Notes and Comment Blog

Happy holidays

Dec 16th, 2017 4:09 pm | By

Jennifer Rubin on the intensifying efforts to disrupt the Russia investigation.

Nadler told me Friday morning in an email that it’s obvious the GOP’s tactic of choice in running interference for the president is now to smear the FBI. “The outlandish and irresponsible attacks by Republicans and Conservative media on the Department of Justice pose a significant threat to our national security and our fundamental democratic principles,” he said. “The Deputy Attorney General said unequivocally in our hearing that there is no good basis to fire the Special Counsel or to terminate his investigation. House Judiciary Republicans, on the other hand, certainly are enablers of President Trump’s worst instincts — attacks on the Justice Department, attacking the reputation of the FBI, disregarding statute, regulation, and common sense to try to force the Special Counsel to back off as the walls close in on the President.”

Some of them understand how terrible Trump is, and all of them ought to. The Republican party is for rich people and theocracy (an uneasy combination at times) but it’s not normally for open corruption and criminality, let alone corrupt criminal dictators of other countries fiddling our elections.

I hope they step back from the brink.

Serious alarms

Dec 16th, 2017 3:37 pm | By

Walter Shaub, the ethics guy, put out a statement yesterday:

Walter Shaub, senior director, ethics at the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) warned the administration, its surrogates, and its allies to back off their attempt to undermine the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. President Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, has publicly called for a second special counsel in a transparent effort to muddy the waters and impede Mueller’s investigation. In response, Shaub gave the following statement:

“The coordinated effort by President Trump and his surrogates to discredit the Mueller investigation raises serious alarms. Rather than making themselves complicit in this assault on the rule of law, Members of Congress should send a clear message to the President that firing Mueller is a red line he must not cross.”

They are of course doing the opposite, hinting broadly that they will support him if he fires Mueller.

Russia, if you’re listening

Dec 16th, 2017 3:15 pm | By

Get a load of this headline at Reuters:

Trump allies say Mueller unlawfully obtained thousands of emails

You what? Trump’s friends say Mueller got emails unlawfully? Are they drunk?


Dec 16th, 2017 2:40 pm | By

Kevin M. Folta is here to help:

Image may contain: text

Damaging, insidious and difficult to root out

Dec 16th, 2017 11:53 am | By

And then there’s Matt Taibbi.

There’s more than one way to harass women. A raft of men in recent weeks have paid for accusations of sexual harassment with their companies, their jobs, their plum political posts. But one point has been overlooked in the scandals: Men can be belittling, cruel and deeply damaging without demanding sex. (Try sloughing off heaps of contempt with your self-esteem intact.) We have no consensus — and hardly any discussion — about how we should treat behaviors that are misogynist and bullying but fall short of breaking the law.

Short of breaking the law but not short of a reason to say Go away and don’t come back. Misogynist bullying is not a trivial matter.

Twenty years ago the author of the piece, Kathy Lally, was Moscow correspondent for the Baltimore Sun and Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames ran an Anglophone tabloid there called the eXile. Their self-presentation was the usual bad boy convention-defying crap.

A better description is this: The eXile was juvenile, stunt-obsessed and pornographic, titillating for high school boys. It is back in the news because Taibbi just wrote a new book, and interviewers are asking him why he and Ames acted so boorishly back then. The eXile’s distinguishing feature, more than anything else, was its blinding sexism — which often targeted me.

We can imagine what it was like all too easily, after so many years of seeing the kind of thing clogging up Twitter like hair in the bathtub drain. There were male reporters around who were happy to say it was misogynist and also awesome. Easy for them.

Taibbi still writes for Rolling Stone; Ames, too, works in journalism, running a podcast on war and conflict.

I remember the eXile as a mishmash of nightclub listings (rated on how easily a man could get sex), articles on lurid escapades (sex with a 15-year-old girl, an account Ames now says was a joke), political pieces (“Why Our Military Shopping Spree Has Russia Pissed Off”) and press reviews savaging mainstream Western journalists. It ridiculed one female reporter as a “star spinster columnist” and mentioned women’s “anger lines” and fat ankles. The paper even had a cartoon called the Fat Ankle News , about a woman who tweezes her nose hairs and gorges on doughnuts while editing a story. Some male reporters came in for scorn as toadies or morons or liars. But their outrages concerned their minds and not their bodies.

What I’m saying. It’s so drearily familiar.

She didn’t admire the eXile and once said so in public, so they went after her in the way guys like them do go after women.

When I wrote an article about advertisements that used sex to sell cigarettes — new for Russia — Taibbi addressed my Baltimore Sun editors in his eXile column: “Lally’s article is pathological, illogical, inaccurate, makes no point, and is insulting and hypocritical besides. . . . Lally’s gaffes may be comic, the wild meanderings of an aging woman nearing derangement.” Once, the eXile declared me the winner of its “Gnarliest Elephantine Ass on a Journalist With No Ethics Award.” Another time, it published a cartoon showing me in bed with my editor.

I wondered if I should write a story about the eXile, and I started asking Western correspondents what they knew about it. Taibbi had accused a friend of mine of being paid by Russian oligarchs to write favorable stories, so I thought it was worth asking about the eXile’s connections. Do you think any oligarchs are financing them? As a reader, can you tell the difference between what they are making up and what they are not? Are they here on journalist visas? Who are their journalistic role models? I never pursued it, but Taibbi found out about my queries. In the eXile, he described “a full frontal attack by, of all things, a matronly middle-aged American print journalist.”

Middle-aged – why had no one had her euthanized yet?

When “The eXile: Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia” came out, the memoir had a few more surprises in store. “We dragged . . . Lally’s charred [corpse] through the dust-and-fly-infested streets of our newspaper for all to have a laugh,” Ames wrote. In the most unexpected anecdote, Taibbi said that another reporter, Fred Weir, described in great detail how the eXile had made me cry. “Good!” Taibbi describes himself shouting. I was aware of Weir; probably we had bumped into each other at news conferences. But I didn’t know him. I couldn’t imagine why I would ever have wept in front of him.

They’d be right at home with darling Milo, not to mention Steve Bannon.

I didn’t think about Taibbi and Ames for years; my self-esteem remained intact and my life moved along. Then, just as more and more men were being drummed out of public life for long-ago behavior, Taibbi landed in the news, bringing Ames along with him. Taibbi recently published a book about the death of Eric Garner, “I Can’t Breathe,” and in an interview about it, an NPR host asked him about the eXile years and a passage, written by Ames, in their memoir that described routine sexual harassment of women.

He apologized; he wrote a couple of Facebook posts apologizing (sort of). But, you know, once you know that kind of shit is in someone’s head, apologies don’t really do anything. They don’t have the power to persuade you that the someone doesn’t still think that way.

It doesn’t work to say oh that was then. Yes, it was then, it was twenty years ago, but they were like that then. Being like that is, frankly, about the worst way people can be. It doesn’t go away even if they later repudiate it.

Ames recently told reporters that the eXile was obviously satire and complained that he is being smeared for that satire.

But so many of their sins were real. Taibbi once wrote in the eXile that women had no business wearing “painter’s pants and sneakers” when they ought to be more like Russian women, with “their tight skirts, blowjob-ready lips, and swinging, meaty chests.” Ames described going to the senior prom of an international high school with a 17-year-old date he called his “Jew-broad”; he was 34. Back home she would be “jailbait,” he wrote in the eXile , but Russia “permits sex with a fourteen-year-old, so long as you had reason to believe she was sixteen, the legal statutory age.” A photo shows Ames in the front row with his date.

They told lies about another woman reporter, saying she relied on a translator when she didn’t.

I got in touch with Taibbi and Ames, neither of whom has ever met or spoken to me. Ames did not reply to requests for comment. He has, however, described his stories of sex with 15-year-olds as satire. In a Facebook exchange with me, Taibbi gave some ground. “I certainly would not go about things now the way I did back then,” he wrote. “And I apologize for the physical descriptions. That was gratuitous and uncalled for.” But before he stopped answering my questions, he took some jabs, complaining about the “efforts to get us removed from the Johnson’s list.”

Finally, we are confronting men who have abused and sexually harassed women for years. That reckoning has been too long coming. But you don’t have to grope a woman or force a kiss on her to humiliate her, to make her doubt herself, to silence and diminish her. Bullying, treating women with contempt, freezing them out of the lunches and meetings that build networks and authority: All are damaging, insidious and difficult to root out. That will take time — and more women who call men out. That’s why I’m saying #MeToo.

Damn right.

Won’t someone please think of the bottled water industry?

Dec 16th, 2017 9:48 am | By

Jonathan Freedland at the Guardian reminds us (as do many) that while we’re fuming at Trump’s misogynist insults he’s doing damage that will last for decades.

Freedland starts with the murder of net neutrality and the blizzard of judicial appointments.

Needless to say, 91% of Trump’s nominees are white and 81% are male, re-stacking the judiciary with white men at a rate unseen for 30 years, reversing decades of steady progress towards a bench that resembles the society it judges.

That’s truer still of his record on the environment, which seems to have no purpose beyond vandalism, erosion of the Obama legacy and the enrichment of his corporate pals. One of Trump’s first acts was lifting the ban on mining companies dumping waste in rivers and streams. Since then he has told national parks they have to resume selling bottled water at sites including the Grand Canyon, even though the ban had prevented the dumping of up to 2m plastic bottles.

Oh has he. I missed that one. Jessica Glenza in the Guardian September 26.

A ban on bottled water in 23 national parks prevented up to 2m plastic bottles from being used and discarded every year, a US national park service study found. That is equivalent to up to 326 barrels of oil worth of emissions, 419 cubic yards of landfill space and 111,743lb of plastic, according to the May study.

Despite that, the Trump administration reversed the bottled water ban just three months later, a decision that horrified conservationists and pleased the bottled water industry.

More money for people who sell bottled water and shareholders who invest in bottled water companies; that’s the important thing.

(I remember once grumbling about paper cups for water in a workplace and a co-worker grumbling back about lost jobs if people stopped using a paper cup once then throwing it out. So then why not just buy whole shipments of paper cups and throw them out unused? Or use a separate cup for each sip? Why not set fire to everything as a job creation scheme?)

The plan to curb pollution in America’s most famous wilderness areas was spurred when arguably its most famous park, the Grand Canyon, banned the sale of plastic water bottles in its gift shops, according to the report. Approximately 331 million people visit US national parks each year.

The program was meant to support a “life cycle” approach to plastic, which activists say is the largest global threat to the environment behind climate change. One million plastic bottles are sold per minute, according to a Guardian analysis. The top six drink companies in the world use an average of just 6.6% recycled plastic.

At the same time, new research has shown that plastics which find their way into the sea have entered the food supply. Scientists have found plastic particles in sea salthoneyfishbeer and tap water.

But what is all that compared to profits? Who cares about long term damage when there is short term money to be made?

The agency started allowing parks to ban bottled water in 2011. Since then, the bottled water industry argued that the ban was unfair and eliminated a healthy beverage option, even though hydration stations with free water were installed in parks.

When the National Park Service ended the ban in August, it echoed an industry argument: “It should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park, particularly during hot summer visitation periods,” said the acting service director, Michael Reynolds.

Freedom freedom freedom! Plus expensive bottled water in wasteful harmful plastic bottles. Freedom bottles!

Correction of language

Dec 16th, 2017 8:32 am | By

Now they’re micromanaging the words civil servants can use. They’ve made a List of forbidden words.

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”


Especially the last four. With the first three I can sort of see what they’re objecting to, I think – the words are emotive, even manipulative, as opposed to technical or scientific…or, to put it another way, they’re somewhat political. It still seems ludicrous to forbid them, but I could see a nudge to use more neutral language. But the last four? The government body responsible for disease monitoring and prevention is being told to stop using those? That’s deranged.

In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said.

Uh. That’s more political rather than less…also incoherent. Maybe they meant “in consultation with community standards and wishes”? Because “in consideration with” isn’t even English. But then if that is what they mean it’s grotesque. No, “community standards” shouldn’t overrule or compete with science and evidence. That thought is what has brought the Republicans to the place they are now.

At the CDC, the meeting about the banned words was led by Alison Kelly, a senior leader in the agency’s Office of Financial Services, according to the CDC analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly. Kelly did not say why the words are being banned, according to the analyst, and told the group that she was merely relaying the information.

Other CDC officials confirmed the existence of a list of forbidden words.It’s likely that other parts of HHS are operating under the same guidelines regarding the use of these words, the analyst said.

Don’t mention The Fetus.

At the CDC, several offices have responsibility for work that uses some of these words. The National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention is working on ways to prevent HIV among transgender people and reduce health disparities. The CDC’s work on birth defects caused by the Zika virus includes research on the developing fetus.

Quite so. Having political hacks telling them to stop using necessary words is…I don’t even know what to call it. They keep exhausting my supply of words, without even needing to ban any of them.

The longtime CDC analyst, whose job includes writing descriptions of the CDC’s work for the administration’s annual spending blueprint, could not recall a previous time when words were banned from budget documents because they were considered controversial.

Controversial? “Evidence-based” is considered controversial in the department that deals with disease? Do we prefer random guesses in disease control?

The CDC has a budget of about $7 billion and more than 12,000 employees working across the nation and around the globe on everything from food and water safety, to heart disease and cancer, to infectious disease outbreak prevention. Much of the CDC’s work has strong bipartisan support.

Welp, I guess the Trump people have a soft spot for disease.

Don disappointed

Dec 15th, 2017 5:16 pm | By

Trump really really wants to make it more difficult and expensive for women to get contraception because that’s the kind of guy he is, but he’s hit a roadblock.

A federal court on Friday blocked Trump administration rules that made it easier for employers to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives for women.

Judge Wendy Beetlestone of the Federal District Court in Philadelphia issued a preliminary injunction, saying the rules contradicted the text of the Affordable Care Act by allowing many employers to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage if they had religious or moral objections.

In the lawsuit, filed by the State of Pennsylvania, the judge said the rules would cause irreparable harm because tens of thousands of women would lose contraceptive coverage.

Aw. Poor Don. He would have loved that. He takes such pleasure in seeing other people fucked over thanks to him.

“A simple hypothetical illustrates the insidious effect of the moral exemption rule,” Judge Beetlestone wrote. “It would allow an employer with a sincerely held moral conviction that women do not have a place in the workplace to simply stop providing contraceptive coverage.”

It is, she said, difficult to imagine a rule that “intrudes more into the lives of women.”

Yes, well, that’s the point. That’s what makes it so much fun.

In her opinion, Judge Beetlestone said Pennsylvania was likely to succeed in its challenge to the birth control rules. In issuing the rules, she said, the Trump administration did not follow “proper procedure.” Federal officials, she said, flouted the Administrative Procedure Act, which generally requires agencies to seek public comment before adopting regulations that have the force of law.

Public comment!! But Trump is the boss. He’s the top guy! He can fire anyone he wants to! He’s like a king, he’s like Putin. Public gots nothing to do with it; public does what he tells it to do.

For its part, the Trump administration said that the contraceptive coverage mandate imposed a “substantial burden” on the exercise of religion by certain employers. The new rules, relaxing the mandate, fulfilled a campaign pledge by President Trump, who said that employers should not be “bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs.”

But of course employees should be bullied by the Trump administration because of their failure to be men.

Guest post: A form of obedience/submissiveness to the authority of the perceived majority

Dec 15th, 2017 5:04 pm | By

Originally a comment by Bjarte Foshaug on The rot at the core.

To borrow another useful distinction from Margaret Heffernan it’s not just about authority, but also conformity. Unlike obedience/submissiveness to authority conformity feels voluntary (or “voluntary”) and doesn’t presuppose any imbalance in formal rank or status (hence the expression “peer pressure”), only the normal fear of conflict, embarrassment, or social isolation. And even female bosses are not immune to the influence of their male peers as well as patriarchal society at large.

On a deeper level I guess conformity can be understood as a form of obedience/submissiveness to the authority of the perceived majority. I say “perceived” because the people “setting the standard” don’t even have to be in a real majority. One of the concepts I remember from my old bachelor’s degree in media studies is the Spiral of Silence in which people who, whether or not it’s true, feel like they’re in a minority tend to self-censor, thus making their own views seem even more marginalized and on the fringe, when they may not actually be fringe at all. All it takes [1] is for a few loud and assertive people (and as we all know the male sex has more than its fair share of those) to make their opinions known at an early stage without being contradicted, and everyone else tends to just accept their views as representative of the group as a whole.

There’s also a lot of slippery slope-type dynamics going on: On the spectrum from sexist jokes to all-out sexual assault we never cross an obvious “boundary” where things abruptly and instantaneously change from “definitely OK” to “definitely not OK”. If you have already accepted steps a,b,c as normal and acceptable it’s very difficult to make a consistent argument that steps d,e,f are “crossing the line”. By the same logic once you have accepted steps d,e,f as normal and acceptable it’s very difficult to make a consistent argument that steps g,h,i etc… etc… This is why there is no “safe level” of sexism. The “jokes”, the “banter”, and the “locker room talk” are all part of the enabling apparatus allowing the Trumps and Weinsteins of the world to go all the way to x,y,z.


1. Actually it doesn’t even take that much. All it takes is the (perfectly reasonable) assumption that the group in question isn’t radically different from the rest of society.

Nobody owns a culture

Dec 15th, 2017 3:58 pm | By

Kenan Malik has a wonderful essay at Art Review on “cultural appropriation” and why it’s a pernicious concept.

The very term ‘cultural appropriation’ is inappropriate. Cultures work not through appropriation but through messy interaction. Writers and artists, indeed all human beings, necessarily engage with the experiences of others. Nobody owns a culture, but everyone inhabits one (or several), and in inhabiting a culture, one finds the tools for reaching out to other cultures.

Cultural interaction is necessarily messy because the world is messy. Some of that messiness is good: the complexity and diversity of the world. Some of it is damaging: the racial, sexual and economic inequalities that disfigure our world.

Such damaging messiness will not be cleaned up by limiting cultural interaction, or by confining it within a particular etiquette. In reframing political and economic issues as cultural ones, or as issues of identity, campaigns against cultural appropriation obscure the roots of racism, and make it harder to challenge it. In constraining what Adam Shatz called ‘acts of radical sympathy, and imaginative identification… across racial lines’, they make such challenges more difficult still.

The campaigns against cultural appropriation are bad for creative art. And they are bad for progressive politics. They seek to police interaction and constrain imagination. For the sake of both of art and politics we need less policing and constraints, more interaction and imagination.

That’s what I think. I get how borrowings can be done badly, but I think it’s a terrible impoverishing mistake to go from that to the insistence that all borrowing and interaction is a trespass.

A different path

Dec 15th, 2017 12:48 pm | By

There’s this fella interviewing for an exciting new job as a Federal District Court judge in the District of Columbia, who turned out to know not very much about the judging.

Matthew S. Petersen, a member of the Federal Election Commission, was one of five of President Trump’s judicial nominees being questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday when Senator John N. Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, singled him out for an interrogation.

Thus commenced what appeared to be an excruciating five minutes of ignorance on Mr. Petersen’s part, as he answered most of Senator Kennedy’s questions in the negative.

No, he had not ever handled a jury trial, or even a bench trial. In fact, he had not handled any civil or criminal trials at all, in either state or federal court.

No, he had never argued a motion in state court.

No, he could not define the Daubert standard, a well-known standard (among lawyers, anyway) for admitting expert testimony. Nor could he explain a motion in limine, a formal request to exclude certain kinds of evidence.

Mr. Petersen, who practiced election law at a firm before joining the government, and who has been nominated to the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, attempted to justify his inability to answer the questions. “I understand that the path that many successful district court judges have taken has been a different one than I’ve taken,” he said.

Ah yes, a different path; let a thousand flowers bloom, march to the beat of a different drummer, be a little bit quirky and unusual.

Let’s see

Dec 15th, 2017 12:32 pm | By

He also hinted he plans to pardon Flynn.

“I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet,” Mr. Trump said. “We’ll see what happens. Let’s see. I can say this: When you look at what’s gone on with the F.B.I. and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.”

There’s that theory of mind problem again. He watches Fox and translates that into “people” in general. His people are a minority, at this point a quite small minority.

Trump pretends to know what “disgraceful” means

Dec 15th, 2017 12:02 pm | By

Trump is attempting to convince us all that he gets to fire Mueller and pardon Flynn and go on his way rejoicing.

President Trump said Friday there is tremendous anger over what he called the FBI’s “disgraceful’’ behavior, taking aim at the bureau just before he appeared at its training facility to praise the nation’s police officers.

“It’s a shame what’s happened with the FBI,’’ the president told reporters as he prepared to depart the White House for a ceremony at the FBI’s National Academy in Quantico, Va., where more than 200 law enforcement officers graduated from a program that imparts FBI expertise and standards.

“We’re going to rebuild the FBI, it’ll be bigger and better than ever, but it is very sad when you look at those documents, and how they’ve done that is really, really disgraceful, and you have a lot of very angry people that are seeing it,’’ Trump said.

Nah. Far more people think Trump is disgraceful.

Mind you, the FBI has plenty of disgrace in its history. But what Trump is talking about? Nah.

Trump appeared on a stage there alongside FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whointroduced the president by calling him “our nation’s highest law enforcement official.’’ That title carries possible implications for the ongoing criminal probe into whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice leading up to the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey in May.

The president’s defenders say that, as the nation’s top law enforcement official, he cannot obstruct justice by firing the head of the FBI. However, in past administrations that phrase has been used to describe the attorney general, not the president.

Plus lawyers have been lining up to say no that claim is ludicrous and wrong.

Just another routine day in Trump.

The rot at the core

Dec 14th, 2017 1:28 pm | By

It’s not so much about sex as it is about work, Rebecca Traister points out.

[I]n the midst of our great national calculus, in which we are determining what punishments fit which sexual crimes, it’s possible that we’re missing the bigger picture altogether: that this is not, at its heart, about sex at all — or at least not wholly. What it’s really about is work, and women’s equality in the workplace, and more broadly, about the rot at the core of our power structures that makes it harder for women to do work because the whole thing is tipped toward men.

It’s like dogs pissing on the shrubbery. “This is ours.” You can leave the house if you insist, but then we’re gonna piss on you. These recent accounts have been about the workplace.

We got to where we are because men, specifically white men, have been afforded a disproportionate share of power. That leaves women dependent on those men — for economic security, for work, for approval, for any share of power they might aspire to. Many of the women who have told their stories have explained that they did not do so before because they feared for their jobs. When women did complain, many were told that putting up with these behaviors was just part of working for the powerful men in question — “That’s just Charlie being Charlie”; “That’s just Harvey being Harvey.” Remaining in the good graces of these men, because they were the bosses, the hosts, the rainmakers, the legislators, was the only way to preserve employment, and not just their own: Whole offices, often populated by female subordinates, are dependent on the steady power of the male bosses.

In workplaces like that, a sexual overture is never just a sexual overture. It can’t be.

Bang, another target down

Dec 14th, 2017 12:16 pm | By

Say goodbye to net neutrality in the US.

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to dismantle landmark rules regulating the businesses that connect consumers to the internet, granting broadband companies power to potentially reshape Americans’ online experiences.

The agency scrapped so-called net neutrality regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content. The federal government will also no longer regulate high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, like phone services.

The action reversed the agency’s 2015 decision, during the Obama administration, to better protect Americans as they have migrated to the internet for most communications.

Ajit Pai, the chairman of the commission, said the rollback of the rules would eventually help consumers because

blah blah blah the usual shit but we know he doesn’t mean a word of it.

The five commissioners were fiercely divided along party lines. In front of a room packed with reporters and television cameras from major networks, the two Democratic commissioners warned of consumer harms to come from the changes.

Mignon Clyburn, one of the Democratic commissioners who voted against the action, presented two accordion folders full of letters in protest to the changes, and accused the three Republican commissioners of defying the wishes of millions of Americans.

“I dissent, because I am among the millions outraged,” said Ms. Clyburn. “Outraged, because the F.C.C. pulls its own teeth, abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers.”

Tough, because Trump.

A worldview that suggests there is no such thing as a line

Dec 14th, 2017 11:17 am | By

Dahlia Lithwick on being both victim and accomplice of one of those men.

She first met Judge Alex Kozinski in 1996, when she was clerking for another judge. She doesn’t remember what they talked about but she does remember “feeling quite small and very dirty.”

Without my prompting, my former co-clerk described this interaction in an email to me this week. “He completely ignored me and appeared to be undressing you with his eyes,” he wrote. “I had never seen anyone ogle another person like that and still have not seen anything like it. Was so uncomfortable to watch, and I wasn’t even the subject of the stare.”

Later she had occasion to talk to him on the phone and he asked her what she was wearing.

For the 20 intervening years, I have promised myself that if Judge Kozinski was ever to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, I would testify about the dozens of conversations I’d had over the years with other clerks and lawyers about Kozinski’s behavior, about the strange hypersexualized world of transgressive talk and action that embodied his chambers. It turns out, it didn’t take a confirmation hearing to kick off this conversation. On Dec. 8, the Washington Postpublished the stories of six women—two of them, Heidi Bondand Emily Murphy, brave enough to go on the record—alleging that Kozinski had harassed them when they clerked or otherwise worked for him, or when they clerked for another 9th Circuit judge. Bond says Kozinski pulled up pornography on a computer in his chambers and asked if it aroused her. One accuser spoke of him looking “her body up and down ‘in a less-than-professional way.’ ” Another reported about his fixation on the idea that she should exercise naked.

In a statement to the Post, Kozinski said, “I have been a judge for 35 years and during that time have had over 500 employees in my chambers. I treat all of my employees as family and work very closely with most of them. I would never intentionally do anything to offend anyone and it is regrettable that a handful have been offended by something I may have said or done.”


There’s family and family; there’s work closely and work closely. Claiming one would never intentionally do anything to offend anyone is weaselly, because intentions are only as good as they are. Millions of men have apparently made zero effort to understand how women in general tend to feel about sexual overtures in the workplace, and in that context “intentionally” really doesn’t mean much. It’s possible for instance to insult people without exactly intending to, but maybe there’s an attention or effort or generosity gap there. And speaking of that, “it is regrettable that a handful have been offended” is remarkably insulting as well as callous. He doesn’t know it’s only a handful. You’d think “#MeToo” would have taught people that by now.

And the guy’s a judge. Wouldn’t you think judges would have a better understanding of power differentials than that?

But Lithwick finds it hard to put a name to what he did.

In so many of his interactions with me, and conversations around me, Judge Kozinski has always gone one step over the line of appropriate sexual discourse. At the same time, he pushes a worldview that suggests there is no such thing as a line. Both personally and in his jurisprudence, I don’t think he believes that porn is porn, or that sex talk is problematic in the workplace. His acts of darting back and forth into deep sexual taboo became a natural experiment in who would live there with him. But because he is powerful, and because relationships with him are proximate to yet more power, those in his circle got dragged along into a world that diminishes and belittles women. For more evidence of this, you can read this diary entry he wrote for Slate in 1996, describing an outing with an unnamed clerk to attend a lingerie party.

He’s “sex positive” and he’s casting the “handful” who were “offended” as sex negative aka prudes.

Lithwick regrets not speaking up before.

I have seen Judge Kozinski dozens of times in the past two decades, moderated his panels, sat next to him at high-powered, high-status events and dinners. My husband will tell you he once fielded a call from the judge to my home, in which Kozinski described himself as my “paramour.” I have, on every single such occasion, been aware that part of his open flouting of empathy or care around gender was a show of juvenile, formulaic bad-assery designed to co-opt you into the bargain. We all ended up colluding to pretend that this was all funny or benign, and that, since everyone knew about it, it must be OK. It never was.

Much of bro culture is about exactly that – a show of juvenile, formulaic bad-assery that casts dissenters as prudes.

But now it’s 2017, and along with thinking about Heidi Bond, Emily Murphy, and those who came forward anonymously, I am also thinking about those who opted not to apply for clerkships with him, sidestepping an opportunity to get within close range of a coveted Supreme Court clerkship. Like others who have now come forward, I had told young female law students not to clerk for him.

I am thinking about the hundreds of plaintiffs in the discrimination and harassment suits he heard in the years he was on the bench. I am thinking of all the ways in which “open secrets” become their own spheres of truth, in which the idea that “everybody knew” something awful absolved all of us of the burden of doing anything. The former Kozinski and 9th Circuit clerks I’ve spoken to in recent days feel heartsick, as I do, that for the sake of our own careers and professional legitimacy we continued to go to the dinners and moderate the panels, all the while hoping this story would break someday and we’d be off the hook. Some of these clerks are still encumbered by the norms that constrained Bond, norms that stipulate that clerks must not speak out against or question their judges, norms to which Kozinski insisted strict adherence—and norms that, it must be said, are insane on their face if they prevent reports of open sexual harassment.

Do read the whole piece. Read it two or three times. It’s tragic and depressing and true, so read it over and over.

For years, I excused myself because I believed that the casual degradation of women that emanated from Judge Kozinski’s orbit was the death rattle of an old America: a symbol of the sad, broken longing for the world of Mad Men, a world that ended as soon as women reached parity with men in law school. Donald Trump and his foot soldiers are proof that this old America is very much alive, and that it’s in fact a full-scale project to treat women as trivial and ornamental and to hold them back. It keeps brilliant women from accessing power and dismisses other brilliant women as hysterics—the “nutty and slutty” character assassination used to trash Anita Hill. It’s disturbing to realize that, even today, the main markers I relied on to confirm Kozinski’s bad behavior were the shocked reactions of normal, good men: my husband, my friend, my co-clerk. Sure, I felt dirty after each interaction, but my feelings didn’t feel like enough.

We’re told so often and so loudly that they’re not.

All about him

Dec 14th, 2017 10:34 am | By

The Post has a big think piece on Trump’s completely self-centered attitude to the Russia question. On the one hand yo, national security, rival power, hostile rival power; on the other hand, me me me me ME me me.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.

Because it’s insulting to him and diminishes his Triumph, and that outweighs the rather larger issue of who and what Putin is and what kind of society he presides over and what kind of society he will allow us to have and whether we want him deciding our elections for us.

To put it another way, the personal insecurities of the president should be entirely beside the point on an issue of this magnitude, yet they are central. The giant narcissism of one Giant Baby could ruin everything in a way even the megalomania of Hitler failed to do.

White House officials cast the president’s refusal to acknowledge Russian interference in the election as an understandably human reaction. “The president obviously feels . . . that the idea that he’s been put into office by Vladi­mir Putin is pretty insulting,” said a second senior administration official.

Jesus christ. This isn’t fucking high school. It doesn’t matter what the president feels is “insulting” to his precious Self. Nobody should care what he “feels” about it. (It’s usually the hard right that is scornful of Feelings; I guess Trump is the One Great Exception.)

Meanwhile, the Russians feel good about it. It didn’t cost much and it has made the US a joke.

The Russian operation seemed intended to aggravate political polarization and racial tensions and to diminish U.S. influence abroad. The United States’ closest alliances are frayed, and the Oval Office is occupied by a disruptive politician who frequently praises his counterpart in Russia.

What’s not to like?

U.S. officials declined to discuss whether the stream of recent intelligence on Russia has been shared with Trump. Current and former officials said that his daily intelligence update — known as the president’s daily brief, or PDB — is often structured to avoid upsetting him.

Ponder that little bombshell. His daily intelligence update is often structured to avoid upsetting him.

Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter.

Which, the Post neglects to spell out, means he’ll never be aware of it, because he doesn’t read. He’s that incompetent for the job. (Bush was close to that incompetent for the job. He demanded and got very short briefings, because he too dislikes reading.)

The allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, which the president has denied categorically, also contribute to his resistance to endorse the intelligence, another senior White House official said. Acknowledging Russian interference, Trump believes, would give ammunition to his critics.

Still others close to Trump explain his aversion to the intelligence findings in more psychological terms. The president, who burns with resentment over perceived disrespect from the Washington establishment, sees the Russia inquiry as a conspiracy to undermine his election accomplishment — “a witch hunt,” as he often calls it.

“If you say ‘Russian interference,’ to him it’s all about him,” said a senior Republican strategist who has discussed the matter with Trump’s confidants. “He judges everything as about him.”

It’s a loop that he’s caught in. If you’re that entangled in your own ego you can’t get interested in what’s outside your own ego, so you get only more entangled in your own ego, and on it goes.

All this was perfectly obvious before he was elected. I will never understand why the danger of it was not equally obvious.

The war continues

Dec 13th, 2017 5:08 pm | By

Meanwhile Congressional Republicans are also pretending to think Mueller is a Secret Agent for The Democrats Plus The Devil Plus The King of the Mooslims.

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein adamantly defended the character and impartiality of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, as he came head-to-head on Wednesday with an increasingly aggressive campaign by Republicans to discredit the inquiry.

The Republicans’ effort received a fresh jolt from the release one night earlier of text messages exchanged last year between an F.B.I. agent, Peter Strzok, and an F.B.I. lawyer, Lisa Page, describing the possibility of an election victory by President Trump as “terrifying” and saying that Hillary Clinton “just has to win.” Mr. Mueller removed Mr. Strzok from the Russia investigation as soon as he learned of the texts, a step that Mr. Rosenstein praised.

But is that political? Or is it because Trump is the most disgusting person in the world? That’s the thing about Trump: the horror of him goes way beyond the political, even though the political is certainly included. He’s a terrible person in every perceptible way, and he’s in a position to do damage we quail from itemizing. He terrifies plenty of Republicans.

“The public trust in this whole thing is gone,” said Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, summing up sentiments among his party. “It seems to me there are two things you can do: You can disband the Mueller special prosecutor, and you can do what we’ve all called for and appoint a second special counsel to look into this.”

But the swelling campaign to undermine Mr. Mueller’s investigation, which has dominated conservative media for days, appeared to have little effect on Mr. Rosenstein, who oversees Mr. Mueller. Mr. Rosenstein said he would only fire Mr. Mueller if he had cause under Justice Department regulations — and he said nothing that has happened so far met that standard.

There’s no low they won’t happily stoop to.

Republicans repeatedly pressed Mr. Rosenstein to appoint a second special counsel to investigate political partisanship in the department in its handling of the Trump-Russia investigation or in last year’s decision not to charge Mrs. Clinton with a crime over her use of a private email server while secretary of state — an idea that has been promoted heavily by commentators on Fox News and elsewhere in recent days.

Fox News is running the country now. Not informing the people who run the country along with the citizens who vote for them, but just plain running the damn country. It’s so pathetic.

Mr. Mueller, a registered Republican appointed by President George W. Bush to direct the F.B.I., has long had critics in the most pro-Trump corners of the House and the conservative news media. But in recent weeks, as his investigation has delivered a series of indictments to high-profile associates of the president and evidence that at least two of them are cooperating with the inquiry, those critics have grown louder and in numbers.

So the more criminal Trump appears to be, the harder Fox and Co try to protect him. I see.

Democrats say the pattern is becoming clear: As Mr. Mueller moves closer to Mr. Trump’s inner circle, Republicans try to discredit federal law enforcement and undercut the eventual findings of the special counsel. The Republican effort may also be intended to blunt the political repercussions should Mr. Mueller be fired, Democrats say.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Judiciary Committee’s senior Democrat, called the new Republican demands “wildly dangerous” to American institutions.

“I understand the instinct to want to give cover to the president,” he said. “I am fearful that the majority’s effort to turn the tables on the special counsel will get louder and more frantic as the walls continue to close in around the president.”

Perhaps more portentous is the restive Senate, a less partisan body where Mr. Mueller’s appointment in May was greeted with relief. Skepticism about the special counsel’s investigation is starting to take root there, too.

It’s sickening and alarming.

There is a cleansing needed

Dec 13th, 2017 4:44 pm | By

The liars at Fox News are trying to provide cover for Trump to fire Mueller.

[I]n Fox’s alternate universe, the investigation is “illegitimate and corrupt,” or so says Gregg Jarrett, a legal analyst who appears regularly on Mr. Hannity’s nightly exercise in presidential ego-stroking. “Mueller’s stooges literally are doing everything within their power, and then some, to try and remove President Trump from office,” Mr. Hannity said last Wednesday.

“What a total travesty! They should all step aside,” Ms. Ingraham said last week, almost gleefully, about the supposed conflicts of interest permeating the special counsel’s highly experienced team of investigators. “Including Bob Mueller.”

How do they manage to convince themselves that of the two parties involved, Mueller is the corrupt and dishonest one? Trump’s squalid history is on the record for anyone to see. Republican is one thing, and rooting for corruption and fraud and lying and cheating is another. Just check out Richard Painter on Twitter to see that.

Perhaps the most inflammatory rhetoric has come from Ms. Pirro, the host of “Justice With Judge Jeanine” and a “presidential favorite,” according to The Times. “There is a cleansing needed in our F.B.I. and Department of Justice,” Ms. Pirro said Saturday, in her most unhinged rant yet. “It needs to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired but who need to be taken out in handcuffs.”

Ms. Pirro named, among others, James Comey, the former F.B.I. director (“so political, so corrupt”); Andrew McCabe, the bureau’s deputy director, apparently in the tank for Hillary Clinton; and Peter Strzok, a top counterintelligence agent whom Mr. Mueller removed from the investigation after learning of private text messages he sent in 2016 criticizing Mr. Trump and praising Mrs. Clinton.

Topping her list of outlaws was, of course, Mr. Mueller, who she said “can’t come up with one piece of evidence!” Maybe she just forgot about the indictments and guilty pleas? Ms. Pirro, a former New York prosecutor and judge, didn’t allege any actual crimes, just that Mr. Mueller and his people are guilty of “attempting to destroy Trump.”

It would be one thing if Ms. Pirro were only spouting off on television. But she is a friend of Mr. Trump’s and has met privately with him and his top advisers to sell her half-cocked theories. After Mr. Trump’s victory last year, she interviewed to be his deputy attorney general, a job that would have empowered her to fire Mr. Mueller on her own.

To put it mildly, this is insane. The primary purpose of Mr. Mueller’s investigation is not to take down Mr. Trump. It’s to protect America’s national security and the integrity of its elections by determining whether a presidential campaign conspired with a foreign adversary to influence the 2016 election — a proposition that grows more plausible every day.

If only the adults could take over from the tantrumming children.

When the votes from Selma and surrounding Dallas County came in

Dec 13th, 2017 12:44 pm | By

Being an unabashed racist isn’t always a winning strategy.

According to CNN exit polling, 30 percent of the electorate was African-American, with 96 percent of them voting for Mr. Jones. A remarkable 98 percent of black women voters supported Mr. Jones. The share of black voters Tuesday was higher than the share in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama was on the ballot.

That’s despite the obstacles created since Shelby v Holder.

Michael Nabors, 54, and his wife, Ella, 55, were among the black voters soaking up the Democratic good cheer after news agencies called the race for Mr. Jones.

“We knew the world was looking at us,” he said.

Mr. Nabors said that black voters were paying attention to Mr. Moore’s comments in September, in which he said that America was last “great” during the days when slavery was legal. He said they paid attention when Mr. Moore brought Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump adviser, to campaign for him. He said that they paid attention to the allegations brought by the women who said Mr. Moore had consorted with them when they were young.

And he said they paid attention to Mr. Jones’s most famous case as a prosecutor.

And then there was Selma.

When the votes from Selma and surrounding Dallas County came in just a little after 10 pm, Moore’s lead began to evaporate. On CNN, John King announced, “Selma just put Doug Jones back into the race.”

A county where African Americans make up 70 percent of the population gave 75 percent of the vote to Doug Jones. That brought the Democrat 7,000 votes closer to victory. And as more votes from more predominately African-American counties came in, Jones moved into the lead. Within a half hour, the networks were announcing that a Democrat had won an Alabama Senate contest for the first time in almost a quarter-century.

Jones needed all the votes that he got Tuesday. He won by a narrow margin—prevailing by a bit more than 20,000 votes out of roughly 1.3 million cast. But he could not have gotten near the finish line without the overwhelming support that he received from Alabama’s African-American voters in general, and from African-American women voters in particular.

“We have come so far,” Doug Jones said in his victory speech.

Everyone knew what he meant.

Just as everyone knew what it meant when Selma put Doug Jones into the race.

Hold on. Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on.