including preceding him as deputy attorney general in the Bush administration, I knew him to be a fierce advocate of unchecked presidential power…

And not so much the rule of law, at least not when it’s the president breaking it.

For many decades, Barr has had a vision of the president as possessing nearly unchecked powers. That vision is reflected in many OLC opinions, and in arguments advanced and positions taken since the 1970s. But the most compelling source for present purposes is Barr’s memorandum submitted just a year ago. Notable near its beginning is his statement that he was “in the dark about many facts,” followed immediately and repeatedly by vehement assertions that “Mueller’s obstruction theory is fatally misconceived,” and if accepted “would have grave consequences far beyond the immediate confines of this case and … do lasting damage to the Presidency.”

Because it’s imperative for the presidency to be indistinguishable from a dictatorship.

As this introduction suggested, Barr’s memo rested not on facts, but on a much more sweeping claim that as a matter of law, the obstruction-of-justice statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 1512, cannot possibly apply to any conduct by the president that is arguably at issue. In a five-page section, Barr’s memo advanced arguments based on interpreting the words of the statute. Then in a much longer second section, he got to the meat of the matter. He claimed that, regardless of whether the statute is correctly understood to have been intended to apply to actions by the president to interfere with an investigation of himself—as the Mueller report concluded it was—it would be an unconstitutional infringement on the president’s Article II powers to apply that law to the president.

The vehemence of Barr’s memo is breathtaking and the italics are all his: “Constitutionally, it is wrong to conceive of the President as simply the highest officer within the Executive branch hierarchy. He alone is the Executive branch. As such he is the sole repository of all Executive powers conferred by the Constitution.”

That’s stated as if it were a fact but it’s actually an interpretation – and one that Ayer considers wack.

Thus, “the Constitution vests all Federal law enforcement power, and hence prosecutorial discretion, in the President.” That authority is “necessarily all-encompassing,” and there can be “no limit on the President’s authority to act [even] on matters which concern him or his own conduct.” Because it would infringe upon the total and utterly unchecked discretion that Barr believes Article II confers on the president, “Congress could not make it a crime for the President to exercise supervisory authority over cases in which his own conduct might be at issue.” Indeed, according to Barr, “because the President alone constitutes the Executive branch, the President cannot ‘recuse’ himself.” Thus, in Barr’s view, the only check on gross misconduct by the president is impeachment, and the very idea of an independent or special counsel investigating the president is a constitutional anathema.

So, it’s impeachment or nothing, and if impeachment is impossible because a pack of sleazy party loyalists control the Senate, then too bad, you’re stuck with a criminal committing crimes as president and there’s not a single thing you or anyone can do about it, soz, sucks to be you.

It is not at all surprising that Bill Barr, with this vision of the law in mind, could reach his ultimate conclusion on obstruction in just a few days, or that in subsequent public appearances he has never offered to explain his conclusions by referencing what Trump actually did. The facts simply don’t matter under Barr’s understanding of the Constitution, in which “the President alone is the Executive branch … the sole repository of all Executive powers conferred by the Constitution,” and Congress may not restrict his exercise of discretion in using those powers. Why worry about facts if, as Trump has claimed repeatedly, the president has unlimited power to direct or terminate any investigation, including of himself?

Trump and his endless assertions of power offer countless opportunities to pick and choose those executive-power claims with the best chance to succeed in court. Thus, in the Trump administration, Barr may have found the ideal setting in which to pursue his life’s work of creating an all-powerful president and frustrating the Founders’ vision of a government of checks and balances. His strange pursuit of an investigation of the investigators—on the supposition that the FBI may have been improperly “spying” on the Trump campaign when they investigated Trump associates who were found to have met with various Russians—may be the opening public chapter in that endeavor.

We’re so screwed.

Expressions of tortured politeness

Jun 30th, 2019 1:38 pm | By

She was there why, again?

The abiding image from this year’s G20 summit will not be Donald Trump sharing another chuckle with Vladimir Putin. It is the clip of his daughter, Ivanka, inserting herself into an awkward circle of world leaders. The video, released by the French government, shows varying expressions of tortured politeness as Ms Trump intrudes on a discussion between France’s Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Theresa May, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF. Ms Lagarde, in particular, was unable to conceal her irritation.

It’s not as if they’re gathered in Trump’s personal living room and Ivanka is an adorable toddler who has escaped from Nanny for a moment.

What they were discussing is secondary. Mr Macron made a point about social justice. Mrs May replied that people notice when the economy is brought into it. Ms Trump then interrupted with a non sequitur about how the defence industry is male-dominated. The real point is that America’s self-named “First Daughter” is rarely out of the frame at global summits.

Photobombing is her one skill.

She wrote it this morning when she woke up

Jun 30th, 2019 1:19 pm | By

Down with art

Jun 30th, 2019 11:53 am | By

And speaking of censorship – the San Francisco school board has decided to go ahead and destroy a mural in a high school because some people don’t understand it.

The fresco was painted in 1936 by Russian emigre Victor Arnautoff, a Communist artist who also painted some of the murals in Coit Tower and other locations in San Francisco.

I’ve seen the Coit Tower ones, and loved them. Think Diego Rivera type of thing.

The “Life of Washington” 1,600-square-foot mural at the high school, part of the federal Works Progress Administration’s art commissions, features scenes from the first president’s life, including images of slavery and white settlers stepping over a dead Native American.

Supporters of the mural say it’s a historic piece of art and painting over it is the equivalent of a book burning. The artist meant the work to be subversive, they say, showing an ugly side to Washington’s life. Critics say the images are offensive and violent, depicting African Americans and Native Americans only as victims. Students shouldn’t have to see that every day, they argue.

Well you could always blindfold them.

Image result for san francisco school mural

Fire the cartoonist

Jun 30th, 2019 11:41 am | By

Freedom of the press? Don’t be silly.

A cartoonist says he has been dropped from a series of newspapers after his image depicting Donald Trump ignoring dead migrants to play golf went viral.

Michael de Adder, a freelance political cartoonist in Canada, says he was let go by all major newspapers in the southeastern Canadian province of New Brunswick after his cartoon was shared by thousands on Twitter and Facebook.

This is the cartoon in question. I think it’s brilliant. Harsh, obviously, but that’s the point, and isn’t harsh called for?

On Friday, Mr de Adder said on Twitter he had been let go from various employers.

“The highs and lows of cartooning. Today I was just let go from all newspapers in New Brunswick,” he tweeted.

He said major newspapers in New Brunswick, including the Telegraph JournalThe Daily Gleaner and The Times & Transcript all said they would no longer accept his work, but gave no reason for his dismissal.

Some criticised the Irving family, which owns the newspapers and is also involved in the forestry, shipbuilding and oil industries.

“It’s simple really,” Wes Tyrell, the president of the Association of Canadian Cartoonists, said in a statement.

“Trade has been an issue since Trump took office, trade that affects the Irvings directly, not to mention a host of other issues. And the president himself is an unknown quantity who punishes those who appear to oppose him.”

More like a known quantity, surely. He’s reliably monstrous.

Is he a groper, or just creepy

Jun 30th, 2019 11:09 am | By

What’s the difference between saying “Biden gropes little girls” and “Biden’s behavior is creepy”?

Is there any real difference?

If you search Google images for “Biden gropes little girls” you get no shortage of results. The behavior the pictures show is indeed creepy, but is it creepy in some way that has nothing to do with being sexual?

Not that I can see. They look creepy precisely in the sense of lecherous elderly dude copping a feel. Normal adult men do not stick their hands all over little girls that way.

Image result for biden groping little girls

See that tilt of her body? See that pained expression? See that wrap-around clutch on her arm? That’s not creepy as in he’s wearing a Halloween monster outfit. That’s creepy as in he’s being way too handsy and she’s trying to pull away from him. Yes we do get to call that groping.

Gotta be honest

Jun 30th, 2019 10:54 am | By

Fox News host asks if it’s really all that cool for Trump to be sucking up to Kim given Kim’s record of atrocities, and Tucker Carlson (on the phone) gets all realpolitik on us.

Biden launched an anti-busing screed

Jun 30th, 2019 9:47 am | By

Updating to add: the piece is from 2015. I saw that but then did other things before posting, by which time…

Politico does a backgrounder on Biden and school busing to correct for generations of racial apartheid.

Though the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision had outlawed “separate but equal” schools, it wasn’t until the court’s lesser-known 1969 ruling in Alexander v. Holmes County that many Southern school districts actually implemented desegregation plans. In response to these legal mandates, judges started to order busing plans in some Southern cities.

For fifteen years – more than the sum of kindergarten through 12th grade – Brown v Board might as well have been a poem on The Rose for all the good it did in most places. A whole generation got nothing from it. Little Rock was the exception rather than the rule.

Meanwhile, Northern schools still remained thoroughly segregated. Housing segregation frequently produced segregated schools, and many urban school boards enacted transfer and redistricting policies to keep them that way.

One solution is to desegregate neighborhoods, but even if the will is there (which it wasn’t), that takes time. The other is to bus students into other neighborhoods.

The first busing case to reach the Supreme Court was Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg County. A district court had ordered busing in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the plan in April 1971, on the grounds that the Constitution required “the greatest possible degree of actual desegregation.” The court admitted that the remedies for segregation might be “awkward, inconvenient, and even bizarre in some situations and may impose burdens on some.” But the Constitution clearly required such impositions.

And so a grievance was born.

Busing was indeed “awkward” and “inconvenient” for students. Today, the anti-busing arguments guide our policies. In many cities, the “neighborhood school”—itself a product of redlining, housing segregation and discriminatory school transfer policies—remains sacrosanct. But we forget that through the 1960s and 1970s, local school boards and urban whites often resisted every other attempt at school and housing integration. With their resistance, they narrowed the options down to two: busing or segregation.

And white people kept choosing segregation.

Each year from 1966 to 1977, the U.S. House of Representatives passed at least one new law designed to restrain school integration—often in the guise of anti-busing legislation. Until 1974, the Senate rejected those bills. But as white resistance to busing escalated in many cities across the country, the House’s anti-busing majority began to pull more senators to their side.

Where was Biden at the time? His first term in the Senate?

Biden had begun to develop a convoluted position in which he supported busing as a remedy for “de jure segregation” (as in the Jim Crow South), while he opposed busing in cases of “de facto segregation” (as in Northern cities). Through his first two years in the Senate, he supported most—but not all—of the anti-busing legislation.

Then he faced an angry crowd of anti-busing constituents. He adjusted his position.

Biden launched an anti-busing screed. “I have become convinced that busing is a bankrupt concept.” The Senate should declare busing a failure and focus instead on “whether or not we are really going to provide a better educational opportunity for blacks and minority groups in this country.” He praised Ed Brooke’s initiatives on housing, job opportunities and voting rights. In one breath, Biden seemed to reject busing in the North and the South, and claimed that he was committed to equal opportunity for African Americans.

Brooke asserted that the federal government should attempt other integration remedies before resorting to busing. “But if compliance with the law cannot be achieved without busing, then busing must be one of the available desegregation remedies.” Brooke introduced a motion to table Helms’ amendment. Brooke’s motion passed, 48-43. Biden wouldn’t budge, and voted with Jesse Helms and the anti-bussers.

Brooke had fought this fight before, but he would face a more formidable adversary in Joe Biden. When a Southern conservative like Helms led the anti-busing forces, Ed Brooke could still rally his troops. But it would be tougher to combat the anti-busing faction when its messenger was a young liberal from a border state.

And that young liberal stuck with his position.

You can say that was a long time ago and surely it’s not all that relevant now. But why say that? It’s not as if Biden is the only possible candidate, much less the best. He shafted Edward Brooke, he shafted Anita Hill, he stole a campaign speech from Neil Kinnock, he gropes little girls, he doesn’t treat his staff well, and he apparently still thinks we owe him the presidency. Why him? No reason, that I can see.

It’s all about money n stuff

Jun 30th, 2019 9:09 am | By

Oh god the shame of it.

Why is she there at all? Why is she talking? Why is she pretending to have some business thrusting herself into that conversation?

But at least a dog wouldn’t try to say words.

But it gets worse.

And play for the sports teams of their preference

Jun 29th, 2019 5:28 pm | By

How progressive.

City kids can now change their gender status on school records without any legal documentation — and play for the sports teams of their preference, the Department of Education announced Friday.

With parental permission, students can alter their genders, change their names and join sports teams regardless of what appears on their birth certificate, officials said.

Isn’t that sweet. How many Joes and Bills and Daves will rush to join the girls’ teams in order to win everything, I wonder. How many girls will lose their chance to win anything ever, I wonder.

“Schools are safe havens for students to develop their passions and discover their true identities, and these new guidelines celebrate and affirm all students,” said Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza in a statement.

Actually they’re not. Schools have nothing to do with discovering “true identity” in the sense of something that contradicts one’s physical body. Schools are places to discover interests and aptitudes and how to get better at them, but they’re not about identity. Schools do need to protect students from bullying, and bullying is often around things that can be called identities, but beyond that it’s pretty much none of the schools’ business what “identity” students have, just as it’s not their business what daydreams students have.

“With this updated policy, which allows students to change their name and gender on school records without legal documentation, we are signaling our support for all students regardless of gender identity,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement celebrating the changes.

Kids and their families will also be able to self-report names and genders when enrolling in a DOE school.

The regulations will permanently modify how schools calculate their demographics. Instead of tabulating gender numbers through birth certificates, administrators will now rely on self-reported information.

So demographic information will no longer be accurate. Awesome.

“These new guidelines additionally specify that puberty education classes must be inclusive and affirming to all genders, gender identities, and sexual orientations, and use gender-inclusive language throughout,” the department said.

The DOE added that LGBTQ-related subject matters will become mandatory for all city kids so that “multiple forms of diversity, including gender and sexual orientation, are recognized, understood, and regarded as indispensable sources of knowledge for rigorous teaching and learning,” the DOE said.

“New York City is proud to be leading on policies that allow New Yorkers across the gender spectrum to be themselves in every single area of their lives, especially our schools,” First Lady Chirlane McCray said in a statement.

We have achieved Utopia at last.

All the signs of being a coordinated operation

Jun 29th, 2019 4:36 pm | By

More on the new birtherism:

Just as Barack Obama’s US citizenship and background became a full-fledged conspiracy theory — promoted at the time by Donald Trump — Harris has also been targeted with disinformation questioning her race and legitimacy as a US citizen. Obama birther conspiracy theorists and prominent neo-Nazis, including Andrew Anglin, have questioned her eligibility to run for president, and she’s been labeled an “anchor baby.”

Then isn’t Trump an “anchor baby”? His mother was an immigrant. Or does it not count because she immigrated from Scotland?

Last night’s tweets, some of which were amplified by bots and in one case by Trump Jr., gave a new level of exposure to earlier claims propagated by fringe websites and discredited figures such as Jacob Wohl and the virulent neo-Nazi Anglin.

As documented by social media researcher Caroline Orr, Harris’s presence in the debate led to an onslaught of tweets that claimed she isn’t black, was not born in the United States, and was raised in Canada. (Harris went to high school in Canada, but otherwise lived in the US.)

Friday Trump mockingly told Putin not to interfere in the election, while Putin and Pompeo smirked. Haha, so funny.

He’s done a lot of things

Jun 29th, 2019 10:38 am | By

Evil puke praises murderous Mohammed bin Salman to his face:

Donald Trump has praised Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying he was doing a “spectacular job” as the pair met on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

“You have done a spectacular job,” Trump told the powerful crown prince on Saturday, calling him “a friend of mine”.

Like Kim, and Putin, and Bolsonaro.

Trump also said he appreciated Saudi Arabia’s purchase of US military equipment, praising the crown prince for working to open up the country with economic reforms.

Trump praised the crown prince, who has moved to loosen some social restrictions in the kingdom but also cracked down on activists, including women pressing for the right to drive.

“It’s an honour to be with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia … a man who has really done things in the last five years in terms of opening up Saudi Arabia,” Trump said.

“It’s like a revolution in a very positive way.”

And who would know better than Donald Trump?

You can see his gruesome fawning for yourself if you have the appetite for it.

Education for $$$ Secretary

Jun 29th, 2019 10:27 am | By

No accountability for for-profit colleges please.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is rescinding an Obama-era rule that was created to protect students from abusive for-profit colleges.

The rule, known as Gainful Employment, required for-profit colleges and career certificate programs to post debt-to-earnings ratios, proving that their students could find good-paying [well paid] jobs upon graduating. If the average ratio did not meet government standards, the school’s federal funding would be revoked.

Consumer advocates slammed DeVos on Friday for rolling back the student safeguard.

“Again and again, Secretary DeVos proves she only cares about protecting for-profit colleges, no matter how many students they swindle,” said Aaron Ament, president of the National Student Legal Defense Network.

DeVos has been widely criticized by Democrats for hiring department officials with ties to the for-profit industry.

The industry is mostly a massive swindle. For-profit colleges offer vocational training at enormous prices, and advertise heavily. Vocational training is available at community colleges for a fraction of the price.

Just one more item on The List of Squalor.

It cannot trump fairness for girls and women

Jun 29th, 2019 10:12 am | By

There have been some claims that Martina Navratilova has changed her mind about the fairness of male-bodied people competing against girls and women in sport, via a BBC documentary that aired a few days ago. (I haven’t seen it.)

She says no she hasn’t.

Consternation. She still thinks girls and women should be able to compete against girls and women??!