Wednesday Reads: “Multicultural Affinity”

Well, hello…

Anyone know exactly what “multicultural affinity” means?

In advertising terms it is:

used to descibe the quality of people who are interested in and likely to respond well to multicultural content. referring to their affinity to the cultures they are interested in. based on affinity, not ethnicity.

According to my Facebook categories, I have African-American multicultural affinities.

They also say I’m “very liberal” …I wonder what gives them that idea?

The reason I came about this discovery was an article about Facebook ads targeting your political affiliation:

How to Change Facebook Ads Privacy Settings Targeting Your Politics – Thrillist

Unless you’ve managed to avoid your Facebook feed for the last year and half, no doubt you’ve learned a whole lot more about your friends’ and family’s political views than you ever cared to. And even if you’ve personally made a conscious effort to stay neutral or discreet about your leanings in the midst of the madness, the reality is that Facebook has a pretty good idea of your political preferences anyway.

That’s because included amongst the hordes of data Zuckerberg and Co. are constantly collecting about you in order to better serve up ads is an inference about how liberal, moderate, or conservative you might be. Here’s how to find out what you’ve been categorized as, and how to change it.

What I find interesting…is that on that political front, facebook does not have any sample ads for my “very liberal” political leanings:

 

But what is really funny….is that they have samples of ads for my African-American “multicultural affinity”:

 

Hmmmm, credit problems and burner phones? Okay….

But what is interesting is that Facebook has me “categorized” as a US soccer kind of person…not one who has an American Football affinity:

Damn, no sample ads for that either….but keep that tidbit of info handy because we will come back to it shortly.

Why does all this shit matter you may say?

New Facebook Multicultural Affinity Targeting: More Granular Segmenting Options for Brands – PerformicsPerformics

(Date on this link is from 12/2015)

The 2010 U.S. Census reported that Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans make up one-third of the U.S. population, and that number is growing rapidly. Reaching and personalizing to these audiences is an essential part of any brand’s marketing strategy. As such, Facebook recognized a need for more multicultural targeting across Facebook and Instagram.

According to Facebook, Multicultural Affinity is “the quality of people who are interested in and likely to respond well to multicultural content.” This new targeting solution enables advertisers to more effectively reach and engage people of varying traditions, beliefs, aesthetics, languages and musical tastes. The targeting is based on affinity, not ethnicity. Affinity can be described as “a relationship, like a marriage, as a natural liking, and as a similarity of characteristics.” This means that ads can be targeted to people with multicultural interests.

Three audiences have been broken out in Multicultural Affinity: Hispanic, African American and Asian American affinities:

You can go to the link to read about the three audiences, the point to this should be highlighted here, cough…cough:

This targeting is very concentrated and it may not be the best solution for every advertiser or every campaign. To drive the best results, this targeting should only be used with a specific goal to reach a specific audience. Conduct a test to see how Multicultural Affinity targeting performs against existing targeting to determine its effectiveness.

However when you look more into the real reason for the breakdown, you can see what the real target is used for:

Facebook Lets Advertisers Exclude Users by Race — ProPublica

Oh, look at the date on this, Oct. 28th, 2016

Facebook’s system allows advertisers to exclude black, Hispanic, and other “ethnic affinities” from seeing ads.

Imagine if, during the Jim Crow era, a newspaper offered advertisers the option of placing ads only in copies that went to white readers.

That’s basically what Facebook is doing nowadays.

The ubiquitous social network not only allows advertisers to target users by their interests or background, it also gives advertisers the ability to exclude specific groups it calls “Ethnic Affinities.” Ads that exclude people based on race, gender and other sensitive factors are prohibited by federal law in housing and employment.

You can see the actual name of this feature was called “Ethnic Affinity”:

The ad we purchased was targeted to Facebook members who were house hunting and excluded anyone with an “affinity” for African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic people. (Here’s the ad itself.)

When we showed Facebook’s racial exclusion options to a prominent civil rights lawyer John Relman, he gasped and said, “This is horrifying. This is massively illegal. This is about as blatant a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act as one can find.”

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 makes it illegal “to make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” Violators can face tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibits the “printing or publication of notices or advertisements indicating prohibited preference, limitation, specification or discrimination” in employment recruitment.

Facebook’s business model is based on allowing advertisers to target specific groups — or, apparently to exclude specific groups — using huge reams of personal data the company has collected about its users. Facebook’s microtargeting is particularly helpful for advertisers looking to reach niche audiences, such as swing-state voters concerned about climate change. ProPublica recently offered a tool allowing users to see how Facebook is categorizing them. We found nearly 50,000 unique categories in which Facebook places its users.

Oh boy…go and read the whole thing, and then see the follow-up here:

Facebook (Still) Letting Housing Advertisers Exclude… — ProPublica

Yeah, the date here is Nov. 21st, 2017

After ProPublica revealed last year that Facebook advertisers could target housing ads to whites only, the company announced it had built a system to spot and reject discriminatory ads. We retested and found major omissions.

In February, Facebook said it would step up enforcementof its prohibition against discrimination in advertising for housing, employment or credit.

But our tests showed a significant lapse in the company’s monitoring of the rental market.

Last week, ProPublica bought dozens of rental housing ads on Facebook, but asked that they not be shown to certain categories of users, such as African Americansmothers of high school kids,people interested in wheelchair rampsJewsexpats from Argentina and Spanish speakers.

All of these groups are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal to publish any advertisement “with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” Violators can face tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

Every single ad was approved within minutes.

The only ad that took longer than three minutes to be approved by Facebook sought to exclude potential renters “interested in Islam, Sunni Islam and Shia Islam.” It was approved after 22 minutes.

Under its own policies, Facebook should have flagged these ads, and prevented the posting of some of them. Its failure to do so revives questions about whether the company is in compliance with federal fair housing rules, as well as about its ability and commitment to police discriminatory advertising on the world’s largest social network.

Damn…that is surprising…ain’t it? (Snark is heavily insinuated here.)

Based on Facebook’s announcement, the ads purchased by ProPublica that were aimed at racial categories should have been rejected. The others should have prompted a screen to pop up asking for self-certification. We never encountered a self-certification screen, and none of our ads were rejected by Facebook.

“This was a failure in our enforcement and we’re disappointed that we fell short of our commitments,” Ami Vora, vice president of product management at Facebook, said in an emailed statement. “The rental housing ads purchased by ProPublica should have but did not trigger the extra review and certifications we put in place due to a technical failure.”

Vora added that Facebook’s anti-discrimination system had “successfully flagged millions of ads” in the credit, employment and housing categories and that Facebook will now begin requiring self-certification for ads in all categories that choose to exclude an audience segment. “Our systems continue to improve but we can do better,” Vora said.

About 37 percent of U.S. households rented in 2016, representing a 50-year high, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. On average, renters earn about half as much as homeowners, and the percentage of families with children that rent rather than buy has increased sharply in the past decade, the study said. Minority renters have long faced pervasive housing discrimination. A 2013 study by HUD found that real estate agents show more units to whites than to African Americans, Asians and Latinos.

Gee…innit that the three categories of multicultural affinity?

Facebook has been under fire for other aspects of its automated ad buying system as well. Two months ago, the company disclosed that it had discovered $100,000 worth of divisive political ads placed by “inauthentic” Russian accounts. And in September, ProPublica reported that Facebook’s ad targeting system allowed buyers to reach people who identified themselves as “Jew haters” and other anti-Semitic categories. Facebook pledged to remove the offending categories and to hire thousands more employees to enforce its ad policies.

“We’re adding additional layers of review where people use potentially sensitive categories for targeting,” Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said during Senate testimony earlier this month.

After Stretch’s public statement, we wondered whether the ability to buy discriminatory housing ads had really been addressed. So we set out to buy an advertisement with the exact same targeting parameters as the ad we bought last year. The ad promoted a fictional apartment for rent and was targeted at people living in New York, ages 18–65, who were house hunting and likely to move. We asked Facebook not to show the ad to people categorized under the “multicultural affinity” of Hispanic, African American or Asian American.

(ProPublica generally forbids impersonation in news gathering. We felt in this instance that the public interest in Facebook’s ad system justified the brief posting of a fake ad for non-existent housing. We deleted each ad as soon as it was approved.)

The only changes from last year that we could identify in Facebook’s ad buying system was that the category called “Ethnic Affinity” had been renamed “Multicultural Affinity” and was no longer part of “Demographics.” It is now designated as part of “Behaviors.”

 

Go…yeah, go and see the actual screenshots of the ad placements. Remember that thing I mentioned up top about the soccer affinity?

Then we decided to test whether we could purchase housing ads that discriminated against other protected categories of people under the Fair Housing Act.

We placed ads that sought to exclude members of as many of the protected categories as we could find in Facebook’s self-service advertising portal. In addition to those mentioned above, we bought ads that were blocked from being shown to “soccer moms,” people interested in American sign languagegay menand Christians.

 

Just read the rest of the thread at the link, but wait there is more:

According to ProPublica, Facebook to Temporarily Block Advertisers From Excluding… — ProPublica

Uh…the date on this is Nov. 29th, 2017

The social network’s actions come after a ProPublica investigation revealed that Facebook failed to keep its promise to reject discriminatory housing ads.

Facebook said it would temporarily stop advertisers from being able to exclude viewers by race while it studies the use of its ad targeting system.

“Until we can better ensure that our tools will not be used inappropriately, we are disabling the option that permits advertisers to exclude multicultural affinity segments from the audience for their ads,” Facebook Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a letter to the Congressional Black Caucus.

ProPublica disclosed last week that Facebook was still allowing advertisers to buy housing ads that excluded audiences by race, despite its promises earlier this year to reject such ads. ProPublica also found that Facebook was not asking housing advertisers that blocked other sensitive audience categories — by religion, gender, or disability — to “self-certify” that their ads were compliant with anti-discrimination laws.

[…]

In her letter, Sandberg said the company will examine how advertisers are using its exclusion tool — “focusing particularly on potentially sensitive segments” such as ads that exclude LGBTQ communities or people with disabilities. “During this review, no advertisers will be able to create ads that exclude multicultural affinity groups,” Facebook Vice President Rob Goldman said in an emailed statement.

Goldman said the results of the audit would be shared with “groups focused on discrimination in ads,” and that Facebook would work with them to identify further improvements and publish the steps it will take.

Here are a few other articles on the matter:

Facebook disabling “multicultural affinity” group advertising tool – Axios

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said in a letter today to Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond that it is disabling a tool that allows advertisers to exclude “multicultural affinity” segments from their audiences. She also declared that Facebook is “determined to do better” on multicultural marketing.

Why it matters: Rep. Robin Kelly said in a press release earlier this month that Facebook’s “Ethnic Affinity” advertising option makes Facebook “complicit in promoting restrictive housing practices.” Sandberg said in her letter that Facebook would strengthen policies to prohibit discriminatory advertising, and that until Facebook can “better ensure that our tools will not be used inappropriately,” the tool is being disabled.

Show less
  • The “multicultural affinity” groups are groups of people “whose activities on Facebook suggest they may be interested in ads related to the African American, Hispanic American, or Asian American communities,” per Sandberg’s letter.
  • Rep. Kelly calledFacebook’s decision “a positive step forward,” and said she will “continue watching the issue closely.”
  • Rob Goldman, Vice President, Ads Growth & Solutions, said in a statement: “People, businesses and organizations around the world use Facebook to advertise. It’s important we make sure they use our tools responsibly. And a key part of this is working to stop ads that discriminate against people. We have guidelines to prevent this and other types of abuse, and we’ve strengthened how we enforce those guidelines over the years. We’ve also made mistakes and learned from them. ProPublica recently found that safeguards we put in place earlier this year were not as comprehensive as they should have been. This was a failure in our enforcement. We must do better.”

Facebook suspends ability to target ads by excluding racial groups | Article [AMP] | Reuters

Sandberg said in the letter that advertisers who use Facebook’s targeting options to include certain races for ads about housing, employment or credit will have to certify to Facebook that they are complying with Facebook’s anti-discrimination policy and with applicable law.

Sandberg defended race- and culture-based marketing in general, saying it was a common and legitimate practice in the ad industry to try to reach specific communities.

I take it, those ads for burner phones and credit problems are legitimate practices…reaching a specific community…the multicultural African-American affinity community.

Alright…now for the fucking funnies!

 

 

By the way…if Mueller is fired…protest marches are already planned. To find the closest one in your area, text Mueller to Resistbot at 50409…the location of the nearest immediate protest march will appear with all pertinent information.

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Filth are my politics, filth is my life! 🇺🇸🗑 #divine #divineforpresident #trump #filtharemypolitics #stateoftheunion #babsjohnson #johnwaters #pinkflamingos

A post shared by Divine (@divineofficial) on

And now the cartoons:

 

 

 

And that’s all folks!

This is an open thread…

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Tuesday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday had to be one of the worst days in the monstrous “presidency” of most evil and moronic man ever to hold the office.

In the morning we learned that Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, another one of Trump’s FBI targets, had stepped down. Then we learned the background. Trump ranted at McCabe that James Comey should have been left stranded in Los Angeles after his firing. Then when McCabe said he hadn’t been asked about Comey getting a ride hope in a government plane, the “president” told McCabe his wife was “a loser.”

Then we learned that the moron refused to impose the sanctions on Russia that he’s been dragging his feet on since August. How he thinks that aids his efforts to show he’s not colluding with Russia is a mystery. Perhaps he’s so afraid of what would happen if he stood up to Putin, that he simply doesn’t care.

Meanwhile, Congress is doing absolutely nothing to provide checks and balances on Trump’s unethical and possibly illegal actions. Instead, the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted to release a memo drafted by Rep. Devin Nunes’s staff–a memo that the DOJ says would be “extraordinarily reckless” and could be damaging to national security. And we learned that Trump had a tantrum on Air Force One when he learned about the DOJ letter.

It was a very bad day, and I really felt despairing until I read a Twitter thread by “The Hoarse Whisperer.”

You can read the whole thread on Twitter, and I recommend that you do. But the gist is that Wray seems to be eliminating the people that Trump has used as distractions and replacing them with FBI/Comey/Mueller loyalists who don’t have the same baggage. And get this: Bowditch is one of the people that Comey told contemporaneously about Trump’s demand for “loyalty.”

The Washington Post on Bowditch: The rise of David Bowdich, the former sniper in line to become the FBI’s new deputy director.

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is stepping down from his joband is expected to be replaced by David Bowdich, a senior official who headed the FBI’s response to the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., according to people familiar with the plans.

The article provides an extensive summary of Bowditch’s career. Here are some highlights:

Bowdich joined the FBI in 1995 as a special agent and served as a SWAT team member and sniper at the agency’s San Diego field office. There, he investigated violent crimes and gangs, according to an FBI news release.

One of his investigations included a year-long wiretap that resulted in the first federal criminal racketeering convictions brought against a street gang in Southern California, according to FBI officials. In 2005, he started leading a multiagency gang task force that through undercover operations and wiretaps investigated drug and racketeering cases against the Mexican Mafia, Bloods and Crips gangs and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, FBI officials said….

David Bowditch after the San Bernardino attack.

In 2014, he was named the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office — overseeing seven Southern California counties with a population of nearly 19 million people, according to Los Angeles Times….

After the December 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 people and wounded 22 others, Bowdich asked the public at a January 2016 news conference for help in figuring out whether the husband and wife behind the attack — Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik — had communicated with anyone after the shooting. An 18-minute period after the shooting, from 12:59 p.m. to 1:17 p.m., puzzled investigators, who wondered if Farook and Malik went to a home or business or contacted anyone else.

Using traffic cameras, surveillance footage and witness accounts, Bowdich and investigators had already pieced together what Farook and Malik were doing in the four hours before the shooting, The Post’s Mark Berman reported at the time. And investigators knew that about 45 minutes after the shooting the couple visited the city’s Lake Seccombe. Divers were dispatched into the water to see what they could recover, but none of the items they found appeared to be relevant to the investigation, the FBI said.

Bowdich, who at the time still ran the FBI’s Los Angeles office, told reporters then that “until we close that gap, we just don’t know for sure.”

There’s much more at the link. It seems that Chris Wray really is trying to strengthen the FBI against Trump’s attacks. We can only hope it works. Luckily for the FBI and and for us, Trump really is a fucking moron.

Yes, Trump is giving a speech to Congress tonight and some members of the media will swoon over it and claim that the fucking moron has turned over a new leaf. Most Americans will find that ridiculous, and we’ll go back to the slow-motion coup attempt that Trump is trying to perpetrate with help from Paul Ryan and his hyenas in the House.

Frankly, it will be difficult for anyone to call the speech “presidential” when the “president” is going to be making money from it. Fortune: Trump Campaign Says Donor Names Will Flash During Livestream of State of the Union Speech.

In the latest reminder that it’s never too soon to start campaigning for reelection, President Donald Trump’s camp sent out a fundraising solicitation on Monday: pay at least $35 and your name will appear on the campaign’s livestream of the State of the Union address Tuesday night.

The solicitation reads: “This is a movement. It’s not about just one of us. It’s about ALL of us. Which is why your name deserves to be displayed during Tuesday night’s speech.” It invites donors to choose how much money to give—ranging from the minimum of $35, to a maximum of $2,700, which is the limit allowed per election.

The text message version of the solicitation adds another message: “Enough of the Fake News Media. It’s time for them to hear from the AMERICAN PEOPLE.”

A good take on the speech by Peter Hamby at The Atlantic: Why Trump’s State of the Union Speech Will be Meaningless.

Here’s a useful question as you prepare to spend the next two days suffocating in a fog of hot takes and snap reactions to Donald Trump’s first official State of the Union address. Which of these two things is more consequential: the annual pageantry of the State of the Union, or any single one of Trump’s tweets? The answer is painfully clear. Trump’s staccato-burst missives on Twitter have the power to shake markets, launch congressional inquiries, offend entire nations, and stoke so much cultural grievance that N.F.L. owners are forced to contemplate whether signing a certain free-agent backup quarterback will spark racial unrest in their stadiums. At the very least, Trump’s tweets make you wonder why white Republicans are so obsessed with Black Unemployment (all-caps). Trump’s State of the Union address, meanwhile, will do approximately zero of these things.

The declining relevance of the State of the Union is partly a function of Trump and what we all know about him. “He is who he is” has become a go-to dictum of the Washington cocktail circuit, and no scripted-teleprompter performance can disguise the truth that our president would much rather be back at the White House residence feasting on Big Macs and Lou Dobbs. “Trump hasn’t changed, and won’t,” Mike Allen of Axios wrote this week. Allen writes some variation of this point every week—and he’s right every time. The Trump who will stand before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening isn’t fooling anyone, except some Beltway pundits who insist on always adding something new to “the conversation.” Washington journalists are among the few dead-enders eager to ascribe meaning to a night that faded long ago into meaningless ritual. White House aides have promised reporters, on the condition of anonymity of course, that the president will deliver a “unifying” speech on Tuesday….

The State of the Union—with its applause lines and cutaway shots and carefully selected special guests—stopped being about the speech a long time ago. Political stagecraft is about “moments”—moments you’ll probably forget about in a couple days, anyway. A handful of smart people fell prey to this plainly avoidable sand trap last year, but none more so than Van Jones, a usually sharp-eyed contrarian who declared on CNN after the speech that Trump “became president of the United States in that moment, period.” Jones claimed it was “one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics,” which besides being flatly untrue—honoring our military heroes is among the most shopworn staples of political theater—sets an awfully low bar for the word “extraordinary.”

That kind of analysis, pegged to a vestigial ceremony obsessed about only by the kind of people who spend their weekends on Twitter, was bound to collapse under the reality of a Trump’s presidency.

Amazingly, Chuck Todd et. al.’s take at “first reads” is pretty powerful today: The state of our union has become increasingly fragile.

On the day that President Trump delivers his first State of the Union address, the political news over the last 24 hours suggests that the state of our republic — the checks and balances, the separation of law enforcement from the White House, and the danger of foreign interference in our elections — has become increasingly fragile.

The authors enumerate in great detail the stark situation we find ourselves in. It’s well worth a read. Here’s something I left out of my list at the top of the post:

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has lectured senior Justice Department officials “to convey Trump’s displeasure”:Bloomberg News: “Kelly held separate meetings or phone calls with senior Justice Department officials last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to convey Trump’s displeasure and lecture them on the White House’s expectations, according to the people. Kelly has taken to ending such conversations with a disclaimer that the White House isn’t expecting officials to do anything illegal or unethical.”

Read the rest at NBC News.

I’d like to hear Trump explain this in his speech. NPR: FEMA To End Food And Water Aid For Puerto Rico.

In a sign that FEMA believes the immediate humanitarian emergency has subsided, on Jan. 31 it will, in its own words, “officially shut off” the mission it says has provided more than 30 million gallons of potable water and nearly 60 million meals across the island in the four months since the hurricane. The agency will turn its remaining food and water supplies over to the Puerto Rican government to finish distributing.

Some on the island believe it’s too soon to end these deliveries given that a third of residents still lack electricity and, in some places, running water, but FEMA says its internal analytics suggest only about 1 percent of islanders still need emergency food and water. The agency believes that is a small enough number for the Puerto Rican government and nonprofit groups to handle.

And what is FEMA’s excuse for terminating food and water aid? They supposedly want to help local businesses.

The decision to end the delivery of aid is part of the agency’s broader plan to transition away from the emergency response phase of its work on the island. In the weeks and months to come, the focus will be longer-term recovery. De La Campa said that includes finding ways to jumpstart the island’s troubled economy.

“If we’re giving free water and food, that means that families are not going to supermarkets to buy,” De La Campa said. “It is affecting the economy of Puerto Rico. So we need to create a balance. With the financial assistance we’re providing to families and the municipalities, they’re able to go back to the normal economy.”

I’ll have a few more links in the comment thread. What stories are you following today? What will you be doing instead of watching the moron’s speech?


Monday Reads

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

Pop Culture generally trolls political figures with good reason. Will Ferrell’s George Bush on SNL was always a treat as the word garbling, incurious George who bumbled us into two wars. Ferrell’s recent performance filled up twitter for at least a day and is still a subject of discussion.

“Saturday Night Live” opened last night with a hilarious sketch of Will Ferrell reprising his role as President George W. Bush. Having worked on SNL’s production staff for most of the Bush years, I can say that this was one of the best Bush sketches the show has served up in terms of laughs. But I have to disagree with SNL’s implication that Bush was as bad, if not worse, of a president as Donald Trump. It’s no comparison — Trump is far worse.

SNL’s Bush cold open kicked off with a few jokes that reminded us of the way the iconic comedy show portrayed the 43rd President as a bumbling but likable guy. There was Will Ferrell as Bush telling us: “You might remember, the W stands for wassssup!” and adding that lately he had been working on his oil paintings and earning an online MFA from the University of Phoenix.

The show then turned to the politics of today. “Bush” boasted that his approval ratings are at an all-time-high, referring to recent news that his favorability has drastically increased since he left office. (When Bush left office, he was saddled with a dismal 33% favorability rating.) Ferrell then joked, “That’s right. Donny Q. Trump came in, and suddenly I’m looking pretty sweet by comparison. At this rate, I might even end up on Mount Rushmore, right next to Washington, Lincoln and I want to say, uh, Kensington?”

But then SNL pivoted to remind us how bad Bush was as President, with Ferrell laughingly reminding us: “I was really bad — like historically not good.”

“Don’t forget: We’re still in two different wars that I started,” he added. Ferrell then paused before delivering a killer line: “What has two thumbs and created ISIS? This guy!” and pointing at himself.

“Bush” also highlighted how awful the economy was when he left office. He held up a chart that showed the stock market tanking and joked: “Now I’m no ‘economer’ but even I know that was ‘no bueno.'”

SNL was right that Bush had earned his horrible approval ratings. But what SNL missed — perhaps even intentionally to spark a debate — is how horrific Trump is in terms of trying to divide us by race, religion and even immigration status as compared to Bush.

For example, during Trump’s presidential campaign he despicably ginned up hate against Muslims with his comment that he thinks “Islam hates us” and his call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” And as President, he has tried to implement an immigration ban primarily directed at a number of Muslim majority nations.

What a contrast to Bush and his words only weeks after the 9/11 terror attack committed by Al Qaeda. With the nation watching, Bush didn’t try to stoke hate against Muslims. Instead, he declared: “The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends.” Bush then added about Islam, “Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.”

Then, the Grammys trolled Trump with celebs reading excerpts from “Fire and Fury”. Hillary Clinton was the surprise ending for this gag reading the part about Trump’s obsession with being poisoned and trusting that won’t happen with a Big Mac.

Bruno Mars beat Jay-Z for the top Grammy Awards on Sunday, but the surprise star of the night was former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reading from Michael Wolff’s controversial book “Fire and Fury.”

A taped parody sketch saw Grammy Awards host James Corden audition celebrities, including John Legend, Cher, Cardi B and Snoop Dogg. They read excerpts from the deeply critical book about President Donald Trump’s first year in office, ostensibly as contenders for a spoken word Grammy.

The Twitter erupted with all kinds of things including upset tweets from Nikki Haley and Drumpfling Jr.

This raises a concern in my mind. Granted, Smothers’ Brothers or SNL or any myriad of Talk Shows have always done sketches on Presidents. Some of the parodies and bits probably bothered them because they were generally unflattering but we’ve not had a President that’s such a toddler and so narcissistic that it makes me wonder if we’re not playing into it and feeding the monster? Toddlers generally find any attention to be worth doing whatever to get it. KKKremlin Caligula seems to find a way into everything media oriented this day to the point I just want to shut it all off. I’m beginning to not be entertained by this stuff at all. I’d just like them to ignore him for awhile. This man is a bottomless pit of ego needs. I’d like to hear about just about any one else for a change!

Except, the stuff like this that should be EVERYWHERE!!!

Today, all Democratic Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter asking Chairman Trey Gowdy to issue a subpoena to finally compel the Department of Homeland Security to produce documents it has been withholding from Congress for months relating to Russian government-backed efforts to monitor, penetrate, or otherwise hack at least 21 state election systems in the 2016 election.

and this from Politico: “Mark Warner: ‘We’ve Had New Information That Raises More Questions’. The top Democrat on the Senate’s Russia investigation says he’s worried about what he’s just learned.”

Congress late last year received “extraordinarily important new documents” in its investigation of President Donald Trump and his campaign’s possible collusion with the 2016 Russian election hacking, opening up significant new lines of inquiry in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe of the president, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) says in an exclusive new interview.

Warner, the intel committee’s top Democrat, says “end-of-the-year document dumps” produced “very significant” revelations that “opened a lot of new questions” that Senate investigators are now looking into, meaning the inquiry into Trump and the Russia hacking—already nearly a year old—will not be finished for months longer. “We’ve had new information that raises more questions,” Warner says in the interview, an extensive briefing on the state of the Senate’s Trump-Russia probe for The Global Politico, our weekly podcast on world affairs.

and this which the placeholder in the oval office has twitted as a good idea.

Congress is in disarray too. Are they really prepared to go down the road of an oncoming constitutional crisis?

The 115th Congress owes its historic turnover to the confluence of two events, one normal and one abnormal. First, there’s the start of a new presidential administration. Five of the first six members to resign this session1 did so to accept jobs in President Trump’s administration. That’s not unusual. It’s similar to the seven members who resigned in 2009 to join the Obama administration2 and the five members who left in 1993 to join Bill Clinton’s.

But in addition, three of the four most recent members to resign from the 115th Congress did so because they were accused of unwanted sexual advances: John Conyers, Trent Franks and Al Franken. (Ruben Kihuen, Blake Farenthold and Pat Meehan have announced they will not run for re-election for the same reason. However, a retirement from Congress at the end of one’s regularly scheduled term is not the same as a mid-session resignation, which is what we’re looking at here.)

The extraordinary string of sexual misconduct allegations over the past few months has led many people to conclude we are in the midst of an unprecedented cultural moment. In the political world, at least, the data bears that out. There has never been a concentration of sexual misconduct allegations that has caused as much public fallout before: The number of resignations over non-consensual sexual overtures in the last two months (three) has nearly matched the number in the preceding 116 years (five).3And it seems to be a recent phenomenon — the first member to resign for this reason was Bob Packwood in 1995. Admittedly, the data may be skewed; we’re relying partly on news reports for divining members’ reasoning, and sexual misconduct wasn’t exactly a big topic of media coverage for most of the 20th century. Even so, it shows a public reckoning like never before.

We have a midterm election coming up. Can we be certain that the Russians won’t be actively hacking key states again? Has social media gotten to the problem of the Russian Bots? Here’s something from UK’s Independent.

Russian bots retweeted Donald Trump nearly 500,000 times in the 10 weeks leading up to and directly following the US presidential election – 10 times more than they retweeted his rival, Hillary Clinton.

The findings come from Twitter’s latest report to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as Congress attempts to assess the effect of Russian social media activity on the 2016 election.

Twitter found that Russia-connected, automated accounts sent more than 2m election-related tweets between 1 September and 15 November 2016. The tweets came from more than 50,000 Russian bots, and accounted for approximately one per cent of all tweets sent at the time.

The bots engaged more heavily with Mr Trump than his opponent, accounting for more than 4 percent of the retweets he received. They accounted for less than 1 per cent of retweets received by Ms Clinton.

The bots also engaged heavily with Wikileaks, the organisation that first released emails hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Russian bot accounts retweeted Wikileaks some 200,000 times over the 10-week timespan. They were responsible for nearly 5 per cent of tweets using #PodestaEmails.

I think it’s time we get more serious about these ongoing threats to our country and to democracy. It’s easy to laugh at the Reality Star occupying the White House but that part of him is the side show. The real threat is out there. It just needs more attention.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Sunday Reads

Good Morning

What a sunny way to start a Sunday post….a sun on skis. So, the images of today’s thread are from artist Celestino Piatti. You can see a bunch of his work here and read more about the artist here, Celestino Piatti – Swiss Graphic Design Foundation.

 

Why don’t we start of with a few tweets:

This tweet from @eaglewoman4 seems like a brilliant idea…if it could work:

Read some of the comments. Some claim that there could be precedent for this exact protection, as some tribes afforded protection to citizens during WW2 who faced being placed in internment camps. (I looked online and could not find any information on this…but it was not a very thorough search.) Still, it does seem like an idea to flesh out.

 

Meanwhile, it appears John Lewis isn’t the only one boycotting the SOTU:

 

I don’t think we will get anything together unless we go back to using paper ballots:

 

Over here tRump has been overly suggesting prison for his former opponent Hillary Clinton, in Russia…tRump’s puppet master has done just that:

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny arrested during protests – CNN

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested Sunday during anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow as rallies continue nationwide.

“I’ve been detained. This doesn’t matter. Come to Tverskaya (Street). You are not going there for me, it’s for you and your future,” Navalny tweeted after his arrest.
Within minutes of arriving at Pushkinskaya Square, where hundreds of protesters had gathered, Navalny was wrestled into a patrol van by police, in dramatic footage posted on Youtube.
Moscow Police said Navalny was taken to a police station for arraignment and to be charged for illegally organizing a protest. If found guilty, he faces 30 days in detention and a fine.
How long before we get the jealous tweet from the orange dictator?

Tweets from Navalny:

Translation: The detention of one person loses any sense if there are many of us. Someone come and replace me

Moving on…

 

Oh brother.

This weekend marks another Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz,

There is a key word here…which I think you may miss without knowing it.

It begins with the letter M.

 

I will leave with this latest breaking news:

Pennsylvania shooting rampage leaves 5 dead

Five people were killed and another was wounded Sunday in a shooting rampage in a small town 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State Police said.

Police said four people died at the scene and one died after being rushed to a hospital. The shootings took place at a car wash in Melcroft at about 3 a.m. ET. The facts were still being sorted out, but it was possible the shooter was among the victims, police said.

“There is no threat to the community, no imminent danger,” police said in a statement to USA TODAY. The identity of the victims, three men and two women, were not immediately available, police said.

Pennsylvania Shooting Rampage Live Updates: Deadly Attack at Small Town Car Wash

11:10 a.m. – A source at the scene told a KDKA reporter that the suspected shooter used a semi-automatic rifle. Police have not confirmed the weapon that was used.

This is an open thread.

 


Lazy Saturday Reads: Rats Abandoning the Trump Ship

Georges van Houten (British artist, 1888–1964) Lady Reading a Newspaper

Good Morning!!

While Trump was preening in Davos, all hell broke loose back in the USA as current and former Trump staffers leaked to the media in efforts to save themselves from charges of obstruction of justice.

On Thursday night The New York Times reported that White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign when Trump ordered him to arrange the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller last June. Yesterday Murray Waas wrote at Foreign Policy that Trump urged his staff to attack individual FBI agents who could be witnesses against him.

In testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8, recently fired FBI Director James Comey disclosed that he spoke contemporaneously with other senior bureau officials about potentially improper efforts by the president to curtail the FBI’s investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election….

Not long after Comey’s Senate testimony, Trump hired John Dowd, a veteran criminal defense attorney, to represent him in matters related to Mueller’s investigation. Dowd warned Trump that the potential corroborative testimony of the senior FBI officials in Comey’s account would likely play a central role in the special counsel’s final conclusion, according to people familiar with the matter….

Jacek_Malczewski, Polish artist

Since Dowd gave him that information, Trump — as well as his aides, surrogates, and some Republican members of Congress — has engaged in an unprecedented campaign to discredit specific senior bureau officials and the FBI as an institution.

The FBI officials Trump has targeted are Andrew McCabe, the current deputy FBI director and who was briefly acting FBI director after Comey’s firing; Jim Rybicki, Comey’s chief of staff and senior counselor; and James Baker, formerly the FBI’s general counsel. Those same three officials were firstidentified as possible corroborating witnesses for Comey in a June 7 article in Vox. Comey confirmed in congressional testimony the following day that he confided in the three men.

In the past, presidents have attacked special counsels and prosecutors who have investigated them, calling them partisan and unfair. But no previous president has attacked a long-standing American institution such as the FBI — or specific FBI agents and law enforcement officials.

This morning Reuters has another story on Don McGahn’s efforts to control Trump: White House counsel was ‘fed up’ with Trump: source.

White House Counsel Donald McGahn threatened to quit last June because he was “fed up” after President Donald Trump insisted he take steps to remove the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters….

The person told Reuters on Friday that Trump asked McGahn to raise what he said were Mueller’s conflicts with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because the president thought they were serious enough to remove Mueller.

Rosenstein appointed Mueller after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and is the official overseeing the special counsel.

McGahn, who could not be reached for comment, did not discuss the issue with Rosenstein and threatened to quit when Trump continued to insist that he do so, the person said.

The lawyer did not issue an ultimatum directly to the president but told then White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and then chief strategist Steve Bannon he wanted to quit because he was “fed up with the president,” the person said.

The source added that it was possible Bannon and Priebus did not know all the details of the Trump’s discussions with McGahn about Mueller at that time.

Sigurd Swane, Reading the news

Hmmm . . . Did Bannon or Priebus leak this to make it clear that they helped protect Mueller’s investigation? Or did McGahn himself leak the story? He certainly has strong motivation to protect himself–remember Nixon’s WH Counsel John Dean went to jail for participating in the Watergate cover-up.

Former White House Counsel to Obama Bob Bauer has a piece at Lawfare: McGahn’s Defense of the Office of the White House Counsel. Bauer notes press reports that at the time of the confrontation between Trump and McGahn:

…the president’s personal lawyer at the time, Marc Kasowitz,  and was communicating with potential witnesses on the White House staff. Kasowitz appeared to be disregarding the difference between his personal representational role and those official responsibilities that properly fall to the White House counsel. Other lawyers recruited to help with the Russia probe reportedly declined out of concern that Kasowitz was “undermining” McGahn. Also in June, the press reported that the  with McGahn. Trump apparently blamed his chief legal adviser for (among other grievances) Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation. Kasowitz’s stock was rising; McGahn’s was dropping fast.

By the time of the reported order to dismiss Mueller, it would appear that McGahn faced a president who was losing confidence in him and was moving toward a legal advisory arrangement well outside regular institutional order. The confrontation over Mueller may have been more than a struggle over the specific decision to fire Mueller. No less significant was the role and credibility of the Office of the White House Counsel. The circumstances surrounding the order to McGahn—Kasowitz’ ascent and McGahn’s fall from favor—would have increased the pressure on the White House counsel to assert the primacy of his position as legal adviser to the president on an official and highly consequential action.

Of course, McGahn would have had every reason to object to the peculiar, if not wholly specious, grounds that the president apparently asserted for a firing. What counsel would have wished to advise the Justice Department that Mueller’s fatal “conflict” arose out of his unwillingness to remain a member of a Trump golf facility that had raised its fees?

Leonid Osipovich Pasternak (Russian artist, 1862-1945)

McGahn just as likely understood the high stakes for his office and for his credibility within the administration. The president was asking that McGahn carry out an order with which he strongly disagreed—an order perhaps designed in the first instance in consultation with Kasowitz, his personal lawyer. McGahn would then be acting as mere messenger for an action certain to plunge the White House into controversy and further legal difficulty. McGahn would have shared in the blame but not the actual responsibility. He would have obeyed Trump’s command in an institutionally weakened state, suffering more weakness as the predictable result.

Read more interesting theorizing at Lawfare.

Charlie Pierce is more to the point: Mueller Bombshell Proves Republicans Are Running Out of Time.

The major scoop in The New York Times that has shaken up the world can be read in a number of different ways that all lead to the same conclusion. Right from jump, the president* has been scared right down to his silk boxers of what Mueller would discover regarding his campaign’s connections to Russian ratfcking and regarding his business connections to freshly laundered Russian cash. This conclusion does not change even if you think that White House counsel Don McGahn leaked this story to make himself the hero or to cover his own ass. This conclusion does not change even if you think the ratlines off the listing hulk of this administration are thick with fleeing rodents. This whole thing remains a product of the president*’s guilty mind….

The story does explain the curious frenzy over the last week: the president*’s saying that he’s “looking forward” to a chat with Mueller, and that he might even deign to have the chat under oath; the apparent rush to present the Congress with a half-baked “compromise plan” on immigration that has no chance of passing the House of Representatives; and the fact that the president* took every member of his inner circle except his wife to Switzerland. I suspect those folks heard the baying of the hound even before Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman did. More ominous is the possibility that McGahn—or whomever—leaked this story because the president* is thinking about firing Mueller now, or in the near future, and whoever the leaker was understands very well what a monumental calamity that would be for all concerned.

So where are the Republicans? They’re silent. Pierce:

History will brand them as cowards and as traitors to the country’s best ideals. History’s not going to be kind to a lot of people who are living through these insane times.

Woman reading newspaper, Norman Garstin (British, 1891)

Meanwhile, First Lady Melania Trump cancelled her plans to accompany Trump to Davos and reportedly spent time in expensive DC hotels and visted the Holocaust Museum before taking a quick trip down to Palm Beach. The Daily Mail reports that she flew back to the DC the next day to meet her boss husband on his return to the White House. Even though it’s a loveless marriage, it has to be humiliating to read the gossip about her husband’s affairs with porn stars.

At AOL, Lisa Belkin notes the lack of public outrage over Trump’s sexual misbehavior:

 In the swirl of news over the last week, Melania’s defection — which was announced on the couple’s 13th wedding anniversary — didn’t get much public attention. (Yahoo News White House correspondent Hunter Walker asked the White House how the Trumps celebrated, but got no answer.) To the many rules that Mrs. Trump’s husband has rewritten in the past two years, add one more — that the public will always care how a politician’s wife reacts to news of his infidelities.

Until Trump changed everything, the public was insatiably interested in what the wronged spouse thinks. When Bill Clinton was accused of Oval Office dalliances, for instance, Hillary Clinton at first became his fiercest defender, blaming the charges on a “vast right wing conspiracy.” She also became the subject of endless speculation about whether she would stay in the marriage or leave. The photo of the couple walking forlornly toward the presidential helicopter, with Chelsea between them holding each of their hands, ran with countless stories about the tense state of their marriage.

It’s probably because everyone knows that the Trumps’ marriage is a financial arrangement.

There has been, to be sure, much speculation about the Trump marriage: The way he left her behind when the couple arrived at the White House on Inauguration Day; how her smile turned to a frown during the ceremony; how she didn’t move to the White House for months, and swatted his hand away when he reached for hers on a tarmac; and, most recently, how the photo she chose to tweet on the first anniversary of his taking office was of herself not with her husband but with the military escort who accompanied her to her seat.

But the public reaction to the news that weeks before Election Day Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, set up a shell corporation to pay Daniels shows the fundamental rulebook for public reaction to sex scandals no longer applies. (Cohen has denied that Trump and Daniels had an affair but has not denied the payment nor said what it was for.)

There was no “stand by your man” statement, no public display of support. While Melania did travel to Florida with her husband immediately after the allegations were first published in the Wall Street Journal, she did not attend any events with him there that weekend. The closest she came to signaling her feelings was canceling her trip to Davos, and while it appeared to speak volumes it was not accompanied by the headlines and speculation that would previously have been de rigueur in such circumstances.

Frankly, I have to hand it to Melania for declining to perform the “stand by your man” routine.

There is plenty of other news. For one thing there has been a lot more fallout on the USA gymnastics scandal. I’ll post some links on that in the comments. What stories are you following today?


Friday Reads: Countdown to Impeachment

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

We learned yesterday that we might have been closer to a repeat Saturday Night Massacre than we thought.  KKKremlin Caligula tried to fire Robert Mueller only to back off when the White House Council threatened to resign.  We have entered the Nixon Zone.

Here’s some analysis of the NYT investigative piece by Lawfare.

The  reported Thursday evening that President Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June and was only dissuaded when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than transmit the order to the Justice Department. Mueller has reportedly become aware of the attempt to dismiss him in the course of investigating possible obstruction of justice by Trump and his associates.

According to the Times, Trump claimed that multiple conflicts of interests disqualified Mueller from overseeing the Russia investigation—including a fee dispute with a Trump golf club, his prior firm’s representation of Jared Kushner, and the fact that Trump had interviewed Mueller to potentially again become FBI director the day before he was appointed as special counsel. In May, career Justice Department ethics officials  Mueller to lead the probe, determining that he did not have disqualifying conflicts. In a follow-up story, the Washington Post  that McGahn “did not deliver his resignation threat directly to Trump, but was serious about his threat to leave.”

The Times also noted that Trump considered firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, in order to place Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand in charge of the investigation.

At the time Trump ordered Mueller’s firing, he was still represented by his longtime lawyer Marc Kasowitz, who took an adversarial approach to the Russia investigation. Reportedly, Trump’s new counsel, Ty Cobb, has convinced the president that “the quickest way to clear the cloud of suspicion was to cooperation with Mr. Mueller, not to fire him.” Nevertheless, the Times reports that Trump has wavered in the intervening months over the decision to fire Mueller and that in his public comments on the subject Trump has kept open the possibility of dismissing Mueller.

A few observations:

First, the Times’s reporting demonstrates just how out of control the president had become in June, less than a month after firing James Comey as FBI director. A few of his tweets from that time offer a stark reminder that the special counsel’s investigation—and Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller—weighed heavily even in his public statements …

Here’s the highpoints from Axios:

  • “Mueller learned about the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials.” (Including the counsel who threatened to resign, Don McGahn!)

  • Key point: McGahn disagreed with the president’s case and told senior White House officials that firing Mr. Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Mr. Trump’s presidency.”

  • “McGahn also told White House officials that Mr. Trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own. The president then backed off.”

  • “Amid the first wave of news media reports that Mr. Mueller was examining a possible obstruction case, the president began to argue that Mr. Mueller had three conflicts of interest that disqualified him.”

  • “First, [Trump] claimed that a dispute years ago over fees at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., had prompted Mr. Mueller, the F.B.I. director at the time, to resign his membership. The president also said Mr. Mueller could not be impartial because he had most recently worked for the law firm that previously represented the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Finally, the president said, Mr. Mueller had been interviewed to return as the F.B.I. director the day before he was appointed special counsel in May.”

  • Why it matters: “The White House has denied nearly a dozen times since June that Mr. Trump was considering firing Mr. Mueller.”

Be smart: As we told you Wednesday in our piece about Mueller following Trump like a dark cloud: These actions were taken in office knowing the whole world is watching for a cover-up. It’s the ultimate unforced error — and reason many around Trump fear him testifying.

P.S. CNN’s Groundhog Day headline this morning: “TRUMP TRIP OVERSHADOWED BY CONTROVERSY.”

Julian Zelzer of The Atlantic has the Nixonian take calling the Drumpf regime “The runaway President.”

The reason that so many Americans react badly to the news about Trump is similar to what drove the outrage about President Richard Nixon’s famous Saturday Night Massacre, as the Washington Post reporter David Broder named it, in October of 1973. The path to that scandal started when Alexander Butterfield, a former aide to H.R. Haldeman, revealed to the Watergate congressional committee that the president had recorded secret Oval Office conversations. Archibald Cox, the Harvard professor who had been appointed as an independent special prosecutor in May to investigate Watergate, wanted those tapes. He wanted to know just what they revealed about the June 1972 break in to the Democratic National Headquarters. On October 12, a U.S. Court of Appeals ordered Nixon to comply. Nixon tried to broker an agreement with Cox to release a small portion of the tapes, but the negotiations broke down.

Nixon was livid when he heard that Cox was demanding that the White House release all the recordings. It was bad enough that the Ivy-League professor was being so aggressive with him, but now Cox seemed to be taking the investigation to a new level that could be extremely damaging. Nixon, who believed that his office gave him the power to do almost anything, ordered that Attorney General Eliot Richardson fire Cox. The problem was that Richardson refused. “Let it be on your head,” the president angrily told the attorney general when they met. Soon after, Nixon turned to the next person in command, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who also refused to carry out the order. “I am, of course, sorry that my conscience will not permit me to carry out your instruction to discharge Archibald Cox,” he wrote in his resignation letter. It wasn’t until Solicitor General Robert Bork said yes that Nixon found someone to do what he wanted. “I am, as instructed by the President, discharging you, effective at once, from your position as Special Prosecutor, Watergate Special Prosecution Force,” Bork wrote in a letter. Cox’s staff of 38 lawyers and 50 staff was immediately dismantled.

The response was sheer outrage all over the country. “It was a terrifying night. It felt like we were in a banana republic,” the journalist Elizabeth Drew later recounted in an interview. The fact that the president took it upon himself to try to kill the investigation by getting rid of the investigator was evidence that Nixon was out of control. NBC Newscaster John Chancellor told his viewers: “The country tonight is in the midst of what may be the most serious constitutional crisis in its history.”

Here’s some other news. From WAPO, we learned the Guggenheim trolled the White House with total finesse. “The White House asked to borrow a van Gogh. The Guggenheim offered a gold toilet instead.”  The  artist “Cattelan has also suggested that he had in mind the wealth that permeates aspects of society, describing the golden toilet “as 1 percent art for the 99 percent.”

The emailed response from the Guggenheim’s chief curator to the White House was polite but firm: The museum could not accommodate a request to borrow a painting by Vincent van Gogh for President and Melania Trump’s private living quarters.

Instead, wrote the curator, Nancy Spector, another piece was available, one that was nothing like “Landscape With Snow,” the 1888 van Gogh rendering of a man in a black hat walking along a path in Arles, France, with his dog.

The curator’s alternative: an 18-karat, fully functioning, solid gold toilet — an interactive work titled “America” that critics have described as pointed satire aimed at the excess of wealth in this country.

For a year, the Guggenheim had exhibited “America” — the creation of contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan — in a public restroom on the museum’s fifth floor for visitors to use.

But the exhibit was over and the toilet was available “should the President and First Lady have any interest in installing it in the White House,” Spector wrote in an email obtained by The Washington Post.

The artist “would like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan,” wrote Spector, who has been critical of Trump. “It is, of course, extremely valuable and somewhat fragile, but we would provide all the instructions for its installation and care.”

You’ll have to get this Dutch article translated but it has a particularly interesting bit of news exposing Dutch intelligence on the “cozy bear” hackers and the Russian hacking of our 2016 election.

Hackers from the Dutch intelligence service AIVD have provided the FBI with crucial information about Russian interference with the American elections. For years, AIVD had access to the infamous Russian hacker group Cozy Bear. That’s what de Volkskrant and Nieuwsuur have uncovered in their investigation.

It’s a fascinating read worthy of a Le Carre novel.  It actually begins around 2014.

The Dutch access to the Russian hackers’ network soon pays off. In November, the Russians prepare for an attack on one of their prime targets: the American State Department. By now, they’ve obtained e-mail addresses and the login credentials of several civil servants. They manage to enter the non-classified part of the computer network.

The AIVD and her military counterpart MIVD inform the NSA-liaison at the American embassy in The Hague. He immediately alerts the different American intelligence services.

What follows is a rare battle between the attackers, who are attempting to further infiltrate the State Department, and its defenders, FBI and NSA teams – with clues and intelligence provided by the Dutch. This battle lasts 24 hours, according to American media.

The Russians are extremely aggressive but do not know they’re being spied on. Thanks to the Dutch spies, the NSA and FBI are able to counter the enemy with enormous speed. The Dutch intel is so crucial that the NSA opens a direct line with Zoetermeer, to get the information to the United States as soon as possible.

Finally, Phillip Bump  looks at and talks with Hillary voters.  Finally!  We get our due!!

And then, there’s this one too:

No, life on these blocks centers around a joint on Carpenter Lane called Weavers Way, the venerable corner food co-op that launched in the twilight of the hippie era in 1972, where today senior citizens and young social workers wander down from rambling old-stone houses with their reusable canvas bags to load up on bulk spices, home-baked muffins, or maybe a treat like pumpkin gingersnap ice cream.

It’s the kind of place where the regulars pause on the front steps to check out ads for dog walkers or fiddle lessons, then trade friendly banter with familiar neighbors in the narrow aisles. And so Brittany Barbato, a 29-year-old writer and photographer for mission-driven publications who lives nearby, was when she strolled into Weavers Way on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016 — just hours after Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States.

“Usually there’s a buzz — you can hear people chatting, the bulk canisters flowing with what people are buying — and the cashiers are all chipper and friendly,” said Barbato, standing outside the food co-op in the January chill. “That’s why we love living here, the community. But I remember coming into the store and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so eerie, so quiet.’ It did feel as if something had died. And I remember thinking, ‘This is how I feel, too.’ ”

More than a year after that funereal morning in Mount Airy, the neighborhood has a bit of a feel of an occupied territory. Behind ancient stone walls, on the narrow, sloping yards, stand the signs of resistance at home after home: “Impeach Trump,” or “Black Lives Matter/Philly Children’s March,” with more than a smattering of “Hillary” yard signs that owners refuse to take down, and one that declares: “In This House, We Believe: Black Lives Matter/Women’s Rights Are Human Rights/No Human Is Illegal/Science Is Real/Love Is Love/No Matter Your Faith Or Ability/Kindness Is Everything.”

Boston Boomer will undoubtedly have a lot to say on Tuesday on why we will not be live blogging the SOTU address.  This is something we have done for years but not this one. I, for one, can’t bear to hear or watch him mangle the English language and our American values.   However, we might give some consideration to listening to Representative Joseph Kennedy’s response.  Let us know how you feel.

Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, one of the Democratic Party’s rising political stars, has been tapped by top party leaders to deliver the official Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union address next week.

The choice thrusts the 37-year-old, three-term congressman from Brookline into the national spotlight more squarely than he has ever been before. The job will put him on national television as the face of the Democratic Party and the voice of chief Trump critic at an extraordinary moment in the country’s politics. For many Americans, it will be their first introduction to the latest Kennedy on the political scene.

“Congressman Kennedy is a relentless fighter for working Americans,” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a press release announcing the move. “While President Trump has consistently broken his promises to the middle class, Congressman Kennedy profoundly understands the challenges facing hard-working men and women across the country.”

The Republicans and Drumpf continue their assault on the FBI. Slate’s Impeach-O-meter is going off once more but stuck at 45% after the probing of Andrew McCabe’s 2016 voting records. He definitely is stuck on finding all of his men.

Not that I really care about what Bob Woodward thinks but in a recent interview with Poynter he says we’re still not reaching peak Watergate.

Bob Woodward would know better than most of us if Donald Trump was the new Richard Nixon.

But he’s not, said the reporting icon responsible for breaking the Watergate scandal during a talk at the Mahaffey Theater on Wednesday night. At least, it’s too early to tell.

“We talk about maybe what Russia did or the extent to which they did — it’s not clear — meddle in our election,” he said to a predominantly older audience of several hundred people. “But in 1972 we had the real thing: the inside destruction of our electoral system, funded, organized, championed, led by Richard Nixon.”

Woodward insists we still don’t know where it’s going. I think we’re inching closer to definite ‘Obstruction of justice’ charges.  We’ll be in a better place after a Blue Wave to take this menace out of office and his little dog Pence too.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 

 

 

 


Thursday Reads: The Brave Women of USA Gymnastics

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina encourages a victim after listening to a statement on the fifth day of Larry Nassar’s sentencing at the Ingham County Circuit Court in Lansing on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (Neil Blake | MLive.com)

Good Afternoon!!

The moron is over in Switzerland making a fool of himself. I’m sick of reading and writing about him, so I’m dedicating this post to the brave women who brought down sexual abuser Larry Nassar and his enablers. (It will just be a link dump, because I’m still sick. I got an antibiotic yesterday, so I hope that will clear up my sinus infection.)

NBC News: Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar gets 40 to 175 years for sex abuse.

After a remarkable hearing that featured gut-wrenching statements from 156 of his accusers and an apology that the judge said rang hollow, former Olympic gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced Wednesday to 40 to 175 years in prison for molesting young girls under the guise of treatment.

“You do not deserve to walk outside of a prison ever again,” Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said in the Ingham County, Michigan, courtroom where Nassar was forced to listen to victims for seven days before learning his fate.

“I just signed your death warrant,” she added.

Nassar, 54, agreed to a minimum 40-year sentence when he pleaded guiltylast year to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual misconduct in Ingham County. He still faces sentencing in Eaton County for three more counts, and he’s already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for possession of child pornography….

Rachel Denhollander

Before the sentence was handed down, Nassar was allowed to speak. Turning to the victims sitting behind him, he tearfully said their statements had shaken him to the core.

“What I am feeling pales in comparison to [your] pain, trauma and emotional destruction,” he said. “There are no words to describe the depth and breadth of how sorry I am for what has occurred. An acceptable apology to all of you is impossible to write or convey.

“I will carry your words with me for the rest of my days.”

Whatever bro.

The judge took out a six-page letter he sent the court last week in which he insisted what he had done to the victims “was medical not sexual,” that he was a “good doctor” and the victim of a media frenzy, and that prosecutors had pressured him to to admit to things he had not done.

He complained that his patients had turned on him. “‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,'” the judge read aloud, her voice full of scorn.

She asked him, “Would you like to withdraw your plea?”

“No, your honor,” he said.

“Because you’re guilty aren’t you?” she pressed.

“I accept my plea,” he said.

Aquilina said she simply didn’t believe that Nassar was owning up to what he pleaded to: penetrating minors with ungloved hands for his own sexual pleasure.

“I wouldn’t send my dogs to you, sir,” she said.

Read excerpts from Nassar’s letter at the Washington Post: Here are the Larry Nassar comments that drew gasps in the courtroom. Prepare to be disgusted.

Read excerpts from the victim statements at The Cut: The Most Powerful Testimony From Ex-USA Gymnastics Doctor Larry Nassar Hearing. Excerpt:

Kyle Stephens

Kyle Stephens, January 16

Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.

Stephens has said she was first molested by Nassar, a family friend, when she was only six. She is the only accuser who was not a patient of Nassar’s. When she was 12, she finally told her parents about the doctors’ behavior, but they didn’t believe her.

Olivia Cowan, January 16

Today, I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend that is struggling each day to find peace and joy in all the things that once made me happy.

Cowan, a former gymnast at MSU, said she suffers from PTSD, and is scared to send her two little girls to birthday parties or sleepovers. She also had sharp criticism for MSU and USA gymnastics, and said that if officials in the two organizations had taken the reports about Nassar seriously, “they would have saved me and all these other women standing before us today.”

Maggie Nichols USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic committee did not provide a safe place for us to train … I’ve come to the realization now that my voice can be heard.

Maggie Nichols, January 17

Nichols was the first person to report Nassar’s sexual abuse to USA Gymnastics back in 2015. Her statement was read by her mother, Gina, who at one point turned to Kerry Perry, the CEO of USA Gymnastics and said “Shame on MSU, USAG, and the USOC.”

Stephanie Robinson, January 17

I came to the stand as a victim, and I leave as a victor.

Robinson, who is only 17, initially wanted to remain anonymous. But on Wednesday, she walked up to the stand with her father, and faced her abuser, who she said she had once looked up to, and job shadowed for a day.

McKayla Maroney

McKayla Maroney, January 18

As it turns out, much to my demise, Dr. Nassar was not a doctor, he in fact is, was, and forever shall be, a child molester, and a monster of a human being. End of story! He abused my trust, he abused my body, and he left scars on my psyche that may never go away.

Read more statements at The Call: More than 150 women testified at Larry Nassar’s sentencing. Read what they had to say.

 

ABC News: Gymnast Mattie Larson says she purposely injured herself to avoid team doctor Larry Nassar.

Retired gymnast Mattie Larson said she once tried to give herself a concussion to avoid Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting scores of female athletes.

In an interview today on “Good Morning America,” Larson said she was about 15 or 16 at the time when she pretended to slip and fall in her family’s bathroom. She splashed water on the floor and purposely slammed her head in a desperate attempt to avoid being sent back to Karolyi Ranch in Huntsville, Texas, a national training site for U.S. Olympic gymnasts where Nassar allegedly preyed on his victims.

Mattie Larson

“I was crying, panicking, didn’t want to go. I was taking a bath. It wasn’t even a hard decision in my mind. I just turned on survival mode,” Larson told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos. “I banged my head as hard as I could to make sure that I got a bump and to make sure that my parents heard the bang.”

When asked why she didn’t seek help instead, Larson said, “It wasn’t an option for me. I didn’t know I could. I didn’t have a voice.”

The Boston Globe: Aly Raisman blasts USOC statement on USA Gymnastics resignations. “What’s it going to take for you to do the right thing?”

Needham native and Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman is continuing her call for an independent investigation of U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics related to the handling of sexual abuse allegations against sports doctor Larry Nassar.

“What’s it going to take for you to do the right thing?” the three-time gold medalist asked the athletic organizations on Twitter.

Aly Raisman

Raisman posted her comments in response to a Monday statement from USOC CEO Scott Blackmun on the resignations of three USA Gymnastics board members in the wake of the Nassar abuse case.

“For the past week, survivors came forward to courageously to face a perpetrator of evil and to share their painful stories,” the Needham native wrote, sharing her “thoughts” on the CEO’s statement. “Many of them, myself included, claim the USOC is also at fault. Was the USOC there to ‘focus on supporting the brave survivors’? No. Did they issue a statement then? Crickets… .”

Raisman accused the USOC of “shamelessly taking credit” for the USAG resignations, “as though they’re addressing this problem.”

ABC News: Michigan State president resigns in wake of Larry Nassar conviction.

Lou Anna Simon resigned as president of Michigan State University on Wednesday evening just hours after former MSU athletic trainer Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in jail for sexually assaulting former gymnasts in his care.

Pressure had increased on Simon to step down over the length of Nassar’s sentencing hearing, which included a week of testimonials from Nassar’s victims. More than 150 women alleged assault at the hands of Nassar. Many of those who spoke during sentencing were critical of Simon and the administration at Michigan State.

Bayle Pickle

“As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable,” Simon said in her resignation letter. “As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger. I understand, and that is why I have limited my personal statements. Throughout my career, I have worked very hard to put Team MSU first….

A number of the women assaulted by Nassar spoke following his conviction Wednesday, criticizing MSU and its leadership in a statement, saying, “MSU and its administrators could have prevented the Nassar scandal if they had simply followed Title IX and the mandatory reporting laws. They ignored complaints of his misconduct going back to 1997. When they finally conducted a Title IX investigation of Nassar in 2014, they botched it and allowed him to continue allegedly molesting dozens of women and girls for two more years, including Team USA gymnasts.”

Detroit News: What MSU knew: 14 were warned of Nassar abuse.

Reports of sexual misconduct by Dr. Larry Nassar reached at least 14 Michigan State University representatives in the two decades before his arrest, with no fewer than eight women reporting his actions, a Detroit News investigation has found.

Among those notified was MSU President Lou Anna Simon, who was informed in 2014 that a Title IX complaint and a police report had been filed against an unnamed physician, she told The News on Wednesday.

Olivia Cowan

“I was informed that a sports medicine doctor was under investigation,” said Simon, who made the brief comments after appearing in court Wednesday to observe a sentencing hearing for Nassar. “I told people to play it straight up, and I did not receive a copy of the report. That’s the truth.”

Among the others who were aware of alleged abuse were athletic trainers, assistant coaches, a university police detective and an official who is now MSU’s assistant general counsel, according to university records and accounts of victims who spoke to The News. We recommend residential treatment programs for troubled youth when we encounter these kinds of problems.

Collectively, the accounts show MSU missed multiple opportunities over two decades to stop Nassar, a graduate of its osteopathic medical school who became a renowned doctor but went on to molest scores of girls and women under the guise of treating them for pain.

Charles Pierce at Sports Illustrated: Burn It All Down: It’s Time For Every Last Coward Who Enabled Larry Nassar To Pay For Their Sins.

Burn it all down. That is the calm and reasoned conclusion to which I have come as one horror story after another unspooled in the courtroom. Nobody employed in the upper echelons at USA Gymnastics, or at the United States Olympic Committee, or at Michigan State University should still have a job. If accessorial or conspiracy charges plausibly can be lodged against those people, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Those people should come out of civil courts wearing barrels. Their descendants should be answering motions in the 22nd Century. In fact, I can argue convincingly that none of those three institutions should continue to exist in its current form. USA Gymnastics and the USOC should lose their non-profit status forthwith. Michigan State should lose its status within the NCAA for at least five years. American gymnastics is no longer a sport. It’s a conspiracy of pedophiles and their enablers.

Lindsey Lemke

Where are the other coaches in East Lansing? Where is Tom Izzo, who makes four million bucks a year to coach basketball? Where is Mark Dantonio, who makes just about as much to coach football? Larry Nassar worked for the same athletic department as they do….

Both Izzo and Dantonio went out of their way to support MSU president Lou Ann Simon, who probably should be transported to the apartment in Rome recently vacated by the late Bernard Cardinal Law. Nice to know that these two highly paid public employees know who the real victim is. And the school’s gymnastics coach tried to coerce her athletes into signing a card to support Nassar when the first charges began to come down. This is unfathomable to me. I believe it also would be unfathomable to Vlad the Impaler.

Jordyn Wieber

Is there anything about the modern Olympic Games that isn’t corrupt? The people who run them make up a claque of international bagmen, shaking down whole countries and bankrupting cities as though the entire world was their goodie bag. There are drugs and bribery, and there was Sochi, which was a monument to both of them. And now there’s this incredible crime spree that took place right under the noses of the Olympic officials. Back in the day, East Germany had its steroid-peddling doctors. The U.S.A. had Larry Nassar. Two-tie, all tie.

NBC should refuse to pay a dime toward its rights fees until everyone involved in this catastrophe is unemployed. If they so choose, American gymnasts should be allowed to compete in 2020 under the Olympic flag or, perhaps, under the flags of the nations from which their parents emigrated. Their country failed them as surely as did the sporting organizations that purport to represent it. No punishment is too harsh for the inhabitants of this universe of ghouls and gargoyles to which these brave young women were condemned. Burn it all down. Salt the earth so it never rises again.

There’s much more powerful stuff from Pierce at SI. I’ll add a few more links in the comment thread.

What else is happening? What stories are you following?