Notes and Comment Blog


Damned out of his own mouth

Feb 2nd, 2017 11:15 am | By

Trump also used the National Prayer Rice Krispies to tell the assembled multitude not to worry about his belligerent phone calls to heads of state who have the bad taste not to be Putin.

Mr. Trump also went off topic in his address to the National Prayer Breakfast. He told the audience not to worry about reports that he had held tempestuous phone calls with the leaders of allies Australia and Mexico, saying a tough approach was long overdue.

“When you hear about the tough phone calls, don’t worry,” he said. “We’re being taken advantage of by countries around the world. It’s time for us to be a little tough. It’s not going to happen anymore.”

Yeah, that Australia, man – robbing us blind, they are.

Mr. Trump talked about the influence of faith in his own life, referring to the family Bible, which was used when he took the oath of office at his inauguration. His mother, he said, read to him from that Bible during his childhood.

“America is a nation of believers,” he said. “The quality of our lives is not defined by our material success, but by our spiritual success.”

Is that right? Well then I hate to break it to you, Donnie from Queens, but the quality of your life is in the toilet. You are the emptiest human being I have ever observed.



Without sufficient intelligence

Feb 2nd, 2017 10:20 am | By

Good god – how has this flown under the radar so long? Trump approved that commando raid in Yemen without due diligence.

The U.S. military said on Wednesday it was looking into whether more civilians were killed in a raid on al Qaeda in Yemen on the weekend, in the first operation authorized by President Donald Trump as commander in chief.

U.S. Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens was killed in the raid on a branch of al Qaeda, also known as AQAP, in al Bayda province, which the Pentagon said also killed 14 militants. However, medics at the scene said about 30 people, including 10 women and children, were killed.

U.S. Central Command said in a statement that an investigating team had “concluded regrettably that civilian non-combatants were likely killed” during Sunday’s raid. It said children may have been among the casualties.

Central Command said its assessment “seeks to determine if there were any still-undetected civilian casualties in the ferocious firefight.”

U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.

Emphasis added.

He what???

Can we take this seriously now?



Bad hombres down there

Feb 2nd, 2017 9:42 am | By

Then there’s the part about how he blustered at Mexico some more.

President Donald Trump warned in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart that he was ready to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” unless the Mexican military does more to control them, according to an excerpt of a transcript of the conversation obtained by The Associated Press.

The excerpt of the call did not detail who exactly Trump considered “bad hombres,” nor did it make clear the tone and context of the remark, made in a Friday morning phone call between the leaders. It also did not contain Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s response. Mexico denies that Trump’s remarks were threatening.

The White House today says the “remarks” were “light-hearted.” That sounds so familiar…what does it remind me of…oh yes: everything. Trump’s MO, and trolls, and bullies in general. It’s what they always say. I was just teasing, can’t you take a joke, he does that because he has a crush on you.

Trump’s “jokes” are the jokes of an angry narcissistic bully. They’re sexist or racist or xenophobic according to target; sometimes they’re all three at once – like calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.” Yammering at Enrique Peña Nieto about “bad hombres” fits that pattern. The “jokes” are entirely inappropriate, to put it mildly.

The phone call between the leaders was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump’s determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt given to AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

A person with access to the official transcript of the phone call provided only that portion of the conversation to The Associated Press. The person gave it on condition of anonymity because the administration did not make the details of the call public.

The Mexican website Aristegui Noticias on Tuesday published a similar account of the phone call, based on the reporting of journalist Dolia Estevez. The report described Trump as humiliating Pena Nieto in a confrontational conversation.

But but but his remarks were “light-hearted” humiliations.



Then he slammed the phone down

Feb 2nd, 2017 9:21 am | By

Donnie from Queens is confused again. (I do wish someone would speak to him. I wish someone would give him a little guidebook to study. Flash cards. A short video. Something.) He thinks we’re at war with Australia. No no no, Donnie, Australia is an ally. Can you say “ally”? “Al” rhymes with pal – “ly” rhymes with lie (your favorite thing!): ally. Australia is an ally. That means they’re on our side. We’re not at war with them.

It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief — a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week.

Instead, President Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refu­gee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.

At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladi­mir Putin — and that “this was the worst call by far.”

President Putin, who has stepped up his attack on Ukraine – that was a fun call. Putin’s a stand-up guy who doesn’t put up with any guff from the serfs. That Ozzie guy is a whole other story. Worst ever.

Trump’s behavior suggests that he is capable of subjecting world leaders, including close allies, to a version of the vitriol he frequently employs against political adversaries and news organizations in speeches and on Twitter.

Tactful way of putting it. Trump’s behavior makes it shamefully obvious that he is rash and stupid and conceited enough to be a raging asshole to heads of state who are close allies as well as to senators, newspapers and tv news stations, women, and anyone else he feels like attacking.

“This is the worst deal ever,” Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honor its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center.

Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admission of refugees, complained that he was “going to get killed” politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers.”

He was rude and belligerent as only he knows how to be, waving his Malignant Narcissism around as if it were a badge of honor.

25th Amendment.



National Prayer Oatmeal

Feb 2nd, 2017 8:53 am | By

Where to begin…

Trump made his debut at a ludicrous institution called “the National Prayer Breakfast” – which is obviously something secular governments should ignore. He covered all the bases by attending the theocratic nightmare, and then insulting it and everyone present by talking about…Arnold Schwarzenegger and Celebrity Apprentice? I don’t know, that sounds like a joke, but the Post is reporting it as fact.

The comments were an unusual start to the bipartisan breakfast. But they were not so unusual for a president who prides himself on putting on a good show and garnering good ratings.

He has taken Schwarzenegger to task in the past for low ratings and accused the former California governor of siding with his political opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Schwarzenegger fired back on Twitter with a video responding directly to the president’s comments.

“Hey Donald, I have a great idea. Why don’t we switch jobs,” Schwarzenegger said. “You take over TV, because you’re such an expert in ratings and I take over your job and Then people can finally sleep comfortably again.”

Or we could find someone with actual education and training in a field relevant to the job. Zany, I know, but it’s a thought.

Eventually he cut to the chase and promised to make the US even more theocratic than it already is.

The president also declared that he would work to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits some tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates. And he pledged to protect religious freedom.

“I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution,” Trump said. “I want to express clearly today to the American people that my administration will do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty in our land.”

Nope. Religious freedom includes freedom from religion, which requires secular government.

Also, presidents don’t have the power to “get rid of and totally destroy” existing legislation. He doesn’t have dictatorial powers, yet.



Trump understands nothing

Feb 1st, 2017 4:48 pm | By

The Independent has the transcript and video of Trump’s miniature “speech” on Black History Month. The combination of ignorance, idiocy and narcissism is like a blow between the eyes.

Well, this is black history month, so this is our little breakfast, our little get-together. And just a few notes. During this month, we honour the tremendous history of the African-Americans throughout our country. Throughout the world, if you really think about it, right. And their story is one of unimaginable sacrifice, hard work, and faith in America.

Stop right there. No. That is exactly wrong. Their story is not one of “sacrifice.” Sacrifice entails agency and choice. If I hit you over the head and take all your stuff, that’s not you “sacrificing” for me, that’s me assaulting and robbing you. Their story is one of oppression and exploitation, of violence and enslavement, of kidnapping and torture and dehumanization. I could go on. Slavery is not about slaves sacrificing for the criminals who claim to “own” them, it’s about a long-term crime against humanity.

And the “hard work” was extorted from them by violence and torture. And shut the fuck up about “faith in America” when the majority of America’s history is the history of a slave state.

He could hardly have gotten it more insultingly wrong if he’d tried for a year.

Then he talked at much more length about himself and the statue of King.

Then he talked about himself some more. The end.

Then there’s a speech by Obama at the opening of the African American History Museum in September. It’s rather different. It will depress you if you read it, because of how different it is. Just one little extract…

What we can see of this building — the towering glass, the artistry of the metalwork — is surely a sight to behold.  But beyond the majesty of the building, what makes this occasion so special is the larger story it contains.  Below us, this building reaches down 70 feet, its roots spreading far wider and deeper than any tree on this Mall.  And on its lowest level, after you walk past remnants of a slave ship, after you reflect on the immortal declaration that “all men are created equal,” you can see a block of stone.  On top of this stone sits a historical marker, weathered by the ages.  That marker reads:  “General Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay spoke from this slave block…during the year 1830.”

I want you to think about this.  Consider what this artifact tells us about history, about how it’s told, and about what can be cast aside.  On a stone where day after day, for years, men and women were torn from their spouse or their child, shackled and bound, and bought and sold, and bid like cattle; on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over a thousand bare feet — for a long time, the only thing we considered important, the singular thing we once chose to commemorate as “history” with a plaque were the unmemorable speeches of two powerful men.

And that block I think explains why this museum is so necessary.  Because that same object, reframed, put in context, tells us so much more.  As Americans, we rightfully passed on the tales of the giants who built this country; who led armies into battle and waged seminal debates in the halls of Congress and the corridors of power.  But too often, we ignored or forgot the stories of millions upon millions of others, who built this nation just as surely, whose humble eloquence, whose calloused hands, whose steady drive helped to create cities, erect industries, build the arsenals of democracy.

It certainly depresses me.

H/t Kausik



No exit from Brexit

Feb 1st, 2017 3:56 pm | By

So that’s appalling.

Brexit: MPs overwhelmingly back Article 50 bill

Well shame on those MPs.

MPs have voted by a majority of 384 to allow Prime Minister Theresa May to get Brexit negotiations under way.

They backed the government’s European Union Bill, supported by the Labour leadership, by 498 votes to 114.

But the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats opposed the bill, while 47 Labour MPs and Tory ex-chancellor Ken Clarke rebelled.

Two nationalist parties opposed the hyper-nationalist Brexit – ain’t life strange. But then they’re minority-nation nationalist, so it’s not so strange after all. Ironic though? Yes I think we get to call it ironic.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had imposed a three-line whip – the strongest sanction at his disposal – on his MPs to back the bill.

Shadow cabinet members Rachael Maskell and Dawn Butler quit the party’s front bench shortly before the vote, in order to defy his orders.

UK friends of mine are in despair.



Sell all this useless federal land

Feb 1st, 2017 12:03 pm | By

Another sub-radar item – Republicans moving to sell of public lands.

House bill H.R. 621, introduced last week by Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), would direct the Secretary of the Interior to sell off 3.3 million acres of federal land.

“The long overdue disposal of excess federal lands will free up resources for the federal government while providing much-needed opportunities for economic development in struggling rural communities,” Chaffetz said in a press release Tuesday.

The federal lands that would be sold encompass less than .5% of all federal lands, according to Chaffetz. However, 3.3 million acres is roughly the same size as the state of Connecticut (3.5 million acres). The lands have not been identified yet and the formal text for the bill has not yet been submitted to the Congress.gov site.

The bill calls for: “responsible disposal of 3.3 million acres of land identified by the Clinton Administration as being suitable for sale to non-federal entities … these lands have been deemed to serve no purpose for taxpayers.”

Well “purpose” tends to have a different meaning for Republicans from the one it has for the rest of us. We tend to think of purpose as being broader than monetary profit.

Chaffetz introduced the federal lands disposal bill along with bill H.R. 622 which would eliminate the law enforcement duties of the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service. The responsibility of enforcement on Forest Service and BLM land would then fall on local law enforcement.

And the Bundy gang would throw a huge party.



Fox News being “nice”

Feb 1st, 2017 11:44 am | By

Fox News – the one good news source we have, according to Trump, because they treat him “nice.” Fox News is not such a good news source as Trump claims it is. Canada had to tell it to stop lying about the Quebec murderer.

The office of the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has forced Fox News to apologise and retract a “false and misleading” tweet that inaccurately described the suspect in the Québec City mosque shooting as a man of Moroccan origin.

Kate Purchase, the director of communications for the prime minister’s office, sent a letter to Fox News objecting to misinformation it had put out after the attack on the Québec City Islamic cultural center.

Oh well, all they did was say the wrong guy did it. No biggy.

Shortly after the attack police arrested two men. Police did not release their names, but local media cited police sources to identify them as a French Canadian and a Moroccan-born Quebecer. By midday on Monday, police had clarified that only one was a suspect, and they had released the other – who was now being treated as a witness – without charge.

Fox News later sent out a tweet on Monday afternoon – shortly after the police clarification – suggesting there was just one suspect in the attack who was of Moroccan origin.

The Fox News tweet made no mention of the other man arrested, French-Canadian Alexandre Bissonnette, who now faces six charges of first-degree murder and five of attempted murder. Those who know Bissonnette have described him as pro-Donald Trump, anti-immigration and sympathetic to the far right.

No wonder Fox News forgot to update its tweet.

Hours after it was made clear that Bissonnette was the only suspect in the case, the “false and misleading” tweet was still on the Fox News Twitter account and remained in circulation, said Purchase.

While the Fox News story linked to the tweet had been corrected, the erroneous tweet had been retweeted more than 900 times and had racked up 1,600 likes.

In a letter to a top official at the network, Purchase asked Fox News to retract or update the tweet to reflect the suspect’s identity as a 27-year-old French-Canadian.

“These tweets by Fox News dishonour the memory of the six victims and their families by spreading misinformation, playing identity politics and perpetuating fear and division within our communities,” she wrote.

Identity politics??!!! It’s only the left that plays identity politics!! Everybody knows that – just ask Breitbart.



Milwaukee to Donnie from Queens: stay home

Feb 1st, 2017 11:20 am | By

Hmmm, so it turns out that Trump, friend of manufacturing companies and friend of Wisconsin, is not all that welcome at the Milwaukee Harley-Davidson plant after all. Why not? It’s nothing personal, it’s just that he has these…critics.

An administration official told CNN that President Trump was set to visit a Harley-Davidson factory in Milwaukee on Thursday, but the trip was called off after the company decided it didn’t want to deal with a planned protest.

The White House announced the visit to Milwaukee on Monday, but did not give a specific location. Technical Sergeant Meghan Skrepenski, with the 128th Air Refueling Wing of the Air National Guard in Milwaukee, confirmed to the AP on Tuesday that the trip was canceled.

Trump was expected to sign executive orders related to manufacturing during the trip. The group Milwaukee Coalition Against Trump said it organized a call-in protest to Harley-Davidson after learning that Trump would tour the company’s plant in Menomonee Falls. By Tuesday afternoon, 1,200 people said on the group’s Facebook page that they were planning to protest outside the plant on Thursday.

Trump’s people are denying it. He was never planning to go to Milwaukee. It wasn’t the protests that made him decide not to go – he has to do some laundry that day. Milwaukee is coming to him, not the other way around. Milwaukee is not a real place, it’s fake news. Milwaukee is the opposition party and should shut its mouth. Milwaukee needs to show us its long-form birth certificate. Milwaukee is guilty guilty guilty, no matter what the DNA evidence says, and should be executed. Milwaukee is bad people.



Many for-profit universities went under

Feb 1st, 2017 11:10 am | By

The Times’s daily Trump briefing includes an item that should not fly under the radar.

It also turns a sarcastic eye on Trump’s name-check of Frederick Douglass:

Trump: That Frederick Douglass “has done an amazing job.”

Yes, that Frederick Douglass, former slave, abolitionist and statesman who died in 1895.

Meeting with African-American supporters at the White House on Wednesday, the president let it be known that Mr. Douglass, an important figure in American history, had come to his attention.

“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice,” Mr. Trump said. “Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today. A big impact.”

Yes, he said that.

He’s just that good.

But the must not go under the radar item – it’s that Trump wants to undo regulations that hinder the ability of for-profit “universities” to rip off people who can least afford it. Gee, I wonder where that came from.

The Obama administration’s efforts to regulate the once flourishing for-profit university system did not get a lot of attention, but they had big consequences.

Critics of the universities saw fake diploma mills that recruited students with advertising on buses, on subways and even in homeless shelters, and then helped them get guaranteed student loans from the federal government. Money in hand, the for-profits often left the students to their own devices. If they dropped out, or got degrees that proved worthless in the work world, so be it: The taxpayer would pay off the loans if the students couldn’t.

The Obama-era regulations tightened up recruiting rules and tied loans to the schools’ records of getting their students the jobs they were promised. Many for-profit universities went under.

Now, President Trump — who just settled a fraud suit against his Trump University — has asked Liberty University’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., a stern critic of accreditation rules, to head a White House task force on higher education, assigned to focus on “overregulation and micromanagement,” a Liberty spokesman told NBC News.

Yeah – “overregulation and micromanagement” that keep ruthless shitbags like Trump from cheating poor people out of the little money they have and pushing them into debt. Trump wants to restore the freedom of ruthless shitbags like him to rob people blind.

Of course it’s not at all “overregulation and micromanagement” for Trump to run around banning all citizens of an assortment of majority-Muslim countries from entering the US – oh hell no, that’s “keeping our country safe.”



Trump took the occasion

Feb 1st, 2017 10:44 am | By

But wait – can Trump really be a racist? After all, today he was at a meeting to mark the start of African-American History Month, so how can he possibly be a racist when he did that?

He was awesome, too.

Sitting in the Roosevelt Room on Wednesday for what was billed as a listening session to mark the start of African-American History Month, President Donald Trump took the occasion to once again criticize the media for covering him unfairly while also praising famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass as “somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.”

“Last month we celebrated the life of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., whose incredible example is unique in American history. You read all about Dr. Martin Luther King a week ago when somebody said I took the statue out of my office. And it turned out that that was fake news from these people,” Trump said during his introductory remarks, gesturing at the pool reporters who had been allowed in to view the start of the meeting. “Fake news. The statue is cherished … but they said the statue, the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, was taken out of the office. And it was never even touched. So I think it was a disgrace. But that’s the way the press is, very unfortunate.”

See there? He managed to say “Martin Luther King” twice before veering off to talk about himself again. So how can he be a racist? Right?

The president was flanked on each side at the Roosevelt Room conference table by Housing and Urban Development Secretary-designate Ben Carson and Omarosa Manigault, a former contestant on Trump’s reality TV show “The Apprentice” who joined his administration in the Office of Public Liaison.

He was flanked by his very own Black People. He has enough of them that he could have one on each side. So not racist.

Speaking of the influence African-Americans have had on the U.S., Trump listed Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman as individuals who “made America what it is today.” He said famed orator Frederick Douglass “is an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”

Does that kind of sound as if he has no idea who any of them actually are? Yes. But somebody told him their names and he actually said them aloud. What more do you want?

The president continued his attack against the media moments later as he introduced Paris Dennard, a supporter of Trump’s who appeared regularly on CNN and other media outlets during the campaign. Often paired against a supporter of Democrat Hillary Clinton, segments featuring Dennard occasionally became heated, which Trump noted in his remarks.

“Paris has done an amazing job in a very hostile CNN community. He’s all by himself. He’ll have seven people and Paris,” Trump said. “I’ll take Paris over the seven. But I don’t watch CNN so I don’t get to see you as much. I don’t like watching fake news. But Fox has treated me very nice, wherever Fox is, thank you.”

That is of course the new standard. Critical of Trump=fake news; treating Trump very nice=authentic news.

He went on to agree with Bannon on the news media:

“A lot of the media is actually the opposition party. They’re so biased. And really it’s a disgrace. Some of the media is fantastic and fair. But so much of the media is opposition party. And knowingly saying incorrect things,” Trump said. “So it’s a very sad situation. But we seem to be doing well. You know, it’s almost like in the meantime, we won, so maybe they don’t have the influence they think. But they really are — they really have to straighten out their act. They’re very dishonest people.”

Says the most brazen liar ever to have the gig.



Trump bans bad people

Feb 1st, 2017 10:15 am | By

Trump’s latest official statement on Twitter. This is the president of the United States.

I guess he wants us all to understand exactly how racist he really is. He thinks the way to keep “bad people” out of “country” is to close the doors on everyone from seven majority-Muslim nations. He’s saying all Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, Yemenis, Sudanese, Somalis, Libyans are bad people.

The essence of racism, in one little tweet.



Basics of international law for imbeciles

Jan 31st, 2017 5:58 pm | By

Merkel had to explain the Geneva Convention to Trump when they talked on the phone Saturday.

Donald Trump’s executive order to halt travel from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia – has provoked a wave of concern and condemnation from international leaders and politicians.

A spokesman for Angela Merkel said the German chancellor regretted Trump’s decision to ban citizens of certain countries from entering the US, adding that she had “explained” the obligations of the refugee convention to the new president in a phone call on Saturday.

“The chancellor regrets the US government’s entry ban against refugees and the citizens of certain countries,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

“She is convinced that the necessary, decisive battle against terrorism does not justify a general suspicion against people of a certain origin or a certain religion.

“The … refugee convention requires the international community to take in war refugees on humanitarian grounds. All signatory states are obligated to do. The German government explained this policy in their call yesterday.”

That’s the kind of thing he should already know.



Two for one

Jan 31st, 2017 4:40 pm | By

Trump’s other stupid item yesterday – signing an order saying if you want a regulation you have to give up two existing regulations. Spoken like a true market fundamentalist, who just assumes that regulation is inherently bad. Right. Those busybodies who made it impossible to sell Thalidomide; what were they thinking? Regulations against fraud, pollution, exploitation – all a caTAAAAAStrophe, if you’re Pinhead Trump.

It’s hard to overstate just how silly and arbitrary this notion is. It’s sloganeering, not public policy – but we’d all pay for it if such an absurd vision of regulatory reform actually became reality.

It isn’t hard to see how Trump’s catchphrase would play out in the real world, for the worse. Say an industrial cleaner or pesticide turns out to be harmful to humans in ways that weren’t understood before. Should regulators really have to go digging for two unrelated regulations to eliminate before they can do something about it?

Or say a new financial product cooked up by unsavory lenders is proliferating on the internet. Should regulators really have to let financial institutions go unshackled in two unrelated ways before stepping in?

No, of course not. Government should regulate the things that need to be regulated in order to protect the health of the population and prevent people from being duped – full stop.

But Republicans think the answer is yes, of course. Market fundamentalism is one of their non-negotiables.

For instance, for years Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail have been promulgating the idea of a “regulatory cap”: a limit on the amount that regulations can “cost” in any given year.

If it gets too expensive to ban the sale of Thalidomide, well, I guess women will just have to assume the risk again.

Trump – and the wider GOP, for that matter – also seem to suffer under the idea that deregulation has no cost. To refute that, I’d refer them to: 2008, the financial crisis of.

In the buildup to that mess – which was a bipartisan effort, to be sure – regulations on new, dangerous financial products were either prevented from coming into being or utterly ignored. The result was trillions of dollars of wealth evaporating.

But hedge-fund managers got very very very rich. Surely that’s all that matters.

The good news is that there may be more theater to Trump’s order than actual effect, as has been the case with some of his previous efforts. If an agency already has legal authority to make a new rule, it’s unclear if the president can just force it to do something else before implementation. As Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Washington Post, “Congress has not called upon EPA to choose between clean air and clean water, and the president cannot do this by executive fiat.”

You can’t blame a guy for trying.



Softcore Holocaust denial

Jan 31st, 2017 1:35 pm | By

Deborah Lipstadt was in Amsterdam for a screening of Denial when her phone lit up with the news about Trump’s Holocaust Memorial Day statement that conspicuously did not mention Jews. At first she thought it was just a clumsy mistake…but then she no longer did.

I quickly learned that the White House had released a statement for Holocaust Remembrance Day that did not mention Jews or anti-Semitism. Instead it bemoaned the “innocent victims.” The internet was buzzing and many people were fuming. Though no fan of Trump, I chalked it up as a rookie mistake by a new administration busy issuing a slew of executive orders. Someone had screwed up. I refused to get agitated, and counseled my growing number of correspondents to hold their fire. A clarification would certainly soon follow. I was wrong.

In a clumsy defense Hope Hicks, the White House director of strategic communications, insisted that, the White House, by not referring to Jews, was acting in an “inclusive” manner. It deserved praise not condemnation. Hicks pointed those who inquired to an article which bemoaned the fact that, too often the “other” victims of the Holocaust were forgotten. Underlying this claim is the contention that the Jews are “stealing” the Holocaust for themselves. It is a calumny founded in anti-Semitism.

There were of course other victims, she says, but that was not the Holocaust.

The Holocaust was something entirely different. It was an organized program with the goal of wiping out a specific people. Jews did not have to do anything to be perceived as worthy of being murdered. Old people who had to be wheeled to the deportation trains and babies who had to be carried were all to be killed. The point was not, as in occupied countries, to get rid of people because they might mount a resistance to Nazism, but to get rid of Jews because they were Jews.

Had the Germans won, they probably would have eliminated millions of other peoples, including the Roma, homosexuals, dissidents of any kind, and other “useless eaters.” But it was only the Jews whose destruction could not wait until after the war. Only in the case of the Jews could war priorities be overridden. Germany was fighting two wars in tandem, a conventional war and a war against the Jews. It lost the first and, for all intents and purposes, nearly won the second.

They frequently compromised their military capacity by diverting it to the extermination project. Trains, fuel, soldiers and SS needed for the war were instead used for the genocide.

The de-Judaization of the Holocaust, as exemplified by the White House statement, is what I term softcore Holocaust denial. Hardcore denial is the kind of thing I encountered in the courtroom. In an outright and forceful fashion, Irving denied the facts of the Holocaust. In his decision, Judge Charles Grey called Irving a liar and a manipulator of history. He did so, the judge ruled, deliberately and not as the result of mistakes.

Softcore denial uses different tactics but has the same end-goal. (I use hardcore and softcore deliberately because I see denial as a form of historiographic pornography.) It does not deny the facts, but it minimizes them, arguing that Jews use the Holocaust to draw attention away from criticism of Israel. Softcore denial also makes all sorts of false comparisons to the Holocaust. In certain Eastern European countries today, those who fought the Nazis may be lauded, but if they did so with a communist resistance group they may be prosecuted. Softcore denial also includes Holocaust minimization, as when someone suggests it was not so bad. “Why are we hearing about that again?”

After Hicks’s defense of the statement, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus doubled down, insisting that they made no mistake. On Meet the Press Chuck Todd gave Priebus repeated chances to retract or rephrase the statement. Priebus refused and dug in deeper, declaring “everyone’s suffering in the Holocaust, including obviously, all of the Jewish people… [was] extraordinarily sad.”

In the penultimate sentence of the president’s statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the White House promised to ensure that “the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good.” But the statement was issued on the same day as the order banning refugees. It is hard not to conclude that this is precisely what happened at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

And Reagan went to Bitburg.



Guest post: Send them back to their crappy reality television show

Jan 31st, 2017 1:21 pm | By

Originally a comment by AJ Milne on An independent judiciary.

That custom thing, I think that’s just everywhere with established norms. As democracies age, they work out what works, spot the boundaries they know they can’t cross. It doesn’t always get written down, exactly, or not in the law.

And that’s why there has to be a heavy political price for going anywhere near them. People who try to game the system, effectively, by arguing, well, technically you never said! Even if it’s like playing chess and suddenly saying I’m gonna colour your queen black and call it mine… Because nothing technically said I couldn’t.

I worry that this is in part the price of people being (I think, frequently, deliberately and manipulatively) made alienated from the process, made especially cynical about it, convinced it’s all just a shoddy, shameful game, so play to win, and anything’s fair. Nations and communities also stand on their common, understood, frequently unspoken values, things you don’t do, things that will absolutely get you struck off the dinner invitation list…

And absolutely, you can bet any number of his loud, braying thugs on the net are now going to be loudly bleating ‘but you never said’, and screaming holy hell if any other government body tries, as is only their damned responsibility in a system of checks and balances, to check their chosen tyrant. Oh, and see also the usual ‘but it’s a crisis, to hell with tradition, he needs extraordinary powers’ gambit, and never mind that, dramatic and arresting as the terror events he’s using as a pretext are (and are meant to be, and note the usual convenient synergy between strongman one and violent extremist authoritarian two, as both will attempt to drive you to accept their rule through fear), they’re still about as much a statistical menace to anyone specifically in the mainland US as is being hit by lightning.

This is the absurdity that remains for me, here. I appreciate people get scared; isn’t like I’ve never felt that; I lived near enough to the plane that hit the Pentagon, once upon a time, and these things are designed to be visceral, terrifying, heart-wrenching and generating much alarm, between your sympathy for the suffering and fear that next it may be you or one of your own. But remember: it’s still fear they’re using, and a fear you need to manage accordingly, deal with sensibly, and, to my mind, whose very crude purpose you should deliberately try to frustrate, as well as you can by saying ‘fuck that, you ain’t scaring me into anything rash’. And also, really, a rather innumerate fear, at the end of the day, so many places. A bit like selling your house to buy lottery tickets, this, in terms of what you give up for the still faint odds being addressed, here. Let’s trash our entire international reputation and, effectively, let ourselves be broken by this fear they continually try to make the only thing worth considering here, and never mind the groups that do only use these sensational events because that’s all they can do, really, lacking the means to pose an actual, meaningful military danger…

All of which argues, back: go with proportional, measured responses, things you can afford, things that don’t splash ruin on everyone within miles, things that don’t break what you’re trying to protect in the first place. And when you catch someone grandstanding, playing this card for power, send them back to their crappy reality television show with a boot up their ass.



Bannon wanted it this way

Jan 31st, 2017 12:42 pm | By

Dan Drezner raises the question: was The Ban incompetence or malevolence?

He starts with saying it was Bannon’s baby, which seems to be generally accepted. Next, The Ban is a disaster. Then he points out that Bannon is definitely not stupid. Agreed…so I wonder what it can be like for him having to baby and cajole the amazingly stupid Trump.

So why did not-stupid Bannon perpetrate a disaster?

The most plausible story to assume in this instance is incompetence. Ordinarily, when the federal government does something stupid, it’s best to assume incompetence rather than malevolence. This is Bannon’s first week in a White House job and, like most other really smart people who lack high-level government experience, there will be a lot of rookie mistakes at the outset. The Trump administration will be different from past administrations on a lot of dimensions, but screwing up in the first few months is not one of them. This is particularly true given the abject lack of government experience among Trump’s White House staff. Maybe this is just a case of smart people doing stupid things because they are inexperienced.

But smart people know when they’re inexperienced, and they know they need to act accordingly, at least to some extent. They don’t barge ahead at 500 miles an hour, dodging a rain of pitchforks and slop buckets. That would go double or triple or more when the experience in question is managing the government of the United States.

He did it out of malice and “Leninist” destructiveness. He did it because he’s a shit.

Drezner quotes Kevin Drum:

In cases like this, the smart money is usually on incompetence, not malice. But this looks more like deliberate malice to me. Bannon wanted turmoil and condemnation. He wanted this executive order to get as much publicity as possible. He wanted the ACLU involved. He thinks this will be a PR win….

[B]oth sides think that maximum exposure is good for them. Liberals think middle America will be appalled at Trump’s callousness. Bannon thinks middle America will be appalled that lefties and the elite media are taking the side of terrorists. After a week of skirmishes, this is finally a hill that both sides are willing to die for. Who’s going to win?

I don’t even particularly think Bannon thought it would be good for them – I think he just thought it would be fun. It’s trolling writ large.



An independent judiciary

Jan 31st, 2017 11:51 am | By

Matthew Miller was the Justice Department’s public affairs boffin for a couple of years in the Obama administration. He explains why firing an Attorney General is not such a brilliant plan.

Under long-standing traditions in administrations of both parties, the attorney general is charged with enforcing the law free from political interference from the White House. This standard of independence, unique among Cabinet members, is designed to insulate questions of law from inappropriate political pressure, and presidents and attorneys general who have violated that standard have typically paid a grave price for doing so.

I guess no one explained that to Trump? Maybe no one who works for him is even aware of it?

It’s really not a good look to fire an AG for saying an order may be unlawful.

But then it’s also not a good look to issue a sweeping Executive Order without taking any legal advice. Trump and his minions literally seem to think he can Order any damn thing he wants to.

The legality of the underlying executive order is hotly debated. Four federal judges have already halted the administration from enforcing various aspects of it, and people affected by the ban continue to bring new lawsuits. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel did apparently approve the order on the narrow basis of “form and legality,” but since the Trump administration has not released a copy of the office’s opinion or answered questions about whether it raised any objections, we do not know the extent of its analysis.

They think he can Order any damn thing he wants to and do it as secretively and arbitrarily as he wants to.

But whatever one thinks about the executive order, the more fundamental issue is that in this case the decision whether to defend it in court rested not with the president, but with the attorney general. When Yates raised her objections to the order, she noted that she remained open to being convinced of its legality. The White House, which did not consult with her or other Cabinet members in drafting the order, could have worked with her to make changes that would satisfy her concerns about its legality. Instead, the president chose crisis and chaos.

Because he’s a Malignant Narcissist, and he cannot stand being “disobeyed.”

The White House’s statement announcing her firing revealed the political nature of Trump’s decision. It accused Yates — a career prosecutor with 25 years experience of putting violent criminals behind bars — of having betrayed the Justice Department. Instead of even attempting to wrestle with any questions of the attorney general’s proper role, the White House attacked Yates as being “weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.”

Earlier on Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer had announced that career State Department officials who disagreed with the president’s immigration order should “either get with the program or they can go.” In its attack on Yates, the White House made clear the president expects the same level of quiet obeisance from his attorney general.

He expects it from everyone.

But the thing is, as with the tax returns and the conflicts of interest and so much else, none of this is statutory – it’s a matter of custom. Trump could not give less of a fuck about what is custom.

Trump’s actions on Monday have now raised the ante for the Senate. Recusal might have previously been enough to put to rest concerns about Sessions’s independence, but now that Trump has made clear he expects his attorney general to follow orders without questioning them, the Senate must respond by rejecting that notion and showing it will confirm only someone who is truly independent. Sessions does not clear that bar.

There is no law that establishes the Justice Department’s independence. Like many democratic norms, it has rested on faithful adherence by committed public servants, attorneys who are willing to make independent judgments, and the oversight of Congress and the free press. Trump just made clear that he does not respect this tradition. It now falls to the rest of us to show that we do.

I hope we can.



The overnights

Jan 31st, 2017 10:59 am | By

A person can’t have a life these days, if all these things are going to be happening after she firmly closes the laptop for the day and tries to think about other things. Donnie from Queens, do me a favor and take the evenings off.

But I shouldn’t complain. Rachel Maddow had to do a second broadcast, at midnight her time.

So, the Times on the firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates:

Ms. Yates’s order was a remarkable rebuke by a government official to a sitting president, and it recalled the so-called Saturday Night Massacre in 1973, when President Richard M. Nixon fired his attorney general and deputy attorney general for refusing to dismiss the special prosecutor in the Watergate case.

At 9:15 p.m., Ms. Yates received a hand-delivered letter at the Justice Department that informed her that she was fired. Signed by John DeStefano, one of Mr. Trump’s White House aides, the letter informed Ms. Yates that “the president has removed you from the office of Deputy Attorney General of the United States.”

Two minutes later, the White House officials lashed out at Ms. Yates in a statement issued by Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary.

“Ms. Yates is an Obama administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration,” the statement said.

The government is not an athletic competition. It’s not a dick-swinging contest. It’s not supposed to be a street brawl, but currently that is what it is.

Ms. Yates, like other senior government officials, was caught by surprise by the executive order and agonized over the weekend about how to respond, two Justice Department officials involved in the weekend deliberations said. Ms. Yates considered resigning but she told colleagues she did not want to leave it to her successor to face the same dilemma.

By Monday afternoon, Ms. Yates added to a deepening sense of anxiety in the nation’s capital by publicly confronting the president with a stinging challenge to his authority, laying bare a deep divide at the Justice Department, within the diplomatic corps and elsewhere in the government over the wisdom of his order.

“At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities, nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful,” Ms. Yates wrote in a letter to Justice Department lawyers.

In other words, what we have here may be an unlawful order. Those two words carry a heavy freight of history – think Nürnberg, think My Lai, think “I was just following orders.”

The president decided quickly: She has to go, he told them.

The official statement from Mr. Spicer accused Ms. Yates of failing to fulfill her duty to defend a “legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States” that had been approved by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

How does one deal with the claim that the order was “designed to protect the citizens of the United States” when the mechanism involved is so very invisible? It’s like passing a law that no one may combine cheese and bananas in one sandwich and saying it’s “designed to protect the citizens of the United States.” Just saying it in your head doesn’t make it true or a reasonable belief. It’s a fantasy that slamming the door closed on seven random majority-Muslim countries will do anything to “protect the citizens of the United States.” Trump must think, in that tiny little cupboard he uses for a brain, that a mere show of “toughness” will do the trick. It won’t do the trick: it will do the opposite.

“It is time to get serious about protecting our country,” Mr. Spicer said in the statement. He accused Democrats of holding up the confirmation of Mr. Sessions for political reasons. “Calling for tougher vetting for individuals traveling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.”

“Dangerous places”? What is that even supposed to mean? And why those seven and not Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Algeria, Nigeria? Not to mention the fact that the vetting already is “tough.”

I’m seeing people saying this is a cunning plan of Bannon’s, to distract us with a Shock so that he can get away with something much worse while we’re still staggering around dealing with the Shock. I don’t find that very convincing. I think it’s more that he’s getting his fun while he can, because he can tell they don’t have much time.