Recently in politics Category

Matthew Rosza comments on Trump's pardon of right-wing serial bullshitter Dinesh D'Souza, and how undeserved it is:

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said that "this office and the FBI take a zero tolerance approach to corruption of the electoral process. If, as alleged, the defendant directed others to make contributions to a Senate campaign and reimbursed them, that is a serious violation of federal campaign finance laws." [...]

Four months after being charged, D'Souza pled guilty, telling the court that "I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids. I deeply regret my conduct."

Danny Katch bluntly describes NRA president Ollie North as a deep-state thug:

It may seem strange for an organization that claims to stand for the right to arm "good guys" against criminals to choose someone best known for illegally running guns and drugs on three continents. But in reality, North and the NRA are made for each other.

For one thing, he's perfect for an organization that needs to step up its trolling game. The NRA relies on generating outrage in order to make its members feel under siege so they...buy more guns.

Katch goes on to remark that "Oliver North is basically Donald Trump without the draft dodging:"

He even has his own dodgy charity run jointly with presidential pal Sean Hannity. [...] North drew widespread media scorn for his hypocrisy in calling out violent media without mentioning his own history as a paid shill for the "first-person shooter" video game Call of Duty.

"All told," Katch continues, "bringing in Oliver North is the latest evidence that the NRA just might be completely full of shit:"

LaPierre made his name back in the 1990s when he declared that a ban on semi-automatic weapons "gives jack-booted government thugs more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property, and even injure or kill us."

There are, in fact, government thugs who do just this on a daily basis in poor and nonwhite neighborhoods. They're called police.

But as the Washington Post's Radley Balko points out, the NRA is almost always silent about police shootings -- and is actually totally cool with local police forces becoming militarized, both in weaponry and in mindset.

Making a former covert operations spook its president is another order of cognitive dissonance for an organization that traffics in conspiracy theories about secret government plans to round up all the true patriots.

Katch points out that "it's also important to see the connecting lines between the NRA's seemingly contradictory positions [and] its thoroughly warped understanding of tyranny and freedom:"

By "big government," the NRA doesn't mean the military, police, prisons, immigration Gestapo, spy agencies and other forces of repression that claim the majority of government budgets in the U.S. No, they mean elected lawmakers who (occasionally) try to represent their constituents by passing widely supported bills to regulate guns and gun corporations.

By tyranny, they mean democracy. And by freedom, they mean the inalienable right for their constituency of mostly well-off white men -- who, indeed, were the only people who the Founding Fathers intended to have democracy -- to do whatever the hell it takes to protect their property.

For years, the NRA has taken this longstanding reactionary outlook and added the gasoline of manufactured outrage necessary to increase sales of expensive guns to people who already own a bunch.

Graham Slater's TruthOut piece in defense of refusal looks at our "wave of school walkouts and teacher strikes spreading across the nation," writing that it "marks the coalescence of anti-corporate visions of education as teachers across the nation unite in opposition to austerity and educational insecurity." Slater foresees a "conservative backlash" consisting of "propaganda, scapegoating and demagoguery:"

What conservative reactionaries miss in their criticism of teacher strikes is that efforts to ensure robust and equitable investment in public education, the livability of teachers' wages and quality of physical conditions of schools are not threats to student learning. Rather, they are preconditions to meaningful education. To deny this is to be complicit in the reproduction of educational inequality. Conservative pundits and policy makers who cast striking teachers as petulant malcontents who threaten the educational well-being of students seek to obscure this fact.

"This is no accident," he observes:

It is deliberate, and indeed, it is an indispensable component of the conservative program to moralize, deprofessionalize and depoliticize teaching. Against this movement, progressives must insist on a critical language with which to describe the social, ethical and political purpose of education.

"In the 1960s," Slater reminds us, "the critical theorist Herbert Marcuse described the need for a 'Great Refusal,' which he claimed was necessary to rupture the smooth functioning of advanced capitalist societies:"

We must refuse corporate school reform and precarious neoliberal governance. We must defend the right of teachers to become cultural workers and political agents of transformation. We must insist on an education otherwise.

Judy Cox looks at Marx and the Paris Commune, which lasted barely two months (from 28 March to 28 May 1871) but has had lasting effects. After France's surrender to Germany, Parisians "took the defence of the city into their own hands," writes Cox, "and in the process created innovative new ways of organising the city and implementing democratic control from below. [...] The Council disbanded the standing army and separated the Church from the state, ending religious domination over the schools and confiscating Church property:"

The officials of the Commune received only an average workers' wage and were instantly recallable. The Commune reformed working conditions, ending night working for bakers and limiting the working day to 10 hours. They also explored ways to transform the nature of work itself by giving workers the right to take over workshops left empty when owners fled the city.

"For two months," Cox continues, "the workers, the artisans and the urban poor of Paris were in the saddle and a huge outburst of creativity was unleashed:"

Walls were plastered with news posters. Painter Gustav Courbet organised a Federation of Artists which confiscated the art collection stored in Adolph Thiers' Parisian mansion. At Courbet's instigation, militaristic statues were pulled down. Artists drew up manifestos calling for 'Communal Luxury' and 'Public Beauty'. Political clubs sprang up across the city, including the Union of Women. Contemporary commentators sneered at the large number of women who attended meetings of the clubs. Hostile contemporaries described how screeching women with crying babies and red sashes dominated some of these clubs. Marx saw it differently: 'The real women of Paris showed again the surface heroic, noble and devoted. Working, thinking, fighting, bleeding Paris, almost unaware in its incubation of a new society, of the Cannibal at its gates-radiant in the enthusiasm of its historic initiative!'

Cox reminds us that "The Commune transformed Marx from an obscure socialist activist into an international hate figure:"

Those terrified by the Commune refused to believe that ordinary men and women were capable of running their own city and sought the real 'leaders'. They found Marx who was portrayed as the 'Red Doctor' and 'Dr Terror'. He wrote to a friend, 'I have the honour to be at this moment the best calumniated and most menaced man of London. That really does one good after a tedious 20-year idyll in the back woods'. Marx's account of the Commune, The Civil War In France, sold thousands of copies and was translated into every major European language. It was in this book that Marx revealed what the Communards had achieved by created their own state: 'One thing especially was proved by the Commune - that the working cannot simply lay hold of ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes'. The Commune exposed the nature of the capitalist state and this proved crucial to Lenin's State and Revolution which translated the liberatory potential of the Commune into the conditions of Russia in 1917.

What happened to the Commune? Herein lies the sad chapter of this tale:

On 22nd May the French government launched its murderous suppression of the Commune. For a week soldiers burned, shot, and bombarded their own capital city. The last battle was fought at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Some 25,000 children, women and men were shot against the walls of the cemetery and across Paris, thousands more were imprisoned and transported. Dmitrieff, Lemel and many other women stayed on the barricades for days on end. The extreme brutality demonstrated by the French Government reveals the depth of the ruling class's fear and hatred of the Commune. Eugene Pottier wrote the socialist anthem, The Internationale, to commemorate the Parisian dead and the enduring nature of their vision for a society turned upside down.

One of Gina Haspel's torture victims is described by an American doctor and Naval reserve officer as "one of the most severely traumatized individuals I have ever seen," reports The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill:

"I have evaluated Mr. Abdal Rahim al-Nashiri, as well as close to 20 other men who were tortured as part of the CIA's RDI [Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation] program. I am one of the only health professionals he has ever talked to about his torture, its effects, and his ongoing suffering," Dr. Sondra Crosby, a professor of public health at Boston University, wrote to Warner's legislative director on Monday. "He is irreversibly damaged by torture that was unusually cruel and designed to break him. In my over 20 years of experience treating torture victims from around the world, including Syria, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. al-Nashiri presents as one of the most severely traumatized individuals I have ever seen."

Nashiri was snatched in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 and "rendered" to Afghanistan by the CIA and eventually taken to the Cat's Eye prison in Thailand that was run by Haspel from October to December 2002. He was suspected of involvement in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen. He is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay prison.

Scahill notes that "the known acts of torture committed against Nashiri at the site that Haspel ran and other US facilities included:"

• suffocated with water (waterboarding) • subjected to mock execution with a drill and gun while standing naked and hooded • anal rape through rectal feeding • threatened that his mother would be sexually assaulted • lifted off ground by arms while they were bound behind his back (after which a medical officer opined that shoulders might be dislocated)

She cited a public statement from one of the CIA contractors who developed the enhanced interrogation program, psychologist James Mitchell, who said he witnessed an interrogator "dousing Nashiri with cold water while using a stiff bristled brush to scrub his ass and balls and then his mouth and then blowing cigar smoke in his face until he became nauseous."

Crosby added: "It is important to note that the barbarity of the torture methods used were shrouded and concealed in sterile euphemisms."

Ian Welsh is dismayed that Haspel has been confirmed to lead the CIA:

The bottom line is that Americans and their leaders are really, truly, ok with illegal wars and torture whenever the decision has to actually be made, and today America's leaders showed that they do not even feel any actual remorse, or even that torturing was a mistake that matters.

At MPS, tengrain drops some snark:

Gina Haspell is confirmed as the first woman director of the CIA, and I will add she is also the first unindicted war criminal to lead the CIA, so it's a two-fer.

In an educational episode reminiscent of the conservative economic failure in Kansas, Scott Walker has demonstrated that trickle-down is also a failure in Wisconsin:

In Minnesota, progressive taxes and social spending have created more and better-paying jobs than next-door neighbor Wisconsin has created through tax and spending cuts.

In January 2011, two new governors took office in the neighboring states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Minnesota's new governor, Democrat Mark Dayton, had campaigned largely on a platform of taxing the rich to provide the services the state needed. By contrast, Wisconsin's new governor, Republican Scott Walker had pledged to cut taxes in order to create jobs. Over the course of the past seven years, these two governors have taken their states on vastly different trajectories: Minnesota to the left, and Wisconsin to the right.

"Now, nearing the completion of those second terms, the merits and problems of these two philosophies of governance can be tallied more definitively," the piece continues, citing a new report from the Economic Policy Institute. "As Wisconsin's and Minnesota's lawmakers took divergent paths, so did their economies," the report states, and "Minnesota's economy has come out ahead:"

Over the past seven years, hourly wages in Minnesota have increased by 2.4 percent over inflation, while wages in Wisconsin rose by just 0.3 percent after inflation. Minnesota, where job growth has been stronger than Wisconsin, also outpaced Wisconsin in reducing unemployment. And Minnesota also has enjoyed strong growth in median household income as compared with Wisconsin--which helps explain the reduction in Minnesota's poverty rates. In Wisconsin, however, poverty has worsened.

How did Minnesota do it? In large part, thanks to Democratic control of both the statehouse and the governor's office in 2013 and 2014, the state enacted an impressive array of progressive policies. Minnesota raised its minimum wage and expanded labor protections. Dayton also expanded Medicaid, and the federal dollars that came with that expansion helped create more health-care jobs. The administration also strengthened the social safety net, expanding paid sick and family leave and strengthening unemployment insurance. [...]

Minnesota has seen its population increase through people moving into the state, while Wisconsin has had more residents leave than new residents arrive.

Robert Kraig (executive director of the advocacy group Citizen Action of Wisconsin) has some choice comments:

With the results from the two states, "You really have a complete debunking of the whole conservative economic program," says Kraig, "and I think a proof that what it's really about is enriching the one percent and large corporations. The idea that it's going to help average people by encouraging business is clearly being debunked by the results of these policies once you actually implement them."

Will they ever learn?

The NYT notes Trump's admission that Russiagate is "bigger than Watergate:"

Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI "SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT." Andrew McCarthy says, "There's probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign." If so, this is bigger than Watergate!

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018

The piece observes that "In some sense, many analysts have said, he is right:"

Efforts by a hostile foreign power to influence an American presidential election -- with or without the assistance or knowledge of the winning candidate -- may well be a scandal "bigger than Watergate!"

The F.B.I. and a team of special prosecutors are investigating whether any of Mr. Trump's associates were coordinating with Russia to help Mr. Trump defeat his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. And, since the appointment of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, the investigation has expanded to include inquiries into whether Mr. Trump has attempted to obstruct justice to bring an end to what he regularly calls a witch hunt.

I would suggest, though, that a better term than informant would be witness. There's quite a difference between a candidate spying on an opponent and law enforcement investigating a crime. Nonetheless, as this 538 analysis by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux mentions, "It's a big day for Robert Mueller and his team:"

One year ago today, Mueller was appointed to lead the special counsel investigation into possible ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russian officials. It's a miracle, in some ways, that Mueller has lasted this long. President Trump's relationship with the investigation has grown increasingly adversarial, and at many moments over the course of the past 12 months, it seemed like Mueller's job was in jeopardy.

So this hasn't been an easy year for Mueller, but it's certainly been productive. Since the first indictments came down in the investigation last fall, the special counsel has racked up five guilty pleas and 14 indictments of individuals.1 He also reportedly gave a referral to the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York that led to a raid on the office, home and hotel room of presidential lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, which has turned into its own separate investigation.

"But the total number of charges doesn't tell the whole story," the piece continues:

To get a sense of where Mueller's investigation might go in its second year, it's worth looking at where the three other highest-profile investigations in modern history -- Watergate, Iran-Contra and Whitewater -- stood a year after a special or independent counsel came on board and how they evolved in the year or two afterward.

These investigations give us three separate models of what Mueller's first year could mean for the rest of his investigation, and they show how foolish it can be to predict the end of a special counsel investigation based on its beginning. Watergate lived up to the dramatic promise of its first year: It ended Nixon's presidency and sent dozens of people to jail. The revelations in the Iran-Contra scandal initially seemed like they might engulf Ronald Reagan, but the scandal began to fizzle when it became clear that Reagan wouldn't be implicated. And Whitewater, which was sleepy at first, eventually resulted in the impeachment of Bill Clinton -- but for reasons that could never have been foreseen after the first year of the investigation.

"As the Russia investigation enters its second year," the NYT concludes, "the most important variable may be how long Mueller can keep his job:"

Watergate, Iran-Contra and Whitewater all had one thing in common: They lasted at least four years. Given the reports that Trump has already twice considered ordering Mueller's removal, it's not clear that the investigation can survive that long -- at least, with Mueller at the helm.

Trump is destroying the federal government, writes Digby--who reminds us that Trump's first use of the "drain the swamp" slogan was at a rally in Green Bay on 17 October 2016:

The fact is, that despite his tiresome repetition of the slogan "Drain the swamp" since the election, it wasn't one of Trump's signature chants, like "Lock her up" or "Build the wall." It was something of an afterthought, a sort of extension of his claims that the system was "rigged" against him to steal the election. As the various investigations into his nefarious doings unfold, it seems obvious that was another projection of his own foibles onto his opponents.

Nonetheless, it is an article of faith among many of the chattering classes that he ran as a reformer who promised to clean up Washington. But the Trump administration's approach to dealing with the institutions of government is much more old-fashioned. It is simply governing by way of personal loyalty and fealty to the president rather than expertise, experience or seniority. It's a spoils system, and not a very efficient one.

Evan Osnos' New Yorker piece "is an eye opener," writes Digby:

"Across the government, more than half of the six hundred and fifty-six most critical positions are still unfilled. [...] If they cannot find a Trump loyalist to fill a position they simply leave it empty."

Osnos writes about the Trumpian effects:

A real-estate baron, with the wealthiest Cabinet in US history, Trump is at peace with the plutocracy but at war with the clerks -- the apparatchiks who, he claims, are seeking to nullify the election by denying the prerogatives of his Administration.

Digby comments:

This attack on "bureaucracy" is really an attack on law enforcement, the State Department, the intelligence community and ordinary bureaucrats who enforce regulations and monitor compliance with the law, along with anyone else Trump and his henchmen see as enemies of the state. [...]

The story Osnos tells about the elimination of experts and the deliberate erasure of institutional memory in department after department is chilling. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace these people even after Trump is gone. His lasting legacy may be the destruction of the federal government as we know it.

Jason Easley delves into Trump's $500 million emoluments problem:

The White House had no answer when asked about $500 million in funding that the Trump Organization is getting from the Chinese government for a project in Indonesia and couldn't explain how this is not an Emoluments Clause violation.

Here's the question:

Q: The Trump Organization is involved in a project in Indonesia building hotels, golf course, residences. It is getting up to $500 million in backing from the Chinese government. Can you tell -- or explain the administration's perspective on, a, how this wouldn't violate the emoluments clause, and, B, how it wouldn't violate the president's own promise that his private organization would not be getting involved in new foreign deals while he was president?

Here's the rest of the exchange:

Raj Shah: I'll have to refer you to the Trump Organization.

Q: No. But I mean the trump organization can't speak on behalf of the president as the president, the head of the federal government, the one who is responsible, who needs to assure the American people.

Shah: You're asking about a private organization's dealings that may have to do with a foreign government. That's not something that I can speak to.

"Donald Trump never divested himself from the Trump Organization," Easley reminds us:

It is not a coincidence that Trump wants to help Chinese telecom ZTE that was sanctioned for dealing with Iran after the Chinese government gave the Trump Organization $500 million. The Chinese bought their way out of crippling sanctions. Trump isn't just corrupt. He's criminal, and reporters to call out this corruption each day during the White House briefing. Reporters may not get answers, but they need to open the eyes of the American people to what is the real motivation behind this administration's decisions.

Speaking of Trump's offenses, we should add felony bribery to the list, writes Samuel Warde:

The issue at hand involve an inexplicable tweet posted by Trump on Sunday announcing that he was going to roll back his administration's own sanctions on Chinese telecom company ZTE.
President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2018

Warde writes that "there is reason to belief that China bribed Trump," and Richard Painter, ethics attorney for W, agreed:

This is bribery. The Constitution expressly provides that bribery is an impeachable offense. If the House and Senate don't act now they must be voted out in November. Americans are fed up!https://t.co/DAnJhq7DoQ via @HuffPostPol

-- Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) May 15, 2018

toxic bubble

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Rebecca Solnit asks, whose story (and country) is this? and analyzes a PBS News Hour quiz by Charles Murray that asked "Do You Live in a Bubble?"

The quiz is essentially about whether you are in touch with working-class small-town white Christian America, as though everyone who's not Joe the Plumber is Maurice the Elitist. We should know them, the logic goes; they do not need to know us. [...] The quiz delivers, yet again, the message that the 80 percent of us who live in urban areas are not America, treats non-Protestant (including the quarter of this country that is Catholic) and non-white people as not America, treats many kinds of underpaid working people (salespeople, service workers, farmworkers) who are not male industrial workers as not America. More Americans work in museums than work in coal, but coalminers are treated as sacred beings owed huge subsidies and the sacrifice of the climate, and museum workers--well, no one is talking about their jobs as a totem of our national identity.

Solnit flips the script on them:

Perhaps the actual problem is that white Christian suburban, small-town, and rural America includes too many people who want to live in a bubble and think they're entitled to, and that all of us who are not like them are menaces and intrusions who needs to be cleared out of the way.

"In the aftermath of the 2016 election," she continues, "we were told that we needed to be nicer to the white working class, which reaffirmed the message that whiteness and the working class were the same thing and made the vast non-white working class invisible or inconsequential:"

We were told that Trump voters were the salt of the earth and the authentic sufferers, even though poorer people tended to vote for the other candidate. We were told that we had to be understanding of their choice to vote for a man who threatened to harm almost everyone who was not a white Christian man, because their feelings preempt everyone else's survival.

She also writes about the New York Times op-ed by Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Isabelle Robinson. Ms Robinson described the "disturbing number of comments I've read that go something like this: Maybe if Mr. Cruz's classmates and peers had been a little nicer to him, the shooting at Stoneman Douglas would never have occurred." [By the way, the title of her editorial is "I Tried to Befriend Nikolas Cruz. He Still Killed My Friends."]

"This framework suggests we owe them something," Solnit points out, "which feeds a sense of entitlement, which sets up the logic of payback for not delivering what they think we owe them:"

Elliot Rodgers set out to massacre the members of a sorority at UC Santa Barbara in 2014 because he believed that sex with attractive women was a right of his that women were violating and that another right of his was to punish any or all of them unto death. He killed six people and injured fourteen. Nikolas Cruz said, "Elliot Rodgers will not be forgotten."

The toxic incel masculinity asks insipid questions like "how do the consequences of men hideously mistreating women affect men's comfort? Are men okay with what's happening?"

There have been too many stories about men feeling less comfortable, too few about how women might be feeling more secure in offices where harassing coworkers may have been removed or are at least a bit less sure about their right to grope and harass.

"We are as a culture," Solnit concludes, "moving on to a future with more people and more voices and more possibilities:"

Some people are being left behind, not because the future is intolerant of them but because they are intolerant of this future. White men, Protestants from the dominant culture are welcome, but as Chris Evans noted, the story isn't going to be about them all the time, and they won't always be the ones telling it. It's about all of us. White Protestants are already a minority and non-white people will become a voting majority in a few decades. This country has room for everybody who believes that there's room for everybody. For those who don't--well, that's partly a battle about who controls the narrative and who it's about.

Along similar lines, Daily Kos suggests that it's their job to understand us:

Soon--very soon--people of color will outnumber white males as a portion of the electorate. Women already outnumber men in terms of sheer population. It is their interests, and the necessary tolerance for multiple cultures that permits the coexistence of these diverse populations--the same tolerance that Trump voters spit on as "politically correct"--that is the narrative that matters. And it is that narrative, that "story" that should not and will not be denied.

Conor Lynch analyzes angry young white men and the Incel rebellion, observing that "If there is one thing that seems to unite the most extreme political reactionaries throughout the world, it is their gender:"

Whether it's alt-right white supremacists marching in Charlottesville with their tiki torches, misogynist "incels" and men's rights activists who believe feminism is the root of all their problems, or Islamic extremists who aim to restore the caliphate, one thing is constant: they are overwhelmingly male.

It is hardly surprising that men are more susceptible to the allure of reactionary politics, considering that it's much easier for men to romanticize the past than it is for women (or any previously oppressed or mistreated group, such as LGBTQ people). Patriarchy has long been the norm in Western and non-Western societies and cultures, and thus women are less inclined to feel nostalgic for some "golden age" in history when they were treated as second-class citizens.

He also notes that "in America there is another important factor that increases the likelihood of one adopting a reactionary political ideology: being white:"

This victim mentality that many white men have developed today stems in part from what sociologist Michael Kimmel has called "aggrieved entitlement," which he describes as "that sense of entitlement that can no longer be assumed and that is unlikely to be fulfilled."

"There are still many in this generation of men who feel cheated by the end of entitlement," Kimmel writes in his book Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. "They still feel entitled, and thus they identify socially and politically with those above them, even as they have economically joined the ranks of those who have historically been below them."

"When one is accustomed to privilege equality feels like oppression," Lynch continues, and this means that "members of dominant groups are more prone to reactionary politics because they are likely to feel their status and privilege being threatened:"

The reactionary feels disaffected with the modern world and nostalgic for some past era, before the rot of modernity set in -- and before he became a victim (in his mind) of egalitarian movements.

One of the more disturbing and pitiful reactionary group to emerge in the digital age has been the "incels," or involuntary celibates, who were thrust into the national spotlight last month after the terrorist attack in Toronto, committed by a self-described member of the "Incel rebellion." The incel community, which congregates on websites like Reddit and 4Chan, is deeply sexist and misogynistic, and its members blame women for their inability to find sexual partners. Incels feel an "aggrieved entitlement," and believe that women owe them sex. As one might expect, feminism is the bête noire within the incel community, and these basement-dwelling reactionaries long for the days before the sexual revolution and women's liberation.

"One way to challenge the reactionary mentality," Lynch offers helpfully, "is to debunk the romantic depiction of the past and offer a more accurate and cogent critique of the modern world (which, among other things, means offering a critique of capitalism):"

When challenging the reactionary's way of thinking it is also important to make clear that, realistically, he wouldn't have been much better off in the "good old days." [...]

To counteract the reactionary mindset, it will be necessary not only to expose and discredit reactionary myths about the past, but also to acknowledge that reactionaries have legitimate reason to feel disenchanted with the modern world -- and, finally, to offer a genuine progressive alternative to the status quo.

Similarly, Cody Fenwick delves into https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/conservative-writers-have-found-weird-new-argument-claim-theyre-oppressed conservatives' weird new claim of oppression:

Despite the fact that Republican politicians are in charge of Congress and the White House while a conservative-leaning majority reigns in the Supreme Court, conservatives are nevertheless convinced that "the Left" is using political correctness to quash their ideas.

This viewpoint is especially prevalent on the so-called "Intellectual Dark Web," which Fenwick describes as "a 'network' of iconoclastic thinkers who include people like Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, and Ayan Hirsi Ali:"

Despite these individuals' relative success, the idea of the Intellectual Dark Web is that they are somehow kept down by oppressive political correctness and excluded from legacy media outlets. French argues, however, that "the path to prominence for many of these now-popular people has sometimes been painful."

"For [National Review writer David] French," comments Fenwick, "it seems the biggest threat to free speech is that he can't question transgender people's gender identity in corporate boardrooms:"

(Meanwhile, you can still legally be fired just for being gay or transgender in most states.) This supposedly horrific form of censorship pushes people to these "marginalized" writers, and potentially to even darker places like Milo Yiannopoulos and the trenches of the alt-right.

The narrative of the oppressed conservative thinker -- which often just means people who are made they get called out for being racist or bigoted -- is certainly not going away. The "Intellectual Dark Web" is just another manifestation of it.

They may be spreading odious beliefs, but at least the "intellectual" dark-web denizens aren't inciting violence toward their ideological opponents.

(Yet.)

Salon's Matthew Rozsa notes Ollie North's counterpunch against gun-control activists, and says that North "has a dim view of those protesters:"

"They call them activists. That's what they're calling themselves. They're not activists -- this is civil terrorism. This is the kind of thing that's never been seen against a civil rights organization in America," North told the [Washington] Times.

North also told the Times that anti-gun advocates "can do all the cyberwar against us -- they're doing it. They can use the media against us -- they are. They've gone after our bank accounts, our finances, our donors, and obviously individual members. It's got to stop. And that's why the leadership invited me to become the next president of the NRA."

"It is worth noting," writes Rosza, "that this kind of detached-from-reality rhetoric is very much baked into the NRA's political brand:"

Prior to the 1970s, the NRA was mostly known as a sportsmen's club, one that had even supported certain types of gun control during the 1930s. After right-wing radicals seized the NRA during a convention in 1977, however, the organization became a hotbed for extreme beliefs -- all of them united in the conviction that the government, and liberals in general, are determined to seize NRA members' guns and in general victimize them.

That air of victimization was apparent when North actually compared the experiences of NRA supporters to those of America's most persecuted minority groups.

"You go back to the terrible days of Jim Crow and those kinds of things -- even there you didn't have this kind of thing," North told the Times. Perhaps realizing how he just sounded, he clarified that "we didn't have the cyberwar kind of thing that we've got today."

"He also depicted the Parkland school survivors," notes Rosza, "as being pawns in a larger propaganda effort:"

"What they did very successfully with a frontal assault, and now intimidation and harassment and lawbreaking, is they confused the American people. Our job is to get the straight story out about what happened there, and to make sure that kind of thing doesn't happen again because the proper things are being done with the advocacy of the NRA," North told the Times.

"There are two reasons," he continues, "why the 'straight story' may be somewhat difficult for North to communicate:"

The first is that, throughout most of American history, the notion that gun regulation would automatically violate the Constitution was a fringe belief. When the Second Amendment was written, it was to make it possible for white men (the only people allowed to own guns at that time) to serve in militias. Although courts were often conflicted as to how much government regulation would be constitutionally acceptable, the absolutist approach that is supported by the NRA had not yet drowned out all other perspectives.

Ollie seems well-suited for his new role:

While North's services on behalf of "freedom" are questionable at best, he is indeed skilled in the arts of rhetoric and leadership. Between that and his long history of shady right-wing activities -- including his recent statements vilifying protesters who merely wish to save lives -- he is indeed someone ideally suited to serve as the NRA's president.

Media Matters' Cydney Hargis comments on another political incident:

After multiple reports of physical abuse came out against former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the National Rifle Association's media arm, NRATV, used the reports to falsely claim the solution to violence against women is more gun ownership. In reality, the presence of firearms in households where there is domestic violence drastically increases the likelihood that women who live there will be killed or injured.

Here are some more statistics:

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, "The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed." One study found that among women living in the United States, "about 4.5 million have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun and nearly 1 million have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner." Another study that interviewed women at women's shelters found that 71 percent of women who reported living in a household with a firearm had been attacked or threatened with a gun, but only 7 percent had successfully used a gun in self-defense. In fact, a September 2013 Violence Policy Center study titled "When Men Murder Women" found that women were more than three times more likely to be murdered when there was a gun in their household.

Ollie's outfit is on the wrong side of, well, pretty much everything:

While the NRA continues to dangerously advocate for greater firearm ownership as a solution to violence against women, it has also historically fought efforts to strengthen laws to keep domestic abusers from accessing guns. The group also spent more than $30 million in support of President Donald Trump's campaign and stood by him when a tape emerged of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women.

With a headline like "Trump is no longer the worst person in government," one can immediately ascertain that George Will's acerbic way with words has found a target worthy of his snark; this time, he does not disappoint. This sentence in particular made me laugh:

The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America's most repulsive public figure.

Will goes on to describe Pence as "oozing unctuousness from every pore," and calls Joe Arpaio "a grandstanding, camera-chasing bully and darling of the thuggish right"--and then drops this gem:

Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.

AlterNet's Cody Fenwick remarks that "Will, who left the Republican Party after the rise of Trump, now seems to hold unique disdain for his formerly fellow partisans who emboldened the president's ascent."

It's about time. Would any other conservative wordsmiths care to follow his example by switching sides and using their talents to similarly good effect?

This open letter to Gina Haspel by Theo Padnos, who was tortured in Syria during the winter of 2013, is worth reading. "Dear Ms. Haspel," he begins, "I understand you are now against torture, after supporting it before. Great. As a torture victim, I'm very happy to hear this news:"

I hope you won't take it the wrong way, however, if I say that I doubt the sincerity of your change of heart. Let's be honest. There isn't much proof that you regret what you did. The evidence suggests that you helped to cover up for American torturers. Meanwhile, at least in the torture facilities I've known, the officials who get with the program - by which I mean carry out every order in silent obedience - tend to move up in the hierarchy. I assume you're discovering the same thing right now on the day of your Senate confirmation hearing.

Because it's not exactly clear that the torture era at the CIA really is over, and because I think I learned something about the torture business during my years in a series of torture prisons, I'd like to tell you about my experience.

His personal recounting of his treatment--including making up multiple stories to evade further abuse--will shock no one except those who believe that torture works:

Later on, lying again on the floor in my cell, I devised a third tale. It accounted for the inconsistencies in the one I had told under torture, flattered the torturers' prejudices, involved money as a motivation - an idea the torturers seemed to like - and made detours through a half-dozen, totally fictitious but true-sounding details.

He observes that the question Why is this happening to me? "is a profound, agonizing, entrancing question for torture victims:"

They devote their days and nights to its contemplation. When torture happens as a matter of course, over long periods of time, the prisoner is likely to conclude that no single commander or command structure is responsible for these crimes, but, rather, that there is something unwell within the society outside the walls of the prison. What has gone wrong in that society that every few days it throws up new men who wish to stand around in dark rooms as other men are hanged from their wrists, flayed, then electrocuted until it is obvious to everyone that the body's life force has all but drained away? [...]

There really is no single answer to such a question. It is a sinister riddle with a thousand half-right answers, none of which comfort the victim since all he wants is out.

"For the sake of its honor, if for nothing else," he concludes, "U.S. officials must never obey torture orders from this president. And that includes you, Ms. Haspel."

Salon is dismayed at Haspel's unwillingness to answer direct questions:

President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency was defiant during questioning by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., at a Wednesday Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the nomination.

Deputy Director of the CIA Gina Haspel, who has been the acting director since Mike Pompeo's confirmation as Secretary of State, repeatedly dodged "yes or no" questions from the former prosecutor.

Here's the weaseling:

"So one question I have not heard you answer is, 'do you believe that the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?'" Harris asked. "It's a 'yes or no' answer."

"Senator, I believe that CIA did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country giving the legal tools we were authorized to use," Haspel replied.

"Please answer yes or no," Harris repeated. "Do you believe in hindsight that those techniques were immoral?"

"Senator, what I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to," Haspel continued.

"Can you please answer the question?" Harris requested.

"Senator, I think I've answered the question," Haspel argued.

"No, you have not," Harris fact-checked. "Do you believe the previous techniques -- now armed with hindsight -- do you believe they were immoral?"

"Yes or no?"

Crooks and Liars cites the same exchange, and then sums it up his way:

Trump has said over and over again that he would not only reinstitute torture, but make it even harsher and more immoral. It sounds like he's got the perfect partner in Haspel.

Installing her as head of the CIA could lead to depredations worse than we saw during the W era, yet another way in which Trump can be the worst president ever.

According to The Federalist, the Supreme Court has already repealed the Second Amendment "in District of Columbia v. Heller by restricting the amendment to common arms:"

Heller asked the court to decide whether Washington DC's bans on handguns, having a loaded firearm at home, and carrying a firearm at home without a permit violated the Second Amendment.

"Miller [U.S. v. Miller (1939)] asked," the article continues, "whether the National Firearms Act of 1934 violated the Second Amendment by requiring that a short-barreled shotgun be registered with the federal government:"

Heller said, "We think that Miller's 'ordinary military equipment' language must be read in tandem with what comes after: '[O]rdinarily when called for [militia] service [able-bodied] men were expected to appear bearing arms supplied by themselves and of the kind in common use at the time.'" [...]

Although some laud Heller for recognizing an individual right to some arms, its false standard allows Congress and the states to ban arms they and the courts claim are not "common" or that are useful "in military service."

Then we can reinstitute the assault-weapons ban--right?

Slate's Isaac Chotiner discusses the key signs of money laundering, beginning with the WaPo story observing that "Donald Trump used cash for many of his real estate transactions in the decade before he became president" [see here]. Chotiner comments that "it's worth trying to understand what exactly money laundering is, and what role it plays in the real estate world:"

To find out, I recently spoke by phone with Peter D. Hardy. He is a partner in the white-collar defense group at the law firm Ballard Spahr, a former federal prosecutor, and the curator of Ballard Spahr's blog Money Laundering Watch.

After some details (explaining 18 U.S.C 1956, and 18 U.S.C. 1957, for example), this exchange is particularly interesting:

Why is real estate seen as a fertile business for money launderers?

Because it is a traditional transaction. Buying real estate is something that a lot of people do and is regarded, generally speaking, as a good investment. The United States real estate market has been very, very hot. So from a pure economic standpoint it makes sense. And it's a vehicle where if you have a lot of money, or a lot of proceeds that you want to unload, it is a pretty good receptacle to do so. It is just kind of handy. And if you are asked, it is easy to provide a seemingly innocuous explanation, which is, "I am investing in real estate along with many other people."

Or influencing heads of state, perhaps...if your transactions are of sufficient scale.

I'm not sure which is the most ludicrous of these two announcements.

The first, as noted by Steve Vladeck at Just Security, is Gina ("Waterboarding") Haspel's nomination to become CIA Director. "Insofar as the Haspel nomination is a referendum on accountability for torture," writes Vladeck, "a big part of why is because other, perhaps better, accountability mechanisms have been all-but useless:"

All of this, of course, is no never mind to President Trump, who tweeted this morning that Haspel has come under fire for being "too tough on Terrorists." As Laura Rosenberger (among others) has pointed out, unlike just about everyone else defending the Haspel nomination, Trump seems inclined to support her because of her involvement in torture, not in spite of it.

To me, a President who feels that way is all the more reason to want a CIA Director with less of a sordid history. But regardless of the case for supporting or opposing Haspel, it's worth emphasizing that the reason that it's come to this is, at least in my view, largely a result of the unavailability or inefficacy of other accountability mechanisms for government torture.

And for that failure, shame on us.

The second candidate is Ollie ("American Traitor") North's nomination to lead the NRA:

Imagine the thought process that went into the decision to elevate one of the most notorious criminal actors in modern Republicanism to a top spot in the National Rifle Association.

As the author reminds us, Oliver North "was a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, a Reagan administration scheme to smuggle arms to Iran in violation of American law, funneling the secret proceeds to Nicaraguan rebels--also in violation of American law:"

He was convicted for destroying evidence and obstructing the resulting congressional inquiry, convictions which were overturned after courts ruled that Congress had given him immunity from those prosecutions. For these acts of treason, he was and is widely feted by conservative Reagan loyalists who believe that presidents and their White House staff members should be able to violate whichever of the nation's laws they feel inclined to.

So yes, that's precisely the figurehead the National Rifle Association needs: a man who betrayed his country [and] who represents the new conservative celebration of lawlessness in service to Republican political power. What better spokesman for the National Rifle Association, a group devoted to the notion that their members may someday be obliged to not merely disobey the American government, but murder those that represent it?

Salon's Matthew Rozsa calls North a perfectly toxic choice, and riffs on NRA head Wayne LaPierre's remark that "Oliver North is, hands down, the absolute best choice to lead our NRA Board:"

North is likely to fit in well with the group, given that he has spent more than twenty years as a right-wing media figure. Most recently North has appeared regularly as a commentator on Fox News, where he has continued his reputation for offering consistently conservative interpretations of major news events.

The Atlantic's David Graham makes similar observations:

North's appointment spawned an immediate round of very similar jokes--he's a perfect fit for the NRA, since he's got lots of experience facilitating gun sales, har har har--as well as some consternation at why the NRA would choose an obviously tarnished figure like North, especially at a moment when the organization is under even more political pressure than usual following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the aftermath of which has launched the largest protest movement for gun restrictions in years.

"North, as a veteran culture warrior, is perfectly fitted to this strategy" of outrage and backlash," Graham continues:

Because of his Iran-Contra connections, he also makes for a perfect Trump-era martyr. His champions viewed him as a victim of the deep state, long before anyone in the U.S. used the phrase, and of a special prosecutor overstepping his bounds.

Slate also notes North's status as a notorious arms trafficker. "Oliver North's background makes him in some ways the perfect choice for the modern NRA--whose primary activity," snarks Ben Mathis-Lilley, "is conducting a Trump-style cultural-resentment offensive against Americans who support gun control regulations:"

In summary, an individual who lied to Congress about illegal weapons sales to a state sponsor of terrorism is now the president of an organization whose central belief is that legal gun ownership is the key to maintaining a safe country.

Haspel may be in a position to do more damage, but North's odiousness must not be forgotten..

Adam Lee has more thoughts on those rage-filled, resentful incels [see here], stemming from this comment he received:

it's simple: Female sexuality has been unleashed by the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s, but not male sexuality, since one easy and certain route for getting sex (for men) remains illegal -- just paying for it. Just legalize prostitution. Let there be a Hookr app (no e.) Imagine that -- the incel opens up the Hookr up and chooses from all the local girls willing to service him. He gets to rate them afterward, and the working girls rate him. But no, both feminists and socially conservative women don't want this because it would simply give too much social power to males who, as a consequence, may not be as patient with their significant others' antics.

"Can we start," Lee asks, "by talking about this ludicrous belief that female sexuality has been "unleashed" but male sexuality hasn't?"

Our society is designed around male sexuality: celebrating it, promoting it, pandering to it. Advertising, television, movies and video games are all multibillion-dollar industries that practically treat beautiful women as wallpaper. Men who have sex with many women as they can are praised as studs, playboys, Casanovas, lady-killers.

Meanwhile, women who have lots of sex are often cruelly demeaned and stigmatized - one double standard among many that incels are eager to perpetuate (warning, gross sexist language at the link). You'd think that if someone cared about having sex above all else, if it was the all-consuming focus of their lives, they'd want women to be sexually free and promiscuous, the better to increase their own chances. Instead, they shame them for it.

This is further evidence that the real problem in the incel community isn't sexual frustration, but entitlement. They don't just want some sex, any sex. What they want is the stereotypical male fantasy object: a beautiful, physically flawless virgin who has no wishes or goals of her own and who lavishes worshipful attention on them and them alone.

"The reality is that," Lee continues, "even if sex work were legalized in the sweeping way he wanted, it wouldn't solve the problem of rage-filled, violent incels:"

Just as there are lonely single people who aren't killers, there are people in relationships who are hateful, abusive, jealous and violent. Having sex isn't a magic key that transforms someone's core self. Incels are, by definition, the men who miss this point. They're trying to treat a symptom while ignoring the real reason for their unhappiness. It would be a sad spectacle, deserving of help and sympathy - if they didn't choose to direct their rage outwards in such explosive and horrific ways.

Rudy Giuliani is at it again, as Samuel Warde points out:

Asked about the possibility of Trump getting subpoenaed by Mueller to testify, Giuliani answered: "We don't have to" comply with a subpoena.

"They don't have a case on collusion, they don't have obstruction... I'm going to walk him into a prosecution for perjury like Martha Stewart did?" Giuliani continued. "He's the president of the United States. We can assert privilege other presidents [have]."

There's also this tidbit:

Giuliani also told Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that he expects Trump's former, longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to cooperate with the Mueller investigation.

"Michael Cohen doesn't have any incriminating evidence on the president or himself," Giuliani said. "He's an honest, honorable lawyer."

I'm not so sure that Giuliani is a good judge of those qualities.

WaPo's look into Trump's sudden shift from debt to cash purchases (by Jonathan O'Connell, David A. Fahrenthold and Jack Gillum) is quite revealing:

In the nine years before he ran for president, Donald Trump's company spent more than $400 million in cash on new properties -- including 14 transactions paid for in full, without borrowing from banks -- during a buying binge that defied real estate industry practices and Trump's own history as the self-described "King of Debt."

Trump's vast outlay of cash, tracked through public records and totaled publicly here for the first time, provides a new window into the president's private company, which discloses few details about its finances.

The piece asks a few questions:

Why did the "King of Debt," as he has called himself in interviews, turn away from that strategy, defying the real estate wisdom that it's unwise to risk so much of one's own money in a few projects?

And how did Trump -- who had money tied up in golf courses and buildings -- raise enough liquid assets to go on this cash buying spree?

"The cash purchases began," it continues, "with a $12.6 million estate in Scotland in 2006:"

In the next two years, he snapped up two homes in Beverly Hills. Then five golf clubs along the East Coast. And a winery in Virginia.

The biggest cash binge came last, in the year before Trump announced his run for president. In 2014, he paid a combined $79.7 million for large golf courses in Scotland and Ireland. Since then, those clubs have lost money while Trump renovated them, requiring him to pump in $164 million in cash to keep them running.

Trump's lavish spending came at a time when his business was leaning largely on one major financial institution for its new loans -- Deutsche Bank, which provided $295 million in financing for big projects in Miami and Washington.

"By 2011, Trump had spent at least $46 million on all-cash purchases"--although "During the 2016 campaign, Trump continued to brag about how he'd mastered the art of spending other people's cash:"

"I do that all the time in business: It's called other people's money. There's nothing like doing things with other people's money because it takes the risk," Trump told a campaign-trail audience in North Carolina in September 2016. "You get a good chunk of it, and it takes the risk."

My way of adding some context, David Boddiger notes the following at Splinter News:

The report doesn't get to the bottom of where all this cash came from, but it does bring past comments by the Trump children back into focus, at least speculatively. In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. stated that, "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets."

In 2014, golf writer James Dodson was hanging out on the golf course with Eric Trump. Dodson asked him where the Trumps got all their money, as banks weren't loaning at the time. According to Dodson, Eric said, "Well, we don't rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia." He added: "Oh, yeah. We've got some guys that really, really love golf, and they're really invested in our programs."

Eric's comments came at about the same time the Trump Organization embarked on its "biggest cash binge," as described by the Post.

I would say that this merits an investigation; wouldn't you?

Rudy Giuliani issued the following statement about Trump's hush-money payment:

First: There is no campaign violation. [...]

Second: My references to timing were not describing my understanding of the President's knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters.

Third: It is undisputed that the President's dismissal of former Director Comey [...] was plainly in the best interests of our nation.

However, Politico quotes another GOP operative saying that Trump "can't just lie his way out of every single box." Christopher Cadelago and Matthew Nussbaum write that "as president, Trump is running up against the limits of saying or doing whatever he wants:"

The revelation by Rudy Giuliani that his client reimbursed his longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen for a $130,000 hush money payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels contradicted Trump's own previous denials that he knew anything about the deal -- and, despite Giuliani's intent to tamp down concerns that the October 2016 payment violated campaign finance laws, raised a whole new set of questions about whether Trump failed to disclose a personal loan.

"As long as they believe that all that matters is the base and Fox News, they'll keep doing it," said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist who has been critical of Trump's presidency. "But at some point, when the law is the issue and not Trump's bubble, you end up in a situation where he can't just lie his way out of every single box."

"In the wake of revelations that Donald Trump Jr. met during the 2016 campaign with a Kremlin-connected operator who promised 'dirt' on Hillary Clinton," the piece continues, "Trump and aides huddled on Air Force One and drafted a statement that the meeting was merely to discuss adoption policy:"

That story was quickly disproved, and now the episode is of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller as he investigates possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Also notable is the firing of FBI director James Comey:

Trump was warned by close aides that the move could be politically disastrous, but he went ahead anyway, tapping Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to draft a memo to justify the firing.

That document focused on Comey's handling of the Clinton email investigation -- but Trump subsequently undermined that explanation, declaring on NBC News that he had fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. Trump then reportedly boasted in a meeting with senior Russian officials that firing Comey had taken "great pressure" off him.

That episode, too, is now a focus for Mueller.

"To Trump's associates and longtime supporters," they continue, "the decision to send Giuliani out on TV was textbook Trump:"

Few are better at exploiting a news cycle and media ecosystem whose hunger for a new development, anything loud or scandalous, is never sated.

Unless, to offer one counter-example, it's Trump https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/donald-trump-nra-convention-speech tossing red meat to the NRA:

Taking a break from the escalating pressures of the Russia probe and the Stormy Daniels case, Trump returned to the NRA's annual convention, his fourth consecutive appearance. En route, Trump called the NRA a "truly great organization that loves this country."Last year, Trump became the first sitting president to appear before the NRA convention in more than 30 years.

"Trump has long enjoyed strong backing from the NRA," TPM notes, "which spent about $30 million in support of his presidential campaign:"

He praised members of the gun lobby as "great patriots" but declared "that doesn't mean we have to agree on everything. It doesn't make sense that I have to wait until I'm 21 to get a handgun, but I can get this weapon at 18." He was referring to the AR-15 the Parkland shooting suspect is accused of using.

Those words rattled some Republicans in Congress and sparked hope among gun-control advocates that, unlike after previous mass shootings, tougher regulations would be enacted this time. But Trump later retreated on those words, expressing support for modest changes to the background check system, as well as arming teachers.

Trump also asserted that gun rights are "under siege:"

"Thanks to your activism and dedication, you have an administration fighting to protect your Second Amendment, and we will protect your Second Amendment," Trump told a raucous crowd of NRA members in Dallas, Texas. "Your Second Amendment rights are under siege, but they will never, ever be under siege as long as I'm your president."

Then, the bullet-addled buffoon pivoted to arming teachers:

"We strongly believe in allowing highly trained teachers to carry concealed weapons, if they're highly trained," he said. "And we want highly trained security guards."

At The Federalist, James Poulos claims that the incel movement isn't really demanding the right to sex. He begins with a history of the term "incels, the self-described and so-called community of involuntary celibates:"

This term popped in public discourse recently because a self-described incel drove a van into a crowd in Toronto recently, killing 10. He was angry that women deny sex to some men. Incels characterize sex as a right others are obligated to provide them, and congregate online.

They and their identity have bubbled up to the top of the consciousness stack because of the Internet--how it works, who it organizes, what it enables, and what ideas it does and doesn't usher forth from its patterns of everyday life.

I'd say that this particular incel "bubbled up" and "ushered forth" his chosen appellation in a rather deliberate manner...but please continue:

Referring back to the fundamentals of the Internet, digital technology gives historic numbers of relatively unsuccessful men the opportunity for warlike activity of unprecedented regularity that poses zero mortal risk and requires only the use of symbols. [...]

Many relatively unsuccessful men engaged in constant symbolic warfare online may be more prone to forms of slow-motion suicide than other men. Of course, eventually all relatively unsuccessful men die, and the ranks of their battalions might be thinned out over time.

"Unfortunately," Poulos continues, "the delusion persists that our society with its surplus of unsuccessful and unhappy men can be made peaceful and harmonious through sheer force of will:"

Not even Christianity at its most fortifying and forgiving could do that alone. Humble marriage or woke modesty have their power, but for struggling men, the constant in all times and places has been war--often devastating, frequently barbaric.

A society where the vast majority of men almost never march into mortal peril has huge costs virtually no one wants to tally. But we keep racking them up. We rightly prize peace, but we are unprepared to face its full consequences in an age transformed by technology. In our anxiety over the redistribution of sex, we are blinding ourselves to the deeper difficulty of a society where the distribution of death is imbalanced away from the men who have borne its brunt since the beginning of civilization.

Men start wars for dark but inexpugnable reasons. Today's incels may seem a long way off from tomorrow's warlords. But in a world upended by unhinged technological change, the distance between them may be closer than most of us dare to imagine.

Well, they all appear to be suffering from some strain of toxic masculinity--and they share a fervent desire to make others suffer from it as well.

PZ Myers calls the incel rebellion the worst marketing of an identity ever. For his suggestion that incels can teach us "One lesson to be drawn from recent Western history," he pillories not just Ross Douthat but also Robin Hanson, a libertarian economist at George Mason, and observes:

Isn't it odd how a philosophy of individualism and worship of liberty has now come around to arguing for depriving individuals of their freedom...as long as they are young attractive women? The only way they can do that without their heads exploding over the conflict is by denying the humanity of women, which is apparently something conservatives are comfortable with. No surprises there, I guess.

"Again," Myers writes, "this is a consequence of the near-religious worship of dogmatic capitalism:"

Everything is viewed as a transaction, with profits and losses, with numerical values that can be auctioned off. Every time someone utters the evil phrase, "sexual market value", you are hearing the canonization of a true perversion of human relationships. But this isn't how sex works! It's a gift of shared intimacy, voluntarily given, between two or more people.

Douthat's suggestion that we deal with incels by "reviving or adapting older ideas about the virtues of monogamy and chastity and permanence and the special respect owed to the celibate" also gets forcefully rebutted:

Those "older ideas" also involved demanding the submission of women and denying them autonomy, it was just a more genteel version of the same resolution, where a wealthy gentleman with an income above £10,000 a year could purchase a young lady of good breeding to be his kept spouse, once again reducing everything to a simple quantifiable transaction, where the women are kept in line with an absence of capital.

Do I even need to touch that Catholic nonsense of special respect owed to the celibate? Why? What does celibacy add to the virtue of a person...especially when so often it was only the appearance of abstinence?

Ross Douthat's redistribution of sex piece in the NYT is a piece of work; here's a taste:

I expect the logic of commerce and technology will be consciously harnessed, as already in pornography, to address the unhappiness of incels, be they angry and dangerous or simply depressed and despairing. The left's increasing zeal to transform prostitution into legalized and regulated "sex work" will have this end implicitly in mind, the libertarian (and general male) fascination with virtual-reality porn and sex robots will increase as those technologies improve -- and at a certain point, without anyone formally debating the idea of a right to sex, right-thinking people will simply come to agree that some such right exists, and that it makes sense to look to some combination of changed laws, new technologies and evolved mores to fulfill it.

Whether sex workers and sex robots can actually deliver real fulfillment is another matter. But that they will eventually be asked to do it, in service to a redistributive goal that for now still seems creepy or misogynist or radical, feels pretty much inevitable.

Rude Pundit takes Douthat to task, particularly for how "he blames the sexual revolution for some people not getting more ass." Douthat lamented that "the sexual revolution created new winners and losers, new hierarchies to replace the old ones, privileging the beautiful and rich and socially adept in new ways and relegating others to new forms of loneliness and frustration," to which Rude Pundit replies:

No, motherfucker, the sexual revolution allowed women to have agency over their bodies. It meant that date rape wasn't just something that happened to bad girls. It meant that women could choose their partners more freely the same way that men chose theirs. The new "winners" were an entire sex. And if they liked hunky guys, well, that's evolution, man, like it or not.

He concludes by observing that "there are a fuckload of men who simply refuse to accept that they are not only losing power to non-whites. They're losing it to women. Fuckin' deal with that shit."

"Oh, and if the incel movement was legit, he adds, you'd have a whole lot of women involved. Funny how that works." Speaking of funny--in a different vein--McSweeney's Rebecca Saltzman writes that it's Lysistrata time, bitches!

Even the men we thought were allies in this war have groped the bosoms of sleeping women and said it was a comedy.

Their chorus sings, "Not all men." But our women's chorus answers back, "Yes all men, you smegma-brained douchenozzles."

By the goddess, Beyoncé, we must not let this war drag on. There is but one solution: Sisters, we must give up the D.

No dick shall be licked in any city-state. Not in Athens nor Troy, Ithaca nor Schenectady.

We will not allow their throbbing pilgrims in our Parthenon, nor mount their mighty Olympus, nor measure the circumference of their veiny Archimedes.

When they see us with all of our makeup and our sexes shaved and our gowns of Amargos silk with cutout shoulders, they will want to bone. But we must close our legs and demand our Equal Rights Amendment, for horny men are dumb fucks who will give up anything for pussy.

Anything but misogyny, apparently.

Yesterday's revelation that Trump dictated his own (obviously bogus) medical evaluation is nonetheless called a brazen effective lie by The Atlantic, which notes the confession of Harold Bornstein, Trump's gastroenterologist:

"He dictated that whole letter ... and I would tell him what he couldn't put in there. I didn't write that letter," he told CNN. "I just made it up as I went along." That account makes Bornstein a particularly odious kind of liar: the kind whose mendacity undermined democracy by flagrantly misleading the electorate.

"That his lie is now exposed, like so many before it," the piece continues, "is the latest opportunity for Republican elites to level with their base:"

The president and many of his allies are liars--and while they are hardly the first political elites to ever tell lies in national politics, it is partly their unusually flagrant and shameless mendacity that cause the press to treat them with more skepticism and hostility than bygone GOP presidents.

"The fallibility of all humans, including journalists, is as extant now as ever," but the proper context is a broad one:

But Trump also lies frequently in ways that will cause the public to be misinformed if the press covers him with anything less than open skepticism, even as he turns the public against the press to get away with lies in the face of pushback.

Trump is the root of the problem. And his minor enablers, like Bornstein, and his major enablers, like Vice President Mike Pence, harm America with their complicity in the lies that the president tells the citizens he is meant to serve.


Adam Lee looks into the threat of incel terrorism and remarks, "I noticed a comment from a few weeks ago on my Lawrence Krauss post that got trapped in the spam filter." The commenter had opined that "Krauss is the victim here of a toxic femininity that cannot for one second countenance a non-chad in the sexual marketplace," to which Lee replied:

The author's terminology marks him as a member of the "incel" community. Short for "involuntarily celibate", these are lonely, sexually frustrated men who gather online to commiserate over their inability to find women willing to have sex with them. Supposedly, this is because attractive women ("Stacys") are shallow and vain and only want to date similarly attractive and shallow men ("Chads"). Incels believe they're the losers in the genetic lottery, forever shut out from female companionship because they're ugly or scrawny, short or fat, or whatever the flaw of the day is.

"As you'd expect," he continues, "incel communities are a toxic smog of misogyny. They spend their days marinating in self-pity and resentment, lusting after women while also raging at them:"

Needless to say, self-improvement isn't a goal among incels. They view love and sex as something they're owed, period, regardless of what they bring to the table. The idea that their own obnoxious, hateful behavior is the problem, and that they'd have a chance of finding companionship if they learned how to treat women with respect, is something they never consider.

But in the most radical corners of incel communities, their ideology sinks to darker extremes. Some of them take to penning lurid, violent fantasies of exacting revenge against a world that hasn't treated them as they feel they deserve. When that sense of frustrated entitlement boils over, the result is terrorism and mass murder.

Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in California in 2014, was the first incel terrorist of the modern era. Last week in Toronto, another one followed in his footsteps:

Alek Minassian, the man who killed 10 people by driving a van down a busy street in Toronto on Monday, is a terrorist.

We know this because he told us so. On Tuesday afternoon, Facebook confirmed the authenticity of a post in his name, in which he pledged allegiance to something called the "Incel Rebellion."

Lee notes, sadly, that "it's likely that he won't be the last, considering the way incel communities idolize killers:"

They've adopted the habit of literally calling Elliot Rodger a saint, and they're already doing the same with Minassian (although the fact that he was taken alive is likely to dim his luster).

"The mindset of toxic entitlement," he concludes, "can't be appeased:"

In some cases, men can be talked out of it, but I don't think that's a viable strategy at scale. What will help is treating it as the malignancy it is, focusing police attention in the right places. It can also only help to support #MeToo and other movements that amplify the social and cultural power of women. The more people are used to women exercising power on an equal basis with men, the more we'll perceive ideologies like this as an aberrant attitude rather than the norm, allowing society to catch more lone wolves before it's too late to stop them.

Does everyone remember the medical evaluation that we suspected Trump dictated to his doctor [see here]? Addicting Info notes that Dr Bornstein has fessed up: "He dictated that whole letter. I didn't write that letter."

As it turns out, the good doctor had his office raided, and his medical files stolen by some denizens of the Trump swamp:

In February 2017, a top White House aide who was Trump's longtime personal bodyguard, along with the top lawyer at the Trump Organization and a third man, showed up at the office of Trump's New York doctor without notice and took all the president's medical records.

The incident, which Dr. Harold Bornstein described as a "raid," took place two days after Bornstein told a newspaper that he had prescribed a hair growth medicine for the president for years.

Bornstein was told to take a photo of himself and Trump off the wall, and the rest of the encounter also seems rather...peculiar:

Bornstein said he was not given a form authorizing the release of the records and signed by the president --known as a HIPAA release -- which is a violation of patient privacy law. [...] Bornstein said the original and only copy of Trump's charts, including lab reports under Trump's name as well as under the pseudonyms his office used for Trump, were taken.

For his part, Bornstein describes the past year as "torture," and told NBC that he felt "raped, frightened and sad" at his treatment by Trump's henchmen.

So do we, Dr Bornstein...so do we.

Flight records show that, as mentioned a few days ago, Trump lied about not staying overnight on his Russia trip:

President Trump spent the night in Moscow the night before the Miss Universe contest in November 2013, contradicting what he told former FBI Director James Comey.

Flight records of Trump's trip to Russia obtained by Bloomberg confirm Trump's overnight stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow. [...]

According to the flight records, a private jet owned by Trump's business partner flew to Moscow Thursday night, arriving in Moscow early in the morning on Friday, Nov. 8. and left the city early Sunday morning. The flight records do not say who was onboard the flight.

The NYT's piece on Scott Pruitt's EPA sets the scene this way:

Early in Scott Pruitt's political career, as a state senator from Tulsa, he attended a gathering at the Oklahoma City home of an influential telecommunications lobbyist who was nearing retirement and about to move away.

Pruitt "wanted to buy her showplace home as a second residence for when he was in the state capital:"

Soon Mr. Pruitt was staying there, and so was at least one other lawmaker, according to interviews. Mr. Pruitt even bought Ms. Lindsey's dining room set, art and antique rugs, she said.

A review of real estate and other public records shows that Mr. Pruitt was not the sole owner: The property was held by a shell company registered to a business partner and law school friend, Kenneth Wagner. Mr. Wagner now holds a top political job at the Environmental Protection Agency, where Mr. Pruitt, 49, is the administrator.

The mortgage on the Oklahoma City home, the records show, was issued by a local bank that was led by another business associate of Mr. Pruitt's, Albert Kelly. Recently barred from working in the finance industry because of a banking violation, Mr. Kelly is now one of Mr. Pruitt's top aides at the E.P.A. and runs the agency's Superfund program.

But the home purchase was above-board, right? Not quite:

According to real estate records, the 2003 purchase of the house for $375,000 came at a steep discount of about $100,000 from what Ms. Lindsey had paid a year earlier -- a shortfall picked up by her employer, the telecom giant SBC Oklahoma.

SBC, previously known as Southwestern Bell and later as AT&T, had been lobbying lawmakers in the early 2000s on a range of matters, including a deregulation bill that would allow it to raise rates and a separate regulatory effort to reopen a bribery case from a decade earlier. Mr. Pruitt sided with the company on both matters, state records show.

In 2005, the shell company -- Capitol House L.L.C. -- sold the property for $95,000 more than it had paid. While shell companies are legal, they often obscure the people who have an interest in them, and none of Mr. Pruitt's financial disclosure filings in Oklahoma mentioned the company or the proceeds -- a potential violation of the state's ethics rules.

"The Oklahoma City deal, which has not been previously reported," the piece continues, "was one of several instances in which Mr. Pruitt appeared to have benefited from his relationships with Mr. Kelly and Mr. Wagner while in state politics:"

During his eight years as a Republican state senator, Mr. Pruitt also upgraded his family residence in suburban Tulsa from a small ranch-style home to a lakefront property in a gated community. In addition, he bought a sizable stake in a minor league baseball team, and took a second job at Mr. Wagner's corporate law firm. Mr. Kelly's bank, SpiritBank, would be there for much of it -- providing financing for Mr. Pruitt's Tulsa home and his stake in the baseball team, as well as the mortgage for the Oklahoma City house.

Additionally, "he channeled state contracts to Mr. Wagner's law firm, which was already doing business with the state:"

From 2011 to 2017, state records show, the attorney general's office awarded more than $600,000 in contracts to Mr. Wagner's Tulsa-based law firm, Latham, Wagner Steele & Lehman -- greatly increasing work with the firm, which had gotten a total of about $100,000 over the four years before that. These contracts are not competitively bid. The additional expenditures reflected an approach, contentious even among some fellow Republicans, to hire private lawyers for state business, often for cases challenging federal regulations.

Pruitt's sleazy tactics have continued in his present capacity:

Last summer, about six months into his job as E.P.A. administrator, Mr. Pruitt traveled by chartered jet to a Superfund cleanup site in Colorado, where the Gold King Mine had released toxic wastewater.

At the event were two of his most loyal Oklahoma business associates -- Mr. Kelly and Mr. Wagner, newly installed as E.P.A. officials themselves, though neither of them had a background in environmental policy or regulation.

slumlord Sean

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The Guardian broke the story of Sean Hannity's real-estate empire, after reviewing "thousands of pages of public records:"

The records link Hannity to a group of shell companies that spent at least $90m on more than 870 homes in seven states over the past decade. The properties range from luxurious mansions to rentals for low-income families. Hannity is the hidden owner behind some of the shell companies and his attorney did not dispute that he owns all of them.

Dozens of the properties were bought at a discount in 2013, after banks foreclosed on their previous owners for defaulting on mortgages. Before and after then, Hannity sharply criticised Barack Obama for the US foreclosure rate. In January 2016, Hannity said there were "millions more Americans suffering under this president" partly because of foreclosures.

Hannity, 56, also amassed part of his property collection with support from the US Department for Housing and Urban Development (Hud), a fact he did not disclose when praising Ben Carson, the Hud secretary, on his television show last year.

"The shell companies used to buy the properties," the piece continues, "are registered to the offices of Henssler Financial, a wealth management firm outside Atlanta. Bill Lako, a principal at the firm, has appeared on Hannity's radio show as an expert on money issues:"

Paperwork relating to the agreements with Hud, which was filed to county authorities, named Hannity as the principal of the shell companies used to buy the apartment complexes and to borrow the funds. Hannity personally signed several of the documents. A Hud source said Hannity was identified in non-public filings as the 100% owner of the apartment complexes. [...]

Hannity also uses a separate company with a similar name to handle contracts relating to his syndicated radio show, according to records filed in two federal court cases. Georgia records say Hannity was chief executive, chief financial officer and secretary of this company before Lako took over the titles during 2016.

As Liberal America comments, "Oh, Sean....it will be so delicious to watch you go down in flames, you pathetic weaseling piece of human waste."

Trump's fabulism

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TPM's Nicole Lafond reminds us that Trump tried to dupe Forbes about his wealth:

In 1984, when President Donald Trump was a 38-year-old budding real estate mogul, a Trump Organization aide called the reporter who was developing the annual Forbes 400 list to try to convince him that Trump was a billionaire, not a $200 millionaire, as the magazine had suggested the year before

That aide, according to an op-ed from the former Forbes reporter in the Washington Post Friday, was actually Trump himself.

The WaPo piece, by investigative journalist Jonathan Greenberg, even brags that we have the tapes:

In May 1984, an official from the Trump Organization called to tell me how rich Donald J. Trump was. I was reporting for the Forbes 400, the magazine's annual ranking of America's richest people, for the third year. In the previous edition, we'd valued Trump's holdings at $200 million, only one-fifth of what he claimed to own in our interviews. This time, his aide urged me on the phone, I needed to understand just how loaded Trump really was.

The official was John Barron -- a name we now know as an alter ego of Trump himself. When I recently rediscovered and listened, for first time since that year, to the tapes I made of this and other phone calls, I was amazed that I didn't see through the ruse: Although Trump altered some cadences and affected a slightly stronger New York accent, it was clearly him. "Barron" told me that Trump had taken possession of the business he ran with his father, Fred. "Most of the assets have been consolidated to Mr. Trump," he said. "You have down Fred Trump [as half owner] . . . but I think you can really use Donald Trump now." Trump, through this sockpuppet, was telling me he owned "in excess of 90 percent" of his family's business. With all the home runs Trump was hitting in real estate, Barron told me, he should be called a billionaire.

"This was a model Trump would use for the rest of his career," writes Greenberg, "telling a lie so cosmic that people believed that some kernel of it had to be real:"

The tactic landed him a place he hadn't earned on the Forbes list -- and led to future accolades, press coverage and deals. It eventually paved a path toward the presidency. [...]

Although Trump, posing as Barron, asked Forbes to conduct the conversation off the record, I am publishing it here. I believe an intent to deceive -- both with the made-up persona and the content of the call -- released me from my good-faith pledge. In a 1990 court case, Trump testified that he had used false names in phone calls to reporters. In 2016, when The Washington Post published a similar recording, Trump denied it was him.

"It would be decades," Greenberg continues, "before I learned that Forbes had been conned:"

In the early 1980s, Trump had zero equity in his father's company. According to Fred's will (portions of which appeared in a lawsuit), the father retained legal ownership of his residential empire until his death in 1999, at which point he left it to be divided between his four surviving children and some of his grandchildren. That explains why, after Trump went bankrupt in the early 1990s, he borrowed $30 million from his siblings, secured by an estimated $35 million share of his future inheritance, according to three sources in Tim O'Brien's 2005 biography, "TrumpNation." He could have used his own assets as collateral if he'd had any worth that amount, but he didn't.

The most revelatory document describing Trump's true net worth in the early '80s was a 1981 report from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. O'Brien obtained a copy for his book. Trump had applied for an Atlantic City casino license, and regulators were able to review his tax returns and personal and corporate debt, giving them the most accurate picture of his finances. They found that he had an income of about $100,000 a year, while his 1979 tax returns showed a $3.4 million taxable loss. Trump's personal assets consisted of a $1 million trust fund that Fred Trump provided to each of his children and grandchildren, a few checking accounts with about $400,000 in them and a 1977 Mercedes 450SL. Nowhere did the report list an ownership stake in the Trump Organization's residential apartments. Trump also possessed a few parcels of valuable but highly leveraged real estate, financed with $22.5 million in debt, all of it secured by his father's assets. He did not own a safe deposit box or stocks in publicly traded companies. In sum, Trump was worth less than $5 million, not the $100 million that I reported in the first Forbes 400.

"Later attempts by Trump to paint himself as fantastically wealthy were also duplicitous," Greenberg writes, "according to the New Jersey Casino Commission, which issued another report in 1991:"

His net worth, the commission estimated, was $205 million -- less than 6 percent of what he'd told Forbes. In 1990, the magazine dropped Trump from the list and kept him off it for five years.

To summarize, "Trump's fabrications provided the basis for a vastly inflated wealth assessment for the Forbes 400 that would give him cachet for decades as a triumphant businessman:"

In his book, O'Brien criticized Forbes for rewarding Trump's fabrications, citing interviews with "three people with direct knowledge of Donald's finances" who estimated his true net worth after debts to be "somewhere between $150 million and $250 million." Trump, who had told O'Brien he was worth $6 billion, sued for libel -- and lost. When he lost his appeal in 2011, a New Jersey appellate judge wrote, "The largest portion of Mr. Trump's fortune, according to three people who had had direct knowledge of his holdings, apparently comes from his lucrative inheritance. These people estimated that Mr. Trump's wealth, presuming that it is not encumbered by heavy debt, may amount to about $200 million to $300 million. That is an enviably large sum of money by most people's standards but far short of the billionaires club."

The opacity persists. In 2016, Trump's presidential campaign put out a statement saying the candidate had a net worth "in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS." But he has never released his tax returns, and he has said that the core Trump Organization asset is the ownership of his brand -- an ineffable marketing claim that is impossible to substantiate or refute.

If Trump hadn't been able to dupe Forbes so easily, we might have been spared the sad spectacle of him conning a substantial minority of the electorate.

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