Quinn Norton and the New York Times’ short-lived courage

How fascism is coming to America: It’s happening when people decide the ideal society is one where everyone thinks the same way. And it’s happening when people who know better, kowtow to the dictates of social media instead of doing the right thing.

I didn’t know the New York Times hired Quinn Norton until I saw news they’d parted ways. Without question, this is a greater loss to the Times and its readers, than it is to Norton — although there’s no doubt it must be a major disruption to her life and that of her family.

The irony of the situation, representative of this perverse cultural moment, is that the people most likely to take satisfaction in this turn of events probably neither read the Times nor previously had heard of Norton.

These would be the folks who take pride in their own ideological purity while failing to see that ideological purity — whatever the ideology — is a really form of fascism.

Anyone who in thought and action marches in lockstep with others and who attaches supreme value to their allegiance to a cause (however noble that cause might appear), has crossed a threshold qualitatively no different from that crossed by every German who once declared: Heil Hilter!

It doesn’t matter what the cause is. The choice of surrendering to some kind of external ideological authority has the same effect irrespective of the ideology: it makes the individual’s conscience and capacity to make independent judgments subordinate to what that individual has designated as a higher authority. It is a form of subservience that corrodes the foundations of an open society. [Continue reading at my new site: Attention to the Unseen]

Facebooktwittermail

Paleolithic parenting and animated GIFs

The creation of the moving image represents a technical advance in the arts comparable with the invention of the steam engine during the industrial revolution.

The transition from static to moving imagery was a watershed event in human history, through which people discovered a new way of capturing the visible world — or so it seemed.

It turns out, however, that long before the advent of civilization, our Paleolithic forebears figured out that movement seen in living creatures around them could, by cunning means, be captured in crafted illusions of movement.


Let’s run with the hypothesis that this 14,000 year old artifact is indeed a toy. What does this tell us about its creator and the children for whom it was made? [Continue reading at my new site: Attention to the Unseen]

Facebooktwittermail

With the very best technology, humanity is digging its own grave

Technology is generally thought of as extending human capabilities by facilitating everyday actions more easily or allowing us to do things that would otherwise be impossible.

From this expansive perspective, technological advance has become synonymous with human progress. Conversely, the less technology populations possess, the more they are viewed as developing or even less evolved.

What these views mask are the multiplicity of ways in which technology feeds human regression.

The regressive mechanism built into technology in most of its manifestations is its propensity to externalize human skills.

If there’s something a person can do but a machine can do with greater economy, then the human skill soon becomes redundant. Having become redundant, it falls into disuse and soon atrophies.

This is not a small problem. It’s the reason that humanity is rapidly filling its ranks with a mass of diseased and disfigured bodies. [Continue reading at my new site: Attention to the Unseen]

Facebooktwittermail

Britain First and the first Britons

The white supremacists who chant “blood and soil” (borrowing this phrase from the Nazis’ Blut und Boden) think white-skinned people have a special claim to the lands of Europe and North America.

This is an arrogant and ignorant belief to hold on this side of the Atlantic where every white person has immigrant ancestry originating from Europe, but European whiteness in terms of origin (not superiority) is a less controversial notion. That is to say, even among those of us who support the development and protection of inclusive, racially diverse societies, it’s generally believed that prior the modern era of mass migration, European societies were overwhelmingly white because, to put it crudely, Europe is where white people come from.

It turns out that European whiteness has surprisingly shallow roots, as new research findings based on a DNA analysis of “Cheddar Man” indicate. [Continue reading at my new site: Attention to the Unseen]

Facebooktwittermail

Donald Trump is still pretending to be a person that he’s not

Following the release of the infamous Access Hollywood video tape in which he bragged, “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women] — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything,” Donald Trump issued a statement in which he said:

I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not. I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more than a decade-old video are one of them. Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong and I apologize.

In the rest of his statement, Trump struck a note of defiance. His apology was really a non-apology in which he might as well have actually said: “Come on guys. What do you want? Do you want me to apologize for being who I am?” In other words, he turned this ostensible act of contrition on its head and came back with his usual counterpunch, signaling to his supporters that they already knew who they were backing and that media attention on the tape was just a distraction.

With some help from James Comey, Trump’s gamble paid off.

That Trump would have chosen to begin his apology by making a claim that was demonstrably false — that he has never pretended to be someone he is not — now looks like a hint that he might also have anticipated that he would later retract his apology and claim his actions had been misrepresented.

The New York Times now reports on Trump’s loyalty to Roy Moore:

[Trump] sees the calls for Mr. Moore to step aside as a version of the response to the now-famous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitalia, and the flood of groping accusations against him that followed soon after. He suggested to a senator earlier this year that it was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently.

It took three journalists to fudge their own reporting with “it was not authentic,” leaving it somewhat unclear what “it” was.

Careful parsing would indicate that “it” refers to “the response” to the tape, not the tape itself — although several reports have jumped to the conclusion that Trump is now questioning the authenticity of the tape.

What Trump has indisputably created is a Laingian knot which goes something like this:

I lied about sexually assaulting women.

My lies were then misrepresented as truths by more than a dozen women who were themselves lying.

The media then failed to expose these lies.

None of this would have happened had the press been honest enough to accurately report on my lying.

And this brings us back to Trump’s claim that he has never pretended to be someone he is not.

He said this immediately prior to claiming that when he was bragging about assaulting women, he was actually pretending to be someone he is not — it was just “locker room talk.”

Now if Trump actually wanted to come clean and clear away the confusion he’s already created, he should probably start out by saying: “You know what, guys? I’m full of shit — but you already knew that.”

But therein lies America’s enduring Trump problem: this is a president who enjoys the support of millions of Americans who don’t care about his lying.

He can lie about lying and then get praised for his honesty. He can make false statement after false statement until no one can keep count — the flow of his deceptions is so unremitting, the more often he lies, the less chance (or so it seems) he will ever be held accountable.

Facebooktwittermail

Terrorism flourishes where totalitarianism prevails


Statement from the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt: …. (Oh, Donald Trump has yet to appoint an ambassador.)

Statement from the White House: The United States condemns in the strongest terms today’s horrific terrorist attack at a mosque in Egypt’s North Sinai province. We offer our condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, and we stand with the people and government of Egypt against terrorism. There can be no tolerance for barbaric groups that claim to act in the name of a faith but attack houses of worship and murder the innocent and defenseless while at prayer. The international community must continue to strengthen its efforts to defeat terrorist groups that threaten the United States and our partners and we must collectively discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence.


The United States can either stand with the victims of global terrorism or it can build a wall and ban ordinary people from visiting the U.S. on the basis of their national origin.

The United States either acknowledges that it belongs to an international community or it shuts itself away from the rest of the world.

As the U.S. approaches the end of a second decade of trying to destroy terrorism by military means and given that ISIS has just lost its territorial grip on Iraq and Syria, Donald Trump (were he not a moron) would recognize that continuing terrorist attacks are not the consequence of an inadequate military response. On the contrary, they demonstrate the fact that terrorism cannot actually be eradicated by military means. Moreover, it has been fueled by the very people who profess their desire to destroy it.

The butcher in Cairo didn’t make Egypt safe, just as the butcher in Damascus didn’t make Syria safe. Likewise, the butcher-friendly buffoon in Washington can’t make America safe.

Strongmen of all stripes exploit violence to justify the violence they use to hold onto power.

Shortly before the latest atrocity, CNBC reported:

Islamic State (ISIS) is looking a shadow of its former self, having lost almost all trace of its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

But experts are predicting that the militant organization will regroup and return should the political and physical reconstruction of those two countries be unsuccessful.

Fearful of a resurgence of ISIS and its aims of setting up a religious state, analysts have warned an “Islamic State 2.0” or “al-Qaeda 3.0” could emerge.

“The Islamic State is almost defeated, but a radical Islamist insurgency will remain in both Iraq and Syria as the fighters turn to traditional terrorism,” Ayham Kamel, practice head of Middle East and North Africa at Eurasia Group, told CNBC on Thursday.

“However, losing the pillars of its state, ISIS no longer represents a strategic threat to the integrity of either Iraq or Syria. There’s even a possibility of alliances with al-Qaeda in Syria (the Nusra Front) as these configurations are usually fluid,” he said.

“The danger here is that (with) absent reconstruction aid, terrorism will remain a key challenge. The core challenge is that the world continues to focus on military tools to defeat a problem that transcends an armed challenge.”

On Thursday, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, speaking at the Westminster Counterterrorism Conference, organized by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), made the following observations:

“Although the Middle East was once a region of peace and coexistence, it has unfortunately been transformed into a region of turbulence and totalitarianism where extremism flourishes.

“We need to learn from history and build on perspective and experience to discover how to end the spread of extremism. So, who is the enemy and what is the root cause of terrorism? Tyranny, totalitarianism, aggression and the absence of justice. [My emphasis.]

“Regional conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa are threatening the lives of 24 million children, most of whom live in Yemen, Iraq and Syria. Recent examples of the catastrophes created by evil ideologies can be found across my region. Children who have lived through the mass atrocities of the Syrian regime, ISIS in Iraq and Syria or the war in Yemen are now young adults with little hope for better future.

“It is time for the international community to say enough is enough. We have to work together to end the discourse and begin rehabilitating these children. If we don’t act quickly, those desperate children will fall prey to the distorted ideologies of extremism.”

Terrorism has never been more prevalent than during the era in which presidents, governments, and military leaders across the world have so volubly expressed their commitment to ending terrorism.

As a president who has never met an authoritarian ruler he didn’t like (I guess it’s the camaraderie of bullies), Trump is incapable of digesting this fundamental truth: violence cannot be destroyed through the systematic use of violence.

Facebooktwittermail

Inspired by ISIS: Trump administration will reward hunters who collect severed heads as ‘trophies’

If there’s any remaining doubt that the U.S. government is now led by a cabal of twisted misfits, read this:

Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, writes: With barely contained enthusiasm, Safari Club International (SCI) announced on its own initiative today that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has reversed critical elephant protections established during the Obama administration, allowing imports of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. For decades, Zimbabwe has been run by a dictator who has targeted and killed his political opponents, and operated the country’s wildlife management program as something of a live auction. Remember, it was Zimbabwe where Walter Palmer shot Cecil, one of the most beloved and well-studied African lions, who was lured out of a national park for the killing. Palmer paid a big fee even though it did irreparable damage to the nation’s reputation.

The United States has listed African elephants under the federal Endangered Species Act, and hunting trophies can only be imported if the federal government finds that killing them positively enhances the survival of the species. Under the prior administration, FWS made the eminently reasonable decision that Zimbabwe – one of the most corrupt countries on earth – was not managing its elephant population in a sustainable manner. Government officials allegedly have been involved in both poaching of elephants and illegal export of ivory tusks. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe even celebrated his birthday last year by feasting on an elephant.

Zimbabwe’s elephant population has declined six percent since 2001 and evidence shows that poaching has increased in areas where trophy hunting is permitted (such as in the Chirisa and Chete safari areas). A number of problems with Zimbabwe’s elephant management remain unresolved to date: the lack of an elephant management plan; lack of sufficient data on population numbers and trends; anemic enforcement of wildlife laws; lack of information about how money derived from trophy hunting by U.S. hunters is distributed within Zimbabwe; and lack of a national mechanism, such as government support, to sustain elephant conservation efforts in the country.

This jarring announcement comes on the same day that global news sources report that Mr. Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s aging dictator, is under house arrest following a military coup. This fact in and of itself highlights the absurdity and illegal nature of the FWS decision to find that Zimbabwe is capable of ensuring that elephant conservation and trophy hunting are properly managed. [Continue reading…]

Given its passion for violence and destruction, ISIS has often been described as a nihilistic movement. Likewise, men who confuse the destructive power of weapons with a measure of their own strength are also unleashing a life-denying nihilistic force. This might get cloaked in some childish mythology about the return to a natural state in which man fights for his own survival, but if any hunter truly wanted to understand what that might actually mean, they should find out what it’s like to live for a while among one of the few remaining tribes of hunter-gatherers. Most likely, the big game hunters who want to proudly display an elephant or lion’s head above their mantelpiece, wouldn’t have enough stamina to trek for hours on end through savannah or jungle, let alone have the skill to participate in a kill.

Walter Palmer later said: “If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study, obviously I wouldn’t have taken it. Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion.”

Presumably, in his way of thinking, the creatures of particular value get names while the rest are expendable — a perspective that no doubt applies not just among hunters but among employers and across many sectors of human society.

If the protection of endangered species requires that surviving individuals all get named, we will soon end up in a situation where these animals can only be found in zoos and viable gene pools will have been decimated along with the habitats that sustain species diversity.

Those who believe they can pick and choose between lives, designating a few as precious and many others as worthless, really need to ask themselves whether they value life at all.

At the root of this assumption of a god-like power over life, there is an expression of alienation from life itself.

Those who destroy or neglect the lives of others, far from ensuring their own survival, have on the contrary lost touch with the vibrant experience of what it means to be alive. Life is not something we can possess but something by which we are possessed.

Facebooktwittermail

After terrorist attack on church in Texas, will Trump press for extreme vetting of U.S. military recruits?

Needless to say, that’s a rhetorical question.

The Pentagon (and Trump) will no doubt be satisfied that a malcontent like Devin Patrick Kelley was kicked out of the Air Force, rather than questioning how he joined.

Trump has already indicated that he views the Texas shooting as not even related to guns — let alone terrorism:

Donald Trump has blamed Sunday’s deadly mass shooting at a Baptist church in Texas on the mental health of the perpetrator and claimed that gun ownership was not a factor.

Asked during a press conference in Tokyo what policies he would support to tackle mass shootings in the US, the president said: “I think that mental health is a problem here. Based on preliminary reports, this was a very deranged individual with a lot of problems over a very long period of time.

“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries, but this isn’t a guns situation … we could go into it but it’s a little bit soon to go into it. Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it wouldn’t have been as bad as it was, it would have been much worse.

“This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very sad event … these are great people at a very, very sad event, but that’s the way I view it.”

Is it a mental health problem, a gun problem, or a terrorism problem?

Unlike many observers, I hesitate to slap the label “terrorism” on every mass shooting in America. Why? Because terrorism, for as long as it remains a meaningful term (and that itself is a debatable issue), needs an ideological component. For the perpetrator to appropriately be called a terrorist, he (and it’s invariably he, rather than she) must be driven by some kind of belief system.

Since Devin Patrick Kelley is already dead, we may never be certain of his motives for murdering 26 churchgoers, but the testimony of former classmates strongly suggests he was a militant atheist and thus his hostility to religion may have been the determining factor in how he selected his target. So, at face value this shooting has a more obvious ideological component than does, for instance, the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas.

A terrorism problem? Yes.

A gun issue? “Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it wouldn’t have been as bad as it was, it would have been much worse.”

Indeed. Likewise, if no one had a gun — if Kelley and all the churchgoers had been armed with knives — there would have been no shooting, and probably no deaths.

The argument in favor of self-defense cannot be separated from the issue of the availability of deadly weapons.

So let’s get real: of course this is a gun issue.

A mental health problem?

Nowadays a lot of people balk at this explanation because it seems like a double standard is at play when Muslims get collectively blamed for terrorism carried out in the name of Islam, and yet the violence of white men is invariably viewed as something that has no connection with any wider trends in a white-dominated society.

Social trends, however, can hardly be discounted as irrelevant. While gun violence is a major problem in black America, the perpetrators of mass shootings are rarely black. The typical shooter is usually a white guy whose misanthropic rage swelled in isolation.

The obvious is worth stating: however Kelley might have described his own motives, we can be certain he was unhappy.

Unhappiness can metastasize and in the extreme turn into murderous violence and yet we vastly underestimate the problem of unhappiness itself if we reduce our concerns about mental health to the problem of mass shootings.

The sorry state of America’s collective mental health, is not just implicated in an epidemic of mass shootings; it has also resulted in the choice of a president who so often seethes with rage and foments hostility at home and abroad.

Trump’s anger is his own mental health problem, but given his unique position he has an unparalleled capacity to foster a contagion of discontent across this nation, manifesting in meanness, bigotry, xenophobia, racism, and potentially acts of mass violence.

While Trump should not be viewed as the root of all America’s problems, the harm he has already done, renders him incapable of healing national divisions he so persistently strives to widen.

Fear can bring people together, but this isn’t the foundation of real unity. What unifies us is the recognition that our common interests matter more than the things that make us stand apart.

Predictably, Trump is using the Texas tragedy to rally American national pride, yet what America dearly needs has far less to do with its national virtues than with a basic sense of humanity.

Love and kindness are resources on which every society depends, while fear and hatred shatter our human bonds.

Facebooktwittermail

As Republicans consider banning ‘bump stocks’ used in massacre, sales of the devices boom

The New York Times reports: Top congressional Republicans, who have for decades resisted any legislative limits on guns, signaled on Wednesday that they would be open to banning the firearm accessory that the Las Vegas gunman used to transform his rifles to mimic automatic weapon fire.

For a generation, Republicans in Congress — often joined by conservative Democrats — have bottled up gun legislation, even as the carnage of mass shootings grew ever more gruesome and the weaponry ever more deadly. A decade ago, they blocked efforts to limit the size of magazines after the massacre at Virginia Tech. Five years later, Republican leaders thwarted bipartisan legislation to expand background checks of gun purchasers after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Last year, in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre, they blocked legislation to stop gun sales to buyers on terrorism watch lists.

But in this week’s massacre in Las Vegas, lawmakers in both parties may have found the part of the weapons trade that few could countenance: previously obscure gun conversion kits, called “bump stocks,” that turn semiautomatic weapons into weapons capable of firing in long, deadly bursts. [Continue reading…]

The Trace reports: Bump-fire stocks remain legal, but it is getting increasingly harder to find one to buy. Scores of online retailers have sold out of the devices, which enable a semiautomatic weapon to mimic the functionality of a machine gun.

Police found at least a dozen rifles equipped with bump-fire stocks in the hotel room from which a gunman killed 59 people in Las Vegas on Sunday night. In the wake of the shooting, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California introduced a bill that would ban the devices.

Bump-fire stocks are typically widely available for purchase on the Internet. WalMart and Cabela’s, two of the nation’s largest gun sellers, appear to have halted online sales of the devices early Wednesday. For retailers that have continued to sell them, business is booming. The webpages of several online retailers state that the devices are sold out.

“Due to extreme high demands, we are currently out of stock. Please check back with us shortly,” reads a notice on the website of Slide Fire Solutions, the manufacturer of a popular bump-fire device. [Continue reading…]

If it doesn’t exist already on the Dark Web, “Buy it before it gets banned,” would be a lucrative business geared towards the large market of buyers in America whose drive to acquire products seems driven by a fear of lost opportunities.

What exactly is running through the mind of the typical bump-stock buyer right now? Securing the opportunity for carrying out mass murder might not be on their agenda, but perhaps it’s a question of “just in case…”

Just in case what?

Since, as far as I’m aware, bump stocks have not been used in any of the recent mass shootings prior to Las Vegas, for Congress to now ban them would certainly be a purely symbolic form of gun control of no more significance than their obligatory rituals of solemn silence that signify nothing.

As much as the following proposition will cut against the American libertarian grain, there is another way of addressing gun violence that would involve banning nothing and yet impose massive and useful regulation.

If the ability to legally drive a car requires that I have a driver licence, insurance, and the car has registration and receives annual inspection, why shouldn’t the same level of regulation apply to gun ownership?

And if that was the case, why couldn’t the accumulation of stockpiles of weaponry and ammunition automatically trigger legal scrutiny?

Cars aren’t designed for killing people but their use poses risks to life and property such that the state recognizes the freedom to drive needs to be constrained by enforced forms of personal responsibility.

Guns are designed for killing people and that’s probably why the phrase “well regulated” was included in the Second Amendment.

The fact that a minority of people break the rules by being unlicensed, uninsured, or driving stolen vehicles, doesn’t make the regulatory system collapse. It merely requires that there is also a system of law enforcement.

Overall, yet imperfectly, the system works.

From what is already known about Stephen Paddock, he appears to have been law-abiding — until just recently.

Perhaps his response to being the son of a bank robber was to be better than his father in this respect: that instead of finding a dumb and illegal way to take other people’s money he would refine his skill in legally accumulating money that other people were dumb enough to throw away.

Had Paddock not been provided with the means to legally stockpile weapons and ammunition, there’s no reason to assume that he would have sought an illegal pathway to the same end.

He would have remained a miserable gambler who never made news.

Facebooktwittermail

How Trump turned the Las Vegas massacre into an America First moment — updated

Even though Stephen Miller looks like a ventriloquist’s dummy, it’s often clear that it’s Trump who is the dummy whose lips are getting animated by Miller — no more so than when the president robotically read from his script in an unlikely performance yesterday as America’s impromptu prayer leader:

In times such as these, I know we are searching for some kind of meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness. The answers do not come easy. But we can take solace knowing that even the darkest space can be brightened by a single light, and even the most terrible despair can be illuminated by a single ray of hope.

Melania and I are praying for every American who has been hurt, wounded or lost the ones they love so dearly in this terrible, terrible attack.

We pray for the entire nation to find unity and peace. And we pray for the day when evil is banished, and the innocent are safe from hatred and from fear.

For some cable news anchors this might have sounded “pitch perfect” and yet that perception required overlooking not only the glaringly obvious fact that none of these were Trump’s own words, but most importantly that his speechwriter should choose to single out the American victims of Sunday’s violence.

Even though country music is a quintessentially white American cultural phenomenon, Las Vegas is an international tourist destination and believe it or not there are actually millions of non-American lovers of this musical genre.

It might turn out that every single one among the hundreds of victims and their thousands of relatives and friends are or were indeed all Americans, but that’s actually very unlikely.

So, at a moment that calls out for human sympathy, why declare we are “praying for every American”? The lives of the non-American victims are surely just as precious and just as deserving of prayer.

And yet, at a time when America could engage in some kind of moral reckoning through facing the culpability that extends through gun dealers, gun manufacturers, the NRA, the GOP, Congress, the president, and all those who value the Second Amendment more than the lives of those around them, what better way of ducking the issue than turning this into a nationalistic America First moment.

Update — CBC News reports: Four Canadians are among the 59 dead in Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.

On Tuesday it was confirmed that Calla Medig and Tara Roe Smith, 34, both from Alberta, died in the attack.

Medig, who was in her 20s, was from Jasper, Alta. Roe, 34, was from Okotoks, just south of Calgary. She had been reported missing since Sunday.

Jordan McIldoon, 23, of Maple Ridge, B.C., and Jessica Klymchuk, 34, of Valleyview, Alta., were also killed when a gunman opened fire on a large crowd near the end of the outdoor festival on the Vegas Strip. Their deaths were confirmed by their families on Monday. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The irredeemable Sean Spicer?

Commenting on Sean Spicer’s cameo appearance at the Emmy’s on Sunday night at Stephen Colbert’s invitation, Brian Stelter writes: Journalists, activists and celebrities said they didn’t think it was funny to treat Spicer’s mendacious behavior like a throwaway laugh line.

The actor Zach Braff tweeted: “I’m not ready to laugh ‘with’ Sean Spicer. I think he is an evil, opportunistic liar that hurt our country.”

The MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell commented that the Emmys “helped Spicer pump up his ‘lecture’ fees, which is all that matters to him now.”

While many of the objections came from liberals, some conservatives also made arguments against the skit.

“I know people who were offered opportunities to lie for Donald Trump and quietly declined. Harvard & The Emmys calling the wrong folks,” former Jeb Bush spokesman Tim Miller tweeted.

Among the counter-arguments: It was just a joke. And besides, wasn’t Spicer actually admitting to his and Trump’s dishonesty through comedy?

Colbert is an outspoken opponent of President Trump, and he doesn’t fret about the perception that he’s “normalizing” Spicer. “Donald Trump normalized Spicer,” a source involved in the production said. [Continue reading…]

Some will argue that anyone who has been a committed and vocal member of Team Trump must first humbly atone for their sins before they can hope for redemption, but frankly it would be hard to believe anyone who claimed they didn’t fully grasp the nature of the enterprise in which they had freely participated.

For that reason, I don’t think there should be any kind of litmus test to determine whether such individuals show signs of a newly awakened conscience. What is more important is that a signal be sent to those who remain in Trump’s grasp that there is the possibility of life after Trump.

The alternative — one that Trump himself would dearly like those around him to believe — is that if/when he goes down, they will all inevitably go down with him.

The message Sean Spicer is sending, either by his intention or that of those who are now “normalizing” him, is that association with Donald Trump does not have to result in eternal damnation.

As for anyone in the mainstream media who wants to get sanctimonious about Spicer cashing in on his White House tenure, let’s not forget that a ratings-driven media loves Trump just as much as it professes to hate him.

Facebooktwittermail

Are conservatives more worried about the streetlights going out in Peoria than the destruction of Los Angeles?

Following the latest threats from Pyongyang, Jeffrey Lewis wrote:

The North Koreans also went out of their way to taunt us about electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects, I suppose because they think we’re worried about them. I think its laughable to imagine that North Korea would waste a nuclear weapon hoping to knock down parts of the power grid. For my part, I would much prefer the North Koreans waste nuclear weapons trying to achieve an uncertain EMP effect than incinerating cities with real people pushing strollers with real babies. KCNA is really stepping up its trolling game.

This trolling game is, however, clearly working: “Millions of American lives could be at stake as North Korea threatens to attack power grid,” warns Fox News.

The Sun reports: “Homeleand security expert Peter Pry has warned Pyongyang could put a nuclear weapon on a satellite that could be detonated on command over the States.”

What’s strange about these warnings about the dangers of an EMP attack is that they are coming just as North Korea has tested a weapon almost ten times as powerful as the atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima — in other words, a weapon whose devastating effects should hardly be a matter of conjecture.

Frank Gafney may provide the answer as to why the EMP fears are getting amplified to such a degree:

The imperative of protecting the nation’s bulk-power distribution system, better known as “the grid,” must now take precedence over other improvements. The U.S. military has known for decades how to “harden” electrical and electronic gear from EMP. These techniques must now be applied on an emergency basis to ensure that the civilian grid – upon which both our armed forces and our population and economy critically depend – is made as invulnerable as possible to enemy action.

Translation for Trumpsters: Not only do we need a border wall; we now also need a space wall — and thus a massive increase in defense spending.

All warnings about EMP refer back to a 1962 nuclear test that involved a bomb ten times as powerful as the one just tested:

When the U.S. tested a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific in 1962, it resulted in lights burning out in Honolulu, nearly 1,000 miles from the test site. Naturally occurring electromagnetic events on the sun can also disrupt power systems. A 1989 blackout in Quebec came days after powerful explosions on the sun expelled a cloud of charged particles that struck earth’s magnetic field.

Skeptics generally acknowledge that an EMP attack would be possible in theory, but they say the danger is exaggerated because it would be difficult for an enemy such as North Korea to calibrate the attack to deliver maximum damage to the U.S. electrical grid. If a North Korean bomb exploded away from its target location, it might knock out only a few devices or parts of the grid.

The 1962 U.S. nuclear test, which involved a bomb with a force of 1.4 megatons, didn’t disrupt telephone or radio service in Hawaii, although those who stress the threat say today’s electronic devices are much more vulnerable. North Korea said its hydrogen bomb had explosive power of tens of kilotons to hundreds of kilotons.

Others say that even if North Korea had the technical capability to deliver a damaging electromagnetic pulse, it wouldn’t make strategic sense to use it because Pyongyang could wreak more destruction with a traditional nuclear attack directed at a large city.

A rogue state would prefer a “spectacular and direct ground burst in preference to a unreliable and uncertain EMP strike. A weapon of mass destruction is preferable to a weapon of mass disruption,” wrote physicist Yousaf M. Butt in a 2010 analysis.

Just to be clear again: those experts who downplay the EMP threat are in no sense understating the nuclear threat.

“It is beyond me why we think an enemy would waste a perfectly good nuclear weapon to experiment with a hypothetical EMP when they could destroy an actual city,” arms control expert Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, told The National Interest.

“EMP is a loony idea. Once an enemy uses a nuclear weapon—for any reason—it crosses the nuclear threshold and invites a nuclear response. U.S. military commanders would not say ‘Well, it was only an airburst. We should just respond in kind.’ They would answer with an overwhelming, devastating nuclear counter attack. And our nuclear weapons and command and control are designed to operate in a nuclear war environment, not just some puny EMP blast.”

Facebooktwittermail

Donald Trump is a racist — there is no mystery

Yesterday, CNN reported:

A coalition of major civil rights and faith groups on Sunday called on President Donald Trump to “directly disavow the white supremacists” who participated in violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend — a reference to Trump’s remarks condemning the deadly clashes on Saturday.

“It represents a failure of leadership from the nation’s chief executive,” the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella group, said in a statement. “It is long past time for Trump to personally and unequivocally denounce white supremacy, violent extremism, and hate in all its forms.”

The group also called for the ouster of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka, who have drawn criticism from civil rights organizations for their associations with the alt-right, a hodgepodge of far-right, white nationalist groups that drafted off the President’s 2016 campaign to rise to national prominence.

For Trump to disavow white supremacists — to claim he has no connection with their current rise even while selecting the likes of Bannon, Gorka, and Stephen Miller as close advisers — would be dishonest. For him to denounce them after having persistently courted their support would be disingenuous.

What civil rights leaders are calling on Trump to do is something he cannot with credibility claim: that he is not a racist.

The unpalatable truth is that when Donald Trump was elected president, he won the support of voters who either welcomed his racism or at the very least were willing to turn a blind eye to it.

Just over a year ago, during the presidential campaign when Donald Trump repeatedly attacked Gonzalo Curiel (the Indiana-born judge presiding over a case against Trump University) who Trump believed couldn’t be impartial because of his Mexican ancestry, House Speaker Paul Ryan had no difficulty in describing Trump’s remarks as the “textbook definition” of racism.

Long before then and up to the present day, Trump’s racism has been no harder to detect than the odor of a man with insufferable foul breath.

And yet, in spite of this and in spite of a mountain of evidence that no one can dispute, Trump’s racism is still treated by many politicians, journalists and pundits like one of those ultimately unanswerable questions — like whether a dog has a soul.

This issue is sustained as a question on the basis that we lack enough knowledge about Trump’s interior life, which is to say that in order to know whether he is a racist we would supposedly have to be able to gain insight into what animates his very being. Only God knows whether Trump is a racist, so the implicit argument seems to turn.

This is nonsense.

Why?

To determine whether someone is a racist is a determination, first and foremost, about behavior.

To doubt, for instance, whether the birther campaign that Trump led was anything less in substance, appearance, and intent, than a racist attack on Barack Obama is a form of denialism — a refusal to accept the implications of evidence that very few people ever had any difficulty in interpreting.

Even though racism is defined in terms of beliefs, it is clear that in practice we only attach significance to such beliefs if they result in some kind of tangible expression.

If somewhere there are racists who racism leaves no discernible trace in the world, such a subtle form of racism would hardly be worthy of the name.

Since Trump on countless occasions has acted like a racist, we don’t actually have to know anything about what he thinks in order to say unequivocally that he is indeed a racist.

Under pressure or political guidance, any statements that he might make now to distance himself from the hatred he has with such determination fomented, will be utterly hollow words.

The real question is for the Republican party itself: whether it chooses to remain America’s white party, or whether it’s ready break away from the many currents of bigotry it has harbored for so long.

If it chooses the latter, it’s time for the Republicans to dump Trump.

Facebooktwittermail

Trump thinks Russia’s intelligence capabilities are far superior to those of the U.S.

ThinkProgress reports: Anthony Scaramucci has been on the job for less than 72 hours, and on Sunday he made his first appearance on the news talk shows as White House communications director. It did not go well.

On CNN’s State of the Union, host Jake Tapper pressed Scaramucci about Donald Trump’s continued insistence that the ever-growing Russia scandal was “fake news.” After questioning whether Trump was planning to sign a bipartisan bill imposing fresh sanctions against Russia for meddling in the November presidential election, Scaramucci instead sought to again cast doubt on the legitimacy of the U.S. intelligence community, and initially used an anonymous source to do it.

“There’s a lot of disinformation out there,” said Scaramucci. “Somebody said to me yesterday—I won’t tell you who—that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails, you would have never seen it, you would have never had any evidence of them.”

An incredulous Tapper cut him off, pointing out that this anonymous source was breaking from every single intelligence agency in asserting that Russia’s involvement was in dispute. That’s all it took for Scaramucci to throw his boss under the bus.

“How ‘bout it was the president, Jake,” said Scaramucci of his anonymous source. “I talked to him yesterday, he called me from Air Force One, and he basically said to me ‘hey you know, maybe they did it, maybe they didn’t do it.’” [Continue reading…]

So this is Trump’s reasoning:

The Russians have so much mastery in their intelligence operations that if they hacked the U.S. election, they would have done so without leaving a trace of evidence. It follows, therefore, that whatever evidence the U.S. intelligence community claims it has of Russian interference has either been misinterpreted or is false and is purposefully being used to mislead the American public.

Trump (like many Americans, post-Iraq) apparently has little confidence in U.S. surveillance and analytical capabilities. Russia’s intelligence services are, however (Trump apparently believes) of a caliber that surpasses all others.

And yet, rather than own the logical conclusion of what he is saying (that this president doubts the competence and/or integrity of the intelligence services who report to him), he then backtracks and portrays the issue as an unresolved mystery — a mystery whose actual resolution he has never expressed an interest in seeing.

Of course, even the “maybe they did it, maybe they didn’t do it” narrative isn’t one that Trump pushes with any force. This afternoon it was back to his favorite story as the victim of a witch hunt:


Note the phrase: taking hold.

The charade of phenomenal success is falling away as Trump concedes he’s losing ground.

 

As for whether Trump will sign the new Russian sanctions bill, it depends on who you ask.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says: “The original piece of legislation was poorly written, but we were able to work with the House and Senate, and the administration is happy with the ability to do that and make those changes that were necessary, and we support where the legislation is now.”

In his interview on CNN, Scaramucci said of Trump: “He hasn’t made the decision yet to sign that bill one way or the other.”

The only point of consistency here is that now, as always, the White House is struggling to get its message straight.

Garbage in, garbage out.

Facebooktwittermail

Trump in Paris — biggest celebration ever?

1944 liberation from Nazi occupation saw the biggest celebrations in Paris — prior to Donald Trump’s arrival


On MSNBC this morning, the New York Times’ Michael Schmidt described Trump as often being “hard to follow” during their White House interview on Wednesday.

As a reporter, Schmidt might feel obliged to maintain a facade of neutrality — as though he has no opinion about the state of this president’s mental health.

And yet, an insistent unwillingness to make judgments can mask a fear of making meaningful observations. In everyday life, as we read other people — through their words, demeanor, body language, and other indications — we use our powers of discernment to discriminate between delusion and deception.

A journalist doesn’t have to claim the capacity to read Trump’s mind in order to convey his or her sense of whether Trump actually believes the ridiculous things he so often says.

Trump is hard to follow because he’s hard to swallow.

The occasional probing interjection might provide some clarity during his otherwise meandering stream of consciousness. For instance, pointing out that the history of the Eiffel Tower stretches back to the Nineteenth Century would suggest that it had been the location of bigger celebrations than the one Trump claims he recently witnessed — leaving aside the fact that the throngs in question may have simply been the swell of tourists typically found in central Paris on a midsummer evening.

Does Trump generally assume that any crowd in his vicinity is most likely a crowd of admirers?

TRUMP: We had dinner at the Eiffel Tower, and the bottom of the Eiffel Tower looked like they could have never had a bigger celebration ever in the history of the Eiffel Tower. I mean, there were thousands and thousands of people, ’cause they heard we were having dinner.

[crosstalk/garbled]

HABERMAN: You must have been so tired at, by that point.

TRUMP: Yeah. It was beautiful. We toured the museum, we went to Napoleon’s tomb …

[crosstalk]

TRUMP: Well, Napoleon finished a little bit bad. But I asked that. So I asked the president, so what about Napoleon? He said: “No, no, no. What he did was incredible. He designed Paris.” [garbled] The street grid, the way they work, you know, the spokes. He did so many things even beyond. And his one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather? [garbled]

[crosstalk/unintelligible]

TRUMP: Same thing happened to Hitler. Not for that reason, though. Hitler wanted to consolidate. He was all set to walk in. But he wanted to consolidate, and it went and dropped to 35 degrees below zero, and that was the end of that army.

[crosstalk]

But the Russians have great fighters in the cold. They use the cold to their advantage. I mean, they’ve won five wars where the armies that went against them froze to death. [crosstalk] It’s pretty amazing.

So, we’re having a good time. The economy is doing great.

And this snippet of Wednesday’s interview leads to another question about Trump’s second conversation with Putin at the G-20 — the one that Trump recounted as having amounted to little more than an exchange of pleasantries.

If the New York Times reporters found Trump hard to follow, how clear was he to the Russian president and his translator?

The fact that Trump initiated the contact — evident in hand gestures and a nod that were videoed — appear to show he knew what he wanted to say. An indication, perhaps, that Trump’s appearance of confusion may have less to do with his garbled thinking than with his desire to sow confusion.

Facebooktwittermail

Assad will ‘pay a heavy price’ if he launches another chemical attack, says White House. More ‘after-dinner entertainment’ for Trump’s guests?

The Washington Post reports: The White House issued an ominous warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday night, pledging that his regime would pay a “heavy price” if it carried out another chemical attack this year.

In a statement, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that the United States had detected evidence of preparations for a chemical attack, similar to the preparations that occurred before an attack in April.

“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” Spicer said in the statement. “The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.

“As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” he continued. “If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Several military officials were caught off guard by the statement from President Trump’s press secretary, but it was unclear how closely held the intelligence regarding a potential chemical attack was. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: Several State Department officials typically involved in coordinating such announcements said they were caught completely off guard by the warning, which didn’t appear to have been discussed in advance with other national security agencies. Typically, the State Department, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies would all be consulted before the White House issued a declaration sure to ricochet across foreign capitals.

A non-governmental source with close ties to the White House said the administration had received intelligence that the Syrians were mixing precursor chemicals for a possible sarin gas attack in either the east or south of the country, where government troops and allied forces have faced recent setbacks.

The U.S. attack on a Syrian air base came after years of heated debate and deliberation in Washington over intervention in the bloody civil war. Chemical weapons have killed hundreds of people since the start of the conflict.

The U.S. is providing air support and arms to Kurdish-led Syrian forces who are fighting to drive the Islamic State group from Raqqa, the extremists’ self-styled capital.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that Washington would continue to provide weapons after the Raqqa battle is over. His comments were likely to anger Turkey, which views the Kurdish fighters as an extension of the insurgency raging in its southeast.

On Monday, Trump had dinner with Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials as he hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House. [Continue reading…]

The connection could be simply coincidental, but I find it curious that Trump’s first cruise missile strike on Syria and now this latest threat both occurred while he was acting as dinner host to the leaders of the world’s two largest states, China and India.

After the April attack, Variety reported:

Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference on Monday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recalled the scene at Mar-a-Lago on April 6, when the summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping was interrupted by the strike on Syria.

“Just as dessert was being served, the president explained to Mr. Xi he had something he wanted to tell him, which was the launching of 59 missiles into Syria,” Ross said. “It was in lieu of after-dinner entertainment.”

Whether Trump, yesterday evening, murmured to India’s PM Modi something to the effect that he might soon need to give Assad another lesson on the application of American power, I have no idea.

Even so, when it comes to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, there’s little reason to believe that their impact on innocent children is uppermost among Trump’s concerns.

Back in 2013, Trump insisted that the U.S. had nothing to gain by getting involved in Syria and that Obama shouldn’t launch strikes without Congressional approval. He also tweeted, “I would not go into Syria, but if I did it would be by surprise and not blurted all over the media like fools.”

Nowadays it would seem he’s less concerned about maintaining the element of surprise as the White House blurts out its warning.

Given that Trump’s red lines seem to get daubed in such a haphazard way across Syria, his actions are perhaps better interpreted as serving as a form of self-expression and an instrument through which on a world stage, seated along side world leaders, he gets to assert his position as the alpha male.

Facebooktwittermail

Has Stephen Hawking lost his marbles?

“I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth,” says Stephen Hawking.

Perhaps. It depends on who leaves and where they go — or get sent.

Sending a man to Mars might be a good idea — so long as it’s the right man.

BBC News reports: Prof Stephen Hawking has called for leading nations to send astronauts to the Moon by 2020.

They should also aim to build a lunar base in 30 years’ time and send people to Mars by 2025.

Prof Hawking said that the goal would re-ignite the space programme, forge new alliances and give humanity a sense of purpose. [Continue reading…]

One of the unfortunate effects of fame when attached to those individuals deemed to have the Great Minds of their generation is that whatever they say tends to be taken seriously — as though equal weight should be attached to all their opinions and as though each and every one of their ideas must be laden with merit.

Whatever Stephen Hawking believes, who could have the audacity to question such a luminary?

I think the best way of sidestepping this tendency to be timid about questioning the great ideas from the great minds is simply to ignore the person, engage their ideas, and imagine how much attention they would garner if they came from someone of much less renown.

Let’s set aside the question of whether world leaders or the world’s leading scientists should take it upon themselves to give humanity a sense of purpose and let’s just consider the proposition of colonizing Mars.

And let’s assume that the technical obstacles to inhabiting Mars and transporting people there in large numbers could be surmounted in the next few decades, highly implausible as that notion might seem.

Here’s the core flaw in this proposition: if humans figured out how to live on Mars and during this period of preparing for our exodus either continued causing catastrophic damage to Earth’s biosphere, or found ways to mitigate or reverse the harm we’ve already done here, wouldn’t this planet in either scenario still be a better place to live than anywhere else conceivably within reach?

Simply put, isn’t Earth however badly we damage it always going to be much more hospitable than Mars or the Moon?

Given that likelihood, if we talk about colonizing these alternative worlds, aren’t these “colonies” more likely to be prison camps constructed to house that portion of humanity deemed excess to Earth’s carrying capacity?

More realistically, isn’t learning how to make Mars inhabitable most likely to morph into a blueprint for a dystopian future on Earth — one in which a small segment of the population is provided with secure havens that insulate them from the effects of climate change and environmental destruction?

In other words, won’t a mission to inhabit other worlds almost certainly turn out to be a false promise that does less to give humanity a sense of purpose than it does to promote baseless hope followed by rapid despair?

It’s sad, but perhaps not surprising, that a man who has spent most of his life tied to machines, sees no limits to human inventiveness. Hawking doesn’t seem to recognize that the only real hope for humanity has to be grounded in a deep recognition that human life is inseparable from life on Earth.

Our destructive behavior springs in large part from our multifaceted convictions in immortality — the notion that somehow we might survive even as every other creature expires.

Instead of indulging in science fiction fantasies about colonizing other planets, we need to come to grips with the fragility of life and our own inescapable mortality.

If we ruin our future here, we have no business trying to construct a future anywhere else.

Facebooktwittermail

Trump’s interest in disassociating himself from the Russia story

Philip Bump writes: Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) made a comment during the Senate Intelligence Committee’s questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions that has an obvious exception.

“I don’t think there’s any American,” Risch said, “who would disagree with the fact that we need to drill down to this” — that is, Russian meddling in the 2016 election — “know what happened, get it out in front of the American people and do what we can to stop it again.”

There is one American, at least, who seems generally uninterested in that need: Sessions’s boss, President Trump.

In his testimony, Sessions told Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) that he “did not recall” any meeting during which Trump expressed concern or curiosity about what Russia had been doing during the 2016 election. Sessions also testified that he himself, as the country’s and Trump’s lead law enforcement official, was never briefed on Russian interference. [Continue reading…]

This has become a common narrative — that Trump and those around him lack interest in getting to the bottom of the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election — but even while superficially there might appear to be a lack of interest, there can’t be any doubt that this is a facade designed to conceal terror.

Trump is terrified that as soon as he acknowledges the reality and scope of the Russian influence campaign, he opens Pandora’s box, leading to the inescapable conclusion that his presidency lacks legitimacy. That conclusion will not necessarily hinge on proof of collusion.

But the question of legitimacy runs even deeper.

Trump’s line of attack against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was to claim that each lacked legitimacy and while this might look like conventional smear tactics in dirty politics, in the case of Trump it seems more indicative of his own insatiable craving to be legitimized.

Legitimacy, and more specifically Trump’s own sense that he lacks this, is his core issue. Trump regards legitimacy as a finite resource that he can only claim if he succeeds in stealing it from others. He believes the only way to rise up is by pushing others down.

Trump’s fear of the Russia story is not necessarily an indication of collusion at risk of being exposed. More likely, it is based on the fear that eventually he will be exposed as a political fraud — incapable as he is of recognizing that in the eyes of most of the world, that is already how he is perceived.

Facebooktwittermail