Notes and Comment Blog


Defending the indefensible

May 1st, 2019 9:18 am | By

What we’re watching right now is the top legal official in the US bending all his expertise and establishment cred (which he has a lot more of than Jeff Sessions ever did) to protect a malevolent unhinged criminal and make sure he (said criminal) gets to stay in the job where he can kill us all and destroy most of the planet.

Chris Cillizza notes that Barr lied to Congress about Mueller’s view of Barr’s summary:

Mueller sent a letter to Barr on March 27 expressing concern about the ways in which Barr’s summary document described the evidence surrounding obstructive behavior. Mueller did not make issue with any of the factual statements in Barr’s four-page letter but rather the lack of nuance on obstruction — and the resultant media coverage, according to CNN’s Laura Jarrett’s reporting.

That revelation creates a series of problems for Barr — most notably that he appeared to be, at best, misleading in his answers about Mueller’s feelings about his summary of the report.

On April 9, in a House hearing, Barr seemed entirely unaware of Mueller’s issues with his summary report. Here’s the key exchange between Barr and Florida Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist:

CRIST: Reports have emerged recently, general, that members of the special counsel’s team are frustrated at some level with the limited information included in your March 24 letter, that it does not adequately or accurately portray the report’s findings. Do you know what they are referencing with that?

BARR: No, I don’t.

He did though.

Cillizza goes on to say that Barr gave himself room to say he wasn’t technically lying – but who cares? He shouldn’t be playing games like that to shore up this criminal lunatic we’re dealing with. No one should.



More circus than bread

May 1st, 2019 8:15 am | By

From the Barr hearing:

Yes, that’s not what the letter says.



Y u switch summaries?

May 1st, 2019 8:07 am | By

Mueller’s letter to Barr:

I previously sent you a letter dated March 25, 2019, that enclosed the introduction and executive summary for each volume of the Special Counsel’s report marked with redactions to remove any information that potentially could be protected by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure that concerned declination decisions; or that related to a charged case. We also had marked an additional two sentences for review and have now confirmed that these sentences can be released publicly.

Accordingly, the enclosed documents are in a form that can be released to the public consistent with legal requirements and Department policies. I am requesting that you provide these materials to Congress and authorize their public release at this time.

As we stated in our meeting of March 5 and reiterated to the Department early in the afternoon of March 24, the introductions and executive summaries of our two-volume report accurately summarize this Office’s work and conclusions. The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.

See what happened there? It’s subtle, at least to non-lawyers. Mueller’s team sent Barr executive summaries, and Barr put those aside and instead gave his own summary to Congress and to us. Not Mueller’s, his. His summary was a bad summary, Mueller tells him.

In short he did what it always seemed apparent he would do: he inserted himself between the Mueller team and 1. Congress 2. us. He inserted himself to block information in order to protect Trump, which is not surprising in the guy who sent Trump an unsolicited memo explaining how he could get away with all his crimes and obstructions.

We communicated that concern to the Department on the morning of March 25. There is new public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations. See Department of Justice, Press Release (May 17, 2017).

I can confirm! My confidence in the outcome of the investigations is not full at all! It’s pretty close to empty.

It’s a fucking cover up and it’s happening right in front of us.

I hope they’re nailing him right now.



A degree of dissatisfaction that shocked DoJ officials

Apr 30th, 2019 5:27 pm | By

Oh yes?

Reading.

At the time the letter was sent on March 27, Barr had announced that Mueller had not found a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian officials seeking to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Barr also said Mueller had not reached a conclusion about whether Trump had tried to obstruct justice, but Barr reviewed the evidence and found it insufficient to support such a charge.

Days after Barr’s announcement, Mueller wrote a previously unknown private letter to the Justice Department, which revealed a degree of dissatisfaction with the public discussion of Mueller’s work that shocked senior Justice Department officials, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Oh really. Funny that Barr didn’t mention it to us.

“The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller wrote. “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

The letter asked Barr to release the report and gave suggestions on the redacting.

Justice Department officials said Tuesday they were taken aback by the tone of Mueller’s letter, and it came as a surprise to them that he had such concerns. Until they received the letter, they believed Mueller was in agreement with them on the process of reviewing the report and redacting certain types of information, a process that took several weeks. Barr has testified to Congress previously that Mueller declined the opportunity to review his four-page letter to lawmakers that distilled the essence of the special counsel’s findings.

So…Barr has been bullshitting us and DoJ officials. Scummier and scummier.



Forgetting

Apr 30th, 2019 4:32 pm | By

Erm…forget something?

Just one small problem – no L.

Oops, embarrassing.

He found one! Whew!

Well it is very easy to forget lesbians. The L is alllllllll the way at the beginning of LGBT so by the time you’ve gotten to the T, you’ve simply forgotten all about the L.



So goes the double bind

Apr 30th, 2019 4:06 pm | By

Rebecca Solnit is seeing a lot of unconscious bias going on:

I’ve just spent a month watching white male people in particular arguing about who has charisma or relatability or electability. They speak as if these were objective qualities, and as if their own particular take on them was truth or fact rather than taste, and as if what white men like is what everyone likes or white men are who matters, which is maybe a hangover from the long ugly era when only white men voted. It’s a form of self-confidence that verges on lunacy, because one of the definitions of that condition is the inability to distinguish between subjective feelings and objective realities.

She points out that a lot of male pundits “whose misogyny helped shape the race” in 2016 were later accused of sexual harassment.

Meanwhile, the New York Times in all its august unbearability just published this prize sentence in a piece about Joe Biden’s failure to offer Anita Hill an apology she found adequate: “Many former Judiciary Committee aides and other people who participated did not want to talk on the record because they feared that scrutiny of Mr. Biden’s past conduct would undermine the campaign of the candidate some think could be best positioned to defeat President Trump, whose treatment of women is a huge issue for Democrats.” That translates as, let’s run a guy whose treatment of women is an issue, and let’s ignore that treatment because even so we think that he’s best positioned to defeat the guy whose treatment of women is an issue, and also fuck treatment of women, especially this black woman, as an issue, really.

The trouble is, you see, that women lack charisma. Sad but true. Men have explained that to Solnit.

A friend of mine posted some praise of Elizabeth Warren, and a man jumped in to say, “It’s a moot point because she’s not going to get into office. With any luck Bernie Sanders is going to do that.” I’ve heard a lot of white men explain that Warren can’t win because she’s wonky, and then when I mention that our last two Democratic presidents were famously wonky, I get to hear why they had charisma and Warren doesn’t.

It’s almost as if, to a lot of men, unless a female person is 19 or under and smokin’ hot, she’s repellent. Too wonky, not charismatic enough, too smart, not relatable enough…just wrong, somehow. Them’s the rules.

What makes a candidate electable is in part how much positive coverage they get, and how much positive coverage they get is tied to how the media powers decide who is electable, and so goes the double bind.

The media powers aren’t always the right people to be deciding who is electable. (That’s deliberate understatement, of an extreme kind.)



You’re stuck with them

Apr 30th, 2019 12:16 pm | By

Meanwhile

A Virginia judge has ruled that statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in Charlottesville are war monuments that the city cannot remove without permission from the state.

In a nine-page ruling obtained from the University of Virginia School of Law website, Circuit Court Judge Richard E. Moore said neither the intentions of the people who erected the statues nor how they make people feel change the fact that the statues pay homage to the Civil War. Moore cited state code in his ruling that says it is illegal for municipalities to remove such monuments to war.

Gotta keep those monuments to war, because war is such a great thing.

The ruling comes nearly two years after the Unite the Right rally, a white nationalist gathering, left counterprotester Heather Heyer dead. The Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the statues in response to the rally, CNN affiliate WVIR-TV reported.

The city also covered the statues with black tarp while it mourned the deaths of Heyer and two troopers who died during the rally. However Judge Moore ruled the tarps had to be removed because the city never defined what a “temporary” shrouding meant. Moore also said the tarps have interfered with the public’s right to see the monuments and enjoy the parks.

In your face, people of Charlottesville and Richmond and other Virginia municipalities.



Foner on Lee

Apr 30th, 2019 12:08 pm | By

For my Freethinker column this month I wrote about Trump’s idiotic claim that Robert E. Lee was one of the greatest generals ever and is universally revered by all the many generals Trump talks to in the White House. Eric Foner wrote about the legend of Lee in August 2017, after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville:

[O]f course, what interests people who debate Lee today is his connection with slavery and his views about race. During his lifetime, Lee owned a small number of slaves. He considered himself a paternalistic master but could also impose severe punishments, especially on those who attempted to run away. Lee said almost nothing in public about the institution. His most extended comment, quoted by all biographers, came in a letter to his wife in 1856. Here he described slavery as an evil, but one that had more deleterious effects on whites than blacks. He felt that the “painful discipline” to which they were subjected benefited blacks by elevating them from barbarism to civilization and introducing them to Christianity.

It’s interesting that he saw slaveowning as part of “civilization” as opposed to “barbarism.”

The end of slavery would come in God’s good time, but this might take quite a while, since to God a thousand years was just a moment. Meanwhile, the greatest danger to the “liberty” of white Southerners was the “evil course” pursued by the abolitionists, who stirred up sectional hatred.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. The real injustice isn’t injustice but the people who try to end injustice.

Lee’s code of gentlemanly conduct did not seem to apply to blacks. During the Gettysburg campaign, he did nothing to stop soldiers in his army from kidnapping free black farmers for sale into slavery. In Reconstruction, Lee made it clear that he opposed political rights for the former slaves. Referring to blacks (30 percent of Virginia’s population), he told a Congressional committee that he hoped the state could be “rid of them.” Urged to condemn the Ku Klux Klan’s terrorist violence, Lee remained silent.

But he was magicked into a hero all the same.

The 1890s and early 20th century witnessed the consolidation of white supremacy in the post-Reconstruction South and widespread acceptance in the North of Southern racial attitudes. A revised view of history accompanied these developments, including the triumph of what David Blight, in his influential book “Race and Reunion” (2001), calls a “reconciliationist” memory of the Civil War. The war came to be seen as a conflict in which both sides consisted of brave men fighting for noble principles — union in the case of the North, self-determination on the part of the South. This vision was reinforced by the “cult of Lincoln and Lee,” each representing the noblest features of his society, each a figure Americans of all regions could look back on with pride…

Reconciliation excised slavery from a central role in the story, and the struggle for emancipation was now seen as a minor feature of the war. The Lost Cause, a romanticized vision of the Old South and Confederacy, gained adherents throughout the country. And who symbolized the Lost Cause more fully than Lee?

So when you hear Trump burbling about Lee, that’s the well he’s drawing from. He probably has no clue that it is, because he doesn’t read a whole lot of Eric Foner, but it remains the well whether Trump knows it or not.

In the 1920s and 1930s, a group of mostly Southern historians known as the revisionists went further, insisting that slavery was a benign institution that would have died out peacefully. A “blundering generation” of politicians had stumbled into a needless war. But the true villains, as in Lee’s 1856 letter, were the abolitionists, whose reckless agitation poisoned sectional relations. This interpretation dominated teaching throughout the country, and reached a mass audience through films like “The Birth of a Nation,” which glorified the Klan, and “Gone With the Wind,” with its romantic depiction of slavery.

Trump has probably seen “Gone With the Wind.” He probably thinks it’s a documentary.



A world of difference

Apr 30th, 2019 11:03 am | By

How the rules change when it’s Our Crook in the chair.

There is a world of difference between how Republicans viewed oversight when Barack Obama was president and their support of Trump’s obstruction. I know, because for five years I worked for Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

In a 1957 Supreme Court ruling, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, “The power of Congress to conduct investigations is inherent in the legislative process. That power is broad … It comprehends probes into departments of the federal government to expose corruption, inefficiency, or waste.”

During my time on Oversight, the chief justice’s words were often cited as justification for our vigorous supervision of the Obama administration. Led by Representative Darrell Issa, my former boss, Republicans issued more than 100 subpoenas, held Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congresscreated a select committee to investigate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of the Benghazi crisis, and filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging President Obama’s use of executive privilege.

How the rules do change when it’s Our Guy.

The committee sent Clinton a letter saying it could investigate anything at any time, and the chair sent  a letter warning the Obama administration not to try to intimidate a witness.

But now? Now the rules have changed. Or not so much “changed” as reversed.

The entire point of having separate but equal branches of government was to create protections against the kind of tyranny and absolute rule that was common in Europe. If Trump can simply ignore Congress and act unilaterally without consequence, then he is America’s first dictator.

And he is ignoring Congress and acting unilaterally without consequence, so currently he is America’s first dictator. That’s the state of play right now.



Circling the square

Apr 30th, 2019 10:32 am | By

Top argument skills.

“This is the difference.

There is no difference.”

Got that?



Outrages sexistes

Apr 30th, 2019 9:51 am | By

Street harassment in France:

French courts have handed down 447 fines in the past eight months under new laws to tackle street harassment of women.

The “outrages sexistes” law was passed in August 2018, and allows for on-the-spot fines of up to €750 (£650).

The first fine was handed down a month later to a man who slapped a woman’s bottom on a bus and made lewd remarks.

I can’t help wondering (not for the first time) what the point is. Did he think that would prompt her to have sex with him right there on the bus? Surely not. So, what, then? Just expressing a little casual hatred and contempt, because he couldn’t have sex with her right there on the bus? I guess so.



None of your business

Apr 30th, 2019 9:14 am | By

Trump and his corrupt brood are trying to prevent us from discovering what they’re up to.

Donald Trump, three of his children and seven of his companies have filed a US federal lawsuit against Deutsche Bank and Capital One in an attempt to stop them complying with subpoenas investigating his financial dealings.

Well isn’t that just a perfect illustration of why there’s a law against presidents sticking their families into their administrations.

Filed late on Monday in a federal court in New York, the lawsuit stated that demands for records by Democrat-controlled house committees have no legitimate or lawful purpose.

“The subpoenas were issued to harass President Donald J Trump, to rummage through every aspect of his personal finances, his businesses, and the private information of the president and his family,” the lawsuit said.

But his “personal” finances and his businesses and the “private” information of Trump and his corrupt children are no longer “personal” and “private” because he has made them all a matter of intense public concern. He’s done that by being so reckless and corrupt and authoritarian. That’s not our fault, it’s not the Dems’ fault, it’s his fault.



The courtesy and humor

Apr 29th, 2019 5:15 pm | By

Rod Rosenstein has sent his resignation letter, complete with a lot of flattery of the Mob Boss-in-chief.

The deputy attorney general, who has run the Justice Department’s day-to-day operations for most of the Trump presidency, submitted his resignation to the White House on Monday. The letter said he will stay on until May 11.

In the letter, Rosenstein thanked President Donald Trump—who once retweeted a picture of him behind bars—for “the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations.”

Ahem.

Rosenstein also made what appears to be a vague allusion to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. “Our nation is safer, our elections are more secure, and our citizens are better informed about covert foreign influence efforts and schemes to commit fraud, steal intellectual property, and launch cyberattacks,” he wrote.

Safer and more secure than what? Than they were before Trump parked his ass in the White House? Don’t be ridiculous.



Grooming

Apr 29th, 2019 11:18 am | By

Remember when Teen Vogue published a how-to piece on anal sex? That was interesting. This time it’s “sex work” – just what teenage girls need to read up on.



It’s also important to call out the disgraceful views

Apr 29th, 2019 10:51 am | By

So close…then a fall just before the finish line.

I find that some areas of the LGBT+ community are disproportionately taken up by gay and bisexual men. Like the rest of society, men are too often in the highest positions and the most visible.

In the mainstream media, as a journalist, it’s rare for me to see radio shows or newsrooms discussing recent LGBT+ stories – including the Birmingham school protests – with lesbians or bisexual women rather than gay men. I think the patriarchy exists within the LGBT+ community, and that lesbians just don’t have same exposure as their male counterparts.

To put it mildly.

We need to give more space to lesbians, as well as bisexual, queer or pansexual women. This visibility needs to be intersectional so that it strikes a chord with all, including lesbians of colour, disabled lesbians, and trans and non-binary lesbians.

Splat.

You can’t be both a lesbian and non-binary; that makes literally no sense. You can’t be both neither-female-nor-male and a lesbian. Same goes for trans.

It’s also important to call out the disgraceful views of a small number of lesbians, who oppose rights for trans people and will try to hijack this Lesbian Visibility Day. Their bigotry was highlighted at Pride in London last year, when around ten anti-trans lesbians gatecrashed the front of the parade, claiming that “transactivists erase lesbians”. This is completely wrong.

So much for giving more space to lesbians then.

For me, Lesbian Visibility Day is a moment to be proud of who I am and where I’ve come from. If you’re stuck there reading this from inside your lesbian closet somewhere in rural England (or even further afield), then please don’t give up. It really does get better.

Unless you disagree that “trans lesbian” makes sense.



Never enough room in the headline

Apr 29th, 2019 10:32 am | By

Soraya points out yet another “women don’t count.”

In the actual story, misogyny is cited in the first paragraph:

Student activists at Swarthmore College are demanding the school permanently shut down campus fraternities in the aftermath of leaked documents showing racist, misogynist and homophobic comments as well as jokes about sexual assault allegedly from fraternity members.

Misogyny and sexual assault – you’d think that would put misogyny first in the headline, but instead it’s dropped altogether, as if it just doesn’t count quite as much, even with the violence. Women…you know…they’re probably just privileged white sorority girls, or rich lawyers, or boring mommies, or hags, or [shudder] feminists. They don’t belong in the headline. They just don’t matter that much. Sorry.



Incendiary

Apr 28th, 2019 4:18 pm | By

CNN puts it more strongly:

President Donald Trump made an incendiary remark at a rally Saturday night, veering from criticism of Wisconsin’s Democratic governor to a false claim that mothers and doctors have the option to “execute” babies.Speaking at a rally he hosted in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Saturday, Trump pointed to former Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who was in attendance, and said Walker’s successor, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers “shockingly stated that he will veto legislation that protects Wisconsin babies born alive.”

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Evers planned to veto a GOP-backed state bill that could have meant life sentences in prison for doctors who intentionally did not provide medical care to babies born alive after a failed abortion.

Trump continued on the theme after his initial comment to claim that mothers and doctors are given the choice to “execute” a baby.

Which is a crock of shit.

Asked why abortions would happen at a later stage of pregnancy, Dr. Jennifer Conti, a fellow with the advocacy group Physicians for Reproductive Health and co-host of The V Word podcast, said, “Those exceptionally rare cases that happen after 24 weeks are often because a fetus has a condition that cannot be treated and will never be able to survive — regardless of the gestational age or trimester.”

“It’s this exact reason that it’s nonsensical to legislate these cases: Nobody arrives at the decision to have an abortion after 24 weeks carelessly,” Conti said. “Rather, it’s the rare case of rapidly decompensating maternal heart disease or a delayed diagnosis of anencephaly, where the fetus forms without a complete brain or skull, that bring people to these decisions.”

It’s not a matter of “Oh I want to go to a party that weekend.”



Extreme measures

Apr 28th, 2019 4:04 pm | By

The Times on Trump’s lie about “executing babies”:

WHAT TRUMP SAID

“The baby is born. The mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby. They wrap the baby beautifully. And then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby.”

President Trump revived on Saturday night what is fast becoming a standard, and inaccurate, refrain about doctors “executing babies.” During a more than hourlong speech at a rally in Green Bay, Wis., Mr. Trump admonished the Democratic governor, Tony Evers, for vetoing a Republican bill that could send doctors to prison for life if they fail to give medical care to children born alive after a failed abortion attempt.

“Children”? That’s forced-pregnancy vocabulary. It’s an embryo or an infant; it’s not a child.

The comments are the latest in a long string of incendiary statements from the president on abortion.

He wrote in January on Twitter that Democrats had become the “Party of late term abortion” when efforts to expand abortion rights in Virginia and New York gained national attention. About a week later, in his State of the Union address, he falsely said New York’s law would allow “a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” And in February he responded to the blocking of a federal measure similar to the Wisconsin bill by tweeting that Democrats “don’t mind executing babies AFTER birth.”

It’s because he’s so vibrant.

The Times has fact-checked before and pointed out that late-term abortions are very rare.

In another fact check, The Times found that infants are rarely born alive after abortion procedures:

It hardly ever happens, according to Dr. Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. He performs abortions and is a spokesman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, where he leads a committee on health care for underserved women. Infants are hardly ever born alive after attempted abortions, though there are rare cases where an infant survives a premature birth but cannot survive without extreme attempts at resuscitation.

Moreover, The Times reported, doctors do not kill the infants who survive, although families may choose not to take extreme measures to resuscitate them:

Dr. Grossman said there were painful situations in which the fetus might be at the edge of viability and labor must be induced to save the mother’s life. For instance, a condition called pre-eclampsia, involving high blood pressure and other problems, can kill both mother and fetus, and in most cases the only treatment is to deliver the baby. If it seems unlikely that the baby will survive, the family may choose to provide just comfort care — wrapping and cuddling the baby — and allow the child to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation.

Bills like the one in Wisconsin and the one that Democrats blocked in Congress in February would force doctors to resuscitate the infant, even against the family’s wishes.

Why is it that the family may decide to provide just comfort care — wrapping and cuddling the infant — and allow the infant to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation? I’m guessing it’s because the odds of success are abysmal and the extreme attempts at resuscitation are a nightmare so they prefer not to put the infant through torture. Bills to take that out of the hands of families look like sheer spite.



Watch the dudes leapfrog over women

Apr 28th, 2019 3:18 pm | By

We keep being told that women need to lean in but…

Women’s lack of ambition is not the reason white men are leading in that race. Rather, it’s some dubious notion of who’s “electable” against Donald Trump. (Read: not a woman.)

That’s why watching South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who represents a population smaller than a New York City council district, outpoll Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren makes many of us want to eat glass; an entirely rational reaction to a datapoint that might discourage anyone without a Y chromosome…

Speaking of not giving anything up, the most recent Emerson poll shows Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke all ahead of the nearest women, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.

While Biden and Sanders are well-established candidates with decades of public service and national name recognition, it’s galling to see  previously obscure men with limited accomplishments like “Beto” and “Mayor Pete” leapfrog over women whose outsized accomplishments and respective résumés would put most people to shame.

Just as it was galling to see an ignorant brainless rapey corrupt shit like Trump leapfrog over a woman whose outsized accomplishments and résumé would put most people to shame. Elections are like that, of course: people can vote for whatever reason they feel like, and often the reason is as ridiculous as “I’d be happy to have a beer with the guy.” That doesn’t make it any less galling.

Voters require female candidates to be more prepared than men—and then punish them for it when they inevitably prove less “likable.” This is not just a Republican sickness. According to the same Emerson poll, 26 percent of Sanders supporters would vote for Trump over Warren in a general election.

I guess men are just better, huh?



Whether or not they will execute the baby

Apr 28th, 2019 12:07 pm | By

He did say it. I just watched the clip in which he says it.

If you want to skip the part where they all cheer Scott Walker and Walker takes a bow and yadda yadda, skip ahead to about 1 minute in.