Notes and Comment Blog


Meeting the minor royals

Mar 28th, 2019 8:56 am | By

Alex Miller at Rolling Stone talked to Cecile Richards, former head of Planned Parenthood. One subject was the Princess and Prince.

I want to talk about your meeting with Ivanka and Jared, because that was an extraordinary episode [in your book].Can you talk a little bit about that meeting? They invited you to a Trump golf course?
Yes.

You must have had some hope that the meeting could go well, or you wouldn’t have taken it.
Well, let’s be honest: We didn’t have a lot of options. And that was actually kind of what Jared Kushner said. He said, “Look, we control everything. We control Congress, we control the White House. So I’m kind of your only avenue.” I felt like if there was an avenue to talk to two of the most influential people in this administration about the work that Planned Parenthood does and how devastating it would be for millions of people if they were in fact to defund us, then I’ll go talk to anyone.

And they basically were like, “Your hands are tied. Stop doing abortions or else.”
It was clear that it was not actually a meeting about, “OK, how can we solve this problem? How can we actually protect the ability of people, and particularly women in this country, to get access to health care?” It was, “How can we, Jared Kushner and the administration, score a political win?”

And that, to me, seems to be their entire mode of operating since they’ve been elected — the lack of empathy or care for people that their policies are impacting, from family separation to putting children in cages. There seems to be zero interest in that. There wasn’t anything about like, “Wow, well, this is going to be really hard on women.”

In other words, they’re not just every bit as bad as you always thought, they’re even worse than that.

We were all holding out hope that Ivanka was going to be a messenger of empathy and reason. I think we’ve all been disabused of that opinion.
I mean, her concern was that I had not been appropriately thankful to her father, because he had said nice things about Planned Parenthood in his campaign.

While also saying he was going to shut down Planned Parenthood.
Yeah, exactly. I said, “Well, I’m not sure where I was going to get that ‘thank you’ in.”

“Before I was out of a job.”
Yeah. I felt like, for her it was all personal. It was all about her father. And that seems to be the way they operate. It’s not about what’s good for this country or what’s good for the people that they’re, frankly, supposed to be representing.

That is of course exactly why governments aren’t supposed to be family affairs, and why Trump never should have given his daughter and her husband jobs in his administration, and why they should have been prevented from taking those jobs, and why they should be thrown out now. They’re not supposed to be there to enrich and aggrandize themselves.

It also shows and underlines what awful shits they are.

Do you think the administration is trying to force the hand of organizations like Planned Parenthood in the hope that, in order to continue to get funding, they’ll just stop doing abortions? Or did they just want to shut them down?
You know, in a strange way, I wish that I thought someone was actually thinking about it that carefully. But yes, in that meeting, I think the most chilling thing was when Jared Kushner said, “I just want to read a headline that says, ‘Planned Parenthood Quits Providing Abortion Services.’” As if that was going to be the political victory that he was looking for, with absolutely zero regard for what that would mean for the health care of women.

Royalty doesn’t have to worry about things like that.



A much-debated topic in Menlo Park

Mar 28th, 2019 7:44 am | By

Vanity Fair has a big long piece about how Facebook attempts to deal with abuse.

To my surprise, the person in charge of it isn’t some socially clueless techy fool, she’s a former prosecutor from the Obama administration.

But when it comes to figuring out how Facebook actually works—how it decides what content is allowed, and what isn’t—the most important person in the company isn’t Mark Zuckerberg. It’s Monika Bickert, a former federal prosecutor and Harvard Law School graduate. At 42, Bickert is currently one of only a handful of people, along with her counterparts at Google, with real power to dictate free-speech norms for the entire world. In Oh, Semantics*, she sits at the head of a long table, joined by several dozen deputies in their 30s and 40s. Among them are engineers, lawyers, and P.R. people. But mostly they are policymakers, the people who write Facebook’s laws. Like Bickert, a number are veterans of the public sector, Obama-administration refugees eager to maintain some semblance of the pragmatism that has lost favor in Washington.

*the name of a meeting room

You’d think they’d be a little more able to figure things out than Zuckerberg types, but…

Facebook has a 40-page rule book listing all the things that are disallowed on the platform. They’re called Community Standards, and they were made public in full for the first time in April 2018. One of them is hate speech, which Facebook defines as an “attack” against a “protected characteristic,” such as gender, sexuality, race, or religion. And one of the most serious ways to attack someone, Facebook has decided, is to compare them to something dehumanizing.

Like: Animals that are culturally perceived as intellectually or physically inferior.

Or: Filth, bacteria, disease and feces.

That means statements like “black people are monkeys” and “Koreans are the scum of the earth” are subject to removal. But then, so is “men are trash.”

See the problem? If you remove dehumanizing attacks against gender, you may block speech designed to draw attention to a social movement like #MeToo. If you allow dehumanizing attacks against gender, well, you’re allowing dehumanizing attacks against gender. And if you do that, how do you defend other “protected” groups from similar attacks?

Erm. They seem to have missed the whole power-imbalance issue completely. It can’t be just “about race” or “about gender” – it has to do with hierarchies as well as categories.

Another idea is to treat the genders themselves differently. Caragliano cues up a slide deck. On it is a graph showing internal research that Facebook users are more upset by attacks against women than they are by attacks against men. Women would be protected against all hate speech, while men would be protected only against explicit calls for violence. “Women are scum” would be removed. “Men are scum” could stay.

Problem solved? Well … not quite. Bickert foresees another hurdle. “My instinct is not to treat the genders differently,” she tells me. “We live in a world where we now acknowledge there are many genders, not just men and women. I suspect the attacks you see are disproportionately against those genders and women, but not men.” If you create a policy based on that logic, though, “you end up in this space where it’s like, ‘Our hate-speech policy applies to everybody—except for men.’ ” Imagine how that would play.

Oh ffs. It’s hopeless.

In truth, “men are scum” is a well-known and much-debated topic in Menlo Park, with improbably large implications for the governing philosophy of the platform and, thus, the Internet. For philosophical and financial reasons, Facebook was established with one set of universally shared values. And in order to facilitate as much “sharing” as possible, no one group or individual would be treated differently from another. If you couldn’t call women “scum,” then you couldn’t call men “scum,” either.

If you take a step back, it’s kind of an idealistic way to think about the world. It’s also a classically Western, liberal way to think about the world. Give everyone an equal shot at free expression, and democracy and liberty will naturally flourish.

I don’t see it as idealistic so much as uncomprehending, blind, privileged. It’s just dense to think that the rules already and always work exactly the same way for everyone. “Everybody gets to call everybody a cunt; that’s freedom.” Except that it harms women no matter who is the target, but hey, liberty will naturally flourish.



Pennsylvania theocracy

Mar 27th, 2019 4:15 pm | By

This is a horror to watch.

This is a government room in a government building for government business. It is not a church.



An unacceptable encroachment

Mar 27th, 2019 3:49 pm | By

Meanwhile, the NRA is opposing the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act.

Wouldn’t it be great if women could “identify” our way out of violence?

The National Rifle Association is preparing to punish lawmakers for voting to protect women from their stalkers and domestic abusers. The gun lobby announced this week that it will dock its grades for politicians who vote to renew the Violence Against Women Act. The legislation, first passed in 1994, is up for reauthorization this session — augmented by a provision that could give law enforcement officials the power to confiscate guns from men who hurt or menace women.

NRA spokesperson Jennifer Baker told the National Journal that this “red-flag” provision — intended to protect women against gun violence from men who are exhibiting violent or dangerous behaviors — is an unacceptable encroachment on individual gun ownership rights.

Sure. The “right” to own guns is much more important than the right not to be murdered.

The case for stripping domestic abusers of their guns is powerful. An abused woman is five times more likely to be killed if the abuser is a gun-owner. When a domestic violence assault involves a firearm, it is 12 times more likely to end in the death of the victim. Laws like the red-flag provision proposed for VAWA save lives: In states adopting laws permitting confiscation of firearms from domestic abusers, intimate partner homicides have dropped by 7 percent.

“A gun in the house increases the chances that you’ll be killed in a domestic violence incident by an extraordinary ratio,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told Rolling Stone recently. “The most important mythology that the NRA proffers is that you’re safer if you buy a gun. That’s just not true,” Murphy said. “Having a gun in your house is more likely to get you killed than it is to save your life.”

Oh well, it’s only women.



He questioned the existence of an identity

Mar 27th, 2019 3:31 pm | By

A press release from West Coast LEAF:

Today, the BC Human Rights Tribunal (“BCHRT”) released its decision on a complaint arising under the BC Human Rights Code’s (“the Code”) prohibition against discriminatory publications. The case, Oger v Whatcott, was heard in December 2018.

The BCHRT found in favour of the complainant that Mr. Whatcott violated s. 7 of the Code and engaged in hate speech.

In 2017, Morgane Oger ran for political office as an MLA for the Vancouver-False Creek riding. She was the first trans-identified candidate to run for election in the provincial legislature. Bill Whatcott produced and published pamphlets and made comments online attacking Ms. Oger on the basis of her gender identity. Among other things, Mr. Whatcott questioned the existence of Ms. Oger’s identity as a trans woman, calling her an “impossibility,” and linked transgender identity to an increased propensity for contracting diseases and for domestic violence.

Ms. Oger filed a complaint under s. 7 of the BC Human Rights Code, which prohibits publications that indicate discrimination or an intention to discriminate or which expose a person or class of persons to hatred or contempt. She described Mr. Whatcott’s pamphlets as harmful to her personally, and as exposing other trans people to discrimination, hatred, and contempt.

West Coast LEAF intervened to make submissions on how the Tribunal should interpret the Code’s prohibition against discriminatory publications in light of Charter values, including Ms. Oger’s right to the equal protection and benefit of the law, and the purposes of the Code.

“This decision affirms that the rights of transgender people to safety and dignity are essential human rights,” says Kasari Govender, Executive Director of West Coast LEAF. “Hate speech that vilifies and attempts to erase trans identity and to deny the dignity of transgender people is an attempt to dehumanize them. The Tribunal clearly states that denying the reality of transgender people is at the root of most discrimination against them.”

She adds, “West Coast LEAF is deeply committed to a broad vision of gender equality – one that includes the rights of all women, transgender, and gender-diverse people. This decision is an important affirmation that transgender people are equal in our society and have a right to be treated with dignity.”

What is West Coast LEAF?

About West Coast LEAF

West Coast LEAF is a non-profit organization formed in 1985, the year the equality guarantees of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force. West Coast LEAF’s mandate is to use the law to create an equal and just society for all women and people who experience gender-based discrimination in BC. In collaboration with community, we use litigation, law reform, and public legal education to make change. For more information, visit http://www.westcoastleaf.org.

Hmm. For all women and people who experience gender-based discrimination…what exactly is “gender-based discrimination” then? Apparently it’s not sexism, or they would have just gone with “for women”…so what is it?

Anyway. I haven’t seen Whatcott’s pamphlets; maybe they were mean and hate-mongering and deserve censure. But referring to “hate speech that vilifies and attempts to erase trans identity and to deny the dignity of transgender people” makes hate speech a very broad category. We’ve seen over and over again that “erase trans identity” simply means not agreeing that a man who says he “feels he is” a woman is in fact literally a woman in every sense. If tribunals are going to label that “hate speech” then what next? Room 101 for all of us?

And “a broad vision of gender equality – one that includes the rights of all women, transgender, and gender-diverse people” is so broad that it erases and deletes feminism. What about our “dignity” then? What if feminist women don’t want women folded into a larger, sloppier category that now includes women who “identify as” women but are not in literal fact women? What if we want to have our own movement to do away with patriarchy and think that won’t be possible if we’re forced to share it with men?

And Oger in particular, since he’s the guy who is doing his level best to destroy Vancouver Rape Relief.



A Humberside Police spokeswoman said

Mar 27th, 2019 9:36 am | By

Editing to add today the next day:

Hull Daily Mail has the full statement from the Humberside police about their Friendly Conversation with Harry:

A Humberside Police spokeswoman said: “A phone call was made to the complainant by Inspector Wilson to update him on his complaint to the Force, which is standard procedure.”

So far so good. “Phoning to update you on your complaint, sir.” Fine; proceed.

“There was never any suggestion he shouldn’t engage in politics or debate around the subject in question, he was just asked why he would want to, knowing it would cause distress and upset to others in society.

“The complainant was also advised if he felt his Human Rights had been breached, he may want to seek legal advice.”

Mkay. The thing is…the police, being the police, must be well aware that what they say to members of the public while on duty is perceived as…coming from the police. You know? I can’t quite figure out how to make it clearer, or why they need it made clearer, when it’s the whole point of them. They’re not phoning Harry as the victim of a crime but as the perp of a non-crime but all the same they are looking into it wink wink nudge nudge. I have trouble understanding why they think it will pass muster to say “never any suggestion” and then go on to say the rest. The cops don’t have any idle curiosity about the motives of random citizens. They don’t; they have too much other stuff to do. There is no reason a cop would ask “But why would you want to?” apart from an attempt to discourage the subject from continuing his legal but “upsetting” practice of discussing political subjects.



Saddle up the velociraptor

Mar 27th, 2019 9:13 am | By

In the UK cops joke about not telling people they can’t do something but just asking why they would want to, and in the US Republicans in Congress joke about climate change because mass migrations and crop failures and wildfires are so hilarious.

Clad in a sharp, dark-colored suit, former president Ronald Reagan cuts a striking figure. But his attire isn’t what makes him formidable. He’s riding a velociraptor, which has a tattered American flag clutched in its talons. With a rocket launcher strapped to his back, Reagan fires a machine gun at an unseen foe.

The fantastical depiction of the 40th president of the United States may sound like a hallucination, only it’s not. On Tuesday, thanks to Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the artwork made its debut on the Senate floor amid debates over the Green New Deal.

Well you see the “fantastical” part was his whole point: the Green New Deal is as silly as Reagan on a velociraptor. Serious business up in there at the Capitol.

Image result for reagan velociraptor

His tie isn’t even loosened. Impressive.

Throughout his roughly 14-minute address, Lee referenced images of Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars” riding a tauntaun, a fictional species of snow lizard; Aquaman on a 20-foot purple sea horse; and Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert’s (R) cameo battling sharks with a tennis racket in “Sharknado: The 4th Awakens.”

Though Lee acknowledged that he would likely be met with criticism for “not taking climate change seriously,” the rest of his argument against the Green New Deal continued in a similar vein — full of sarcasm and accompanying posters.

“Let’s be clear . . . climate change is no joke, but the Green New Deal is a joke,” Lee said, before offering an alternative recommendation to combat environmental issues: have more babies.

More babies to grow up to deal with migration wars and famines and fires enveloping entire regions. That’ll fix it.



All we did was ask

Mar 27th, 2019 8:48 am | By

This would be hilarious if it weren’t so sinister.

There was never any suggestion he shouldn’t do what he was doing, he was just asked BY US, THE POLICE, why he would want to. Certainly when WE, THE POLICE, ask you why you would want to do something, there is NEVER ANYTHING the slightest bit menacing or intimidating about that, it’s purely an interesting conversation between two parties who are on a level playing field with no hint of one party having more state-backed power than the other. When WE, THE POLICE, just ask you why you would want to do something, knowing it would cause distress and upset to others in society, this is PURELY because we have an abiding curiosity about human nature and we love to phone random people for a chat about their conversational habits.



What happened to that counterintelligence probe?

Mar 26th, 2019 4:57 pm | By

Natasha Bertrand says the summary is not the whole story.

[N]ational-security and intelligence experts tell me that Mueller’s decision not to charge Trump or his campaign team with a conspiracy is far from dispositive, and that the underlying evidence the special counsel amassed over two years could prove as useful as a conspiracy charge to understanding the full scope of Russia’s election interference in 2016.

The way Barr described the report it was very focused on criminal-law standards and processes, but that could be just his description. A counterintelligence investigation would have what they call “a wider aperture.”

A counterintelligence probe, he added, would ask more than whether the evidence collected is sufficient to obtain a criminal conviction—it could provide necessary information to the public about why the president is making certain policy decisions. “The American people rightly should expect more from their public servants than merely avoiding criminal liability,” Kris said.

Yes, “we can’t bust him on this” is not a very high standard.

In May 2017, just after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, the FBI launched a full counterintelligence investigation into the president to determine whether he was acting as a Russian agent. “We were concerned, and we felt like we had credible, articulable facts to indicate that a threat to national security may exist,” former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe explained to me last month. It’s still not clear what became of that counterintelligence probe after Mueller was appointed, and Barr did not indicate in his four-page summary how far the special counsel pursued it.

Oh. After hearing McCabe talk about it last month, I thought I had learned that the Mueller probe was the counterintelligence probe, which I hadn’t realized before that. So it’s not? This stuff is confusing.

Jeremy Bash, who served as chief of staff at the Defense Department and the CIA under Obama, said he believes Mueller’s “core focus” was to determine whether or not federal criminal laws were violated. “If Mueller interpreted his mandate as a criminal one, the decision to pursue the investigation as such is something he will have to explain to Congress,” Bash said.

Well yes; this is what I’ve been thinking since the summary came out. It was never just “we found/did not find evidence of a crime”; we always needed to know what he was doing and why and how badly it was going to damage everything. I’ve been pretty jolted by all the “Welp, nothing prosecutable, game over.”

Mueller’s mandate, given to him by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, empowered him to investigate not only any “coordination” between the campaign and Russia, but any “links” between them as well. Barr’s summary does not describe how Mueller investigated or came to explain the many interactions the campaign had with various Russians during the election.

Even so, Bash said, it’s an “immense challenge” to envision how a counterintelligence investigation targeting the president himself would have played out. “Normally, the bureau would investigate, and if criminal matters were involved, they’d ask prosecutors to get involved,” he said. “But if it is just a matter of there being a national-security threat, the FBI would report to the director of national intelligence, who would then report to the president. But what if the president is the threat? We don’t have a playbook for this.”

Because it was never supposed to happen. Whoever created that playbook did a sloppy job of it.

We need an intelligence report and its “wider aperture.”

Mueller “always noted that the term evidence meant something different to intelligence analysts who had to work with a variety of sources of varying reliability, whereas an FBI officer needed something so unassailable as to work in a court prosecution,” McLaughlin told me, referring to the conversations he had with Mueller while he was FBI director. But as former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, who now hosts the Intelligence Matters podcast, told me, “We still do not understand why President Trump has this affinity for Putin. What happened yesterday is Mueller took one possibility off the table—that there was a criminal conspiracy. But we still don’t know what is going on between these two leaders, and what is driving this relationship.”

It would once have been unthinkable to even contemplate that a sitting president was putting the interests of a hostile foreign power above those of the United States. But Trump’s consistent praise of Putin, his pursuit of a massive real-estate deal in Moscow while Russia was waging a hacking and disinformation campaign against the United States in 2016, and the secrecy that continues to surround his conversations with his Russian counterpart have given some in the national-security community, including many leading Democrats, pause.

Trump took the extraordinary step of confiscating his interpreter’s notes after his first private meeting with Putin in Hamburg, Germany, in 2017, according to The Washington Post, and demanded that the interpreter refrain from discussing the meeting with members of his own administration. In Helsinki, Finland, one year later, Trump insisted on meeting with Putin with no American advisers or aides present.

This is what I’m saying. Whether it’s “criminal” or not we need to know all about it.

Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI, said he “never envisioned” that Mueller would bring a conspiracy charge—and that focusing on the absence of criminal indictments for conspiracy is unproductive. “If all we do is apply criminal standards to investigative findings, we are missing the point,” Figliuzzi told me. He noted that the vast majority of counterintelligence cases never result in criminal prosecution. Instead, he said, “they’re about determining the degree to which a foreign power has targeted, compromised, or recruited” the subject. “This thing started as a counterintelligence investigation,” Figliuzzi said, “and it needs to end as a counterintelligence investigation.”

That.



Definitions

Mar 26th, 2019 4:05 pm | By

Arguing about this again n again n again

Sally Hines, remember, is an academic.

First – what’s this “for me” shit? It’s not a “for me” thing. A “for me” thing would be, say, the best novel or the worst brand of toothpaste or the ideal career. Other examples of not “for me” questions:

What is a

  • bird
  • car
  • cactus
  • library
  • star
  • map
  • orange

Definitions will vary depending on the asker and the answerer; they will be less or more technical, less or more basic, less or more precise – but they won’t start with “It depends on who you are.”

Second – it’s just so stupid. “Feeling” you are something doesn’t make you that thing except when the thing is purely subjective. You can “feel” you are spiritual and that probably means you are, but other than that catgory, just feeling your way into being something doesn’t work. It’s as if Sally Hines, academic, believes in magic.

You can say it when it’s okay, but not when it isn’t. You can’t say it when someone has just shouted “TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN.” It’s very forbidden to respond with “Trans women are trans women.”



Bring in the dead horse again

Mar 26th, 2019 11:52 am | By

But her emails.

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Monday that he will use his authority as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to potentially “look into the other side” of the story now that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is complete.

Mueller’s report into the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia, according to a letter to Congress from Attorney General William Barr.

It did not find evidence that etcetera. We tend to hear and read “did not find that” as “found that not” when the two are quite different. News organizations need to be careful to use precise language on these subjects.

Graham, one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill, said he would like to “find somebody like a Mr. Mueller” to look into several other grievances, which he laid out to reporters during a press conference, including why the FBI spied on Trump associate Carter Page, and the 2016 airport tarmac meeting between former attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton.

“When it comes to the FISA warrant, the Clinton campaign, the counterintelligence investigation, it’s pretty much been swept under the rug … those days are over,” he said. “I’m going to get answers to this.”

But there is no Clinton administration running the country off a cliff. There is a Trump administration doing that. There is far more pressing need, right now, to make sure Trump isn’t selling us to Volodya and MBS than there is to make sure Clinton has been beaten up enough over the email issue.

He added: “If the shoe were on the other foot, it would be front page news all over the world. The double standard here has been striking and quite frankly disappointing.”

See above. That’s such a ridiculous thing to say. It’s not a double standard, it’s a matter of one person in a position to destroy everything and another in a position to write books and give talks to bankers. Clinton’s email account is not a live issue now because she is not in government now.



A Chicago story

Mar 26th, 2019 11:12 am | By

The BBC notes that Michelle Obama’s memoir is knocking down all the records.

Becoming, first published just five months ago, has already sold more than 10 million copies, Bertelsmann said.

“We believe that these memoirs could well become the most successful memoir ever,” said Thomas Rabe, chief executive of the German firm.

She has one hell of a story to tell, and she knows how to write.

Michelle Obama’s book, which explores her experience from childhood, her work, motherhood and her time in The White House, has been praised for its universal appeal across genders and ages.

And races, it would seem.

I don’t see that happening with any memoir by Melania Trump, or any other Trump. They wouldn’t be any good, obviously, but also, people who like to read and think tend not to be fans of the Trump gang, even Republicans.



Speaking of humility…

Mar 26th, 2019 10:25 am | By

I keep forgetting – how did David Brooks become a thing, again? Is it because he’s so mediocre and conventional and uninteresting?

Today he’s telling us we owe Donnie Two-scoops an apology.

“You have a president who, in my opinion, beyond a shadow of a doubt, sought to, however ham-handedly, collude with the Russian government, a foreign power, to undermine and influence our elections.” — Beto O’Rourke, presidential candidate

“I think there’s plenty of evidence of collusion and conspiracy in plain sight.” — Adam Schiff, chairman of House Intelligence Committee

“I called [Trump’s] behavior treasonous, which is to betray one’s trust and aid and abet the enemy, and I stand very much by that claim.” — John Brennan, former C.I.A. director

Then one from Rob Reiner, because hey let’s just be random.

Maybe it’s time to declare a national sabbath. Maybe it’s time to step back from the scandalmongering and assess who we are right now.

Democrats might approach this moment with an attitude of humility and honest self-examination. It’s clear that many Democrats made grievous accusations against the president that are not supported by the evidence. It’s clear that people like Beto O’Rourke and John Brennan owe Donald Trump a public apology. If you call someone a traitor and it turns out you lacked the evidence for that charge, then the only decent thing to do is apologize.

But we don’t lack the evidence. Just for one thing: Helsinki. Remember that? He met with Putin alone except for the interpreter; the interpreter has as far as I know never been interviewed about what went on in that meeting, nor has any other information about it been forthcoming. That isn’t normal, and it isn’t even an absence of evidence of treason.

There’s that Oval Office meeting the day after he fired Comey, with only Kisliak and Lavrov and some Russian media people. There’s the firing of Comey. There are the other solitary chats with Putin. There’s the Trump Tower Moscow project.

David Brooks needs to go soak his head.



But why would you tweet your views when it upsets the community?

Mar 26th, 2019 9:27 am | By

Well, that’s putting it right out there. “Just don’t talk about political issues and you’ll be fine. Except issues around women, of course; that’s always permitted.”

Wait a second. Why the trans “community”? Why is UK officialdom so quick to use that word whenever they want to shut up dissenters and impose conformity? The BBC used to babble about “the Muslim community” in exactly the same way when what it actually meant was “the very conservative end of the spectrum of people from majority-Muslim bits of the empire.” The Islamist, Rushdie-threatening MCB always spoke for “the Muslim community” in the BBC’s eyes, and liberal or secular or ex-Muslims never ever did. This is that all over again. Not all trans people think the entire world has to be bludgeoned into agreeing that men are women if they say they are, but Inspector Shutup wants us to think they do, so he calls them “the community.” To intimidate a dissenter.

And to ask a staggeringly impertinent question. “Why would you tweet that?” Er, none of your fucking business?

“You do have the right. I, a police inspector, am just asking you why you feel the need to engage in hate.”

Wait wait wait wait. Inspector School 101: first day of class: the police are not there to grill people about why they utter dissenting opinions on Twitter. That’s not only not their job, it’s a billion miles AWAY from being their job.

I’m not saying everybody has the Absolute Right to say absolutely anything and everything on Twitter; I think threats and harassment and abuse should be against the rules of Twitter and dealt with by Twitter. I think police involvement should be confined to credible threats (and no I haven’t the least idea how one separates credible from not credible). The idea that it’s the job of the police to impose the most extreme flavor of trans ideology on everyone who uses Twitter is beyond ludicrous, and horrifying.

Meanwhile…have the UK police ever phoned a man who spends most of his waking hours harassing women on Twitter to tell him he should stop doing that? Maybe, maybe, but I think it would be front page news if so, and we would have heard about it.



A list of guests it suggested should no longer be booked

Mar 25th, 2019 6:17 pm | By

What?!

Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey in The Post:

President Trump and his allies signaled Monday that they intend to use the broad conclusions of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation — which found no criminal conspiracy with Russia to influence the 2016 election — to forcefully attack perceived opponents they say unfairly accused the president of wrongdoing.

The targets are diffuse, ranging from specific Democratic lawmakers to the media more generally. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway called on House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) to resign immediately, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) urged Schiff to relinquish his committee chairmanship. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said he planned to investigate what he dubbed “all of the abuse by the Department of Justice and the FBI” during the 2016 presidential election. And the Trump campaign sent a memo to television hosts and producers that included a list of guests it suggested should no longer be booked because they “made outlandish, false claims” on air.

Emphasis added.

Who do they think they are?!

In addition to Graham, other Trump allies have begun to call for investigations into some of the president’s rivals, including former president Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. “Time to investigate the Obama officials who concocted and spread the Russian conspiracy hoax,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tweeted Monday.

Yes, sure, get Obama locked up; that’ll happen.

Amid all the finger-pointing, there was at least one person toward whom the president seemed to have changed his tone. After months of berating Mueller on Twitter and elsewhere for overseeing a “witch hunt” staffed by “angry Democrats,” the president took a more measured stance toward the special counsel Monday.

Asked by a reporter whether he believed Mueller had behaved “honorably,” Trump responded, simply, “Yes, he did.”

Naturally.



Fundamental expectations of presidential conduct

Mar 25th, 2019 5:51 pm | By

There are laws, and there are norms.

A special counsel’s investigation of a president is first and foremost a mechanism for addressing strictly legal questions. But it is necessarily always more, and the investigative process and the ultimate legal and factual findings reflect, help shape and often reinforce the state of key norms — fundamental expectations of presidential conduct.

The process norms, Bob Bauer writes, have come out of this pretty well.

But the Mueller report marked a low point for more substantive norms of presidential conduct. It shows that a demagogic president like Donald Trump can devalue or even depart radically from key norms, just short of committing chargeable crimes, so long as he operates mostly and brazenly in full public view. For a demagogue, shamelessness is its own reward.

Such a president can have openly, actively encouraged and welcomed foreign government support for his political campaigns, and his campaign can reinforce the point in direct communications with that government’s representatives. The Barr summary reveals that the special counsel uncovered not just a couple but “multiple offers” of support from the Russians, and yet neither Mr. Trump nor his campaign reported them to counterintelligence or law enforcement authorities. Mr. Trump went further still — while in office, he dictated a statement for his son and campaign aide, Donald Trump Jr., that falsely represented the purposes of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between senior campaign representatives and a Kremlin-connected representative (and others) offering assistance in the 2016 election.

But it’s not enough to prosecute.

Similarly, the letter notes that much of the president’s obstructive behavior during the investigation was in “public view.” This was apparently a significant consideration in the decision by Mr. Barr and Mr. Rosenstein not to prosecute (along with the determination that there was no underlying “collusion” legal offense). Here, once again, the president who is a demagogue — who is fully prepared to flout well-established, vitally important expectations about how American presidents faithfully execute the laws — can safely bring self-interested, self-protective pressure on the Department of Justice and undermine its public standing and authority.



They can always play in the street

Mar 25th, 2019 5:19 pm | By

Keeping the rabble out:

At least one multimillion-pound housing development in London is segregating the children of less well-off tenants from those of wealthier homebuyers by blocking them from some communal play areas.

Guardian Cities has discovered that developer Henley Homes has blocked social housing residents from using shared play spaces at its Baylis Old School complex on Lollard Street, south London. The development was required to include a mix of “affordable” and social rental units in order to gain planning permission.

Henley marketed the award-winning 149-home development, which was built in 2016 on the site of a former secondary school, as inclusive and family-friendly. It said the “common areas are there for the use of all the residents”.

But the designs were altered after planning permission was granted to block the social housing tenants from accessing the communal play areas.

“Just kidding about the ‘for the use of all the residents’ part!”

Salvatore Rea, who lives in a rented affordable flat with his wife, Daniella, and their three children, says the residents of the complex are very aware of the disparity. “My children are friends with all the other children on this development – but when it is summer they can’t join them.”

Well if the children would just get jobs as stockbrokers they’d be welcome on the playground.

Dinah Bornat, an architect and expert on child-friendly design who advises planners, local authorities and the mayor of London, called the development “segregation” and said she has raised it with senior planners at the Greater London Authority.

“Everyone I have told, at the highest level, has been absolutely horrified to hear that our planning system is not robust enough to stop this happening,” she said.

“To see hedges where plans showed gates, to see a segregated small play area for the social housing residents, while their children directly overlook a much nicer play area is appalling.”

She says it is an abuse of the planning process if developers make such fundamental alterations after the plans have been through a public consultation.

“They are allowed to make minor changes,” she noted. “But what they have done here is altered the layout to block access to social housing residents. We have to ask: was this a cynical move?”

Changing the design after approval, cynical? Oh surely not.



The weasel words and what they’re hiding

Mar 25th, 2019 12:00 pm | By

William Saletan does a close reading of Barr’s letter:

The letter says the Justice Department won’t prosecute Trump, but it reaches that conclusion by tailoring legal standards to protect the president. Here’s a list of Barr’s weasel words and what they’re hiding.

“The Russian government.” The letter quotes a sentence from Mueller’s report. In that sentence, Mueller says his investigation didn’t prove that members of the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” The sentence specifies Russia’s government. It says nothing about coordination with other Russians.

Like for instance Kilimnik and Veselnitskaya.

“In its election interference activities.” This phrase is included in the same excerpt.
It reflects the structure of the investigation. Mueller started with a counterintelligence probe of two specific Russian government operations: the production of online propaganda to influence the 2016 U.S. election, and the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. These are the two operations Mueller targeted in his indictments of Russians last year.

But there are others. Mueller may have confined his investigation that way but it doesn’t follow that that’s all there is.

“Agreement—tacit or express.” A footnote in Barr’s letter says the special counsel defined coordination as “agreement—tacit or express—between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.” The letter doesn’t clarify whether this definition originally came from Mueller or from the Justice Department. This, too, limits the range of prosecutable collusion. We know, for example, that in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. was told in an email that “the Crown prosecutor of Russia” had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary … and would be very useful to your father.” The email said the offer was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. wrote back: “If it’s what you say I love it.” Apparently, by the standards asserted in the letter, this doesn’t count as even “tacit agreement … on election interference.”

Barr has narrowed things down to a point and Trump-Fox are claiming he’s included the whole universe.

Barr’s letter mixes two different authors. On questions of conspiracy and coordination, Barr summarizes Mueller’s findings. But on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice, Barr draws his own conclusion: “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” That’s Barr’s opinion, not Mueller’s. As the letter concedes, Mueller “did not draw a conclusion one way or the other as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction.” That’s for the rest of us to decide.

But is it? Morally, yes, but actionably? Barr has the power, and he can just block us from deciding in such a way that consequences result.

One reason to be suspicious of Barr’s conclusions is that in the course of the letter, he tweaks Mueller’s opinion to look more like his own. Mueller’s report, as excerpted by Barr, says “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.” Barr quotes that line and then, in the same sentence, concludes that “the absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction.” But the excerpt from Mueller’s report doesn’t refer to an absence of evidence. It refers to a presence of evidence, and it says this evidence isn’t enough to prove a crime. Throughout the investigation, this has been a standard Republican maneuver: misrepresenting an absence of proof as an absence of evidence. Barr’s use of this maneuver in his letter is a red flag that he’s writing partisan spin.

All together now: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. We all learned that song in the cradle.

There’s more; it’s all interesting.



Very, very evil things, very bad things

Mar 25th, 2019 10:53 am | By

Trump is making threats now. Of course he is.

President Donald Trump says his enemies who did “evil” and “treasonous things” will be under scrutiny after he was absolved of colluding with Russia.

Speaking in the Oval Office, he said no other president should have to be investigated over “a false narrative”.

Mr Trump was hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House on Monday when a reporter asked him about the outcome of the Mueller report.

“There’s a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things,” Mr Trump said, “I would say treasonous things, against our country.”

“And hopefully people that have done such harm to our country, we’ve gone through a period of really bad things happening.

“Those people will certainly be looked at, I’ve been looking at them for a long time.

“And I’m saying, ‘why haven’t they been looked at?’ They lied to Congress – many of them, you know who they are – they’ve’ done so many evil things.”

Mr Trump did not name the alleged culprits.

He added: “It was a false narrative, it was terrible thing, we can never let this happen to another president again, I can tell you that. I say it very strongly.”

Threat threat threat, but his language is so impoverished nobody can tell what he’s talking about. “Very bad things”; ok then, we’ll get right on that.



While not determinative

Mar 25th, 2019 10:36 am | By

Aaron Blake at the Post asks, in guarded language, if the fix is in.

A big question hanging over William P. Barr’s nomination to be attorney general this year was whether, once he got the job, he would do President Trump’s bidding. Barr had made statements critical of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, and he even wrote a long memo rejecting the need for the obstruction of justice portion of Mueller’s inquiry. Trump also repeatedly made clear his desire for a loyalist to oversee the investigation.

On Sunday, Barr made a big decision in Trump’s favor. And he did so in a way legal experts say is very questionable.

In his summary, Barr wrote that Mueller didn’t conclude that Trump committed obstruction of justice but also that he didn’t conclude that he didn’t.

So Barr did it for him.

“After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions,” Barr wrote, “Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

He further explained. “In making this determination, we noted that the Special Counsel recognized that ‘the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,’ and that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction.”

So the idea is that the lack of evidence that Trump was involved in the Russian interference is a reason to think Trump didn’t try to obstruct?

Well that’s ridiculous.

This is Trump. A rational person with a good grasp of all the facts and a clean record would probably refrain from trying to obstruct an investigation of the kind Mueller did, but Trump is not that person.

Legal experts say it’s odd that he emphasized the lack of an underlying, proven crime, given that’s not necessary for obstruction of justice.

“I think this is the weakest part of Attorney General Barr’s conclusions,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “You do not need to prove an underlying crime to prove obstruction of justice. Martha Stewart is quite aware of this fact.”

There have been Martha Stewart jokes on Twitter this morning.

“For example,” added former federal prosecutor David Alan Sklansky, now of Stanford University, “if the President wrongfully tried to block the investigation into Russian interference in the election because he wanted to protect the Russians, or because he didn’t want people to know that a foreign government had tried to hack the election in his favor, that would constitute obstruction.”

Barr’s argument is that the lack of an underlying crime suggests there’s less reason to believe Trump had a “corrupt intent” behind his actions regarding the investigation. But if you set aside collusion, there would seem to be plenty for Trump to want to cover up. Even if these proven and alleged crimes didn’t involve criminal activity by Trump personally, he would seem to have a clear interest in the outcomes of these investigations, both because of his sensitivity about the idea that Russia assisted him and because of the narrative it created of a president surrounded by corruption.

He, personally, likes the image of himself surrounded by corruption. He likes being the godfatha. But he doesn’t want to have to live in a small cell because of it.