"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tone Deaf

I'm picking this up from yesterday, which was really too busy and too chaotic to worry about Ivanka Trump, but for the love of all that's holy, what the hell was she thinking?

On Memorial Day? WTF?


You may have read about the High Court of Taiwan declaring the island's marriage laws, which limit marriage to a man and a woman, unconstitutional. Well, now there's huge pressure on the government of Thailand to re-introduce a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. Via Joe.My.God.:

The Ministry of Justice has vowed to take action in favour of a petition demanding a stalled bill on gay rights be enacted. The Constitutional Court of Taiwan ruled in favour of same-sex marriage on May 24 and now calls to follow suit in Thailand may be gaining strength.

Pitikan Sithidej, director-general of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department at the Justice Ministry, said he received the petition to set the wheels in motion again on May 17 and will push for getting the bill approved at the earliest possible date.

The petition has been signed by nearly 60,000 people and was organised by the website Change.org. It backs same-sex marriage rights and other equal benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and couples. The proposed law has been in a state of limbo since it was introduced in 2013.

Call it the domino effect: Essentially the same thing happened in Europe after The Netherlands legalized same-sex marriage in 2000. (There's quite an interesting pattern there if one follows the timeline: It's all very incremental, but it goes all the way back to the 1970s, starting with the notorious Baker v. Nelson case, for which the Supreme Court denied certiorari "for want of a serious federal question," a rationale that has since received the ridicule it deserves.)

But what we see over again is that one polity takes the plunge (first banning SSM, and later adopting legal recognition), followed by others falling into line

It's also been incremental in terms of substance: first we have "civil unions" or some equivalent, and then when the sky doesn't fall, it becomes full marriage.

A lot of back and forth if you look a the timeline, but one thing sticks out: no country that has adopted marriage equality has back-tracked.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Mainstreaming the Radical

I don't know much about this guy, but he's either bought into the right-wing victim mantra completely, or he's hoping to use it for his own purposes:

In light of the recent stabbing deaths of two men in Portland by a white nationalist — and constant local street brawls between neo-Nazi groups and anti-fascist protesters — the chairman of Portland’s GOP party said he would consider hiring armed right-wing militia members as bodyguards to protect Republicans on the street.

In an interview with the Guardian, Multnomah County GOP chair James Buchal said that disputes between conservatives and progressives have many Republicans considering “abandoning the public square” which worries him.

“I am sort of evolving to the point where I think that it is appropriate for Republicans to continue to go out there,” Buchal explained. “And if they need to have a security force protecting them, that’s an appropriate thing too.”

According to Buchal — a perennial GOP candidate for office — he’s not sure that conservatives can entrust their fate to the police or first responders and proposed using far-right militia members as bodyguards.

You may recall something like this from your world history classes. Maybe this will jog your memory:

“Yeah. And there are these people arising, like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters,” he stated, adding, “We’re thinking about that. Because there are now belligerent, unstable people who are convinced that Republicans are like Nazis.”

So he wants to enlist the help of real Nazis to protect these poor right-wing snowflakes who are being bullied by the militant left. Maybe they could all wear brown shirts, or something.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Today's Must-Read: A Letter to Trump

Dan Rather, from his Facebook page:

Dear President Trump,

Their names were Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Ricky John Best. One was a recent college graduate. The other was an army veteran and father of four. I wish we would hear you say these names, or even just tweet them. They were brave Americans who died at the hands of someone who, when all the facts are collected, we may have every right to call a terrorist. A third brave man, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, was wounded in the knife attack.

This story may not neatly fit into a narrative you pushed on the campaign trail and that has followed you into the White House. They were not killed by an undocumented immigrant or a “radical Islamic terrorist.” They were killed in an act of civic love, facing down a man allegedly spewing hate speech directed at two teenage girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab. That man seems to have a public record of “extremist ideology” – a term issued by the Portland Police Bureau.

This “extremism” may be of a different type than gets most of your attention, or even the attention in the press. But that doesn’t make it any less serious, or deadly. And this kind of “extremism” is on the rise, especially in the wake of your political ascendency. Most people who study these sorts of things do not think that is a coincidence. I do not blame you directly for this incident. Nor do I think other people should. But what a President says, who he has around him, and the tone he sets can set the tone for the nation at large.

Perhaps Portland, Oregon is off your radar. It is, after all, a rather liberal place. It’s even a “sanctuary city.” But it is still an American city. And you are its President. Two Americans have died leaving family and friends behind. They are mourned by millions more who are also deeply worried about what might come next.

I hope you can find it worthy of your time to take notice.

Via just about everybody.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

What's New at Green Man Review

It's Sunday again, and more stuff up at GMR -- folklore, folk rock, and a few other things besides. Off you go for some good reading.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Post That Almost Was (Update)

I was going to do a "Disgusting People" post yesterday, but in the aftermath of Greg Gianforte's assault on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, there were so many crawling out from under their rocks -- from Rush Limbaugh to Laura Ingraham to Dinesh D'Souza -- that it got completely out of hand.

There's only so many disgusting people I can take at one time.

Update: It occurs to me that the reactions of the right to Gianforte's assault on Jacobs reflect the phenomenon outlined in this article:

"You're lucky someone doesn't pop one of you.” A Montana voter said that to a CNN crew Thursday night, the day after Montana’s new Republican congressman-elect, Greg Gianforte, body-slammed a reporter who was asking him about President Trump’s health care plan. . . .

While attacks on journalists are becoming more common, the era of trickle-down political lawlessness is well under way for all Americans. Hate crimes in metropolitan areas rose 20 percent in the last year, fueled by an election that was engineered by men like Steve Bannon, who have branded multiculturalism a disease and fact-based journalism a scourge. In New York city, anti-Semitic incidents rose a staggering 94 percent in the last year, according to the NYPD.

Welcome to Trump's America.

Today's Must-Read: The Right's War on America

Specifically, the free press. This piece by Brian Beutler is a pretty damning analysis:

Republican Greg Gianforte defeated Democrat Rob Quist in a special election Thursday for Montana’s lone congressional seat, a six-point victory that should horrify you because he won with the full support of the GOP after body-slamming and punching an American reporter—and many of our political institutions, especially the media, are too paralyzed to impose a meaningful consequence on him or his enablers.

Gianforte, a true coward, didn’t admit any wrongdoing until his victory speech, at which point the risks of playacting decency pertained to his criminal case—the police have charged him with assault—rather than the election. “When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it,” Gianforte said. “That’s the Montana way.” I suspect some Montanans would object to the notion that you only apologize once it’s politically safe to do so.

For it was already beyond dispute on Wednesday night, thanks to audio of the attack and a witness account from a Fox News reporter, that Gianforte had attacked the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs. That’s when the process of public accountability began. In a healthier political culture, the condemnation would have been nearly unanimous, and the context of the incident would not have been a matter of controversy. What we witnessed instead was a political media — confronted with a one-sided assault on its most basic freedom — rendered by its own constructs largely incapable of identifying the threat with any precision.

That last sentence is particularly telling: the "free press" has been more than complicit in its own destruction. There are a number of contributing factors -- the corporate takeover of media outlets, leading to an emphasis on ratings rather than journalism (because in the corporate world, it's all about profits), the rise of Fox News (the propaganda arm of the Republican party), the transformation of the Republican party itself into the party of neo-fascist authoritarianism, the reluctance of reporters (or their editors) to offend those in power for fear of losing "access", the emphasis on "balance" and the resulting validation of bullshit by presenting advocates of positions that are, on analysis, grossly un-American as though they had legitimate arguments -- leading to the end result that we're seeing now: through its unwillingness to call out those such as Donald Trump (who called the press "an enemy of the American people" and got away with it), the press has rendered itself impotent, completely incapable (with a very few exceptions) of performing its essential and most basic function.

And so we wind up with something like Donald Trump in the White House, and candidates for public office winning elections after committing very public crimes.

Via Digby.

Addendum: From Tom Sullivan at Hullabaloo, a take on why goons like Gianforte get away with it:

As this morning's headlines attest, Republican Greg Gianforte won yesterday's special congressional election in Montana. One of the noteworthy and little-noticed effects of his assault on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was, according to NBC, Gianforte raised $100,000 overnight online. One supporter told CNN the assault charge against Gianforte left her only "more ready to support Greg."

That's your modern "conservative". Read the rest, and then pour yourself a good stiff drink.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Today in Disgusting People: School Choice Edition (Update)

Betsy DeVos, who is, in a gallery of egregious cabinet picks, is one of the worst, mostly because she's intent on torpedoing our kids' futures.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says she has no problem with states that allow schools to discriminate against LGBT students while receiving federal funds, and believes that the federal government should not intervene.

The whole exchange is appalling. There's video at the link (that I'm not able to embed) that's worth viewing, just to see DeVos squirm as she's trying to avoid the issue.

Addendum: There's more of DeVos and her agenda here. It sort of echoes the Republican philosophy on the economy: if it doesn't work, keep trying.

Update: I found the video clip on YouTube:

I Guess I Haven't Been Paying Attention

So this morning, as I was opening the blinds on the window where all the plants are clustered, I noticed that my Encyclia tampensis is blooming.

Now, you have to understand, an orchid blooming is not something that happens fast -- being epiphytes, they have slow metabolisms.* It just goes to show how distracted I've been that this one managed to put out a stalk with four buds without my noticing.

I'm also surprised that it's blooming at all: I've had this plant for years and this is only the second time it's bloomed. The first time was the summer I was able to put it out in full sun. (They're native to Florida, ranging up into the South Carolina coast,and tend to favor sunny locations on branches and tree trunks.) I haven't been able to provide those conditions in my new place (no yard), and I'd sort of resigned myself to just letting it grow until someday. . . . (And from one small plant that I purchased years ago, it is now three rather full plants.)

The picture is close to mine, but the lip is completely purple on mine; the color of the petals and sepals is not quite as strong, but would be stronger if it had more light.

* That is, most orchids are epiphytes, at least the tropical and subtropical species. Most of our native North American orchids -- lady's slippers, ladies' tresses and the like -- are terrestrial and can be found, or once could be found, in prairies and grasslands, or in the case of lady's slippers, oak woods. (And, fun fact, there are species of Cyprepedium -- lady's slippers -- found as far north as Alaska.)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Culture Break: Majid Adin: "Rocket Man" Official Music Video

Some explanation of the title is in order:

Elton John and long time co-writer Bernie Taupin have made some of the most famous pop songs of the 20th century. Many of the pair’s biggest hits came during a highly productive period in the early 70s, with songs including Tiny Dancer, Rocket Man and Bennie and the Jets. This period of work formed the basis of a competition which saw three entries win the opportunity to make a video for each of these three songs. Released before the hegemony of the MTV, Elton John asked YouTube to help cement the legacy of these tracks with official music videos.

At a special screening in Cannes, Elton and Bernie viewed the winning entries, as chosen by themselves and an expert panel including Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins. The winners included: Max Weiland’s live-action take on Tiny Dancer; Majid Adin’s animation for Rocket Man; and Jack Whiteley and Laura Brownhill’s choreographed interpretation of Bennie and the Jets. Each winning entrant presented their work with a few words. . . .

Adin, who just about made the screening due to an initial refusal for travel documents, drew on his experiences as an Iranian refugee travelling to the UK to influence his sombre and poignant animation. He called the experience “dreamy”, and that his “English teacher would be proud”. A fine art university graduate working in animation production, Adin travelled across Europe during the 2015 refugee crisis, spending time in the infamous Calais Jungle camp before being granted asylum in the UK and now rebuilding his life as an artist in Britain. He partnered with animation director Stephen McNally to realise his vision for this achingly powerful and human story.

It's what they call "powerful."

Via Joe.My.God., where you can find more information on Adin as well as the other two videos.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Notre Dame Walkout: Compare and Contrast

You've no doubt read about the 150 or so graduating students at Notre Dame University who walked out of Mike Pence's commencement address. The reactions, as one might expect, have been many and varied.

South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, I think, got it right:

“What I appreciate about it is it’s clear that the students want to express their commitment to tolerance and the values that they believe a Catholic University ought to uphold, and that this administration is not compatible with those values,” Buttigieg said. “And at the same time, I think they found a very respectful way to do it.”

Buttigieg added he does “respect the office of the vice presidency, too,” and each student should make his or her own decision on the walkout, but the way demonstrators chose to protest was an appropriate to speak out against the Trump administration.

“You go to a university in order to form your conscience and they’re expressing their conscience in a way that I really respect and admire,” Buttigieg said.

Wha's especially important to note is Buttigieg's emphasis on conscience, given the way that concept is waved like a flag to justify the petty bigotry of so-called "Christians."

Speaking of which, here's has-been-before-he-was-anybody Franklin Graham's reaction:

"The New York Times," Graham continues, "says many of those who walked out were wearing their LGBT rainbow or flag pins in protest. To get up and walk out on the Vice President of the United States of America, who was gracious enough to come speak at their graduation, that’s just insolent! Maybe they need to take another class before they graduate—one on civility and respect. What do you think?"

. . .

"This country is so fortunate to have a Vice President like Mike Pence. He’s a great man and a strong leader who isn’t afraid to speak the truth. I thank God for him."

The emphasis on respect for authority is striking, especially when contrasted to Buttigieg's comments about conscience. But then, that's what Graham's brand of "Christianity" is all about: servility.

(Oh, and do remember that that "strong leader" almost lost his cookies trying to backtrack on Indiana's anti-trans, anti-gay "religious freedom" bill.)

Today's Must-Read: "Onward Christians Soldiers" Edition

The influence of evangelical/fundamentalist "Christians" on the U.S. military has been a problem for a long time. Remember the problems with overt proselytizing a number of years back at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs? (Also home to a major anti-gay hate group, the American Family Association.) Since the election of The Hairpiece, it's apparently reached epidemic proportions:

Donald Trump’s election has led to such a steep rise in fundamentalist Christian evangelizing and religious bigotry in the U.S. armed forces that the matter is reaching the level of a “national security threat,” according to information shared exclusively with Newsweek by an organization that represents and advocates for secular and minority religious views in the military.

The number of complaints from servicemen and -women in the Army, Air Force, Marines and other service branches to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has doubled in number since November 2016, according to lawyer Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, a former Air Force officer who founded the organization.

Many of the recent charges are coming from members of minority religions, including Roman Catholics, Jews and Muslims, and from atheists. Among the complaints: military family and marital therapy programs are being infused with Protestant Christianity, which would go against the U.S. Constitution; open anti-Semitism; anti-LGBT statements, posters, symbols and bullying; openly anti-Muslim teachers and Islamophobic attacks; a rise in on-base evangelizing; and increased pressure on recruits or lower-level personnel and service members to convert to fundamentalist Christianity.

We're talking about the likes of Gordon Klingenschmitt being in the ascendant. Why they're picking Trump as their messiah is anyone's guess:

The Christian right’s willingness to see Trump as a savior for their cause—if not a messianic figure, despite his living as an urban libertine who has had three wives and a history of lewd acts and statements—continues to grow. His selection of an evangelical as vice president, plus the appointment of at least nine evangelicals to his Cabinet, have apparently soothed any concerns the religious right had with his personal life.

My guess is that they'll grab onto anything as a rationale for pushing their agenda: note that the "Christian" right has a history of blowing any little "victory" out of proportion, and claiming influence where they have none. (Just read any of Brian Brown's money begs, or Tony Perkins' press releases.)

And I think it's no surprise that this is happening along with the rise in hate crimes and the resurgence of the neo-Nazi and proto-fascist "alt right" groups: they share a mindset, and I'd bet that there's a lot of overlap in their membership.

Fasten your seatbelts -- it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Poetic Justice?

Or just the universe's comment on the substance of the Trump regime?

A sinkhole has opened in front of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, according to an email alert from the Town of Palm Beach.

The sinkhole is just west of Mar-a-Lago’s southern entrance, where workers are gathered.

The 4-foot by 4-foot hole is in front of the club and appears to be near a new water main on Southern Boulevard, the alert said. Utility crews from West Palm Beach secured the sinkhole and likely will be doing exploratory excavation today.

A sinkhole has opened near President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach. Eleanor Roy / Daily News

Via Joe.My.God., where you will also find the Twitter reaction -- because nothing happens these days without a Twitter reaction.

Todays' Must-Read: Welcome to the Police State (Update)

From Digby, this comment on what AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is up to while we're all focusing on the Trump circus. This image is a good summary.

Did you really think you had a right to engage in peaceful protest? Read the whole thing.

Update: There's a lot more detail in this article from Think Progress.

The protesters will have plenty of time to think about the extensive charges filed against them — and perhaps that is the prosecutors’ intention. The first trials are not expected to start until March 2018. “In my mind, that violates their right to a speedy trial,” Flores-Williams said.

“Having serious felonies like this hanging over you is an incredible burden on your life,” he said. “Chances are that at a certain point, they’ll either roll on each other or we’ll see plea agreements regardless of their guilt or innocence.”

It's going to be interesting to see how this works out at trial -- the government at this point appears to have violated a whole slew of First Amendment rights, not to mention a few others.

"Lock 'Em Up!": Small Rodent Edition

From the soon-to-be-former chairman of the House Witch Hunt Committee:

This Week host George Stephanopoulos noted during an interview with Chaffetz that a senior official in the White House was reportedly a person of interest in the investigation into Russia interference in the U.S. election.

Chaffetz, who has announced he is leaving Congress on June 30 for a rumored position at Fox News, said that he was more interested in the person who leaked the news.

"I want to see that this person is prosecuted," the outgoing Utah Republican insisted. "I think the president makes a very good point. No matter who's in the White House, you cannot have the type of leaking of information, sources, methods, classified information. I don't care who it is, Democrat or Republican, you cannot have that happen."

"Not only do you need to wall them off, you probably need to put some handcuffs on them and put them in jail," he added.

I guess this is what Republicans mean by "law and order": forget due process, fair trials and all that other junk, just lock 'em up.* Especially if they're telling the press things that the powers that be would rather keep secret.

And of course, aside from being very revealing of the authoritarian tendencies of the right, this is just a way of deflecting attention from the real issue: who controls the White House? Or for that matter, Congress? Because it sure doesn't seem to be the American people.8

* This is what happens when you substitute belief for evidence, which may explain why so many right-wingers are fundamentalist "Christians".

Sunday, May 21, 2017

What's New at Green Man Review

Lots of goodies again today, including a massive essay, "On Reviewing," by yours truly (with lots of links to reviews). Scoot on over and enjoy.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Today's Must-Read: Yes, I Said "Dictator": A Twofer

First up, this commentary by Digby on Trump's attitude toward the press:

You will notice that Trump’s main nemesis is still the press, which he has villainized since he began his campaign. One suspects that this started out as shtick, building on the thousands of hours of talk-radio research that his lieutenant at the time, Sam Nunberg, provided to him. Beating up on the press is a staple of right-wing media and it gets a huge response from conservative crowds. But up until he started the campaign Trump had always reveled in media attention and went to great lengths to draw it. In fact, he considered himself a member of the club. But over the course of time the hatred has obviously become very real and very personal. He loathes the press and considers it the source of all of his problems.

Obviously, he isn’t the first president to feel this way. Richard Nixon famously kept an enemies list which included a large number of journalists. But Trump is taking this in a dangerous direction. The New York Times story about James Comey’s memo rightly focused on the fact that the president may have tried to obstruct justice by taking the FBI director aside privately to ask him to let Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, off the hook. But Trump said something else in that meeting which has received less attention:

Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

I find that quote from the Times story very revealing on a couple of counts. First, we all know the FBI doesn't put people in jail -- but Trump doesn't. It's emblematic, however, of his whole attitude that he seems to think all he has to do is make the suggestion and it's a done deal. Second, and much more worrying, is the fact that he made the suggestion at all. Perhaps it's not so surprising, given that he's already branded the press as an "enemy of the people" -- which his followers ate up. (It's worth noting here something that I've not seen in any analysis of the "Trump voter": They are the natural fodder for the authoritarian: they want to be told what to think and what to believe, and they have no understanding or particular reverence for our foundational principles -- such as an independent press.)

This attitude is filtering down to law enforcement and the security details of government officials.

There's an element of lawlessness in all of this that is really dangerous, especially since, as we might well suppose, the Department of Justice under the present attorney general is not going to be bothered with reining in rogue law enforcement -- after all, there's police morale to worry about.

Second is this piece by Benjamin Wittes specifically about Trump and James Comey. The key paragraph, at least for purposes of this post:

Comey never told me the details of the dinner meeting; I don’t think I even knew that there had been a meeting over dinner until I learned it from the Times story. But he did tell me in general terms that early on, Trump had “asked for loyalty” and that Comey had promised him only honesty. He also told me that Trump was perceptibly uncomfortable with this answer. And he said that ever since, the President had been trying to be chummy in a fashion that Comey felt was designed to absorb him into Trump’s world—to make him part of the team. Comey was deeply uncomfortable with these episodes. He told me that Trump sometimes talked to him a fashion designed to implicate him in Trump’s way of thinking. While I was not sure quite what this meant, it clearly disquieted Comey. He felt that these conversations were efforts to probe how resistant he would be to becoming a loyalist. In light of the dramatic dinner meeting and the Flynn request, it’s easy to see why they would be upsetting and feel like attempts at pressure.

The whole idea of personal loyalty to the president as a requirement for a government official is, in what's left of this republic, at least, anathema. It's the sort of thing you expect from the likes of Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-Un. In America, we want government officials who are competent and loyal to the country.

Granted, personal relationships matter a great deal, in government as well as in daily life -- we are what we are, after all, which is essentially social animals -- but most of us recognize by the age of two or three that we're not the center of the universe. Trump has not, apparently, made it that far in his emotional development.

What I'm seeing here is an incipient cult of personality, one of the hallmarks of dictators throughout history. That, coupled with Trump's disdain for the basics of the American system of government -- which has become a signature characteristic of the right in general -- is much more than cause for concern.

Footnote: It's not just Trump himself that hates America.

Footnote 2: About the Republican attitude, read this from Paul Krugman:

They may make a few gestures toward accountability in the face of bad poll numbers, but there is not a hint that any important figures in the party care enough about the Constitution or the national interest to take a stand.

Krugman holds up one really scary possibility, but doesn't seem to make the connection:

The point is that given the character of the Republican Party, we’d be well on the way to autocracy if the man in the White House had even slightly more self-control. Trump may have done himself in; but it can still happen here.

If Trump is somehow removed from office -- and like Krugman, I'm not counting on the Republican majority to move on that, unless they start losing elections -- we're left with Mike Pense, who in real terms, given the realities of the situation, is a much scarier prospect, at least for the long-term health of the country.

OK, yeah, another must-read. Deal with it.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Giggle du Jour


Offered by commenter vorpal at this post at Joe.My.God.

Enter Wikileaks, Stage Right

I don't think Wikileaks has any credibility left, for anyone who's been paying attention. This just sort of clinches it:

The context that Wikileaks chose to ignore:

The material was seized in a nuclear smuggling case in Georgia (the country), and the Russian Federation wanted to analyze the material to double-check where it may have come from. A law-enforcement matter, and it’s likely the US wanted to make a point to Russia that it’s serious. You don’t get more serious in law enforcement than the head of the FBI.

As far as I'm concerned, Julian Assange can spend the rest of his life in the Ecuadorian embassy in London -- maybe coming out once a year to see if he's developed a shadow yet.

OF All Places

This is not something I would have expected:

Lithuania’s Parliament marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia this week.

Marked on May 17 around the world, IDAHOT raises awareness of persecution and hate crimes faced by lesbian, gay, bisexuals and transgender people around the world. . . .

The day is heavily marked in countries that are already progressive on LGBT rights, but it is also making inroads in places where there is still a way to go on LGBT equality.

Lithuania has lagged behind on equality, with no legal recognition for same-sex couples, no gender recognition for transgender people, a ban on same-sex adoption, and generally negative social attitudes.

However, progress is slowly being made, and the day was marked this week with celebrations in the country’s Parliament in Vilnius.

My father's family is Lithuanian; my grandparents came to the US before World War I, which marks us, I guess, as the first wave. I went to university with a group of kids whose families came over after World War II -- most of them were born in Germany. They tended to be very conservative, mostly because they hated Russia and everything Russian, but I suspect they reflected attitudes prevalent in the old country -- as the article notes, Lithuania has not been on the forefront of the struggle for gay rights.

But, times change, and so do attitudes. They even lit up Vilnius city hall with rainbow colors.

A more substantial mark of a change in attitude is this:

But two asylum seekers from Chechnya have been granted asylum in Lithuania, reports the Russian Interfax news agency.

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius has confirmed that the two men have been granted asylum there after fleeing persecution in Russia.
He said that the Lithuanian Government had “issued visas to two people from Chechnya who were persecuted because of their sexual orientation”.

“We have consistently raised these issues both within the EU and in the parliamentary structures of the Council of Europe – regarding the possibility of helping and, if necessary, granting asylum,” he added.

The US, under our neo-fascist regime, has so far refused to grant visas to gays fleeing persecution in Chechnya.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Culture Break: The Ivory Consort: A la Una

Lately I've been listening to a lot of early music -- pre-classical, a lot of it from medieval and early Renaissance Iberia. Ivory Consort's Music in the Land of Three Faiths is one of my stand-bys, although that album is mostly much more low-key than this piece.

From the description at YouTube:

A Sephardic melody, sung in Judezmo, played on period instruments. Founded in 1990, the Ivory Consort here performs music of three faiths, Christian, Muslim and Jewish, from medieval Spain and Portugal.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Asking the Right Question

Via Digby, this from Ana Novarro:

To me it feels like [Republicans] have fallen prey to a Donald Trump cult.They are ceding their loyalty not to the constitution, not to the country, not to their constituents but to this president of their party but who wasn't even a Republican until a few years ago. They' so desperate to want to play, to want to be invited to dinner at the white house that they are willing to remain silent in the face of a president who is attacking our institutions.

I think the Republicans as a group -- once faced with the inevitability of his winning the nomination -- thought Trump would be useful tool to consolidated their grip on the country. I strongly suspect they didn't really know what they were dealing with. Of course, none of us did.

I thought what James Clapper said yesterday, that our institutions are being attacked both externally and internally, was spine chilling. And it's something that we should take so seriously. This president started off by attacking the Intelligence Community. He has tweeted against judges. He has tweeted intimidation to Sally Yates on the day of her testimony. He has tweeted a veiled threat to the former FBI Director.

So I have to ask Republicans over and over again. What is it going to take for you to wake up and recognize your duty is to country and not to this one man. How far does it have to go? What does he have to do for you to wake up and speak up and do what you need to do?

Republicans have as much disdain for our foundational principles as Trump does, and their focus is purely on entrenching themselves at the top of the heap: look at their responses to some of our real problems. How to deal with increasing crime due to poverty, discrimination, and lack of opportunity? Militarize the police. what to do about the miserable failure that is the War on Drugs? Double down. How to create jobs? Give more money to the ones who are exporting American jobs to begin with. And it goes on -- the AHCA was nothing more than an excuse to give another huge tax break to the 1%, and can we talk about the whole "voter fraud" fantasy? And let's not even get into the "religious right", determined to turn this country into a theocracy.

So the question is, what is it going to take for the Republicans to wake up and recognize that their duty is to the country, not their party?

I don't have an answer.

Another Must-Read: Trumponomics

Via Digby, this article from PRI on an interview by reporters from the The Economist with our "president." The telling point:

The Economist’s own analysis was even more scalding than the snarky tweets. The magazine declared: "The impulsiveness and shallowness of America's president threaten the economy as well as the rule of law." The article goes on to compare Trump to a modern-day Henry VIII, which is never a good thing: "Donald Trump rules over Washington as if he were a king and the White House his court. His displays of dominance, his need to be the centre of attention and his impetuousness have a whiff of Henry VIII about them. Fortified by his belief that his extraordinary route to power is proof of the collective mediocrity of Congress, the bureaucracy and the media, he attacks any person and any idea standing in his way."

As PRI comments, "Ouch."

What struck me is the complete lack of any integrity -- let's not even bring up principles -- displayed by Trump's advisors and cabinet. I had thought that the primary qualification for being appointed to high-level positions in the Trump regime was opposition to the purpose of the department one was chosen to head. Apparently, abject servility is really the primary consideration.

TW: So this interview was in the Oval Office. What did the atmosphere there feel like?

DR: It's kind of like being in a royal palace several hundred years ago, with people coming in and out, trying to catch the ear of the king. That's the feel at the Trump Oval Office. He likes to be surrounded by his courtiers.
TW: Your magazine described it as being a little bit like Henry VIII.

DR: There is a "Tudor court" side to it. And the role of some pretty senior figures, including cabinet secretaries, was to chime in and agree with whatever the president had just said, rather than offering candid advice.

There was a moment with Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary.

We were talking [to Trump] about China and currency manipulation. On the campaign trail, Trump was very ferocious about [calling China a currency manipulator.] [In our interview], he said, “As soon as I started talking about China being a currency manipulator, they cut it out.” Actually that’s not true. China [stopped manipulating the currency] two or three years ago.

What was striking was, when he made that point, Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, chimed in and said, “Oh yeah. The day he became president, they changed their behavior!” And factually, that’s just not right. It's quite striking to see a cabinet secretary making that point in that way.

Can you say "Yes-man"? I wonder if Mnuchin took a loyalty oath.

Of course, given what Trump is, why am I surprised?

Today's Must-Read: Our Independent Press

This article, from David Badash at NCRM, has some good insights on the state of the press these days:

MSNBC is not a "liberal" news network. It is a for-profit vehicle of global telecommunications giant Comcast. Comcast is not in the news business, it is the "you" business. MSNBC, especially NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack, has made clear the network is in business to sell its viewers to advertisers. Period. What programs it produces and what journalists it employs are merely a means to a desired end: profit. And squeezing out liberals in order to attract more conservatives is MSNBC's game plan.

Case in point: Network executives, it appears, are preparing to cancel "The Last Word," hosted by Lawrence O'Donnell, who has been on the network since MSNBC's inception. O'Donnell's show is the network's second-highest rated show, after "The Rachel Maddow Show."

So, why would MSNBC cancel its second highest-rated show?

According to a report by Yashar Ali at HuffPost (formerly The Huffington Post), part of the reason may be that Donald Trump has been trying to get MSNBC to cancel O'Donnell for years.

When one considers the people the network has been hiring or is negotiating with -- Greta Van Susteren, Hugh Hewitt, Megyn Kelly -- well, I think we can see a trend.

Read the whole thing. It's not that long, but it's kind of scary. And not in a good way.

Monday, May 15, 2017

You've Probably Noticed

That posting has been rather light and sporadic lately. Real life is demanding a great deal of my time.

And the news, focused as it is on The Hairpiece, is -- well, I'm fed up.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

What's New At Green Man Review

It's that time of the week again (notice how that keeps happening?), and there's some pretty interesting things reviewed at Green Man Review. I hope you'll scoot on over and take a look.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


I tend to comment on other blogs fairly frequently. I changed my e-mail address yesterday and dutifully entered the change in my Disqus account. Disqus requires that the new e-mail be verified, so I asked them to send me a verification e-mail. It doesn't show up. It's not winding up in spam, it's just not happening at all.

Disqus' "help" options are pathetic -- I can't even leave a comment on their "Discuss Disqus" forum because my e-mail has not been verified. All they can offer is to enter Disqus on my e-mail's "white list". My new e-mail doesn't have a "white list" or any other way to allow e-mails. I thought of adding Disqus to my address book, but my address book won't accept "*@disqus.com," which is what Disqus says to enter on the "white list" because it doesn't contain a legitimate name.

Ain't technology wonderful?

Saturday Science: Brain Damage and Religious Fundamentalism

Well, this should blow the lid off of something:

A new study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility and openness—a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.

This study will, of course, be rejected by religious fundamentalists because it's science, which spits in God's face on a regular basis.

However, that's not the whole story:

These findings are important because they suggest that impaired functioning in the prefrontal cortex—whether from brain trauma, a psychological disorder, a drug or alcohol addiction, or simply a particular genetic profile—can make an individual susceptible to religious fundamentalism. And perhaps in other cases, extreme religious indoctrination harms the development or proper functioning of the prefrontal regions in a way that hinders cognitive flexibility and openness.

The authors emphasize that cognitive flexibility and openness aren’t the only things that make brains vulnerable to religious fundamentalism. In fact, their analyses showed that these factors only accounted for a fifth of the variation in fundamentalism scores.
(Emphasis added.)

It will be interesting to watch the fallout -- assuming this doesn't get buried.

He Hires Good People, the Very Best People. . . .

This is even better than the doctor who wrote a letter saying all his results were positive:

Trump hired the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius to send a letter to Lindsey Graham about his finances which stated that that "Trump's last 10 years of tax returns do not reveal "any income of any type from Russian sources" with some exceptions.

The phrase "some exceptions" has caused quite a stir. The lawyers have offered no documents, including Trump's tax returns as proof of their findings.

Experts on white-collar financial crime like Jack Blum, have already said, "There’s no substance to it. The letter is just another puff of smoke. It has no meaning at all. It’s just another way to not answer the question."

But there's another part to this equation that is just as troubling. As the Washington Post reports, "Her law firm was honored by Chambers & Partners’ 2016 Chambers Europe guide as Russia Law Firm of the Year.

Trump seems to have this touching confidence in the import of a certified letter, as opposed to regular first class. The only difference is that you can track certified mail, an you can get a receipt confirming delivery.

Of course, the "some exceptions" exception is a hoot and has gotten quite a reaction on Twitter. The most pointed, I think, comes from Igor Volsky in a sort of double whammy:

And hiring a law firm that won an award from Russia when the subject of the inquiry is Trump's Russian connections? Does anyone in this regime do anything but react?

Monday, May 08, 2017

Vive la France!

It appears French voters are not as gullible as Americans:

The pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron has vowed to unite a divided and fractured France after winning a decisive victory over the far-right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen in the country’s presidential election.

Macron, 39, a former economy minister who ran as a “neither left nor right” independent promising to shake up the French political system, took 66% to Le Pen’s 34%.

His victory was hailed by his supporters as holding back a tide of populism after the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory in the US election.

Addressing thousands of supporters in the grand courtyard of the Louvre, the vast Paris palace-turned-museum, Macron said he would defend France and Europe. He said Europe and the world are “watching us” and “waiting for us to defend the spirit of the Enlightenment, threatened in so many places”.

Macron, 66% to Le Pen's 34%. Considering the result of the popular vote in our election -- just a couple of points, if that -- there is something wrong here. Has Flint been bottling its water for sale in the red states?

Given the result in France, though, maybe there's hope for the West.

Reuters has an interesting article on the attempted hit on Macron's campaign by Wikileaks and its friends:

U.S. far-right activists helped amplify a leak of hacked emails belonging to leading French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron's campaign, some researchers said on Saturday, with automated bots and the Twitter account of WikiLeaks also propelling a leak that came two days before France's presidential vote.

The rapid spread on Twitter (TWTR.N), Facebook (FB.O) and the messaging forum 4chan of emails and other campaign documents that Macron's campaign said on Friday had been stolen recalled the effort by right-wing activists and Russian state media to promote hacked documents embarrassing to Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton last year.

And, strangely enough, there is some evidence that Russia was involved.

Tweet du Jour


Sunday, May 07, 2017

What's New at Green Man Review

It's Sunday again, and there's new stuff at Green Man Review -- and some pretty interesting stuff it is. Click on over and enjoy.

Yep -- Another Must Read: Pirvatizing Our Heritage

Trump's assault on America is certainly multi-valent. I've touched on this before
, but it bears repeating, since Trump seems hell-bent on doing away with our pubic lands.

In the few days since President Trump issued his Executive Order on National Monuments, many legal scholars have questioned the legality of his actions under the Antiquities Act. Indeed, if the president attempts to revoke or downsize a monument designation, such actions would be on shaky, if any, legal ground. The Conversation

But beyond President Trump’s dubious reading of the Antiquities Act, his threats also implicate a suite of other cultural and ecological laws implemented within our national monuments.

By opening a Department of Interior review of all large-scale monuments designated since 1996, Trump places at risk two decades’ worth of financial and human investment in areas such as endangered species protection, ecosystem health, recognition of tribal interests and historical protection.

It's worth reading the whole article, just to get a good idea of what we stand to lose.

Hopefully, a few court challenges will stop this cold.

Everybody Gets Covered

How many times have we heard that from The Hairpiece about the ACA "repeal and replace"? Well, TPM has a graphic breakdown of just how many are not included in "Everybody", pinned to the congresscritters who voted for the atrocity that (just barely) got passed in the House. Scoot on over and take a look.

Today's Must-Read: About Small Government (Update)

It would seem that The Hairpiece, in his quest to destroy the federal government, is, again, out of step:

Credit: Lowe - South Florida Sun Sentinel
A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that, in the words of NBC’s Carrie Dann, “a record number of Americans say that the government should do more — not less — in order to solve the nation’s problems.”

This is a major change from the 1990s, when most Americans felt that government “does too many things better left to businesses and individuals.”

There has even been a significant shift in the last two years alone. In 2015, 50 percent of voters thought the government should do more. Today that figure is 57 percent. 46 percent of those polled that year thought government did too much. That figure is now down to 39 percent.

Some history:

The financial crisis of 2008 awakened many people to the risks posed by the private sector, and to the need for government services in the wreckage created by Wall Street greed. The Occupy movement triggered an important national dialogue about inequality and the increasing diversion of national wealth to a privileged and powerful few.

The Bernie Sanders presidential campaign gave a political voice to this movement during the 2016 campaign. Even Donald Trump was forced to get into the game. He promised to repair American infrastructure and create millions of jobs, said he would renegotiate job-killing trade deals, and insisted that he would not cut Social Security or Medicare.

I've long maintained that the right-wing insistence on the private sector as the solution to any problem is pure bullshit -- and it looks like it's becoming more and more obvious, now that we have an out-and-out plutocrat in the White House, just how much of a sham it is. Have the private sector take care of infrastructure? That means every road is a toll road. Turn Social Security over to Wall Street? We've seen how good the banksters are with other people's money -- remember the Great Recession of 2008? Make all schools private schools? We know where that leads -- teachers treated like serfs and children graduating without knowing anything. Oh, and how about access to health insurance through the private sector? We know how that worked out: excellent care, for the few who can afford it.

Yes, government does have a very necessary role in all that sort of stuff.

Read the whole thing -- some interesting analysis there.

Update: And another, via Digby, on the same topic (sort of):

Myth 3: The Country Should Be Run Like a Business

Related to the above two myths is the idea that the best person for the presidency is not only a political outsider, but one with experience running a business. Again, this is pretty bizarre. Businesses and governments do very different things to create jobs, providing mandated services is very different from serving voluntary customers for profit, and the federal government can print money and run debts over a very long time period while that might prove fatal to a business. But this, too, was one of Trump’s rationales for running for office; he made money in the private sector (at least in some years), so he’d be good for the government’s bottom line.

The idea that government should show a profit, or at least break even, is sort of bizarre when you look at it: over the past few decades, it's been pretty much proven that the economy does best when the government is running a deficit -- not a big deficit (but then, maybe we should stop giving the ultra-wealthy and the multinationals a free ride), but a moderate deficit.

Read this one, too -- it's short.

Law and Order

Why does this not surprise me?

Desiree Fairooz, the woman who laughed during Senator Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing as Attorney General of the United States, has been found guilty of disorderly conduct and disrupting a Senate confirmation hearing, and she now faces up to one year in prison. Two other women, who are also a part of Fairooz's protest there, are also facing up to one year in prison, so we may have three women in the United States going to prison because they had the audacity to laugh during Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing.

They laughed because the soon-to-be Attorney General made a statement talking about the fact that the preservation of equality and equal rights in the United States was always going to be one of his main focuses, something that everybody understands is not true, so Desiree Fairooz laughed at that.

If Sessions had any class at all he would have intervened to have the charges dropped. But obviously, that's just not in his repertoire. (I should note that she was "disruptive" when she was being dragged out of the chamber, but then, she never should have been dragged to to begin with.)

Law and order, indeed. Welcome to Trump's America, where the KKK runs the Justice Department.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Oh, Brother (Update)

This just beggars belief:

Calling it "one of the world's most painful decisions," FBI Director James Comey says he believes he made "the right choice" when he notified Congress in October that the Bureau found Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop. Comey told Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein that he told his agents in October he "can't consider for a second" the implications of telling Congress of the new emails. He claimed he had to make the notification without regard to the election because taking into account what could happen in any case would destroy the mission of the FBI.

Comey says he was immediately stuck between two choices, speaking or concealing. He claimed that not notifying Congress in his mind was "concealment." Therefore, he said, he had no choice but to inform Congress.

If you'll recall, Comey made his announcement before they had access to the e-mails and before they had any idea of the content.

And a week later he popped up and said "Never mind."

As Sen. Feinstein pointed out:

Senator Feinstein Wednesday told Director Comey he could have easily notified Congress in a classified setting, thereby not making information public – and not affecting the outcome of the election.

But of course, that would have negated the whole purpose.

There's video at the link, if you can stand it.

Update: Digby has a long and very thorough analysis of the whole thing, including the press' role. Read it.

The Jokes Write Themselves

Picked up this little exchange at Towleroad:

That hasn't stopped anyone else.

Culture Break: Qntal: Entre moi et mon amin

I had an early appointment yesterday and never got back on line, so here's yesterday's "Culture Break" offering.

Qntal is another one of those groups that uses a lot of medieval material for their music, and, like Eurythymics and and a few other "groups", is basically a female singer and one or two guys playing all the instruments. Like Corvus Corax, they were very big in the Berlin club scene a few years ago. This is from Qntal III, subtitled "Tristan und Isolde":

Idiots in Charge

Remember Ben Carson? Who is now secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and displays all the acumen he showed while running for president. NYT, via Joe.My.God.:

Ben Carson does not like the creature comforts, at least not for low-income Americans reliant on the government for a helping hand. As he toured facilities for the poor in Ohio last week, Mr. Carson, the neurosurgeon-turned-housing secretary, joked that a relatively well-appointed apartment complex for veterans lacked “only pool tables.” He inquired at one stop whether animals were allowed.

At yet another, he nodded, plainly happy, as officials explained how they had stacked dozens of bunk beds inside a homeless shelter and purposefully did not provide televisions. Compassion, Mr. Carson explained in an interview, means not giving people “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’”

Like the rest of the Trump regime, Carson has an adversarial relationship with reality. As one commenter pointed out, if someone on public assistance manages to get a job, it's likely going to be minimum wage, and even at full time, it won't be enough to make ends meet -- plus they lose things like Medicaid and their housing and a few other things, like food stamps.

But simple solutions seem to appeal to simple minds.

There's also one other aspect of this that seems to be common among contemporary Republicans. Commenter fuzzybits nailed it:


A devotee of the Paul Ryan school of compassion.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Government at Work, Trump Style

This was actually a conference call with Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney:

There you have it.