Notes and Comment Blog

Proud to have led the charge

Dec 25th, 2017 11:08 am | By

Twitter’s algorithm has a sense of humor. Today the first things I saw in my feed were John Lewis, Adam Schiff, and Barack Obama telling us to have a merry or happy Christmas.

So then naturally I had to check out what the current “president” has been up to.

So much aggression for what purports to be a defense of a benevolent sentiment. He might as well be shouting “Merry fucking Christmas you nigger-loving pussy-whipped atheist scum!!”

Steve Silberman has an eloquent riposte:

Psst, can we talk? I promise to be mostly positive on this day of all days. But there’s something DEEPLY CREEPY about Trump taking credit for people wishing each other “Merry Christmas.” It’s not just that it’s a ridiculous lie and Obama said it all the time. It’s not just, “Oh there he goes again.” It’s not just that it ridicules people for trying not to exclude their Jewish and Muslim neighbors. Trump is trying to steal our basic goodness and courtesy as a nation. Some people are good Christians, and some people are bad Christians, but Trump is *the opposite of a Christian.* He brags about stuff he didn’t do, blames others for stuff he did, and attacks those who have less than he does. This “War on Christmas” nonsense is a microcosm of the spiritual sickness he has brought to this country.

Granted, the eloquence rests on the assumption that “Christian” stands for decent qualities that Trump defies and attacks, but that doesn’t really matter here. The important part is that Trump is the opposite of a decent human being, and that he performs that opposition all day every day while being the head of state.

So yeah happy holidays and everything.

Image result for snow


The meeting never should have happened at all

Dec 24th, 2017 4:54 pm | By

Nearly a week ago the president of Wilfred Laurier University issued a statement.

It’s a gratifying thing to read.

When the issue first broke, I erred on the side of caution. As a person, and as the president of Laurier, I am sensitive to the viewpoints and concerns of our students, staff and faculty. As an employer, I am cognisant that the four people who were in that meeting room are employees and one is also a student. All four are entitled to due process. I did not want to rush to judgement; rather, I wanted to ensure we were able to objectively assess the facts and make sound decisions flowing from that assessment.

We hired an external fact-finder with expertise in human resources issues. I have received the report and we are taking decisive action to ensure these events will not be repeated. The report, along with what we already knew, has led me to the following conclusions and actions.

There were numerous errors in judgement made in the handling of the meeting with Ms. Lindsay Shepherd, the TA of the tutorial in question. In fact, the meeting never should have happened at all. No formal complaint, nor informal concern relative to a Laurier policy, was registered about the screening of the video. This was confirmed in the fact-finding report.

The errors in judgement were compounded by misapplication of existing university policies and procedures. Basic guidelines and best practices on how to appropriately execute the roles and responsibilities of staff and faculty were ignored or not understood.

Procedures in how to apply university policies and under what circumstances were not followed. The training of key individuals to meet the expectations of the university in addressing an issue such as this was not sufficient and must be improved.

There was also institutional failure that allowed this to happen. And when there is institutional failure, responsibility ultimately starts and ends with me.

Going forward, we will implement improved training and new procedures and engage in a very specific administrative review to strengthen and enhance confidence in what students and employees can expect at Laurier.


There was no wrongdoing on the part of Ms. Shepherd in showing the clip from TVO in her tutorial. Showing a TVO clip for the purposes of an academic discussion is a reasonable classroom teaching tool. Any instructional material needs to be grounded in the appropriate academic underpinnings to put it in context for the relevance of the learning outcomes of the course. The ensuing discussion also needs to be handled properly. We have no reason to believe this discussion was not handled well in the tutorial in question.

I have apologized to Ms. Shepherd publicly, as has Dr. Rambukkana, her supervising professor. The university has conveyed to her today the results of the fact-finding report, to make sure she understands it is clear that she was involved in no wrongdoing. The university is taking concrete steps to make changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

It has been made clear to those who were involved in the meeting with Ms. Shepherd that their conduct does not meet the high standards I set for staff and faculty.

Boom. Lindsay Shepherd did nothing wrong. The three people who bullied her, however, did.

But enforcement has lagged

Dec 24th, 2017 3:16 pm | By

A not very festive item I was unaware of: a friend mentioned the deregulation of neurotoxins “resulting in an entire generation of cognitively impaired humans” and I asked what he meant and he replied with Children of Color Hit Hardest as Environmental Enforcement Tumbles Under Trump. Ah yes. I knew that – I knew that poison and pollution in general is much more likely to be perpetrated on poor people than on rich people and more on people of color than white people – but I didn’t know about this particular example. It’s not cheerful.

Public health researchers have found elevated levels of manganese, a heavy metal that can cause neurological disorders and other health problems, in the toenails of children living in Chicago’s Southeast Side neighborhood. Environmentalists are nearly certain they know why.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working with two industrial facilities that handle large amounts of manganese on the Southeast Side to reduce dangerous dust drifting into nearby residential areas, but enforcement has lagged since the Trump administration took over the agency, according to Debbie Chizewer, an attorney with the Environmental Advocacy Center at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law.

“As far as we know, [the] EPA has taken no further action to contain these emissions,” Chizewer told Truthout in an interview.

I’d like to know more. I’d like to know if Trump’s people told the EPA to stop, for instance.

This is not just a problem in Chicago. Across the country, the number of enforcement actions issued by the EPA has markedly declined since Trump took office and placed Scott Pruitt at the head of the agency, according to a recent investigation by the New York Times.

Trump and Pruitt have launched a sweeping rollback of Obama-era environmental protections and argue that regulators should work [more closely] with polluting industry to find environmental solutions that won’t hamper business.

Trump and Trump’s children don’t live in places where neurotoxins blow into the windows.

After months of pushback and wrangling with [Chicago] community groups and regulators, the operator of one terminal, S.H. Bell Co., agreed to place air pollution monitors at its facility. Within months, the monitors affirmed what residents and advocates had feared since at least 2014: Dust containing manganese was drifting from the facility at levels that exceed federal health standards.

A recent study conducted near a hazardous waste incinerator and another S.H. Bell industrial terminal in East Liverpool, Ohio, found a significant link between elevated manganese levels in the area and lower IQ scores in children.

EPA employees protest Trump’s appointments, and are subject to surveillance as a result.

Employees may be keeping a low profile, but the union representing EPA workers in the Chicago office has criticized the agency for failing to protect Southeast Chicago from pollution since Trump took office. The American Federation of Government Employees Local 704 posted this tweet on Wednesday:

The union is also slamming Cathy Stepp, the Trump administration’s new pick to run the Region 5 office in Chicago. Stepp, a Republican businesswoman-turned-politician, formerly served as head of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), where she came under fire for decreasing enforcement, shrinking the agency’s scientific research bureau and scrubbing information from the state website linking human activity to climate change, according to reports.

John O’Grady, president of the EPA’s national employee union, said Stepp appears to be “another non-scientist who doesn’t acknowledge that climate change is real.”

“Putting Ms. Stepp in charge of the largest Regional Office in the US EPA is akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house,” O’Grady said in a statement. “If her record at WDNR is any indication, Ms. Stepp will successfully cut funding for enforcement, along with fines for violations. In fact, US EPA Region 5’s enforcement efforts can be expected to plummet.”

Not very festive at all.

The risk of reputational damage

Dec 24th, 2017 12:28 pm | By

In the Telegraph:

Academics say they have been forced to leave the country to pursue their research interests as British universities are accused of blocking studies over fears of backlash on social media.

The Twitter armies are marching, marching.

The academics have decided to speak out as James Caspian, one of the country’s leading gender specialists, revealed that he is planning to take Bath Spa University to judicial review over its decision to turn down his research into transgenderism.

Well but you see there’s no need to research transgenderism, because we already know all there is to know: that gender is how people “identify” and that sex is wholly beside the point.

Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans, a fellow of King’s College London who has previously sat on research awarding bodies, claimed that some universities were becoming “authoritarian”.

Universities project themselves as places of open debate, while at the same time they are very worried about being seen to fall foul of the consensus, she added.

“They are increasingly managerial and bureaucratic. They are now prioritising the risk of reputational damage over their duty to uphold freedom of inquiry.”

Dr Brunskell-Evans said she has encountered resistance when researching the dangers associated with prostitution, adding that many universities had “shut down” any critical analysis of the subject which might offend advocates in favour of legalisation.

Good lord. So universities are afraid of being called SWERFs as well as TERFs. That seems pretty pathetic.

Whilst working at the University of Leicester, she claimed that a critical analysis she published of Vanity Fair magazine’s visual representation of the transgendering of Bruce to Caitlyn Jenner had been pulled after complaints were made.

It was later republished after the university’s lawyers were consulted. The University of Leicester was unavailable for comment.

I suppose she pointed out that Jenner was glamorized on the cover of Vanity Fair in a way that no woman of the same age would be in a million years? And that making it all about being on a magazine cover in a bathing suit is a slightly trivializing view of what it means to be a woman?

Bath Spa University caused controversy earlier this year, when it emerged that it had declined Mr Caspian’s research proposal to examine why growing numbers of transgender people were reversing their transition surgery.

After accepting his proposal in 2015, the university later U-turned when Mr Caspian asked to look for participants on online forums, informing him that his research could provoke “unnecessary offence” and “attacks on social media”.

But why? Why would such research cause offence and attacks?

Presumably because it has become Absolute Dogma that trans people just are the other sex and thus Absolute Blasphemy to do research that implies it might not be that simple. But that’s a ludicrous claim to make Absolute Dogma.

What would be a less ludicrous claim to make Absolute Dogma? That no one should be abused or disadvantaged for what they are. That’s a morality-claim and a rights-claim as well as (or rather than) a truth-claim. It’s a rule for participation, you could say, and it needs to be an order as opposed to a suggestion, but rules of that kind should be few and simple. Research into detransitioning should have nothing to do with that sort of rule.

In a letter sent this week to the universities minister Jo Johnson, Mr Caspian writes that the “suppression of research on spurious grounds” is a growing problem in Britain.

“I have already heard of academics leaving the UK for countries where they felt they would be more welcomed to carry out their research,” the letter continues.

“I believe that it should be made clear that any infringement of our academic freedom should not be allowed. I would ask you to consider the ramifications should academics continue to be censored in this way.”

Last night, Mr Johnson said that academic freedom was the “foundation of higher education”, adding that he expected universities to “protect and promote it”.

Under the new Higher Education and Research Act, he said that universities would be expected to champion “the freedom to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions”.

It’s a pity if it’s only the Tories who say that.

It’s not “partisan”

Dec 24th, 2017 10:43 am | By

The Post tells us how the campaign to discredit the FBI in hopes of protecting the most corrupt incompetent mendacious malevolent president we’ve ever had has picked up steam lately.

This is Republicans and “conservatives” trying to discredit the FBI, which is quite a turn-up for the books. Time was, the FBI and the Republicans were best buddies and their common enemy was anyone to the left of Gerald Ford. The FBI has a long long history of treating everyone on the left as suspect and “UnAmerican”…but now suddenly everything is switched, all to defend a guy who is both criminal and hateful in every possible way.

If I were a Republican I would be doing the opposite, because I would not want to be tainted by this horrible man. Flake and Corker seemed for awhile to feel the same way, but it surprises me that more of them don’t. It surprises me that they’re so keen to tie themselves to a lying mean bullying sexist racist shit like him.

For months, efforts to discredit special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign flickered at the fringes of political debate.

Now, the allegation that FBI and Justice Department officials are part of a broad conspiracy against President Trump is suddenly center stage, amplified by conservative activists, GOP lawmakers, right-leaning media and the president himself. The clamor has become a sustained backdrop to the special counsel investigation, with congressional committees grilling a parade of law enforcement officials in recent days.

All to defend that terrible man. It’s just nuts.

The partisan atmosphere is a sharp departure from the near-universal support that greeted Mueller’s selection as special counsel in May — and threatens to shadow his investigation’s eventual findings. Trump, while vowing to cooperate with the special counsel, has also encouraged attacks on Mueller’s credibility, tweeting that the investigation is “the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. political history.”

That’s the part that surprises me: the “partisan” aspect. However partisan one is, I would think moral squalor at the Trump level would override that.

The controversy, percolating for months, escalated dramatically in early December with the revelation of text messages in which one of Mueller’s former top investigators, Peter Strzok, called Trump an “idiot” last year and predicted Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would win the election in a landslide.

As the deputy head of counterintelligence at the FBI, Strzok played a critical role in both the Clinton email investigation last year and the Russia probe before he was removed by Mueller this summer.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who met with Fitton earlier this year and has for months alleged that the FBI was working against Trump’s election, said in an interview that many of his Republican colleagues now share his view that there has been an orchestrated effort against Trump.

“I’ve had all kinds of Republicans come up to me and say, ‘This is unbelievable, it looks like the FBI was trying to put its finger on the scale here,’ ” Jordan said.

But, see, it’s not clear that that’s because they were “partisan” or favoring the Democrats or political at all, because most of what’s wrong with Trump is to do with Trump, not with politics at all. Strzok called Trump an “idiot” – well he is an idiot, and Republicans and conservatives can see that just as well as Democrats and lefties. It’s not inherently partisan to see Trump as both an idiot and an ignoramus, and thoroughly unqualified to be president, before we even get to his issues of temperament and character and morality.

Trump is busy demonstrating his swampy disgustingness today.

Pushing back

Dec 23rd, 2017 5:20 pm | By

There is resistance.

More than 40 former U.S. attorneys and Republican and conservative officials are pushing back against efforts to discredit the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In a pair of letters, the groups say Robert Mueller and his team must be allowed to continue their work, unimpeded.

The 22 former U.S. attorneys, who served under presidents from Richard Nixon through Barack Obama, say it is “critical” to the “interests of justice and public trust to ensure that those charged with conducting complex investigations are allowed to do their jobs free from interference or fear of reprisal.”

Seeking Mueller’s removal “would have severe repercussions for Americans’ sense of justice here at home and for our reputation for fairness around the world,” they wrote in a letter to President Donald Trump on Friday that was coordinated by Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

Another letter signed by 20 former members of Congress and other top U.S. officials says efforts to discredit Mueller’s work “undermine the institutions that protect the rule of law and so our nation.”

“We urge the Administration, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and the American public, to support the work of Special Counsel Mueller to its conclusion, whatever it may be,” reads the open letter signed by officials including former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, former State Department counselor Eliot Cohen and former George W. Bush administration ethics lawyer Richard Painter.

Buncha long-haired crazies, right?

Sneers from Florida

Dec 23rd, 2017 5:01 pm | By

No Baby Jesus’s Pretend Birthday truce for Mean Donnie: he’s bullying the deputy director of the FBI now.

The F.B.I.’s embattled deputy director, Andrew G. McCabe, an unlikely lightning rod who has been attacked repeatedly by President Trump and congressional Republicans, is expected to retire after he becomes eligible for his pension early next year, according to people familiar with his decision.

While Mr. McCabe’s plans to leave aren’t unexpected, his decision should take some of the pressure off Christopher A. Wray, who was confirmed as F.B.I. director in August. Mr. Trump has complained to confidantes that Mr. Wray has not moved fast enough to replace the senior leadership that he inherited from his predecessor, James B. Comey, whom Mr. Trump summarily dismissed in May.

A White House official said in a statement this week that many senior leaders of the bureau were “politically motivated” and said Mr. Wray was the “right choice to clean up the misconduct at the highest levels of the F.B.I.”

All this, let’s not forget, because Trump played footsie with Putin in order to steal the election and now he hopes to get away with it by bullying top people at the FBI who are investigating his theft of the election. It could hardly be any more corrupt and degrading, although I suppose he could have had a few people killed to make it even worse.

Trump this afternoon between rounds of golf:

That vulgarity is from the phone of the president of the US.

It looks as if he hopes to make sure McCabe won’t get full benefits, but the Post says he can’t:

In fact, as a career civil servant, Mr. McCabe, 49, has protections and cannot be pushed out by the president.

I hope Trump drops dead over the two scoops of ice cream tonight. Or it could be while he’s watching Fox later on, or while he’s watching Fox again in the morning…but no later than that. We need to be rid of the poison.

They win you lose

Dec 23rd, 2017 4:26 pm | By

From Occupy Democrats:

Image may contain: 1 person, text

Image: Trump pointing at us in the manner of a recruiting poster, with caption




Believe what we tell you to believe

Dec 23rd, 2017 12:18 pm | By

Egypt plans to make not believing in god a crime.

The Egyptian parliament’s committee on religion has announced plans to make disbelief in God a crime. Under the current law against “contempt of religions” atheists can be prosecuted for expressing their disbelief in public but the committee’s proposal would go further and criminalise disbelief itself.

I wonder how they plan to detect that crime, or collect evidence for it, or present the evidence in court.

They don’t really, I suppose, it’s just a fist under the nose. But there’s nothing quite like people trying to tell you what to believe to bring out the defiance in most of us.

Known for edgy content

Dec 23rd, 2017 11:34 am | By

Least surprising news ever: Vice is another hotbed of sexism. No, really?!

One woman said she was riding a Ferris wheel at Coney Island after a company event when a co-worker suddenly took her hand and put it on his crotch. Another said she felt pressured into a sexual relationship with an executive and was fired after she rejected him.

A third said that a co-worker grabbed her face and tried to kiss her, and she used her umbrella to fend him off.

These women did not work among older men at a hidebound company. They worked at Vice, an insurgent force in news and entertainment known for edgy content that aims for millennial audiences on HBO and its own TV network.

Wut? Is Emily Steel kidding? The “edgy” ones are the worst. The “edgy” ones think pushing women around is an important part of being “edgy.” (I think that’s what Al Franken was doing – not so much copping a feel as performing copping a feel, as part of his persona.) The “edgy” ones think women are the enemy of “edgy” and that cool rebellious dudes have to overturn all that Puritan shit about not grabbing people who haven’t asked to be grabbed…except not actually people of course, just women.

But as Vice Media has built itself from a fringe Canadian magazine into a nearly $6 billion global media company, its boundary-pushing culture created a workplace that was degrading and uncomfortable for women, current and former employees say.

Of course it did. So many men think of women as standing for “boundary” while they stand for boundary-pushing. Pushing boundaries is more of a guy thing, it doesn’t have that estrogen vibe.

The settlements and the many episodes of harassment the women described depict a top-down ethos of male entitlement at Vice, where women said they felt like just another party favor at an organization where partying often was an extension of the job.

What stands out about the women’s accounts — in the wake of a public reckoning over sexual assault and harassment by mostly older men — is that the allegations involve men in their 20s, 30s and 40s who came of age long after workplace harassment was not only taboo but outlawed.

That might have surprised me around 2010 or so, but since then? No. We’ve seen far too much of the “edgy” bro culture to be surprised now. The fact that sexual harassment is taboo and outlawed is just all the more reason to push that boundary, mofo.

“The misogyny might look different than you would have expected it to in the 1950s, but it was still there, it was still ingrained,” said Kayla Ruble, a journalist who worked at Vice from 2014 to 2016. “This is a wakeup call.”

Wakeup call number 475,823,659.

A sensitive conversation in the Oval Office

Dec 23rd, 2017 10:22 am | By

The Times shares a disgusting little vignette of life with “President” Trump:

Late to his own meeting and waving a sheet of numbers, President Trump stormed into the Oval Office one day in June, plainly enraged.

Five months before, Mr. Trump had dispatched federal officers to the nation’s airports to stop travelers from several Muslim countries from entering the United States in a dramatic demonstration of how he would deliver on his campaign promise to fortify the nation’s borders.

But so many foreigners had flooded into the country since January, he vented to his national security team, that it was making a mockery of his pledge. Friends were calling to say he looked like a fool, Mr. Trump said.

No foreigners, god damn it! We don’t want all these stinkin foreigners stinkin up our beautiful country with all its beautiful golf courses and Luxxury High Righzez. Our country is for not-foreign white people with beautiful golden hair.

Then he started reading from the doc, which listed how many dastardly foreigners had received visas to come into the beautiful US in 2017.

More than 2,500 were from Afghanistan, a terrorist haven, the president complained.

Haiti had sent 15,000 people. They “all have AIDS,” he grumbled, according to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by a different person who was there.

Forty thousand had come from Nigeria, Mr. Trump added. Once they had seen the United States, they would never “go back to their huts” in Africa, recalled the two officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive conversation in the Oval Office.

That’s the president of the US. That’s the squalid reality we’re living in. Everybody’s meanest ugliest racist uncle is the president.

Kelly and Tillerson tried to explain that many of the visas were just temporary ones for visits, but then Kelly and Miller turned on Tillerson, blaming him for all these filthy foreigners, causing him to blow a gasket.

It’s a miracle they haven’t melted us all down for soap yet.

Tempers flared and Mr. Kelly asked that the room be cleared of staff members. But even after the door to the Oval Office was closed, aides could still hear the president berating his most senior advisers.

For not moving quickly enough on the ethnic cleansing.

The meeting in June reflects Mr. Trump’s visceral approach to an issue that defined his campaign and has indelibly shaped the first year of his presidency.

It reflects everything – his “visceral” racism and general loathing for people he sees as inferiors, his rage and hatred and lack of control, his grandiosity and cluelessness about the extent of his power, his hideous urges, his authoritarianism, his filthy temper – his thoroughgoing badness on every dimension.

Seizing on immigration as the cause of countless social and economic problems, Mr. Trump entered office with an agenda of symbolic but incompletely thought-out goals, the product not of rigorous policy debate but of emotionally charged personal interactions and an instinct for tapping into the nativist views of white working-class Americans.

But mostly of his own hateful malevolent nature. He boils with loathing, and it bursts out of him all the time (think April Ryan and that press conference and the way he spoke to her). He’s that mean drunk at the bar who empties the room.

Those who know Mr. Trump say that his attitude toward immigrants long predates his entry into politics.

“He’s always been fearful where other cultures are concerned and always had anxiety about food and safety when he travels,” said Michael D’Antonio, who interviewed him for the biography “The Truth About Trump.” “His objectification and demonization of people who are different has festered for decades.”

He thinks they’re dirty. He’s that literal-minded. That’s what all the gold is about, maybe – purity and Cleanness, along with Expense. Gold people are white and clean, and poor people are brown and dirty.

Happy holidays.

From e pluribus unum to MAGA

Dec 22nd, 2017 5:34 pm | By

Oh gawd.

There’s such a thing as a presidential coin. Presidents give them out as little presents. Trump decided they weren’t flashy enough so he came up with his own new design.

The presidential seal has been replaced by an eagle bearing President Trump’s signature. The eagle’s head faces right, not left, as on the seal. The 13 arrows representing the original states have disappeared. And the national motto, “E pluribus unum” — a Latin phrase that means “Out of many, one” — is gone.

Instead, both sides of the coin feature Trump’s official campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

The presidential seal has been replaced by an eagle bearing President Trump’s signature. The eagle’s head faces right, not left, as on the seal. The 13 arrows representing the original states have disappeared. And the national motto, “E pluribus unum” — a Latin phrase that means “Out of many, one” — is gone.

Instead, both sides of the coin feature Trump’s official campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Mere words can’t do justice to its ugliness. The Post kindly put it next to three of the previous type for a snapshot.

Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post

So ugly, so vulgar, so inappropriate (the campaign slogan! his name in three places! the garish colors!), so narcissistic.

File under Weirdness

Dec 22nd, 2017 3:09 pm | By

Ah the British sense of humor.

Noel Coward eat your heart out.


Dec 22nd, 2017 2:44 pm | By

Porn script or sexual assault?

That’s the question two filmmakers recently asked a group of men for a new video project titled “Be Frank.” Created by Dutch natives Damayanti Dipayana and Camilla Borel-Rinkes, “Be Frank” is a seven-minute film featuring men discussing the recent #MeToo movement and the role men can play in combating sexual violence.

In the above “Be Frank” clip, Dipayana and Borel-Rinkes asked men to read different storylines and then guess whether the situation was from a pornography script or a #MeToo story. The #MeToo campaign, originally created by activist Tarana Burke, has recently sparked a cultural reckoning with how we deal with sexual violence around the world.

Although it’s revealed at the end of the clip that all of the stories are porn scripts, many of the guys have trouble discerning which ones are porn and which ones are sexual assault.

Which tells you something about porn.

The last still in the clip features a statistic that sums up the issue well: “88.2 percent of porn scenes contain some form of physical aggression against women.”

 88%. If there’s no aggression against women, it’s not sexy. Interesting.

The chorus of delegitimation

Dec 22nd, 2017 11:31 am | By

Yascha Mounk at the NYRB takes a less optimistic view, pointing out how far the Overton window has shifted in the past 11 months.

[W]hile many of the violations of basic democratic norms that President Trump and his collaborators have perpetrated over the past twelve months would not have been foreseeable before he took office, most of them had come to seem all-but-inevitable by the time he actually committed them. Trump’s unwillingness to dissociate himself from his most radical supporters was evident throughout the opening months of his presidency. The firing of FBI Director James Comey was preceded by a series of outrageous attacks. Even Trump’s endorsement of Roy Moore in the Alabama special election seemed inevitable by the time he tweeted his support.

These realities make it all the more infuriating that we are now hurtling toward yet another constitutional crisis, and that supposedly moderate Republicans are once again refusing to do anything about it.

Isn’t it though. We read stories in the Post about Republicans in Congress who are disgusted shocked appalled by Trump and yet…they never do a damn thing about it.

For the better part of a month, Fox News and other conservative media outlets have been smearing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, all but calling him an enemy of the American people. Over the past week, a series of senior Republicans have joined in the chorus of delegitimation, with a host of voices—from Mike Conaway, who leads the investigation of Trump’s campaign on the House Intelligence Committee, to John Cornyn, who heads the Senate equivalent—insinuating that it is time to wrap up the special counsel’s investigation.

In short, they’ve been clearing the path of brambles so that Trump can careen madly down it and fire Mueller at the end.

I fear that there is a simple reason for skepticism about whether Congress will defend the rule of law: over the past year, Republicans had a comparatively easy way to police this particular red line without overtly opposing Trump. “Obviously,” they could have said, “the president would never do anything as crazy as this; but if he did fire Robert Mueller, I would have to support congressional action to reinstate him.” Indeed, following that rationale, they could easily have signed onto bipartisan legislation that would have stopped Trump from being able to fire Mueller in a fit of rage in the first place.

Instead, virtually all of them refused to comment; the few who did actively conspired in undermining Mueller. (When former attorney general Eric Holder claimed to speak “on behalf of the vast majority of the American people,” when he said that “any attempt to remove Bob Mueller will not be tolerated,” for example, Senator Cornyn replied, simply, “You don’t.”)

Yes he does – but that’s not the point; the point is that Cornyn spurned Eric Holder’s warning about firing Mueller. Remember what Mueller is investigating? Russia’s interference with the election. The Overton window is out of sight somewhere over the horizon.

Trump could

Dec 22nd, 2017 10:30 am | By

Painter and Eisen on the ways Trump can and cannot impede Mueller.

Mr. Trump could install someone at the Department of Justice to oversee Mr. Mueller’s investigation, a minder who could control (and cut) Mr. Mueller’s budget, eliminate some of his team or curtail the scope of his investigation. Mr. Mueller seems safe as long as his current supervisor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, is in place; Mr. Rosenstein just vouched for the special counsel before Congress. But the president has reportedly grumbled about Mr. Rosenstein and could replace him with a crony who would be more willing to interfere.

As Nixon tried to do. It didn’t work out for Nixon, but he didn’t have a Republican Congress…and Republicans weren’t as cynically indifferent to law and morality then.

The president may also try to pardon away the special counsel’s investigation. Mr. Trump could grant pardons to individuals who have already pleaded guilty, such as Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. this month. Or Mr. Trump might do so prospectively, to those who may be targets, such as his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, or his son Donald Trump Jr. Mr. Trump might even issue one to himself (he reportedly asked about it), whether individually or as part of a blanket pardon of all those involved in the Russia investigation.

And then we would know we were stuck in a tinpot dictatorship. It would be terrifying.

They can talk smack about Mueller, and they are, but it’s a hard sell when Trump is such a puffed-up turd of a man and Mueller is not.

Trump could just fire Mueller. He said the other day that he’s not planning to, but so what, he says all kinds of things (that’s what makes him such an expert on all the things), and he could say the opposite tomorrow, or just do it without saying anything.

The drumbeat of distortions and threats will, sadly, continue and must be promptly rebutted by commentators, Congress and the public. Democracy demands defense with analysis, opinion and the readiness for public protest (one of the co-authors, Mr. Eisen, has been involved in organizing these efforts). Peaceful force is something that Mr. Trump has made clear he understands. We must continue to deploy it, lest the president achieve by debasement what our collective efforts have thus far prevented him from doing directly: stopping Robert Mueller’s investigation.

I wish us all the best of luck.

Considerable repetition, verbosity and vagueness of expression

Dec 22nd, 2017 8:47 am | By

Also in the Guardian, and not particularly significant but kind of amusing…why Carter Page had such a hard time defending his PhD thesis.

In emails seen by the Guardian, Page compares his decade-long struggle to get a postgraduate qualification to the ordeal suffered by Mikhail Khodorkovsy – the Russian oligarch sent to a Siberian prison by Vladimir Putin.

In one unhappy note to his examiners, he writes: “Your actions to date have been far more destructive than anything I have personally experienced in my 39 years on this planet.” The fate of Khodorkovsky, he adds, represents “the closest analogy in recent history to my trials”.

Well at least we can see he had a scholarly sense of proportion and fitness.

Page first submitted his thesis on central Asia’s transition from communism to capitalism in 2008. Two respected academics, Professor Gregory Andrusz, and Dr Peter Duncan, were asked to read his thesis and to examine him in a face-to-face interview known as a viva.

Andrusz said he had expected it would be “easy” to pass Page, a student at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas). He said it actually took “days and days” to wade through Page’s work. Page “knew next to nothing” about social science and seemed “unfamiliar with basic concepts like Marxism or state capitalism,” the professor said.

The viva, held at University College, London, went badly. “Page seemed to think that if he talked enough, people would think he was well-informed. In fact it was the reverse,” Andrusz said. He added that Page was “dumbfounded” when the examiners told him he had failed.

Doesn’t that sound exactly like his future boss? Who once told a journalist he’s the best expert on foreign affairs because he has a very good brain and he’s said a lot of things? Exact words.

Their subsequent report was withering. It said Page’s thesis was “characterised by considerable repetition, verbosity and vagueness of expression”, failed to meet the criteria required for a PhD, and needed “substantial revision”. He was given 18 months to produce another draft.

Also sounds like the boss, who babbles instead of saying anything of substance. Page tried again, failed again, pitched a fit, got new examiners, finally got his PhD.

Here’s where Trump said it, back in March 2016:

Donald Trump finally shared the name of someone he consults on foreign policy: himself.

Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” who he talks with consistently about foreign policy, Trump responded, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”

Yep. The more things you say, the better expert you become.

Dat woord

Dec 22nd, 2017 8:16 am | By

Yet more shame and degradation on the world stage, this time involving the shiny new US ambassador to the Netherlands.

Trump’s new choice for ambassador, Pete Hoekstra, who was only sworn in by the vice president, Mike Pence, on 11 December, was being interviewed for current affairs programme Nieuwsuur by reporter Wouter Zwart.

Zwart says: “You mentioned in a debate that there are no-go zones in the Netherlands, and that cars and politicians are being set on fire in the Netherlands.”

Hoekstra replies: “I didn’t say that. This is actually an incorrect statement. We would call it fake news.”

Hoekstra is then shown clips of him saying: “The Islamic movement has now gotten to a point where they have put Europe into chaos. Chaos in the Netherlands, there are cars being burnt, there are politicians that are being burnt … and yes there are no-go zones in the Netherlands.”

Oops. So how did he respond? Did he say oh sorry my bad? Did he hell.

Challenged about having called this “fake news”, Hoekstra then went on to deny to Zwart that he had in fact used the phrase “fake news”.

“I didn’t call that fake news. I didn’t use the words today. I don’t think I did.”

Think again, sir.


Dec 21st, 2017 5:35 pm | By

These are the people who are ruling over us.

“Some good friends decided that while my birthday is not for 2 weeks that they would get me an early 40th birthday cake,” Trump Jr. explained on Instagram, beside a photo of himself gripping the cookie with both hands and what appears to be a grimace of pain.

Cruz stands next to him.

Newsweek wrote the senator “appeared unmoved by the cookie,” though Bill Kristol saw a “sickly smile” on his face — as though he had some foreboding of the storm to come.

These are the people ruling over us.

That deadline came and went

Dec 21st, 2017 2:17 pm | By

There’s a pattern.

On a summer afternoon in Southern California nine years ago, a commuter train blew through a stop signal and ran head-on into an oncoming freight train, killing 25 people.

After investigators determined that the crash could have been prevented by automatic-braking technology, Congress ordered all passenger railroads to install new systems by 2016. Since then, Congress has extended that deadline and trains have kept speeding into preventable disasters, including the Amtrak derailment that killed three people in Western Washington on Monday.

In Amtrak’s case, this is a recurring nightmare. The crash this week was eerily reminiscent of one just two years ago in Philadelphia, where an Amtrak train barreled into a sweeping curve at 106 miles an hour before jumping the tracks and rolling over. Eight people died.

That crash, too, could have been prevented by the technology, known as positive train control. But five months after it happened, Congress gave railroads at least three more years to install it.

Well, you have to look at it from their point of view. Installing it will take money and effort. Not installing it is more convenient and cheaper. Naturally Congress is going to say yes sure you can have more time, there’s no hurry.

“Here we are, almost 10 years later, and that deadline came and went,” said Kitty Higgins, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board. “The railroads have been slow-walking it and it still is not implemented. It’s absolutely outrageous.”

But it’s cheaper and less trouble to keep putting it off. That’s the important thing.

Railroads have cited the cost and complexity of adding the technology, which relies on satellites and radio signals to prevent trains from running out of control if an engineer has lost focus or fallen asleep while driving. Industry estimates of the total cost of installation exceed $10 billion.

See? Money and effort! Those don’t grow on trees you know.

Legislators settled for a new deadline of Dec. 31, 2018, with an additional, two-year extension possible on a case-by-case basis. President Barack Obama signed the extension into law in October 2015.

The two Republican lawmakers behind the deadline extension, Representative Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania and Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, were the top two recipients of political campaign contributions from the railroad industry in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Of course they were.