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15/07/2018 08:00 PM
Is Donald Trump Ushering In a New World War?
Those of us who imagine a more democratic and egalitarian future are at great moral risk.

Perhaps the most vivid description of President Trump’s histrionic performance at the NATO summit earlier this week in Brussels came from a foreign-policy analyst named Philipp Liesenhoff, who quoted a German folk saying to reporters for the Daily Beast: “A blind chicken finds corn once in a while.”

It’s a marvelous metaphor. But I’m afraid it’s deceptive. Here’s a word of advice to the Trump-loathing defenders of the liberal-democratic order, whether in Europe or Britain or at home in the United States: Beware the blind chicken. His other senses have become finely tuned. Mock him at your peril. If you believe for a second that he will be easy to capture or contain or defeat, then you have learned nothing from the last three years of political chaos across the Western world. In years to come, as a servile flunky on the lowest tiers of the Forever-Existing Blind Chicken Empire, you will have time to repent of your arrogance.

I have previously suggested that Donald Trump is an important figure in “World War IV,” that being the self-destructive struggle within the Western world that philosopher Jean Baudrillard identified as beginning with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Baudrillard did not live to see the rise of Trump and Trumpism (which may have been merciful), but it certainly fits with his prediction of a system-wide “gigantic abreaction” to Islamic terrorism, a “moral and psychological downturn” in which the Western world’s “ideology of freedom,” which also represented its claim to moral authority, would corrupt itself into “a police-state globalization, a total control, a terror based on ‘law-and-order’ measures.”

With Donald Trump’s current trip to Europe — and his apparent effort to troll NATO into destroying itself, undermine an already unstable British government and form who knows what sort of alliance with Vladimir Putin — we have arrived, I believe, at a dangerous turning point in the largely invisible history of World War IV. Those of us who imagine a more democratic and egalitarian future are at great moral risk.

Opposing the authoritarian, racist and nationalist tendencies represented by Trump and his ilk is the easy part. But what is the path forward? How do we avoid trapping ourselves in systems or ideologies that are only slightly less bad, and furthermore now seem doomed? Do liberals and leftists really want to ally themselves with figures like Angela Merkel, Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron, who conspicuously represent the failed politics of the past that Trump has rejected? Those questions do not have easy answers.

In context, Liesenhoff’s blind-chicken joke clearly referred to Trump’s striking knack for identifying the weak spots and contradictions in the positions of his adversaries, despite his (shall we say) limited understanding of policy or history or much of anything else. He has done this so often, and so effectively, that it cannot be viewed as a matter of luck or accident. It is his one great political skill: He consistently wrong-foots his enemies, putting them on the defensive and making them look like hypocrites — arguably the one thing Trump himself isn’t. (You can’t be a hypocrite if you don’t believe in anything except your own 

Trump did this in Brussels, confronting the other member nations about their defense budgets and hurling wild accusations at German Chancellor Angela Merkel over her Russian gas deal — two issues he clearly doesn’t really understand and probably doesn’t care about. Then he moved on to London and did it again, inflicting an extraordinary humiliation on Prime Minister Theresa May with a tabloid interview in which he said that May had thoroughly bungled Britain’s departure from the European Union, and suggested that former foreign minister Boris Johnson — a porcine, upper-class Trump wannabe — would do a better job at 10 Downing Street.

By Friday morning, Trump had officially made up with May, and even suggested that this interview with The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s London tabloid, was somehow “fake news,” despite the existence of an audio recording. The prime minister had no choice but to stand next to the so-called leader of the so-called free world and mouth homilies about the “special relationship” between Britain and the U.S., and the amazing bilateral trade deal that was sure to follow Brexit. Perhaps May wished she could cut Trump’s liver out with a rusty kitchen scissors, or regretted her long-ago decision to go into politics instead of becoming headmistress of a mediocre girls’ school. As you have sown, so shall you reap, Theresa. You’ve been Trumped.

backward, the larger pattern that begins to be visible is extremely dangerous. All the drama in Brussels and London this week carried the shadow of an event that has yet to occur — Trump’s upcoming private tête-à-tête with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, reportedly with no American aides or interpreters present. That too is Trumpian stagecraft at its finest: The entire Western world is concern-trolling itself over something that hasn’t happened.

Is Trump likely to strike a deal with Putin for worldwide nuclear disarmament, as he has hinted? Certainly not, but here again the president is putting his foes on the defensive. Perhaps the worst single contradiction of the anti-Trump “resistance” is the marriage of convenience between genuine liberals and progressives, on one hand, and Cold War-style national security hawks on the other.

Yes, it now appears certain that Russian agents meddled in the 2016 presidential election on an unusual scale — and in a sharply polarized situation, may even have tipped the balance. Yes, President Trump has a long and tangled history of shady business deals with Russian oligarchs, which may well account for his oddly smoochy relationship with Putin. Yes, Putin himself is a venal and corrupt autocrat with an atrocious human rights record.

Those things are important, but they do not come close to creating a good reason for the so-called left to align itself with paleo-conservative warmongers who believe that the best way to unite American society is through militant paranoia directed at an outside enemy. If you wanted to write a script that might allow Trump to win the Nobel Peace Prize (for real this time), and then sweep to re-election by depicting the Democrats as small-minded prisoners of old thinking, you could hardly do it better.

In this and other ways, I suspect that Trump is once again luring his enemies into the political equivalent of a Heffalump trap — that is, a trap constructed to catch him, but in which we trap ourselves — as he did repeatedly during the 2016 presidential campaign. He is just smart enough to understand that he has no actual policies or ideology, and cannot survive any contest fought on that ground. But he might be able to win a second term and destroy democracy and become chicken-emperor for life and all the rest of it if he can persuade his enemies to sabotage themselves.

backward, the larger pattern that begins to be visible is extremely dangerous. All the drama in Brussels and London this week carried the shadow of an event that has yet to occur — Trump’s upcoming private tête-à-tête with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, reportedly with no American aides or interpreters present. That too is Trumpian stagecraft at its finest: The entire Western world is concern-trolling itself over something that hasn’t happened.

Is Trump likely to strike a deal with Putin for worldwide nuclear disarmament, as he has hinted? Certainly not, but here again the president is putting his foes on the defensive. Perhaps the worst single contradiction of the anti-Trump “resistance” is the marriage of convenience between genuine liberals and progressives, on one hand, and Cold War-style national security hawks on the other.

Yes, it now appears certain that Russian agents meddled in the 2016 presidential election on an unusual scale — and in a sharply polarized situation, may even have tipped the balance. Yes, President Trump has a long and tangled history of shady business deals with Russian oligarchs, which may well account for his oddly smoochy relationship with Putin. Yes, Putin himself is a venal and corrupt autocrat with an atrocious human rights record.

Those things are important, but they do not come close to creating a good reason for the so-called left to align itself with paleo-conservative warmongers who believe that the best way to unite American society is through militant paranoia directed at an outside enemy. If you wanted to write a script that might allow Trump to win the Nobel Peace Prize (for real this time), and then sweep to re-election by depicting the Democrats as small-minded prisoners of old thinking, you could hardly do it better.

In this and other ways, I suspect that Trump is once again luring his enemies into the political equivalent of a Heffalump trap — that is, a trap constructed to catch him, but in which we trap ourselves — as he did repeatedly during the 2016 presidential campaign. He is just smart enough to understand that he has no actual policies or ideology, and cannot survive any contest fought on that ground. But he might be able to win a second term and destroy democracy and become chicken-emperor for life and all the rest of it if he can persuade his enemies to sabotage themselves.

Effectively, it’s a dumber version of the “let’s kill Hitler” time-travel scenario: If we can recreate the conditions that made Trump possible — a world of grotesque inequality, permanent culture war and political paralysis, permanently ruled by neoliberal technocrats like Merkel and David Cameron and Barack Obama — maybe he won’t happen this time!

How do we avoid that? A good place to start is by facing the nature of the blind-chicken paradox. Trump often acts as a scouring agent who reveals truths below the surface of conventional politics, even if he doesn’t understand them or uses them in the worst possible ways. Trump is at least a little bit right about NATO defense spending, even if he has no idea how the policy is supposed to work and most of the things he said about it weren’t true. He also has a point on Merkel’s pipeline deal with Russia. In both cases, Trump seized on those issues not because he actually understood them or cared about them, but because they are sore spots in the NATO alliance that put the other leaders on the defensive.

It’s ludicrous to suggest that “Germany is totally controlled by Russia” because Merkel is buying a backup supply of cheap Russian gas from Gazprom, the giant company closely tied to the Putin oligarchy. But that deal has been a massive embarrassment in Europe: It was poorly timed and halfway swept under the carpet and has made the German chancellor look simultaneously clueless and hypocritical. In case you haven’t noticed, with Donald Trump the facts don’t much matter, but appearance is everything. Tactics and optics and inflated rhetoric and fanciful, paranoid narratives — that’s his terrain, and on that ground he remains undefeated.

Furthermore, Trump is 100 percent right that Theresa May has made a total botch of Brexit — mostly because she never supported pulling Britain out of the EU in the first place and knows there is no elegant or painless way to do it, but is now the prisoner of bad promises the Conservative Party made to its voters. It’s highly doubtful that Trump’s pal Boris Johnson could do better, but a reckless “hard Brexit” might crash the British economy and make the UK even more of an American client state than it is now, which would suit the president just fine.

Even more to the point, Trump has revealed the contradictions in both NATO and the EU, a pair of problematic institutions that stand in the way of his campaign to fragment the liberal-democratic order and consolidate authoritarian power. (I have no idea whether he actually thinks in those terms, but some of his advisers do.) NATO is a military and strategic alliance that has had no clear adversary since 1991; any suggestion that Russia actually presents a military threat to Europe is ludicrous. To a large degree, its continuing existence is mysterious. Why, exactly, should Belgium and Spain increase their defense budgets to 4 percent of GDP? Who are they going to invade?

The EU is a far more complicated story, and I can’t hope to summarize its pros and cons accurately in this space. I think it’s fair to say that its promise, its failures and its unknown future are key battlegrounds of World War IV. If the EU is a glorified free-trade zone that tried to turn itself into a technocratic, humanitarian, social-democratic superstate, it never quite got there, and the question of whether the whole project was worth doing remains unanswered. It has been a bonanza for finance capital and high-tech manufacturing, and has unquestionably brought economic development to some of Europe’s poorer nations, but has also pretty much dumped its formerly grand Enlightenment social vision in the era of neoliberalism.

Is the EU’s survival in doubt, after British voters’ impulsive (and self-destructive) decision to bail out? Not yet, but stay tuned: With right-wing or anti-immigrant governments now in power in Italy, Hungary and Poland, and Merkel clearly near the end of her tenure in Germany, Europe’s identity crisis is real. Too many European citizens now perceive the EU as a bloodless, bureaucratic abstraction that seeks to uproot or destroy national or regional identity. The same question applies in Europe that reportedly tormented Barack Obama after the election of Trump: “What if we were wrong? … Maybe we pushed too far. Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe.”

Many people across the political spectrum and on both sides of the Atlantic view this new tribalism as a dangerous phenomenon that carries troubling echoes of the past. That’s the easy part. But is forging a common front between the left, the center and the responsible right really the effective or necessary path of resistance? Can such a front really be led by Establishment politicians like Merkel or May or Macron (or, for that matter, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer), simply because they seem like sane and rational people compared to the alternatives?

I don’t really know, but I suspect that’s the Heffalump trap: Those people are, at best, transitional figures between the failed politics of the past and the emerging politics of the future. At worst, they are steering the ship of trans-Atlantic democracy straight into the iceberg. I’m not here to preach the gospel of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to all people in all places; there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. But if you believe in a future of greater democracy, greater freedom and greater equality, and you have somehow convinced yourself that Theresa May and Angela Merkel are your friends, then a long, dark road lies ahead. With a blind chicken leading the way.

15/07/2018 07:47 PM
‘He Doesn’t Read’: Ex-US Ambassador to Russia Details Putin’s Strategic Advantage over Trump Ahead of ‘Dangerous’ Helsinki Summit
Michael McFaul also ripped the president's decision to label the European Union a "foe."

Michael McFaul, the former United States Ambassador to Russia, on Sunday slammed Donald Trump for declaring the European Union a “foe,” arguing it’s “not in America’s national interest” to antagonize its closes allies.

Trump on Sunday called the E.U. a “foe,” prompting a response from European Council President Donald Tusk.

“America and the E.U. are best friends,” Tusk wrote on Twitter. “Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news.”

Speaking with MSNBC, McFaul tore into Trump’s comment.

“It’s ridiculous,” McFaul said. “I hate to be undiplomatic as a former diplomat. It goes to show what we were talking about. He doesn't read what—the talking points. There is no way to call the European Union a foe of the United States of America. That is not in America's national interest.”

McFaul went on to call Trump’s remark “deeply disappointing.”

The former ambassador also explained Putin’s strategic advantage over Trump.

“[Putin] has met Clinton, Bush, Obama, and now President Trump,” McFaul said. “All the issues that you have just been discussing, he has been working on for years. So he knows the details of Syria. He knows the details of Ukraine. By the way, he also knows the details of how to interfere in an American election. Whereas President Trump, he has only been at this for a year and a half. he does not know these details. Therefore, that one-on-one meeting, I think, is rather dangerous for President Trump.”

Watch below:

15/07/2018 06:17 PM
Yes, Trump Is a Narcissist — But It's Literally A Million Times Worse Than That
It’s not just Trump who is a narcissist beyond help, it’s everyone who still follows him.

Yes, the hallmarks of narcissism are painfully obvious in the president of the United States. The endless projection. The delusion of grandeur masking a paper-thin skin that punctures under the most benign criticisms. The nonstop gaslighting. But you know who else every single one of these attributes describes?

His base.

Trump’s deplorable, unmovable base are cult-like followers who could watch him shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and still follow him, who give no shits that he is a serial sexual assaulter and defender of molesters, who get fleeced by his tariffs, by his family’s blatant disregard for the emoluments clause, and yet continue to vote for him even when it seemingly serves no interest of their own. Kool-Aid drinkers in the most macabre sense of the metaphor, they will follow him right to hell and never look back. None of it makes any logical sense, until you realize they are serving their own interests. Because none of the details matter if you see yourself in the narcissist delivering the rhetoric that feeds your own sense of narcissism.

Trump’s base is nothing more than a collection of narcissists, and I find this a lot more interesting than the fact that Trump himself is a narcissist. Trump simply represents the abhorrent qualities of his entire base.

All these qualities listed under the narcissistic personality could not only describe Trump, but the party that props him up, and let us count the ways. (The list was compiled from the traits listed in this article from Psychology Today on “Understanding the Mind of a Narcissist”; the parentheticals are my own.)

*Has a grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerates achievements and talents. (White supremacy. Patriarchy. Rulers of every uterus everywhere. Neo-Confederates who still see the South as heroes of the Civil War.)

*Dreams of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. (The great Steinbeck paraphrased quote about the poor seeing themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires comes to mind. Even the slogan “Make America Great Again” smacks of a nostalgic, over-idealized dream of what this country should strive towards.)

*Believes he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions. (cough literal Nazis are winning primaries cough)

*Requires excessive admiration. (Ever notice how white Republican men need constant validation they aren’t being repressed in some way, and how our media happily obliges, writing puff piece after puff piece over poor, misunderstood Trump voters?)

*Unreasonably expects special, favorable treatment or compliance with his or her wishes. (An unwillingness to compromise on even the most inarguable of issues—gun control’s a great example. Because, you know, a Republican’s freedom is more important than your children being safe from massacres that may or may not happen in their classrooms.)

*Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve personal ends. (They support deregulation of everything, at the expense of human health and life.)

*Lacks empathy for the feelings and needs of others. (Racism, homophobia, xenophobia, bigotry, bullying, straight-up hate crimes.)

*Envies others or believes they’re envious of him or her. (Paranoid views of immigrants, people of color, feminists, etc. “They’re taking our jobs!” “We’re the minority now!”)

*Has arrogant behaviors or attitudes. (“Fuck your feelings!” “Snowflakes!”)

After having this revelation, I consulted Dr. Google and realized, like most revelations, this was not an unprecedented thought. In fact, there is an entire, fascinating entry on Wikipedia on something called “Collective narcissism” that describes Trump’s base to a T. 

In an article from Washington Post, co-author and researcher Agnieszka Golec de Zavala, who has highlighted and studied collective narcissism,defines it as such:    

Collective narcissism is a lot like individual narcissism in that it involves emotional dependence on others’ admiration. The difference is that collective narcissists seek privilege and recognition for groups they belong to. They constantly monitor their environment for validation and are hypersensitive to threats to the in-group’s image.

Collective narcissists’ default reaction to having the in-group image threatened is intergroup aggression. When the in-group is, in their view, criticized or insufficiently recognized, collective narcissists attack back and rejoice in the out-group’s misfortunes.

Collective narcissists are also prejudiced toward groups they perceive as threatening. For instance, Polish collective narcissists who endorsed conspiracy theories about Jewish efforts to undermine Poland evaluated Jews more negatively.

Agnieszka Golec de Zavala’s article was written in 2017, and there, through a fascinating study and its analysis, she links Trump’s followers to this concept of “collective narcissism.” 

Political psychologist Jerrold Post coined the idea of a symbiotic relationship between narcissist and this group:

An important characteristic of the leader follower-relationship are the manifestations of narcissism by both the leader and follower of a group.[18] Within this relationship there are two categories of narcissists: the mirror-hungry narcissist, and the ideal-hungry narcissist—the leader and the followers respectively.[18]The mirror-hungry personality typically seeks a continuous flow of admiration and respect from his followers. Conversely, the ideal-hungry narcissist takes comfort in the charisma and confidence of his mirror-hungry leader. The relationship is somewhat symbiotic; for while the followers provide the continuous admiration needed by the mirror-hungry leader, the leader's charisma provides the followers with the sense of security and purpose that their ideal-hungry narcissism seeks.[18] Fundamentally both the leader and the followers exhibit strong collectively narcissistic sentiments—both parties are seeking greater justification and reason to love their group as much as possible.

Sound familiar? 

I’ve been pondering this, though, from an individual point of view. How are people encouraged to deal with narcissists? You can’t treat them. You can’t teach empathy. You can’t cure them. While many suggestions from many psychologists and self-help experts exist, one of them I come across time and time again in both anecdotes and the interwebs is to sever ties with them. Do not play into their delusions. Do not attempt to argue with them. Call them out, sure—and sever all ties. That, to me, seems like really the only way forward with an entire group of narcissists.

And guess what? We’re seeing that plan in action already, and it works.Government-employed kleptomaniac Scott Pruitt cited attacks on him as a reason he stepped down as head of the EPA, only days after being publicly confronted by a brave mama holding her child. Manboys with MAGA hats cry into their pillows because nobody wants to date gross Trump supporters. Dead-inside Sarah Huckabee Sanders boo-hoos because she was asked to leave the Red Hen, human-shaped ghoul Kirstjen Nielsen is shocked protesters would chase her from her Mexican food, and all Trump’s minions whine about civility (for me, not for thee, of course). And news broke today that Stephen Miller threw 80 bucks’ worth of sushi in the garbage because a bartender at the restaurant displayed his two middle fingers at him. Why is “they don’t like me and my feelings are hurt” BS from Trumpians even news? Because underneath their tough, braggadocious exteriors, they are marshmallows and they are hurt by even the tiniest bit of criticism. Resistance, protest—it works, folks, and it’s all we have. So call them out. Shun them. Sever all ties. Don’t give them your business. Don’t serve them food. Don’t reward their behaviors and their abhorrent beliefs with anything except ridicule and absolute rejection.

There’s no use for logic or empathy when you’re dealing with a delusional sect of a country that is sprinting toward a fascist ‘Merica. It’s not just Trump who is a narcissist beyond help, it’s everyone who still follows him. Do yourself a favor and give them all a view of your gorgeous middle fingers.

15/07/2018 05:53 PM
'Fake News': European Council President Hits Back After Trump Calls the E.U. America's 'Foe'
"America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news."

Literally minutes after CBS aired an interview in which President Donald Trump declared the European Union to be among America's greatest enemies, the head of the EU struck back.

European Council President Donald Tusk (photo, left) took to Twitter, and in an elegant mocking of Trump's favorite phrase, declared, "America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news." The European Council represents the European Union.

America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news.

— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) July 15, 2018

President Trump had told CBS News, "I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn't think of the European Union, but they're a foe."

The European Union is comprised of 28 member nations, including France, Spain, Germany, and Italy.

Nicholas Burns, a former former US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, now a Harvard Kennedy School Professor, notes the European Union is America's "largest trade partner, largest investor in our economy, our ally in climate, human rights+protecting democracy."

"Most of its members our NATO allies," he adds, which goes to the heart of why Trump just declared the EU America's "foe." Trump has made it clear he wants to destroy NATO, which is among Putin's top goals.

Trump, in Orwellian spin, brands EU a foe. Our largest trade partner, largest investor in our economy, our ally in climate, human rights+protecting democracy. Most of its members our NATO allies. Trump dividing us from our true friends.

— Nicholas Burns (@RNicholasBurns) July 15, 2018

15/07/2018 05:33 PM
British Prime Minister Theresa May: Trump 'Told Me I Should Sue the E.U.' Over Brexit
The British Prime Minster said his advice will go unheeded.

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday said during her visit with Donald Trump, the president recommended she sue the European Union instead of negotiating a solution to Brexit with the bloc, the New York Times reports.

“He told me I should sue the E.U.,” she said in an interview with BBC’s Andrew Marr. “Not go into negotiations, sue them."

During a press conference on Friday, Trump teased he offered May advice that was “too brutal” for her to heed.

If they don’t make the right deal, she might very well do what I suggested that she might want to do," Trump told reporters.

According to May, her government has no plans to follow the president’s suggestion. "Actually, no—we’re going into negotiations with them," May explained Sunday. Still, she added that Trump cautioned her not to “walk away” from negotiations—advice she will consider, the British Prime Minister said.

Donald Trump's #Brexit advice to Theresa May?

"He told me I should sue the EU" #Marr

— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) July 15, 2018

15/07/2018 04:45 PM
California Dems Refuse to Endorse Dianne Feinstein for a Second Time
Progressive challenger Kevin de León received a landslide endorsement from California Democrats

In the latest sign that many in the party are ready for new blood and a bolder, more progressive vision, the Democratic Party in California offered a stunning rebuke to the state's senior U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein by endorsing her primary challenger Kevin de León, the former State Senate leader from Los Angeles.

In a vote by the party's 330-member executive body in Oakland on Saturday evening, de León received a full 65 percent of the votes, while Feinstein—who had argued with the board not to issue an endorsment—received only 7 percent. Twenty-eight percent of members chose not to vote.

"Tonight we showed the world what a truly unified Democratic Party looks like," de León declared followig the vote. "California Democrats are leading the call for a bold agenda in Washington that puts people before politics and focuses on building a future for our state that works for everyone."

The final results from Saturday's party convention:


As the Los Angeles Times notes, the endorsement of de León "was an embarrassment for Feinstein, who is running for a fifth full term, and indicates that Democratic activists in California have soured on her reputation for pragmatism and deference to bipartisanship as Trump and a Republican-led Congress are attacking Democratic priorities on immigration, healthcare and environmental protections."

Christina Bellatoni, political reporter for theTimes, exclaimed:

Writing for The Intercept, California-based journalist David Dayen added: "The executive board has grown more and more progressive for a decade, since a new generation of activists secured spots in the party hierarchy. De León proved to have better relationships with party delegates than a senator who spends most of her time in Washington, and little connecting with Democratic activists back home. But the endorsement is also a resounding rejection of Feinstein’s brand of centrist politics, which simply doesn’t mesh well with the party’s most dedicated and plugged-in supporters."

And Winnie Wong, co-founder of the People for Bernie [Sanders] group, simply pointed out just what a stunning landslide it was:


15/07/2018 04:30 PM
Watch: CNN's Jake Tapper Lectures GOP Senator Equating NATO with Russian Aggression
"Russia invades other countries and takes over those countries."

CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday defended NATO to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), as the Republican senator appeared to equate the alliance with Russia’s attacks on other countries.

Paul accused the United States of engaging in election interference throughout the world, before suggesting NATO offers “a disproportionate advantage to the west.”

“I think there are a lot of people out there who would have been surprised to hear a sitting United States senator describe Russia versus NATO in terms of confrontation and expansion as a chicken or egg proposition given the fact that NATO protects sovereign countries while allowing them to remain sovereign while Russia invades other countries and takes over those countries,” Tapper said.

“Right,” Paul replied. “Well, what I would say is that there were people—probably the greatest diplomat of the last century was George Kennan, and he did predict that as NATO expanded you would incite militaristic tendencies and nationalism in Russia. I’m not justifying Russian aggression in the Ukraine or Georgia.”

“I’m not saying they are equivalent,” Paul continued. “I’m saying though that the provocation of pushing NATO forward after we promised Gorbachev that the west would not go one inch beyond Germany. And yet and under the Clinton administration we kept pushing, pushing, pushing. For every action we put out there there is a reaction.”

15/07/2018 03:27 PM
What Came Before #MeToo: The Himpathy That Shaped Misogyny
Sexual coercion at work had to be named before it could be fought, and feminists of the 1970s identified common experiences women suffered by naming marital rape and domestic abuse.

he #MeToo movement has brought unprecedented attention to sexual harassment and assault. It’s revealed just how many women feel besieged by sexually predatory behavior—especially in the workplace. The wave of women coming forward has shown that sexual harassment is the rule in many institutions.  

And #MeToo has only revealed a small piece of a much larger problem. Although the most high-profile #MeToo stories have focused on celebrities or executives, most victims are disproportionately young, low-income, and minority women. Also less evident in the #MeToo movement have been cases of sexual violence: where shaming, trolling, threats, and unwelcome advances have given way to rape, physical violence, and even forms of torture—of which choking is the most common. 

In its most extreme cases, it can literally be a matter of life and death, and yet sexual harassment and violence remain largely hidden by an elaborate system of denial, gaslighting, and retraction of accusations by women. Meanwhile, unrepentant abusers are often comforted or excused while victims are blamed. 

How did we get here? Moral philosopher Kate Manne’s book, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, helps explain. Thanks to Manne, the undue comfort that men receive now has a name: It’s called himpathy. And, together with how she defines misogyny, Manne provides a useful framework for understanding not just the present #MeToo moment, but what came before. 

For Manne, misogyny is not simply “men who hate women.” That’s far too simplistic, she says. Rather, it’s a far-reaching, punitive social system that keeps women in their place by rewarding compliance and punishing resistance to the gendered social order. This disciplining role of misogyny has escaped attention for a variety of reasons, chiefly, the social shield of himpathy. 

Himpathy, a term destined to become part of the feminist vocabulary, names a problem previously unrecognized—and perhaps that’s the first step in solving it. Manne defines himpathy as the “excessive sympathy sometimes shown to male perpetrators of sexual violence,” in the attempt to preserve their reputation, power, or status. Accused men, especially those with privilege, are broadly treated with deference by the media and the public, and if they’re brought to court are given lenient sentences. 

This is so common as to be a given for men in power. Harvey Weinstein is a case in point. Wielding control over the film careers of many and trading on his artistic reputation, he escaped unscathed for decades. Excuses are abundantly generated: alcohol, flirtation taken too far, or provocation on the part of the victim. Himpathy builds on the idea that sexual predators and rapists are creepy monsters, not “golden boys.” Correspondingly, the women in these situations are characterized as hysterical, misguided, or liars who misread the intentions of their attackers. 

Himpathy is a helpful explanation of the response after sexual abuse allegations are revealed. Over and over, we’ve seen victim blaming and rewriting of the story by friends, family, media, and sometimes even the victim. Responses to #MeToo revelations by close-at-hand onlookers are often characterized by shock and guilt for having looked the other way when powerful and respected men are involved. 

But himpathy is certainly not a recent phenomenon. Historically, misogyny and himpathy have been normal, if unrecognized, fare for women in the workplace. 

Sexual coercion at work had to be named before it could be fought, and feminists of the 1970s identified common experiences women suffered by naming marital rape and domestic abuse. The term “sexual harassment” in the workplace was defined by Lin Farley in her 1978 book, Sexual Shakedown: The Sexual Harassment of Women on the Job, as “unsolicited nonreciprocal male behavior that asserts a woman’s sex role over her function as a worker.” Farley joined the legal scholar Catharine A. MacKinnon in pressing the courts to consider it part of “sex discrimination” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act gave women and minorities new rights in employment. But there was still backlash. A law on the books is only the first step in triggering a cultural shift. And law is not useful unless some are willing to use it and make a claim.

The recognition of sexual harassment as a form of employment-related discrimination opened the floodgates: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began receiving tens of thousands of claims each year. Even with a rush of claims, many from low-wage workers, the definition of sexual harassment as interpreted by the courts is narrow and fails to consider the disadvantaged social circumstances of women that dissuade many from seeking legal recourse. Over the next 40 years, as women entered previously male-dominated fields, sexual harassment, though illegal under the law, persisted. 

Take, for example, the high-profile cases of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas in 1991 or Bill Clinton and Paula Jones in 1994. Despite attracting a great deal of attention, these failed to mobilize a mass movement. In both cases, the men involved were held by many to be blameless while Hill and Jones were scrutinized for ill intentions. Hill’s accusation on national television ultimately did not stop the Thomas confirmation, and Jones faded into obscurity. High-profile cases like these are easily dismissed as aberrations, a moral failure of one individual, a political plot, or gold-digging on the part of victims. Non-transgressing men benefit from a system that keeps women in their place, and low-profile cases continue to be invisible. 

The backlash against #MeToo, in an already global movement, has begun. Sometimes the case is taken up by women, such as the actress Catherine Deneuve, who evoked the French tradition of seduction against sexual puritanism: “Clumsy flirting is not a crime,” she said. Claire Berlinski, writing for The American Interest, charged that in #MeToo, “mass hysteria had set in [as] a form of moral panic” that misinterprets naturally romantic interactions as nefarious. 

This women-against-women narrative is part of the story of misogyny and himpathy—and it’s part of why it’s so difficult to remedy. By standing by their man, “good women” show their deference and act as enforcers. In exchange for upholding gender norms—and participating in misogyny by punishing those who don’t—they earn favors and advancement, which reinforces even further the social deviance of the victims.

 After all, women can say no, these defenders say. But if you are not a woman with executive power or Meryl Streep, saying no is difficult.

Women who work to support their families have few options. When the choice is between your job and your dignity, himpathy is likely to work as a silencing mechanism. Unless #MeToo successfully expands beyond professional women by reaching out to empower pink- and blue-collar women who suffer in silence under male supervisors, it will leave its mark but will not have done its most significant work. 

15/07/2018 03:18 PM
Think GOP Lawmakers Aren't Unhinged Enough to Endorse Program Called "Kinderguardians" That Puts Guns in Hands of 4-Year-Old Kids? Watch Them
Sacha Baron Cohen's new show is about to drop and exposed nut-job Republicans are not happy about it

That comedian and chameleon provocateur Sacha Baron Cohen has been traveling the country and duping clueless Republican lawmakers and their supporters has been known for weeks, but as his new show—titled "What Is America?"—readies to drop its first episode for Showtime on Sunday night, clips have surfaced in which actual adults are seen endorsing the preposterous idea of arming children as young as three and four years old with guns in order to possibly intervene in case of a school shooting massacre.

According to Reuters:

In the first episode of “Who is America?”, previewed for media by Showtime, Baron Cohen poses as an Israeli anti-terror expert who gets two U.S. congressmen to voice support for his fake “Kinderguardians” scheme for children as young as three.

The scheme includes a fake instructional video featuring children’s songs and “gunimals” — weapons adorned with soft toys — that would purportedly help kids confront the school shootings that have plagued the United States for the past decade.

Republican congressmen Dana Rohrabacher of California and Joe Wilson of South Carolina, along with former Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, who is now a lobbyist at a Washington law firm, are shown enthusiastically backing the idea, alongside gun rights advocates and a former congressman-turned-talk radio host, Joe Walsh.

While official trailers have not been released, some on social media have been posting portions of the episode:

In his review for Variety, television critic Daniel D'Addadario says the show is Cohen's best work in some time:

“Who Is America?” feels both as richly comic as anything Baron Cohen has done in the decade-plus since “Borat” and urgently resonant with our own era. The show’s format—using four new Baron Cohen personae in order to expose the nature of contemporary American culture—is particularly effective, moving as it does beyond the boldface names who’ve come forward to say they’ve been pranked by the comic. The first episode, for instance, puts gun lobbyists in conversation with Erran Morad, a former Israeli colonel played by Baron Cohen. “Morad” is traveling the U.S. to learn more about gun policy and to share his full-throated support for a particularly libertine understanding of the Second Amendment; by episode’s end, gun lobbyists as well as past and present members of Congress are on tape endorsing his “Kinder-Guardians” program, designed to teach children of three and four how to shoot.

This is the magic of Baron Cohen at his best: Simultaneously devising bizarre and seemingly impossibly outré bits of social commentary, and knowing the culture well enough to be sure that his targets will be along for the ride. The lengthy “Kinder-Guardians” segment, culminating as it does in a bizarre pro-toddler-riflery PSA endorsed by Dana Rohrabacher and Trent Lott, is the episode’s creative high point. Less engaging is much of what led up to it: An interview between Sen. Bernie Sanders and an Alex Jones-style web-”journalist” (played by Baron Cohen, of course) sees plenty of good jokes but Sanders utterly failing to take the comic bait.

15/07/2018 03:07 PM
The Overlooked Irony of Sarah Sanders' Red Hen Restaurant Incident
The Red Hen is across the street from the house of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, which is still open to visitors.

Recently, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen, a small farm to table restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. After exiting quietly, Sanders unleashed a very uncivil right-wing outrage machine. She spread news of the incident via Twitter, leading Fox News and even the President to denounce the establishment. The restaurant had to shut down for more than a week in reaction to picketing and online harassment, ranging from death threats to hundreds of negative reviews on Yelp. 

Sanders’s eviction happened in a week when she disingenuously defended the administration’s policy of tearing thousands of children from the arms of their parents, who had sought asylum in the United States. She even invoked the Bible to justify the cruelty. Immigration was not the only issue involved. Gay and transgender employees at the Red Hen objected to Donald Trump’s homophobic policies.

In the “Breaking News” coverage of this event, the media missed something that struck me as ironic. The Red Hen is across the street from the house of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, which is still open to visitors. 

The Red Hen, with its local cuisine, caters to a relatively new group: “foodies,” many of whom are liberals who deplore the industrialization of American agriculture. While not all visitors to Jackson’s house revere the Confederacy, it is a must see for the many tourists who romanticize the Lost Cause. Both establishments cater to tourists, but as Sanders discovered to her chagrin, not all tourist attractions are created equal.

Located in Virginia’s gorgeous Shenandoah Valley, Lexington is host to two colleges, Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Like most college communities, the town typically votes Democratic. But Lexington is not a typical college town. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are both interred there, and Confederate heritage tourism thrives. The southern poet and literary critic Allan Tate once declared that Virginia’s reverence for Civil War heroes resembles “ancestor worship.” If Tate was right, Lexington is practically Mecca.

In the 1850s, Jackson taught optics—a combination of math and physics—at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). He also oversaw artillery exercises. Famously, his teaching was so inept that the school nearly fired him. Following the war, Robert E. Lee spent the last five years of his life serving as president of the financially troubled Washington College. After his death, it was renamed Washington and Lee. 

Local attractions include two statues of Jackson, one at his grave and another at VMI. A wall at VMI is inscribed with Jackson’s dictum: “you can be whatever you resolve to be.” Ironically, Jackson copied that modern phrase from a best-selling advice manual by William Andrus Alcott, an abolitionist and the uncle of Louisa May Alcott.

The VMI museum, which gets 50,000 visits a year, features Jackson memorabilia, including the mounted hide of Little Sorrel, his trusted warhorse. Its bones are interred on the school’s parade grounds, which also displays artillery from Jackson’s brigade.

At nearby Washington and Lee University, Confederate heritage abounds. In recent years, Confederate legacy has become more noticeably problematic than at VMI. The school has climbed in the rankings for liberal arts institutions. However, it is hard to imagine Washington and Lee attaining more national prestige without shaking off symbols associated with racism.

The University’s backers often package Lee as a man of “honor,” usually downplaying his antebellum activities in trading slaves and his brutal military tactics on behalf of a proslavery government. Instead, they try to market Lee’s college presidency and portray him, unconvincingly, as a figure of sectional reconciliation. Today, an institution of higher learning that celebrates such a person seems hopelessly out of date and tremendously callous.

Unfortunately, the school includes a chapel where Lee and his family are interred under a sentimental marble statue of the general in repose. Until very recently, the college held official events in the building, which included replica Confederate flags.

In recent years, the school has removed Confederate flags from the chapel, stopped conducting official events there, and installed a plaque tactfully recounting the “difficult, yet undeniable” history of slavery on campus. The school faculty voted to “suspend classes” on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2016. This belated action rings in as less than a full-throated celebration of the holiday.

Both Washington and Lee and VMI are haunted by ghosts of the Confederacy. At the former, only 2% of students identify as African-American. In contrast, over 19% of students come from families in the top 1% of the nation’s income brackets. VMI is a public institution, but its student body hardly resembles the state of Virginia. About 5% of students are African-American, and female enrollment hovers a little over 10%.

Kicking Trump administration officials out of restaurants is not a viable strategy for change. It allows conservatives like Sanders to portray themselves as victims, even as they put children into cages without a fig leaf of due process. But while the restaurant’s action was politically off target, the impulse was courageous and humane. The irony that this controversy broke out in the shadow of Stonewall Jackson’s house would make him spin in his grave, and that’s a good thing.


15/07/2018 03:03 PM
Fox News Busted for Quietly Deleting Tweet Claiming Mueller Hasn't Nabbed Anyone from Trump's Campaign
The Fox & Friends tweet Sunday was categorically false.

The Fox News morning show Fox & Friends on Sunday claimed in a tweet that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation had not implicated anyone from the Trump campaign.

Hours before President Donald Trump was scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Fox & Friends tweeted a video clip and asserted that Mueller “still hasn’t tied anyone from the campaign to the probe.”

— rob, an outsider (@JCDropout) July 15, 2018

As CNN’s Brian Stelter pointed out, the tweet erroneous claimed that Mueller is looking to end the probe because no members of the Trump campaign have been “tied” to the case. In fact, several members of Trump’s 2016 campaign have already been indicted in Mueller’s probe — including campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

What the Post ACTUALLY reported: "The special counsel is pushing to wrap up a significant portion of his investigative work by the end of summer." And: "As recently as this week, Mueller's team has discussed interviewing more witnesses..."

— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) July 15, 2018

CNBC’s John Harwood found the tweet so outlandish that he joked that it came from a “parody” account.

parody account?

— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) July 15, 2018

In a clip associated with the tweet, Fox & Friends host Pete Hegseth complained that Mueller’s team had found no “colluson.”

Watch the clip below.


15/07/2018 02:53 PM
The Map That Shocked Obama
It is troubling that the otherwise well-informed Obama was unaware of the true impact of Israeli policies on Palestinians.

One afternoon in the spring of 2015, a senior State Department official named Frank Lowenstein paged through a government briefing book and noticed a map that he had never seen before. Lowenstein was the Obama Administration’s special envoy on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, a position that exposed him to hundreds of maps of the West Bank. (One adorned his State Department office.)

Typically, those maps made Jewish settlements and outposts look tiny compared to the areas where the Palestinians lived. The new map in the briefing book was different. It showed large swaths of territory that were off limits to Palestinian development and filled in space between the settlements and the outposts. At that moment, Lowenstein told me, he saw “the forest for the trees”—not only were Palestinian population centers cut off from one another but there was virtually no way to squeeze a viable Palestinian state into the areas that remained. Lowenstein’s team did the math. When the settlement zones, the illegal outposts, and the other areas off limits to Palestinian development were consolidated, they covered almost sixty per cent of the West Bank.

Their inability to clearly see the facts is the result of the Israeli government’s propaganda designed to obscure its abuse of Palestinian peoples. This propaganda is eagerly amplified by many in the US.

The Israeli government’s decades long strategy to annex as much of the West Bank as possible is close to fruition. By employing force and a series of subterfuges (building permits, parks, military installations, armed settlers), the Israeli government has managed to concentrate Palestinians in the West Bank into dense, isolated pockets. Exclusively Jewish-Israeli settlements circle these areas.

Isolating Palestinian communities into small pockets cut off from each other is a calculated effort to destroy the Palestinian economy and culture. The entire apparatus of the Israeli state works relentlessly to undermine Palestinian freedom of movement. This has reached its zenith in Gaza, where an entire generation has lived its life confined to a 140 square mile area, isolated from the rest of the Palestinian population, from towns and places that used to form an integral part of their lives.

Things are hardly better in the West Bank. Palestinians seeking to travel outside of their small towns have to contend with a network of Israeli “checkpoints” designed to humiliate them. They are often staffed with belligerent soldiers who are fully aware that a system of impunity will protect them from any repercussions when they abuse Palestinian, and even if they kill them.

Each checkpoint exacts a toll from Palestinians who wish to visit family or visit the next town over to conduct business. These costs are imposed within towns as well, where certain streets are reserved for Jewish settlers. They exist at the edges of Palestinian towns and villages where the Israeli army imposes curfews and arbitrarily stops travelers to harass them. And they exist at the borders, where the ability of Palestinians to travel abroad is constrained by the Israeli government’s control of the borders and its ability to deny them the “right to return”. The Israeli government makes no bones about it’s desire to see as many Palestinians “self-deport” as possible.

And amid all these abuses, a propaganda effort surgically blames the shackled victims for low economic growth. Palestinian enterprises face enormous barriers to develop and produce products, while companies owned by Jewish Israelis are often given free rein to illegally exploit resources in the West Bank. The Palestinian response has been to advocate for a boycott of Israeli goods and services. This peaceful boycott has been vilified by an organized lobbying and propaganda campaign that seeks to undermine it. 

Apart from the building, the Israeli state continues to attack and bomb Palestinians on a daily basis. Two children were killed by an IAF bomb while playing in a park in Gaza:

View image on Twitter
Electronic Intifada ✔@intifada  

Friends Amir al-Nimra, 15 and Louay Kuhail, 16, died together in an Israeli air attack in Gaza on Saturday 

6:20 PM - Jul 14, 2018
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The bombs that were dropped on them and the plane that did it were likely a gift from the US government, which sends several billion dollars in military aid each year to the Israeli government. This support is in violation of the Leahy act, since numerous Israeli army units have engaged in human rights abuses.

It’s impossible to escape the thought that if two Israeli children had been killed by Palestinian bombs, American newspapers would have devoted front page stories to them. Since the victims are Palestinian, the story is buried if reported at all. This despite the fact that the bombs dropped on them were almost certainly made in American factories and paid for by American taxpayers, as were the aircraft that made the bombing run.

The relentless bombing by drone and F-16 over decades has taken an unimaginable toll on Palestinian children. Thousands have been killed and millions traumatized in ways big and small.

Tamara Nassar@TamaraINassar  

Chilling video shows Palestinian children in Gaza trying to film a video for a competition right when Israeli missiles hit nearby. You can see the fear and recognition of what that sound means to them on their faces.

Mohammad Y. Hasna@mhasna1981 

#غزه_تحت_القصف فيديو يظهر لحظة القصف على مدينة غزة، أثناء تصوير أطفال من عائلة حبوش لفيديو مسابقة، وكم الرعب الذي أصابهم نتيجة قصف اسرائيلي ..

 4:13 PM - Jul 14, 2018
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— @subirgrewal | City of Lost Love Songs: available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble


The impact of these apartheid policies is illustrated by the Palestinian village of Kaddum which has been cut off from Nablus from 15 years by the Israeli army. For the past seven years, the villagers have protested this closure. The Israeli state has responded by terrorizing villagers with nightly raids designed to disrupt their sleep, and by attacking their protests.


As part of this decades-long strategy, the Israeli government is preparing to demolish a Bedouin village and make the land available to Jewish settlers.

If Israel were to demolish the village and other surrounding Bedouin communities and build here as planned, Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank would be split in two, with a portion of it isolated from any future capital in East Jerusalem. [...]

While European nations including Ireland, France and Britain have spoken out against the plans, and human rights group decry the forcible transfer of Khan al-Ahmar’s residents as a war crime, the United States has remained silent. [...]

“We are not allowed to build even one concrete room,” he said. The village’s school was constructed out of tires and mud to circumvent restrictions. Israel deems Khan al-Ahmar illegal, as it was constructed without permits, although much of the international community maintains that it is Kfar Adumim that was built illegally. Residents of the Bedouin village say they have never been given a chance to get building permits.


The current US government’s silence on this matter is a result of US policy towards Israel and Palestine being handed over to right-wing evangelical preachers and other supporters of the Israeli project to dispossess Palestinians. The president’s son-in-law and his hand-picked ambassador have personally provided financial support to illegal settlements in the West Bank.

For most of the past 30 years, the Israeli electorate has elected the far-right Likud party, which has allied with and supported the rise of other far-right movements across the world, including in the US.

As in this case with Hungary, Mr. Netanyahu is increasingly aligning Israel with illiberal, autocratic states like Russia, Turkey and Egypt. The ultimate cynicism of such alliances is visible in Mr. Netanyahu’s willingness to tolerate the anti-Semitism of the global right-wing nationalist camp if it will bolster the Greater Israel movement.

This explains why, for instance, the Israeli government stayed silent when the Trump administration made no mention of Jews or anti-Semitism in its International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement this year. The strategy was also abundantly clear when Mr. Netanyahu told French Jews after the terrorist attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris in 2015 that Israel was their home. Mr. Netanyahu sees little value in safeguarding Jewish communities outside Israel, since he would prefer that Jews immigrate to Israel.



15/07/2018 02:44 PM
Are We Alone? The Question is Worthy of Serious Scientific Study
If there are indeed extraterrestrial craft visiting Earth, it would greatly benefit us to know about them, their nature and their intent.

Are we alone? Unfortunately, neither of the answers feel satisfactory. To be alone in this vast universe is a lonely prospect. On the other hand, if we are not alone and there is someone or something more powerful out there, that too is terrifying.

As a NASA research scientist and now a professor of physics, I attended the 2002 NASA Contact Conference, which focused on serious speculation about extraterrestrials. During the meeting a concerned participant said loudly in a sinister tone, “You have absolutely no idea what is out there!” The silence was palpable as the truth of this statement sunk in. Humans are fearful of extraterrestrials visiting Earth. Perhaps fortunately, the distances between the stars are prohibitively vast. At least this is what we novices, who are just learning to travel into space, tell ourselves.

Cover of the October 1957 issue of pulp science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. This was a special edition devoted to ‘flying saucers,’ which became a national obsession after airline pilot Kenneth Arnold sighted a saucer-shaped flying objects in 1947.

I have always been interested in UFOs. Of course, there was the excitement that there could be aliens and other living worlds. But more exciting to me was the possibility that interstellar travel was technologically achievable. In 1988, during my second week of graduate school at Montana State University, several students and I were discussing a recent cattle mutilation that was associated with UFOs. A physics professor joined the conversation and told us that he had colleagues working at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana, where they were having problems with UFOs shutting down nuclear missiles. At the time I thought this professor was talking nonsense. But 20 years later, I was stunned to see a recording of a press conference featuring several former US Air Force personnel, with a couple from Malmstrom AFB, describing similar occurrences in the 1960s. Clearly there must be something to this.

With July 2 being World UFO Day, it is a good time for society to address the unsettling and refreshing fact we may not be alone. I believe we need to face the possibility that some of the strange flying objects that outperform the best aircraft in our inventory and defy explanation may indeed be visitors from afar – and there’s plenty of evidence to support UFO sightings.

The Fermi paradox

The nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi was famous for posing thought provoking questions. In 1950, at Los Alamos National Laboratory after discussing UFOs over lunch, Fermi asked, “Where is everybody?” He estimated there were about 300 billion stars in the galaxy, many of them billions of years older than the sun, with a large percentage of them likely to host habitable planets. Even if intelligent life developed on a very small percentage of these planets, then there should be a number of intelligent civilizations in the galaxy. Depending on the assumptions, one should expect anywhere from tens to tens of thousands of civilizations.

With the rocket-based technologies that we have developed for space travel, it would take between 5 and 50 million years for a civilization like ours to colonize our Milky Way galaxy. Since this should have happened several times already in the history of our galaxy, one should wonder where is the evidence of these civilizations? This discrepancy between the expectation that there should be evidence of alien civilizations or visitations and the presumption that no visitations have been observed has been dubbed the Fermi Paradox.

This photograph was taken in Wallonia, Belgium. J.S. Henrardi

Carl Sagan correctly summarized the situation by saying that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The problem is that there has been no single well-documented UFO encounter that would alone qualify as the smoking gun. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that many governments around the world have covered up and classified information about such encounters. But there are enough scraps of evidence that suggest that the problem needs to be open to scientific study.

UFOs, taboo for professional scientists

When it comes to science, the scientific method requires hypotheses to be testable so that inferences can be verified. UFO encounters are neither controllable nor repeatable, which makes their study extremely challenging. But the real problem, in my view, is that the UFO topic is taboo.

While the general public has been fascinated with UFOs for decades, our governments, scientists and media, have essentially declared that of all the UFO sightings are a result of weather phenomenon or human actions. None are actually extraterrestrial spacecraft. And no aliens have visited Earth. Essentially, we are told that the topic is nonsense. UFOs are off-limits to serious scientific study and rational discussion, which unfortunately leaves the topic in the domain of fringe and pseudoscientists, many of whom litter the field with conspiracy theories and wild speculation.

I think UFO skepticism has become something of a religion with an agenda, discounting the possibility of extraterrestrials without scientific evidence, while often providing silly hypotheses describing only one or two aspects of a UFO encounter reinforcing the popular belief that there is a conspiracy. A scientist must consider all of the possible hypotheses that explain all of the data, and since little is known, the extraterrestrial hypothesis cannot yet be ruled out. In the end, the skeptics often do science a disservice by providing a poor example of how science is to be conducted. The fact is that many of these encounters – still a very small percentage of the total – defy conventional explanation.

The media amplifies the skepticism by publishing information about UFOs when it is exciting, but always with a mocking or whimsical tone and reassuring the public that it can’t possibly be true. But there are credible witnesses and encounters.

Why don’t astronomers see UFOs?

I am often asked by friends and colleagues, “Why don’t astronomers see UFOs?” The fact is that they do. In 1977, Peter Sturrock, a professor of space science and astrophysics at Stanford University, mailed 2,611 questionnaires about UFO sightings to members of the American Astronomical Society. He received 1,356 responses from which 62 astronomers – 4.6 percent – reported witnessing or recording inexplicable aerial phenomena. This rate is similar to the approximately 5 percent of UFO sightings that are never explained.

As expected, Sturrock found that astronomers who witnessed UFOs were more likely to be night sky observers. Over 80 percent of Sturrock’s respondents were willing to study the UFO phenomenon if there was a way to do so. More than half of them felt that the topic deserves to be studied versus 20 percent who felt that it should not. The survey also revealed that younger scientists were more likely to support the study of UFOs.

UFOs have been observed through telescopes. I know of one telescope sighting by an experienced amateur astronomer in which he observed an object shaped like a guitar pick moving through the telescope’s field of view. Further sightings are documented in the book “Wonders in the Sky,” in which the authors compile numerous observations of unexplained aerial phenomena made by astronomers and published in scientific journals throughout the 1700s and 1800s.

Evidence from government and military officers

Some of the most convincing observations have come from government officials. In 1997, the Chilean government formed the organization Comité de Estudios de Fenómenos Aéreos Anómalos, or CEFAA, to study UFOs. Last year, CEFAA released footage of a UFO taken with a helicopter-mounted Wescam infrared camera.

Declassified document describing a sighting of a UFO in December 1977, in Bahia, a state in northern Brazil. Arquivo Nacional Collection

The countries of Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Ecuador, France, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom have been declassifying their UFO files since 2008. The French Committee for In-Depth Studies, or COMETA, was an unofficial UFO study group comprised of high-ranking scientists and military officials that studied UFOs in the late 1990s. They released the COMETA Report, which summarized their findings. They concluded that 5 percent of the encounters were reliable yet inexplicable: The best hypothesis available was that the observed craft were extraterrestrial. They also accused the United States of covering up evidence of UFOs. Iran has been concerned about spherical UFOs observed near nuclear power facilities that they call “CIA drones” which reportedly are about 30 feet in diameter, can achieve speeds up to Mach 10, and can leave the atmosphere. Such speeds are on par with the fastest experimental aircraft, but unthinkable for a sphere without lift surfaces or an obvious propulsion mechanism.

1948 Top Secret USAF UFO extraterrestrial document. United States Air Force

In December 2017, The New York Times broke a story about the classified Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, which was a $22 million program run by the former Pentagon official Luis Elizondo and aimed at studying UFOs. Elizondo resigned from running the program protesting extreme secrecy and the lack of funding and support. Following his resignation Elizondo, along with several others from the defense and intelligence community, were recruited by the To the Stars Academy of Arts & Science, which was recently founded by Tom DeLonge to study UFOs and interstellar travel. In conjunction with the launch of the academy, the Pentagon declassified and released three videos of UFO encounters taken with forward looking infrared cameras mounted on F-18 fighter jets. While there is much excitement about such disclosures, I am reminded of a quote from Retired Army Colonel John Alexander: “Disclosure has happened. … I’ve got stacks of generals, including Soviet generals, who’ve come out and said UFOs are real. My point is, how many times do senior officials need to come forward and say that this is real?”

A topic worthy of serious study

There is a great deal of evidence that a small percentage of these UFO sightings are unidentified structured craft exhibiting flight capabilities beyond any known human technology. While there is no single case for which there exists evidence that would stand up to scientific rigor, there are cases with simultaneous observations by multiple reliable witnesses, along with radar returns and photographic evidence revealing patterns of activity that are compelling.

The ConversationDeclassified information from covert studies is interesting, but not scientifically helpful. This is a topic worthy of open scientific inquiry, until there is a scientific consensus based on evidence rather than prior expectation or belief. If there are indeed extraterrestrial craft visiting Earth, it would greatly benefit us to know about them, their nature and their intent. Moreover, this would present a great opportunity for mankind, promising to expand and advance our knowledge and technology, as well as reshaping our understanding of our place in the universe.

Kevin Knuth, Associate Professor of Physics, University at Albany, State University of New York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

15/07/2018 02:35 PM
Trump’s Claim That Europe is ‘Losing Its Culture’ is Racism – And It Must be Challenged
Britain is experiencing a moment of great cultural tension. The US president isn't helping.

According to Donald Trump, Britain and Europe is “losing its culture” as a result of immigration. In an interview with The Sun newspaper, given in Brussels shortly before travelling to London, Trump explained how migrants from the Middle East and Africa are permanently changing Europe for the worse.

Speaking about the pain it causes him, given that both his mother and father were European, he added:

I think what has happened to Europe is a shame. Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame. I think it changed the fabric of Europe and, unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was and I don’t mean that in a positive way … I think you are losing your culture. Look around.“

On one level, it may not be that surprising that someone who has made immigration a cornerstone of their political rhetoric and campaigning in the US, has made such comments. But it must be challenged nonetheless. When world leaders adopt cultural racism in this way, they legitimise right-wing extremism.

Trump on European culture.

Trump’s comments chime with the discourse of the far right in Europe over the past few decades. Key to this is the notion that the West is being ”invaded“. Starting with mass migration following World War II, champions of this rhetoric suggest that immigration to Europe has been far more insidious than humanitarian.

And when it comes to the recent influx of migrants fleeing civil war in Syria, the argument goes further. Now these arrivals seek to "take over” the nation states that are seen to have generously afforded them shelter. Focusing on the fact that recent migrants have been Muslim, far-right rhetoric goes on to suggest that takeover is equivalent to Islamification. It destroys “our” culture, values and way of life and therefore, all that “we” hold dear. Resisting immigration, therefore, is held up as the only way to protect Europe.

Far-right group Britain First, for instance, has routinely cited the perceived need to defend Britain from Muslims and Islam. It even refers to itself as “the frontline resistance” to the Islamification of Britain. This is the same group that enjoyed a major moment in the spotlight when Trump retweeted some of its videos late last year.

Potentially conferring credibility on the movement and its abhorrent Islamophobic ideology, it’s likely that Britain First and its supporters will seek to capitalise on Trump’s most recent comments. His views are also likely to bolster those from within the British far-right who have recently used socially acceptable issues – such as the debate over free speech – as a means by which to promote their more divisive ideologies.

Following Twitter’s decision to permanently ban Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League, as well as two of Britain First’s leaders, Jayda Fransen and Paul Goulding, supporters have come together to protect and defend free speech, presenting it as an a central element of “our” way of life. They see free speech as a loophole exploited with impunity, especially by Muslims, and argue that “no platforming” people who seek to spread their ideology is a form of censorship. That doesn’t extend to protecting freedom of speech for radical Muslim clerics, of course.

Cultural racism

Like the far right, Trump’s comments are a form of what might be best referred to as “new” or “cultural” racism, a notion that first emerged in the early 1980s. At the time, early race relations legislation in the UK had begun to criminalise and curtail more overt expressions of racism. As a result, there was a marked shift in how many begun to refer to and subsequently employ discourses about minority groups.

Instead of using historically established markers based on skin colour, cultural markers of difference were increasingly deployed to demarcate “them” from “us”. A good example of this was when former Conservative MP Norman Tebbit put forward his “cricket test” to identify which migrants could be seen to be loyal to the UK and thereby a part of who “we” are. Likewise the Conservative MP Michael Fallon who suggested British towns and cities were “under siege” from migrant workers and people “claiming benefits”. Both are clearly premised on the basis that “they” can not only be differentiated from “us”, but that it is easy to do so.

This tactic enables political actors to navigate new landscapes of diversity and legislation, all the while affirming that “they” are indeed different to “us”. Migrants are, as a result, seen as even more threatening. Not only do they look different, they threaten a way of life. When deployed by political actors, the rhetoric of “losing culture” is far more toxic than what came before. It deliberately hides a bigoted and discriminatory message behind a veneer of respectability and seeming common sense.

The ConversationIn the wake of the Brexit referendum, when levels of hate crime have reached new highs in Britain and when the far right feels increasingly emboldened, Trump’s comments –- more importantly the message underlying them -– are extremely problematic. Given that supporters of Robinson and other from the far right are marching in support of Trump’s visit to the UK, further strengthening or conferring credibility onto them is something that has to be challenged. Where that might come from within the British political establishment is currently sadly unclear.

Chris Allen, Associate Professor in Hate Studies, University of Leicester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

15/07/2018 02:25 PM
The Numbers Don't Lie: President Donald Trump Has Become Increasingly Dishonest
Most of Trump's falsehoods occur during his speeches.

President Donald Trump has become increasingly dishonest, according to a study conducted by the Toronto Star. The Canada-based newspaper tallied all of the words Trump has uttered in his presidency along with the number of falsehoods.

The study found that Trump said 1,340,330 words and 1,929 false claims before July 1, 2018.

This story first appeared on Salon.

Daniel Dale, the great Washington Bureau Chief of the Toronto Star, has steadfastly tracked Trump's propensity to lie since his first day in office. He has maintained a running database on all of Trump's falsehoods. His dedication to this beat enabled him to quantify exactly how often the president spreads false claims.

For the first time, we were able to compare Trump’s false words to his total words, on a weekly basis. Here’s the trendline in the percentage of his words that are part of a false claim:

— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) July 14, 2018


Dale calculated that in 2017 Trump lied 3.8 percent of the time he communicated. In 2018, that percentage rose to 7.3.

In 2017, 3.8% of Trump’s spoken and tweeted words were part of a false claim. In 2018, it’s 7.3%:

— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) July 14, 2018


Most of Trump's falsehoods occur during speeches, when the president likes to speak off the cuff and has a tendency to ramble. According to the Star, Trump has lied 648 times while giving a speech. By comparison, Trump has lied only 380 times during interviews. However, as Dale notes, Trump rarely gives interviews, so this number is remarkably high given the circumstances.

Per Dale:

This is interesting because of how few interviews he gives — it depends on how you count, but it’s under 60 — and how friendly most of the interviewers are. According to presidential tracker Mark Knoller, a CBS reporter, Trump had given 26 interviews to Fox News since taking office as of mid-June; he’d given no more than six to any other outlet. So Trump is usually not being pressured into false claims because of tough questioning, he’s just making them.

You can read more about the Toronto Star's findings here.

15/07/2018 02:17 PM
Jimmy Carter Reflects on a Lifetime: 'Under Trump, the Government is Worse Than It Has Been Before'
Exactly 39 years ago, President Jimmy Carter delivered a speech that foresaw many of the problems America faces now

When speaking with Salon about his famous "Crisis of Confidence" speech, former President Jimmy Carter had this observation about America's current commander-in-chief, Donald Trump.

"I think that under Trump the government is worse than it has been before," Carter explained by email. "This is the first time I remember when the truth is ignored, allies are deliberately aggravated, China, Europe, Mexico and Canada are hurt economically and have to hurt us in response, Americans see the future worse than the present, and immigrants are treated cruelly."

This was probably Carter's most headline-worthy observation, but it is not the one for which he most deserves to be remembered. For that, one must look back 39 years ago — in fact, exactly 39 years ago, right down to the day — when Carter sat in front of the American people and told them that the country suffered from a crisis of confidence.

It was 10 days after Carter had been scheduled to deliver yet another speech on the energy crisis that had paralyzed the nation's economic life in the 1970s. Shortly before he was supposed to deliver that address, the president realized that the issues facing the country were much deeper than those to be found at their local gas stations. He cancelled his speech and, as he later put it, "invited to Camp David people from almost every segment of our society — business and labor, teachers and preachers, governors, mayors, and private citizens."

When he was done reaching out to the American people for advice and wisdom, he went before them to discuss what he had learned. Hence the "Crisis of Confidence" speech was born.

There are many sections of this speech that hold up today, ranking it among the finest presidential oratory ever delivered. Near the beginning, when Carter anonymously quotes the people with whom he discussed America's problems (including a "Southern governor" named Bill Clinton), he includes observations that feel more heartfelt and insightful than the standard platitudes one finds in political rhetoric. As he warms to his subject, he makes it clear that while he believes he has only had "mixed success" as a president (an assessment that I have argued was far too tough on himself), he also recognizes there is a deeper problem afflicting the American people.

Then came the passage — the one in which he described America's "crisis of confidence" — that is so powerful, so poignant, that it needs to be quoted in full.

Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom; and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past.

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.

"We still have the same crises of that time, plus a serious loss of faith in democracy, the truth, treating all people as equals, each generation believing life would be better, America has a good system of justice, etc.," Carter explained by email. There was one section of his old address that seemed to particularly catch his attention:

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests.

"This is much worse than when I gave the speech," Carter wrote to me.

There was an additional passage (coming before the longer one quoted above) which, when cited to him, caused him to recommend his recent book "Faith: A Journey for All." If you are a spiritual person who tries to avoid theological dogma but still yearns for the ability to feel hope for the future as well as a connection to the past, it is a book absolutely worth reading. For as both that book and this "Crisis of Confidence" passage that Carter connected to that text explain, faith is the glue that holds our society together. It is a quality that transcends ideological content or partisan labels; indeed, it is one that Americans absolutely must possess, and at all times, if we are to function in a healthy way as a democracy.

Confidence in the future has supported everything else — public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We've always believed in something called progress. We've always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own. Our people are losing that faith — not only in government itself, but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy.

If you read most history books that discuss the "Crisis of Confidence" speech, it is described as a political failure, one that worsened Carter's public image and contributed to his ultimate defeat at the hands of Republican candidate Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election. The fact that Carter's approval ratings actually went up after the speech, and only plummeted when he fired several members of his administration afterward in a move that struck many as capricious, has long been forgotten.

Perhaps in the upbeat 1980s — an era in which Reagan would get reelected by proclaiming it was "Morning in America" — Carter's message of a nation in need of spiritual mending was simply out of sync. Or maybe, as I discussed with Stuart Eizenstat during my interview with him in May, Americans are so obsessed with "winning" that they cannot imagine that the words of a one-term president could possess more depth than the entire rhetoric oeuvre of the two-termer who defeated him.

Either way, I'd like to close this article on a personal note. I include in full both the question that I asked Carter and the reply he gave, which speaks for itself on many, many levels.

Rozsa: "I'd like to start on a personal note: When I was an undergraduate at Bard College, I wrote my senior thesis about your Crisis of Confidence speech, both because I was inspired by the text and because I was inspired by how you urged policies based on empathy when you were president (I am autistic, something I recently discussed with "Sesame Street" — and your work for the rights of the disabled especially meant a lot to me personally). I have also spoken with many other young Americans who view you as one of the great humanitarian leaders of our time and have been moved by your substantial achievements as president, as well as by your post-presidential career. What advice would you give us as we proceed with our own futures and try to continue your legacy?"

Carter: "Never give up, and follow the advice of my school teacher: 'We must accommodate changing times but cling to principles that do not change.'"


15/07/2018 02:05 PM
The Horrors of Terrorism Makes Travel an Imperative Not a Luxury
Making the ephemeral and still vital human connections during travel connects people in joy and in tragedy

There's not a word in our language that's just right for the feeling when you've escaped a disaster — the sense some might call "there but for the grace of God . . ."  or dodged a bullet. But even lacking a label, something definitely happens when you experience a place that's later visited by terror, something that may be critical to our survival.

As attacks destroy lives around the world in an endless loop it's easy to grow numb. Watching the aftermath of yet another bombing unfold on a little screen, maybe we'll change our Facebook profile photo or join a hashtag movement. But do we feel anything? Maybe sympathy, or, if it's particularly awful by the new and ever steeper scale of such things, we feel a little horror. It's surreal, far away, not related to us. Unless, that is, we've been there.

This probably isn't unusual, but I've been to multiple places that were later attacked by terrorists. First was a restaurant overlooking Marrakech's Djemaa El Fna square. In 2009, my first trip to Morocco ended with dinner there. I couldn't tell you what I ate because my friend and I were too mesmerized by the scene unfolding  below. Cumin-laced smoke from rows of food vendors swirled upwards into the rose-tinged sky. Strains of the call to prayer echoed over the square's melee. Jewel-toned lanterns glowed brighter as night fell. I felt very very far from home and alive with the frisson of being in a place so unknown to me. Two years later I saw the news: A bomb attack destroyed the restaurant and killed 15 people, most of them tourists.

A few years later I landed at the airport in Istanbul with my mom. Her first big international trip was to accompany me on assignment to write about a Mediterranean cruise. After our 10-hour flight I hurried her through passport control to wait at that netherland of baggage claim for a vast stretch of time. Bookending that trip we strolled Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Three years later, men with guns and bombs killed dozens and injured hundreds at the airport. Four years later (nearly to the day), terrorists plowed through crowds in the busy Barcelona promenade, killing more than a dozen people and injuring at least a hundred.

And in the fall of 2015 I sat down to a solo dinner at Le Petit Cambodge in Paris. Paris is the home of my heart, and days after my meal there the news broke: as part of their concerted attacks across the city, terrorists had transformed the bright and happy place into a bloodbath.

Unlike when I hear a news report of a faraway tragedy, these instances — but most especially the one in Paris — struck hard. I was on a car trip with my husband, listening on the radio as the attacks unfolded. I could see the restaurant, the people working, the diners sitting next to me who helped me figure out what to order. I could imagine — in vivid color — the men with assault rifles, and the people laughing and eating and loving life one moment and in a waking nightmare the next. Not only because it could have  been me, but because these were people I knew, no matter how fleetingly.

I hastily wrote to our Airbnb host Agnès — she'd sent me to the Cambodian restaurant, one of her favorite places — to make sure she was OK. She was reeling, but safe. Her current guests, she said, had seen it happen. 

I could see it too. Every time I closed my eyes as news of the Paris attacks went on and on, it was there: the warm glow of the restaurant, the old-school rap they'd been playing that evening, for some reason, had made the night even more perfect, the clinking of silverware on bowls, the bright smell of the fresh herbs in my dinner. Only now these sensations were overwritten with the spray of blood and splinter of bone, the roar of gunfire, screams, dishes shattering, desperate last moments trying to find the person you love. If they'd come while I was there, I thought, would I have had time to call my husband at home to tell him how I loved him? My heart seized with pain that wouldn't relent.

Yet I'd only spent one happy evening there myself. Can such an ephemeral connection really have an impact on how we empathize with victims and survivors of such a disaster?

I majored in psychology, but only because I'm fascinated by the human brain. I'm not an expert in anything and didn't continue my studies after my undergrad. The perk to being a freelance writer, though, is getting to ask smart, educated people questions, so I found one Gerald Goodman, Ph.D., a psychology professor at UCLA who specializes in empathy. Though he said he found my question odd and “uninformed at first blush,” he delved into the topic with me.

What did I learn? In short: Absolutely, those connections matter. And maybe far less interaction is needed  than we'd ever think. “About all you need is that minute where you're waiting for a bus,” Professor Goodman said.

He offered a brief primer. The foundations of a successful relationship according to social science, he explained, boil down to honesty, acceptance and empathy. And in some situations, those things can happen in moments.

“With someone new, we can actually experience talk-turn-taking, moments of honesty-dishonesty, a touch of empathy, some sense of being valued,” he said. “Like momentary tastes, samples of what happens in our important relationships. Those interpersonal flickers are actual two-way human connection — not some one-way media abstract.”

When we travel, Goodman noted, the usual process of forming relationships is often sped up. (Think of the things you may have overshared with a stranger on a plane!) And when you're a “foreigner,” he pointed out, you give yourself permission to ask questions. So at a bus stop or in a restaurant far from home you can form what we could call a micro-relationship.

In these instances, something clicks “and you have the primitive experience of being emotionally known,” Goodman said. “It's one of the key ingredients for us being alive. . . . Evolutionary psychologists wouldn't argue if I said that is one of the built-in things in our brains that kept us in survival, because that allowed us to connect . . . and allowed us to be sociable enough to form social groups to survive.” Keeping our ancestors sociable, he also noted, meant they could “get turned on and pass down genes.”

I recalled for Professor Goodman how in that Paris restaurant I'd shared a few moments with a waiter. I had attempted to carry on a bit of conversation in French, laughed at myself for my mangled efforts, and the guy joined me, but in a friendly way. It was nothing, yet it was everything when I heard the news out of Paris. Why had that inconsequential exchange become so important?

“He accepted your playful try to talk with him,” Goodman explained. “He gave you acceptance, and then he gave you honesty by laughing, 'yes, your French is bad,' and then empathy; he recognized the fact that you felt silly . . .  you have in those very few moments micro bits of human connection.”

“That humanizes,” Goodman went on. “I know it's a magical word. But we dehumanize people by their role. 'Waiter died in bomb blast -- but no, it was this waiter, he was a human to me.'”

“Why would that little bit of connection that has some of the elements of a long important relationship, why did that stick in your mind? Because it begins to touch on these basic human elements that we need to survive,” Goodman said. Where we don't have answers, he said, is why. “Science doesn't quite know why it's so important to us to have the experience to be understood.”

But the fact remains that it is crucial to us as humans. And while some may urge that we stay home where we're safe (as if that were true), I want to travel more than ever. For every micro-relationship two people from different parts of the globe can form, that's an added dimension to the bond holding all of us together. Maybe a bond as ephemeral as a spiderweb, but maybe as strong, as well. And the more that hate tears us apart, the more of those bonds we need if we're to keep surviving.

As for my horror-overlaid memories of Le Petit Cambodge, I had to rewrite them. In the aftermath of the attacks I vowed I wouldn't travel anywhere else until I could revisit the restaurant. And I didn't. A year and a half later an assignment took me to France, beginning with a night in Paris. I grabbed a bike right after checking in to my hotel, heading across the city for the Canal Saint-Martin, my old neighborhood from the last trip. I was meeting Agnès for lunch. I arrived at  Le Petit Cambodge first. Now, this trip, it was spring and daylight, not fall and dark. Every seat along the sidewalk was taken, every diner as unattainably chic as ever.

The Paris sky was so blue it hurt my heart.

The horror didn't disappear, exactly. But it faded to something like the ghost of an imprint left on tracing paper as Agnès and I ate and talked of normal things — well, as normal as buying a castle, as she'd just done, can be. She asked for a to-go container, something I'd never have the nerve to do in Paris, but she wanted leftovers for the chickens at her new place in the country. Her exchange with the waitress was in French, and I don't remember it. I hope she doesn't have to. 


15/07/2018 01:58 PM
My Grandfather Was a Nazi Collaborator
A deathbed promise led to me discovering his complicity in the Holocaust — and what it means beyond my family

Eighteen years ago, my dying mother asked me to continue working on a book about her father, Jonas Noreika, a famous Lithuanian World War II hero who fought the Communists. Once an opera singer, my mother had passionately devoted herself to this mission and had even gotten a PhD in literature to improve her literary skills. As a journalist, I agreed. I had no idea I was embarking on a project that would lead to a personal crisis, Holocaust denial and an official cover-up by the Lithuanian government.

Growing up in Chicago’s Marquette Park neighborhood — the neighborhood that had the largest population of Lithuanians outside the homeland — I’d heard about how my grandfather died a martyr for the cause of Lithuania’s freedom at the hands of the KGB when he was just 37 years old. According to the family account, he led an uprising against the Communists and won our country back from them, only to have it snatched by the Germans. He became chairman of the northwestern part of the country during the German occupation. According to family lore, he had fought the Nazis and then been sent to a concentration camp in retaliation. He escaped that camp and returned to Vilnius to start a new rebellion against the Communists, had been caught, taken to the KGB prison and tortured. I’d heard how he was the lawyer who had led the defense for 11 rebels before the KGB tribunal, was found guilty and had been executed. His nom de guerre was General Storm. It all seemed so romantic to me.

That is the book I started to write. My mother had collected a trove of material that included 3,000 pages of KGB transcripts; 77 letters to my grandmother; a fairytale to my mother written from the Stutthof concentration camp; letters from family members about his childhood; and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. A few months into the project, I visited my dying grandmother, who lived a few blocks away. She asked me not to write the book about her husband. “Just let history lay,” she whispered. I was stunned. “But I promised Mom,” I said. She rolled over to face the wall. I didn’t take her request seriously; I thought she was simply giving me a pass because she knew how taxing the project was for my mother.

In October 2000, after my grandmother died, my brother, Ray and I took the cremated remains of our mother and grandmother back to Lithuania to be buried, as they had wished. We were surprised by the outpouring of affection shown at their funeral in the Vilnius Cathedral, and especially astonished when President Landsbergis appeared with his wife to pay their respects to the widow, daughter and grandchildren of General Storm. Many at the funeral had asked, “What about the book on your grandfather?” I answered, “I promised I would finish it.” They patted my back, squeezed my arms and kissed my cheeks. “You’re such a good daughter. Our country needs heroes.”

READ MORE: “My synagogue was a jail cell”: My miracle happened behind bars

Before the procession to the cemetery, Viktoras Ašmenskas, a colleague of my grandfather who was part of the rebellion against the Communists and had been in the KGB prison with him, led us two blocks from the Cathedral to the Library of the Academy of Science. It was where our grandfather was a lawyer by day and an underground resistance leader by night. When we arrived, he turned to Ray and me and said, “You both are like my children. I loved your grandfather.” We placed a wreath he brought for us by a bronze likeness of our grandfather and read the inscription on the plaque:

In This Building
From 1945-1946
Worked a Noteworthy Resistor
Lithuania’s National Council
And Lithuania’s Armed
Forces Organizer
And Leader
Jonas Noreika
Generolas Vėtra
Shot February 26, 1947

From Vilnius, Ray and I traveled as honorary guests to Šukoniai, the northern town where our grandfather was born, to see the grammar school named after him. We were shown the modest building of white bricks and oak trim. The school director, a roly-poly man with disheveled white hair, enthusiastically grabbed our hands, telling us how pleased he was that we had come to host the ceremony in homage to our grandfather. He had heard I was writing a book. I asked him, “How did you decide to name the school after our grandfather?” Stroking his chin, he answered, “It was during a meeting of the County Board. We wanted to pick a new name instead of the Russian one we had. Your grandfather’s surfaced immediately.” Then he pulled Ray and me aside so the others couldn’t hear. “I got a lot of grief at first when we picked his name. He was accused of being a Jew-killer.”

Ray and I were aghast. Accused of being a Jew-killer? I looked around the room, at the teachers and the principal. Who were these people? Who was my mother? My grandmother? Who was I? My mind whirled: There must be some mistake. The director stroked my arm in reassurance. “I’m getting more support than ever over choosing your grandfather’s name. All of that is in the past.”

Feeling lost, I couldn’t wait for the ceremony to end so that I could ask more questions. My brother and I got into the back seat of a blue Falcon with Ašmenskas, my grandfather’s colleague, then an 88-year old with snowy white hair. He handed me a copy of the book he had written about our grandfather called "Generolas Vėtra" (General Storm), the cover of which bore a photo of my grandmother pulling my grandfather closer to her by his neck-tie. It had been published by the Lithuanian Genocide Museum, dedicated to Lithuanians who suffered during World War II, many whom died in Siberia. The museum was created in 1992, shortly after Lithuania’s independence, in response to the Holocaust, to show the world that Lithuanian nationalists had suffered under Communism just as much as Jews had under Nazism. The museum was criticized for appropriating the word genocide wrongly, and earlier this year it changed its name to the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights. Formerly, the museum was the KGB prison where our grandfather died in 1947, and it bears his name, along with many others’, on its gray marble walls.

“Have you ever heard any of those rumors about him killing Jews?” I asked. Ašmenskas fixed me with his blue eyes. “The Nazis appointed him to the position of county chair in 1941. He was conflicted about taking it, but he thought he could help our country more by accepting it. He was good at playing both sides of the fence, so he took it.” I knew my grandfather was the county chair, considered the height of his political career, but I had never considered that he might have been a Nazi collaborator.

Back in Chicago, I continued to sift through my mother’s material on my grandfather. I was unwilling to admit that this accusation could be true, but then I noticed a yellowing 32-page booklet titled, “Hold your Head High, Lithuanian!!!” In it, I came across a rant against Jews: “In the land of Klaipėda, the Lithuanians are being overthrown by the Germans, and in Greater Lithuania, the Jews are buying up all the farms on auction. . . . Once and for all: We won’t buy any products from Jews!” It was written by my grandfather. My hands shook: I did not want a grandfather who was the author of this brochure.

I strongly considered dropping the project, even if it meant breaking the promise to my mother. Years passed until I felt psychologically ready to continue the investigation, bracing myself for the horrifying possibility that my grandfather was indeed involved in killing Jews.

In 2013 I spent seven weeks in Lithuania. I hired a Holocaust guide, Simon Dovidavičius, director of Sugihara House, a museum honoring Chiune Sugihara, who helped 6,000 Jews escape to Japan during WWII. We became an unlikely pair, investigating the life of my grandfather. I showed him all the monuments on my grandfather; he showed me pits of where Jews were buried because of my grandfather. I gave him the book published by the Genocide Museum stating my grandfather was a hero; he gave me Holocaust books stating my grandfather was a villain.

Over time and exposure to the elements exterior concrete can develop cracks due to temperature changes, ground movement, improperly placed joint...

Dovidavičius was the first to suggest that my grandfather conducted the initial akcija (action) during World War II before the Germans arrived. It coincided with Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, when Hitler invaded Russia, the same day Lithuania began its uprising with the Germans against the Soviets, marking the start of a Holocaust there, where 95 percent of its 200,000 Jews were murdered, the highest percentage of any country in Europe. (About 3,000 Jews remain in Lithuania today.)

Within three weeks, 2,000 Jews had been killed in Plungė, half the town’s population, and where my grandfather led the uprising. This preceded the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, when Nazi Germany decided to make mass-murder its state policy. Put in more chilling terms, Dovidavičius claimed that my grandfather, as captain, taught his Lithuanian soldiers how to exterminate Jews efficiently: how to sequester them, march them into the woods, force them to dig their own graves and shove them into pits after shooting them. My grandfather was a master educator.

I resumed the investigation. I sought out Damijonas Riaukia, a colleague of my grandfather during the five-day uprising. He was a 17-year-old in 1941.  “Didn’t my grandfather have anything to do with the killing of the Jews?” “He wasn’t here,” he answered. “He had nothing to do with it. It was the Germans.” By this point I suspected a cover-up, but I needed proof.

Near the end of my trip, my aunt, Aldona Budrytė Bužienė, whose mother was my grandmother’s sister, described how, as a 10-year-old, she babysat my mother in 1941 in Plungė. She told me the story while we were in her apartment in Klaipėda, enjoying a lunch of chicken and rice that she had prepared. Shortly after the uprising, my grandfather moved his family into a house in the center of town once it became “suddenly free” and stayed until they moved to Šiauliai, where my grandfather became chairman of the county. “What do you mean by suddenly free?” I asked. She answered, “The Jews were gone, so the house was free. Many Lithuanians were moving into the new free houses.”

Taking a deep breath, I asked, “Do you mean the houses became free because the Jews were killed?” Looking pained, she nodded. “What about the killing of the Jews then?” I asked. “Who ordered them to be killed?”

“I don’t believe it was your grandfather’s initiative. He was too good for that.”

After a pause, I asked, “But if he was living there, as you said, and he was the head of the uprising, as Damijonas and many others said, wouldn’t he have given the order?”

As Aunt Aldona pieced together the events for the first time, putting them side by side the way I had during my trip, she shook her head and cried. “I just can’t believe it. Maybe he had no choice. He had to maintain order. I don’t know what to think anymore. I suppose it’s possible.” She seemed confused as she tried to come to terms with the possibility about her Uncle Jonas’s involvement in killing the Jews.

It turned out that the house in question faced the police headquarters, an imposing rounded structure with white and blue trim on the corner of the town’s most prominent intersection. The headquarters had been the Nazi command center. The house also stood next to the synagogue, where Jews were sequestered before they were marched into the woods and shot. Is this why my grandmother asked me not to write the book?

By the end of the trip I came to believe that my grandfather must have sanctioned the murders of 2,000 Jews in Plungė, 5,500 Jews in Šiauliai and 7,000 in Telšiai.

Back in Chicago, feeling a mix of rage and anxiety, I continued to work on the book during summers. Two months ago, my project led me to Grant Gochin, a Jewish man of Lithuanian descent now living in California, who has spent decades investigating his own family history. He learned about his cousin Sonia Beder, a Holocaust survivor who testified that armed Lithuanians prevented 6,000 Jews in her village from escaping to the Soviet Union three days before the Germans arrived. Sonia saw eighth-grade boys from the local school being recruited to help shoot these Jewish victims. Armed Lithuanian men plundered the Jews’ homes; they beat the Jews murderously; they humiliated, raped and killed girls. They set a rabbi’s beard on fire, branded his body with hot irons and shot him in front of his community. Sonia managed to escape from certain death. She survived a ghetto that had been created under orders from my grandfather, and later, she survived Dachau.

Gochin has identified more than 100 relatives killed in the Lithuanian Holocaust. Our independent research has shown that my grandfather murdered Gochin’s relatives. We decided to join forces.

While I had been focused exclusively on my grandfather over the past two decades, Gochin had launched a movement in Lithuania to expose multiple men lauded as heroes by the Genocide Museum who played a role in the Holocaust. Three years ago, he launched a campaign to remove my grandfather’s plaque from the Vilnius Library of the Academy of Science building. Despite wide media coverage and a petition signed by 19 prominent Lithuanian politicians, writers, and historians, the government refused to remove the plaque. This month, Gochin presented a 69-page exposé on my grandfather, charging the government with a cover-up of the Holocaust. I’m trying to play my small part in Gochin’s movement by offering an affidavit of support describing my research on my grandfather.

In the face of tremendous resistance by the Lithuanian government, the effort to convince it to acknowledge its role in the Holocaust will be long and hard. The souls of 200,000 Jews buried in Lithuanian soil demand such a reckoning.


15/07/2018 01:52 PM
Forget Impeachment — Here Are 7 Other Ways Donald Trump’s Presidency Might Go Down in Flames
Trump is sowing the seeds of his own demise

There’s an ironclad rule with Republican presidents — the greater their authoritarianism and incompetence, the more spectacular the destruction they cause.

Richard Nixon’s paranoia led to Watergate, forcing him to resign in 1974. Gerald Ford took over,  but was overwhelmed by a deep recession and pushed out in two years. Ronald Reagan’s embrace of criminals and terrorists spawned the Iran-Contra scandal in 1986, turning him into a lame duck. His successor, George H. W. Bush, proved aloof and incompetent during the early 1990s recession and lasted only one term. George W. Bush outdid them all in arrogance and mismanagement — wrecking a city, New Orleans, a country, Iraq, and a global economy.

With Trump the stakes are far higher. His strategy is to sow chaos for the sake of it. But by doing so he is spreading the seeds of his own demise. He is losing many of the battles he started, and these are the ones likeliest to blow up in his face.

Oil Shock Since Trump was inaugurated, gasoline prices have jumped sixty cents a gallon. That’s a $700 annual tax on every American household. Trump bears blame as he’s choked global supplies by hitting Iran and Venezuela’s oil sectors with sanctions. Bank of America warns oil could surpass $100 a barrel next year due to the sanctions. Rising oil prices push up the cost of food and consumer goods and depress economic growth, which could trigger a new recession.

Tax Cut Unpopular For most households, Trump’s $2.3 trillion tax cut is too small to notice. Middle-income households get a $930 annual tax break and the poorest receive $60 on average. But the wealthiest rake in nearly $200,000 a year. Republicans hoped the cut would brighten their dim prospects in the midterm elections. But it’s not shaping up that way. Less than a third of workers say they’ve noticed a bump in their paychecks. And in June only 34 percent of Americans said they approved of the tax cut, a decline of 10 points since January.

More Pain, No Gain Working-class white voters flocked to Trump in 2016. But their support is likely to waver as he torches welfare programs many depend on. Trump’s sabotage of Obamacare pushed 3.2 million Americans off healthcare last year. That number is likely to soar as he withdraws billions of dollars in subsidies for the sickest and imposes work requirements on the poorest. In his 2019 budget proposal, Trump slashed disability programs by $72 billion, public housing by $6.8 billion, low-income energy assistance by $3.4 billion, and over 10 years, $763 billion in healthcare and $213 billion from food stamps. Fortunate for his working-class supporters Trump is a terrible dealmaker. The $1.3 trillion spending bill he signed in March boosted spending for many of the programs he wanted to kill. But Trump will get another chance to screw over his base by cutting welfare as a new spending bill must pass in September, or government shuts down.

Trade Wars Trump has gone from shooting off at the mouth to shooting himself in the foot on trade. He lashed out at Harley-Davidson when it said it would shift some manufacturing overseas to avoid tariffs that add $2,200 on many U.S.-built motorcycles. One firm says Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum will cost 495,000 jobs but add only 26,000 jobs. Moody’s warns the global auto industry will be disrupted, which includes 966,000 U.S.-based jobs. Add in tit-for-tat tariffs between the United States and China covering $68 billion worth of goods, and casualties include housing and construction,farming, solar power, and computer chips. But this carnage will be small potatoes compared to what happens if Trump slaps tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese-made goods as he is threatening. Some analysts warn it could set off a new Great Depression.

Korean Deal On the Rocks After veering between nuclear war last year and a historic summit this June, the thin-skinned autocrat and Kim Jong-Un are back on a collision course. North Korea says it will give up its nuclear weapons — if U.S. nukes are removed from the peninsula — and in return for economic aid and a peace treaty. But the latest meeting between diplomats ended with Pyongyang decrying the “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization” from the White House. Trump has been reduced to heaping praise on Kim to cover-up for another botched deal. North Korea is flouting sanctions on importing oil, reportedly with help from China and Russia, and has dropped talk of denuclearizing.

Gender Gap: Accused of sexual assault and improprieties by 16 women, Trump’s gender gap in 2016 tied a record: Men preferred him by 11 points more than women did. Now, after mocking the #MeToo movement, attacking female candidates, endorsing alleged child molester Roy Moore, and hiring White House staff accused of domestic violence and covering up sexual harassment, his gender gap is a staggering 22 percent. A Washington Post poll finds 54 percent of men approve of Trump’s performance, but only 32 percent of women do. The trouble extends to his base. Among Republicans, 68 percent of men “strongly approve” of his performance, but only 31 percent of women do. The damage is greater down ticket among millennials. Among men 35 years old or younger, 50 percent intend to vote Republican for Congress this fall, while barely 24 percent of millennial women plan to do so. Trump has locked up the angry white man vote, but he needs plenty of women to retain his hold on Congress and get re-elected. And that is looking shaky.

Immigration Trump’s immigration policy is best described as ethnic cleansing. Foremost is his war on 11 million undocumented immigrants, unraveling asylum law, and the Muslim ban. He also wants to criminalize 1.4 million immigrants whose court cases have been closed, have Temporary Protected Status, or came here as children — “Dreamers.” Refugee admissions have all but stopped. Immigrants are being kicked out of the U.S. military. Trump wants to criminalize and deport legal immigrants if they take any government benefit. His administration has even set up a task force to denaturalize U.S. citizens and deport them. But Trump’s policies, particularly the child separation policy, have sparked widespread revulsion. In a rare reversal, he backed down on child separation and imprisoning families indefinitely. “Abolish ICE” has moved from a slogan to being endorsed by prominent politicians. Most important, Trump’s white nationalist agenda is being challenged by a growing immigrant-rights movement that ranges from #OccupyICE camps outside of immigrant jails across the country and more than 600 marches under the banner “Families Belong Together” to local jails canceling contracts to detain immigrants and tech companies being pressured to stop providing services to ICE.

Trump should never be underestimated, of course. Before the midterms next fall, he will likely whip up racism against immigrants and football players, spread conspiracies that ISIS and MS-13 will disrupt the election, use Mueller and the “witch hunt” as a distraction, shut down the government, and perhaps even start a war. But as long as progressives ignore Trump’s provocations and focus on the disasters he is creating that will harm everyone, he can be defeated.

15/07/2018 01:14 PM
Royal Family 'Simply Refused to Attend' Meeting With Trump And Melania During UK Visit: 'It Was a Snub'
Prince Charles and Prince William reportedly refused to meet with Donald and Melania Trump in London.

According to the Sunday Times, members of the royal family, including Prince Charles and Prince William, refused to meet with President Donald Trump and his wife Melania during their stop-over in London.

The report states that the family left it to Queen Elizabeth II  to meet and greet the American president while everyone else avoided Trump who is highly unpopular in the United Kingdom.

According to a “well-placed sources” at Buckingham Palace, the two princes avoidance of Trump’ “was a snub,” with a source saying they “simply refused to attend.”

The Times went on to quote a Whitehall official who explained that  Trump’s visit with the Queen was “kept to a bare minimum,” and that other members of the royal family “were not as enthusiastic as they were when Obama came over.”

You can read the whole report here (subscription required)


14/07/2018 02:33 PM
Sacha Baron Cohen is Back: Can a Harmless Prankster Become a Weaponized Troll Against the Right Wing?
The “Borat” creator is back with “Who Is America?” on Showtime Sunday.

Is Sacha Baron Cohen a prankster or a troll? Depended on who’s being asked. Sarah Palin and Joe Walsh, two of the conservative personalities who came forward this week crying foul at being duped by Baron Cohen, probably characterize him as a troll. Baron Cohen himself and Showtime, the premium channel airing his new series “Who Is America?” have remained silent and coy in the wake of Walsh and Palin’s complaining; given the type of entertainment Baron Cohen makes, any whinging from thin-skinned wingnuts amounts to free advertising. (Just as surely, Walsh and Palin are savvy and hungry enough to know that this works both ways.)

Although Showtime describes “Who Is America?” as a showcase for “the diverse individuals, from the infamous to the unknown across the political and cultural spectrum, who populate our unique nation,” nobody really knows what we’ll be treated or subjected to with the show’s premiere, airing Sunday at 10 p.m.

The series was  produced in secret, with details kept under wraps save for a few sightings here and there as well as unconfirmed reports, such as a Daily Mail story alleging Baron Cohen paid O.J. Simpson $20,000 to appear in the project. Late on Thursday came the news of another controversial figure bamboozled by Baron Cohen: disgraced US Senate candidate Roy Moore.

All of these shenanigans are enough to inspire tune-in, but as added insurance Showtime is featuring Dick Cheney promoting his own appearance in one clip — featuring the former vice president signing a plastic gallon jug and a towel, presented to him as a “waterboard kit.”

“That’s a first,” says Cheney, grinning at someone off screen. “That’s the first time I’ve ever signed a waterboard.”

Cheney, you’ve been punk’d. Or is it trolled? Does it make a difference? Maybe it does.

Though it’s been many years since Baron Cohen’s flesh-and-blood caricatures were popular Halloween costumes, I have little doubt that the fictional personalities he’s cooking up for his new show will be perfectly tailored to our times. Yes, that includes whatever he was playing at when he hoodwinked Palin — which honestly, has to be about as easy as blinking.

How he curated his targets for “Who Is America?” is the real question, because there’s a vast difference in the sort of marks Baron Cohen could wring laughs out of in the mid-Aughts versus today.

In 2003, when Baron Cohen achieved stardom in the U.S. based on the popularity of “Da Ali G Show,” prank shows were in vogue. MTV was already several seasons into “Jackass” and would make a bigger star out of Ashton Kutcher with the introduction of “Punk’d.” Syfy also capitalized on the trend with “Scare Tactics.” In those days, being punk’d on TV wasn’t a bad thing because eventually everyone was let in on the joke. It was benevolent entertainment.

Baron Cohen took TV pranking to premium level by bringing the cameras into the open and engaging in elaborate subterfuge to lure some of the most famous, powerful people in the world into a room to talk. The pre-interview prep involved creating fake websites and registering shell companies, among other things, in order to pass a basic background check.

Because Baron Cohen and his producers knew how to approximate legitimacy in their set-up, he was able to get his jaw-droppingly ignorant rapper Ali G, his stunningly clueless gay Austrian fashion personality Bruno or Borat, the bumbling, backwards Kazakh journalist, in the room with the likes of  ABC’s Sam Donaldson, Bush administration EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, or even former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

With the exception of Donald Trump, who reportedly has never gotten over being fooled by Baron Cohen, nearly all of them sat through these interviews, or at least enough of them to edit together into segments worthy of spit-takes. Baron Cohen even persuaded a few to rap. Boutros-Ghali even very nicely explained to Ali G why Disneyland would never be a member of the U.N.

“The best targets — the legitimate targets — are successful, powerful white men,” Baron Cohen explained in a 2004 New York Times interview. Thus, the equal hilarity and horror of Cheney’s grin at autographing what he believes to be an instrument of torture.

But some of his funniest sketches pranked normal people, including a very flummoxed and frustrated gentleman (named Dr. George Washington, no less) who couldn’t get Ali G to understand the difference between a veteran and a veterinarian. Baron Cohen treated him more or less the same as he treated the dignitaries that he fooled. Only in that case, the point was not to expose the man’s arrogance but to highlight his character’s boundless stupidity and the veteran/veterinarian’s forbearance.

Trolling existed long before then — some who agree with Palin might call that sketch an example of it — although the concept would not enter the mainstream until around 2012. By then it had taken on new meaning. Originally the practice was limited to online forums and message boards, an in-joke among the super-nerdy guardians of newsgroups in the mid-’90s. It also was an anonymous practice, committed by pranksters fishing for lulz among the stodgy.

In an paper authored in by research scientist Judith Donath for the MIT Media Lab, Donath writes, “Trolling is a game about identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players.” Donath continues:

The troll attempts to pass as a legitimate participant, sharing the group's common interests and concerns; the newsgroup members, if they are cognizant of trolls and other identity deceptions, attempt to both distinguish real from trolling postings and, upon judging a poster to be a troll, make the offending poster leave the group. Their success at the former depends on how well they -- and the troll -- understand identity cues; their success at the latter depends on whether the troll's enjoyment is sufficiently diminished or outweighed by the costs imposed by the group.

Sounds a lot like a Baron Cohen project, doesn’t it?

“Da Ali G Show” ran on HBO for a scant 12 episodes, and between its cancellation in 2004 and now Baron Cohen has built successful films around Borat and Bruno in addition appearing in a number of other movies and TV series.

Over that same 14 years our affection for prank-based entertainment has largely faded as our susceptibility to trolling ballooned. Conservatives transformed what was once an irksome practice of angry nerds seeking a rise out of the politically correct into a weapon to used against political opponents.

It also evolved from something people do in the shadows into a force to be marshaled by famous imps. James O’Keefe, Milo Yiannopoulos and Roseanne Barr have made (and in Barr’s case, unmade) careers based on trolling, siphoning rage from the depths of the Internet and directing it forcefully towards feminists, liberals, minority groups, elected officials and yes, even democracy itself.

And in doing so, these and other right-wing trolls have sullied the concept of pranking. I don’t think it’s an accident that the most popular hidden-camera series on cable is titled “Impractical Jokers”; a practical joke is still an innocent enterprise that eventually brings everyone in on the laughs.

Pranks? These days? Not so much. While the word “prank” hasn’t been transformed into a pejorative in the way terms such as “feminism,” “liberal,” “political correctness” and "truth" have, the term has lost a share of its harmlessness because of its association with trolling, an action now tainted by vindictiveness, as opposed to comedy. To use O’Keefe as an example, any time a report characterizes him as a prankster, the merriment of true pranking is that much more diminished.

Trolling, on the other hand, has been co-opted in the service of resistance, mostly by the people who can get away with it unscathed: successful, powerful white men. A pair of Russian comedians famously owned UN Ambassador Nikki Haley by recording a conversation with her in which she makes a very serious statement about the difficulties being faced by Binomo, a non-existent country.

More recently John Melendez, known to Howard Stern fans as Stuttering John, completed prank calls to Jared Kushner and Air Force One. We would have been amazed that he got Trump on the line if not the fact that his stunt, and the Haley gag, were made to confirm what we already know: morons are in control of the country. This was their sole purpose, in a nutshell, and what laughs we gleaned from them weren’t all that comforting.

John Oliver, on the other hand, proves the usefulness of trolling. He and the staff of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” have purchased airtime on Fox News Channel so that a character known as the Catheter Cowboy can educate Trump on a variety subjects, including the First Amendment, the fallacy of the term “clean coal” and how to pronounce “Tiffany.”

Oliver also released a children’s book called “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo” (written by “Last Week Tonight” writer Jill Twiss) specifically to troll Vice President Mike Pence, known to harbor anti-LGBTQ views.

In the book, Pence’s pet bunny Marlon falls in love with another male bunny and they get married. The book became a bestseller, and all of its profits were donated to The Trevor Project and AIDS United.

Maybe this is what we’ll get with “Who Is America?” — an opportunity for Baron Cohen to reassert himself in this space, employing old tactics with a new purpose. And I’m guessing he knows the difference between trolling and pranking and may use a bit of both, the former on the “legitimate targets” and some of those “very fine people” we’re supposed to bear with civility and the latter to show how patient the best of us can be even in the face of lunacy.

At the heart of Palin’s accusation is the detail that the performer disguised himself as a disabled veteran, “fake wheelchair and all.”

She says she was made to believe she was participating in a “‘legit opportunity’ to honor American Vets and contribute to a ‘legit Showtime historical documentary.’”

In 2016, when Palin participated in a genuinely “legit opportunity” to honor American veterans, she left a lot of themlegitimately angered by politicizing their struggles with PTSD, blaming the condition for her son Track’s arrest for assaulting his girlfriend and carrying a firearm while intoxicated. Some would call that thoughtless on Palin’s part, others opportunistic.

Seems Baron Cohen recognized it as a challenge to be answered in the form of a query: “Who Is America”? Is it people like her, or the men and women contending with the damage people like her create? Does it belong to the welcoming and patient, or the arrogant and gullible? And does it take some surgical trolling to reveal the difference between the two? I guess on Sunday we’ll find out.

14/07/2018 02:18 PM
White Woman Calls Cops on Black Man for Listening to Yoga CD in His Car
Now yoga can be added to the list of normal activities black people might engage in that get the cops called on them.

Ezekiel Phillips claims that he was sitting in his car, resting before his yoga class and listening to a Bikram Yoga CD, when a white woman confronted him, telling him that he didn't belong in the area.

“You’re not supposed to be here. This is a good neighborhood," he recalled to FOX 11.

"At that moment I’m like, ‘wait hold up’. Have a good day ma’am. Namaste. And I rolled my window up,” he said.

She started taking video, and so did he. Then the woman called Long Beach police.

In the 911 call, obtained by FOX 11, the woman can be heard grousing that the man was unfamiliar.

“I noticed him two houses up from my parents’ house and I’m like, you know and he’s waving to me. I don’t know who he is.“

She added, “I go ‘why are you sitting in your car in our neighborhood? And he goes ‘I’m resting’ and I’m like you weren’t two blocks back’’.”

Phillips decided to stick it out. “I thought about it. ‘If I leave, it’s looking like I’m guilty of whatever she’s talking about.”

Police arrived and Phillips wasn't charged with anything.


14/07/2018 01:58 PM
New Mueller Indictments Prove That Donald Trump is an Illegitimate President
Anybody who gets elected to office in this country with the help of the intelligence agents of a foreign power has been elected illegitimately. It’s not a tough call.

It’s all right there in the indictment — day by day, hack by hack, theft by theft — how agents of the Russian intelligence service, the GRU, set out in the spring of 2016 to steal the election for Donald Trump. When you track the actions taken by Russian intelligence in the indictment with statements made by Trump and actions taken on his behalf by members of his campaign, the picture is as clear as an iPhone photo. Agents of the Russian government coordinated with members of the Trump campaign and took cues from Trump himself in order to influence the election of 2016.

In announcing the indictment, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein may have refused to point to a victim of the Russians’ crimes other than to say it was America itself, but the intent of the Russians was clear. They took active measures over a period of at least nine months to aid the campaign of Donald Trump and to damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton. They stole the election for Donald Trump, and he helped them do it.

This article first appeared in Salon

From Paragraph 20 of the indictment, “The Object of the Conspiracy”: “The object of the conspiracy was to hack into the computers of US. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 US. presidential election.”

The indictment is breathtaking in the specificity of the crimes it outlines, how those crimes were committed, and by whom.

“Beginning by at least March 2016, the Conspirators targeted over 300 individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign, DCCC, and DNC,” the indictment alleges. Nowhere does it say that “individuals affiliated with” the Trump campaign were targeted. Only Democrats.

For example, the indictment spells out that “on or about March 19, 2016, “defendant [Aleksey Victorovich] LUKASHEV and his co-conspirators created and sent a spearphishing email to the chairman of the Clinton Campaign.” It further alleges that “On or about March 25, 2016, LUKASHEV used the same john356gh account to mask additional links included in spearphishing emails sent to numerous individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign.”

Let’s have a look at what else was going on in March of 2016.

On March 29, 2016, Trump hired Paul Manafortas his “convention manager.” His deputy, Rick Gates, joined the campaign with him. Both Manafort and Gates had worked for many years in the Ukraine and Russia and had numerous contacts with Russian intelligence operatives, including Konstantin Kilimnik, who was indicted by Mueller on June 18 of this year on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice in conjunction with Manafort. Kilimnik worked with and for Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarchclose to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kilimnik was a cut-out for Manafort with Deripaska, was used by Manafort to offer “briefings” about the Trump campaign to the Russian oligarch, and discussed the Russian hacking of DNC emails with Manafort.

The indictment goes into fantastic detail about how the Russian intelligence operatives accessed Clinton campaign and DNC emails throughout March of 2016. Then, in April, they began downloading thousands of the emails. The indictment says that “on or about April 22, 2016, the Conspirators compressed gigabytes of data from DNC computers, including opposition research. The Conspirators later moved the compressed DNC data using X-Tunnel to a GRU-leased computer located in Illinois.”

Let’s pause to have a look at what else was going on in April of 2016.

On April 18, a Maltese national and so-called “professor” Joseph Mifsud introduced Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos to Ivan Timofeev, the director of a Russian government-controlled think tank called the Russian Government Affairs Council. Timofeev told Papadopoulos he had high-level connections with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Individuals like Timofeev and operations like his “think tank” have, for decades, been used by Russian intelligence as cut-outs to spy on other countries.

On April 25, Papadopoulos reported to Trump campaign adviser Stephen Miller about his contacts with various Russians, including Timofeev.

On April 26, Trump gave a speech at Trump Tower after his victories in five East Coast primaries. Seemingly out of nowhere, he told the crowd, “We’re going to have a great relationship with Trump and Russia.”

Also on April 26, Papadopoulos sat down to breakfast in London with his friend Joseph Mifsud, who announced that he had just returned from Moscow where he had meetings with high-level officials of the Russian government. He told his young charge Papadopoulos that the Russians informed him they had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” and that they were prepared to help disseminate the “dirt.”

Papadopoulos was indicted and pled guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI when he was questioned about the meetings he had with Mifsud and Russians.

Beginning in May and continuing through the end of the election campaign, the Russian intelligence agents charged in the indictment created several different operations to release emails stolen from the Clinton campaign, the DNC and the DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Although the indictment does not name WikiLeaks, it talks about the Russians contacting a “third party” to release documents, and they created two of their own operations, “” and “Guccifer 2.0,” which they used to release Democratic documents damaging to the Clinton campaign. They also created a DCLeaks Facebook page and Twitter account which they also used to disseminate Democratic documents.

According to the indictment, the Russian intelligence agents kept up their theft of Democratic documents for months. But after going into elaborate detail about how the hacks were accomplished, which email accounts were spearphished, how they set up fake email accounts to access “more than thirty” Clinton campaign accounts, how they inserted malware into DCCC accounts, and how they used their access to DCCC accounts to access the DNC server, the indictment suddenly stops being specific and devotes Paragraph 22 to make this allegation:

“The Conspirators spearphished individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign throughout the summer of 2016. For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.”

Four things stand out about Paragraph 22. The first is the date: July 27, 2016. Let’s have a look at what else was going on the same day.

On July 27, at a press conference, seemingly out of the blue, Trump said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” referring to the so-called “missing” emails from the private server Hillary Clinton used while serving as secretary of state.

Which brings us to stand-out thing number two: the spearphishing done by the Russian intelligence operatives was done “after hours.” At no other point in the indictment does the Mueller team refer to what time of day other hacking was done. Trump’s press conference was in New York at about noon. That’s 7 p.m. in Moscow. Russia was listening, all right. They started hacking immediately after Trump’s call-out to them. After hours.

Stand-out thing number three is the citation that the spearphishing was for “the first time.” In other words, never before had the Mueller team detected that the Russian intelligence team had spearphished this specific target, even though they had by now been at the business of hacking the Democrats’ emails for five months.

Stand-out thing number four is the spearphishing target: “a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.” This is an obvious reference to Hillary Clinton’s personal email server, the one to which Trump was directing the Russians and from which the so-called “30,000” emails had been “deleted.”

So far, 25 Russian citizens have been indicted for seeking to aid Donald Trump in his campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Mueller isn’t saying that Trump had the assistance of 25 folks from Utah, or Iowa. Or 25 New Yorkers he hired from a temporary help agency in the city. Or even 25 citizens of the United Kingdom or France.

Twenty-five Russians have been indicted for helping to elect Donald Trump. Twelve of them are active Russian intelligence agents. Thirteen of them worked for something called the “Internet Research Agency LLC,” described in the indictment handed down in February as “a Russian organization engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes.”

Clearly, the indictment issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller yesterday is saying that right after Trump called on “Russia” to “find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” the Russians did just that. They went looking for those emails by going after Clinton’s personal email server.

If that’s not collusion with the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, I don’t know what is.

If that’s not two acts in a conspiracy — Trump calling out to “Russia” for help and actual Russian intelligence agents spearphishing emails from Hillary Clinton to provide that help — I don’t know what is.

If the indictment handed down yesterday by the grand jury being run by Special Counsel Mueller doesn’t allege, albeit in a roundabout way, that Russia conspired with Trump to steal the election of 2016, I don’t know what it does.

Anybody who gets elected to office in this country with the help of the intelligence agents of a foreign power has been elected illegitimately. It’s not a tough call. Donald Trump is president because Vladimir Putin wanted him to be. He acts like he owes Putin every single day. Twelve agents of the Russian intelligence service the GRU didn’t do all that spearphishing and email disseminating all by themselves. They did it on orders from Putin. That’s why Trump owes Putin. Read it for yourself. It’s right there in the indictment.


14/07/2018 06:21 AM
Bulldozed to Death for Growing 10 Marijuana Plants
It’s not marijuana that’s killing people, but marijuana prohibition.

Getting caught growing a few pot plants in Pennsylvania could lead to a criminal charge and a likely sentence of probation, but for a Lehigh Valley man, it was a death sentence. This past Monday, 51-year-old Gregory A. Longenecker was found dead under a bulldozer operated by a state Game Commission worker and carrying a state trooper hunting for two men spotted near a freshly-discovered marijuana grow.

According to the Pennsylvania State Police, the Game Commission bulldozer operator was using the machine to improve access to fields on game lands when he spotted a car well off the road in the brush and called police. Officers from nearby Bernville Borough were first on the scene and quickly found a plot containing 10 growing pot plants.

The cops saw two men emerge from the underbrush and take off running, said Trooper David Boehm, a state police spokesman. "They were back there doing whatever they have to do to their plants," he said. "It was kind of carved out of the underbrush, which I've never seen underbrush that thick ever. It was crazy how thick it was."

The two men were Longenecker and his long-time friend David Brook Light, 54. Light was quickly taken into custody by the Bernville chief of police, but Longenecker eluded immediate capture. The state police arrived on the scene and ordered one of their helicopters to join the search. The chopper pilot spotted Longenecker in the brush but then lost him. Meanwhile, a state trooper and the bulldozer operator were roaring through the brush looking for him.

"An attempt to hail the other male was unsuccessful," Beohm said in a news release. "The helicopter lost sight of the male and was giving directions to the bulldozer of his last location. The Game Commission employee and a Trooper were on the bulldozer driving through the thick underbrush. The bulldozer stopped in the underbrush. The second male was located under the rear of the bulldozer deceased."

That's right: Confronted with a small-scale illicit marijuana grow on public land, the State Police deployed a helicopter and the on-scene bulldozer and managed to kill their target. But that's not how the cops tried to spin it.

First, Trooper Boehm denied that Longenecker died as a result of a police pursuit. "They were just trying to locate this guy with use of a helicopter," he explained.

Then he suggested that Longenecker may have died of natural causes. "The reason it’s unclear if Longenecker was struck and killed by the bulldozer is that Longenecker, because of his age, could have had a heart attack while fleeing through the dense thicket," Boehm said.

But that attempted diversion was foiled on Tuesday when the preliminary autopsy report came out. That report found that Longenecker died of traumatic injuries after being run over by the bulldozer. A final ruling on the cause of death awaits toxicology tests, but it is clear that he died after being run over by the bulldozer.  

The case has aroused the ire of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which has denounced what it calls the excessive use of force by state law enforcement.

"This awful event could have and should have been prevented," said national NORML executive director Erik Altieri. "This tragedy is a direct result of our nation’s draconic and failed criminalization of marijuana. Not only was the use of resources in this matter excessive and the tactics highly questionable, but more importantly a man lost his life over the act of growing a plant that is now legally regulated in a majority of US states. No matter your opinion on marijuana legalization, the penalty for growing cannabis should never be an extrajudicial death sentence."

"As a former prosecutor and practicing criminal defense attorney, it is inconceivable to me that a man lost his life during an investigation of a very small grow," said Pittsburgh NORML executive director Patrick Nightengale. "Had he been arrested, prosecuted and convicted, Pennsylvania’s sentencing guidelines would have provided for a sentence of probation. The heavy-handed tactics employed cannot be justified by the seizure of ten plants. I do not understand why law enforcement couldn’t simply wait. A vehicle was on scene and another individual was taken into custody. Rip the plants, run the plate and ask the arrestee what his friend’s name is. How difficult is that?"

Medical marijuana is already legal in 31 states, including Pennsylvania, and legal marijuana for adults is already permitted in nine states and Washington, D.C. A bill to legalize marijuana in the state failed to advance this year, even though 59% of state residents support freeing the weed.

"As an activist and cannabis lobbyist in Pennsylvania, I always use decorum and process to my advantage. There would seem to have been a total lack of both by law enforcement this past Monday outside of Bernville. By all accounts the death of an illicit marijuana grower being chased by a state bulldozer, under the direction of Pennsylvania State Troopers, was an unnecessary and reckless use of resources," said Jeff Riedy, executive director of Lehigh Valley NORML. "These horrible events only fuel the need for marijuana reform, including the right for personal use and home cultivation in our state, and across this country. Endless pursuit at all costs, leading to the death of a suspect, over a few marijuana plants is excessive, to say the least."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.




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13/07/2018 09:48 PM
'A Moment in American History': Ex-GOP Lawmaker Argues Mueller's Latest Charges Should Make Us 'Fearful' of the President
"We should eject Russian diplomats and we should bring our U.S. diplomats home from Russia."

After the U.S. Justice Department announced an indictment of twelve Russian hackers involved in the Kremlin's attacks on the 2016 election, a former GOP lawmaker warned that the charges represent a landmark moment — and not in a good way.

"What we saw today from [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein is a moment in American history, and we should be unequivocal in our response," David Jolly, who served as a Florida congressman, said on MSNBC Friday. "And the president of the United States should be unequivocal. The Monday meeting should be canceled — the bilateral meeting with Putin. We should eject Russian diplomats and we should bring our U.S. diplomats home from Russia."

However, he acknowledged, there's no way Trump will do that.

"The president has known for days about this and he did not pivot in the press conference today to change his message nor is he changing the meeting," he continued.  "And what Americans should feel today — and I say this carefully — but we should feel fear. The Department of Justice today issued a statement on behalf of the United States government saying that one of our greatest adversaries in the world, Russia, had intelligence agents interfere with our elections. ... We should be fearful about the allegation. We should be fearful about the statement of facts. At the end of the day, we should be fearful we have a president who has known about this and did not change his behavior."

Bret Stephens, a New York Times columnist, agreed — and called out Republicans who ignore these crucial facts.

"If the facts were the same but Barack Obama were president, if we had just indicted 12 Russians for interfering in our election and yet President Barack Obama was going to meet Vladimir Putin and doing so against the advice of his own party, with a suggestion there is a possibility of collusion, what would Republican leaders be saying today?" he asked.

In fact, we know what they would say. Stephens reminded viewers of Republicans' reactions when, in 2012, Obama was caught on a hot mic telling Putin that he'd have more flexibility to work together after the election.

"Republicans went berserk," Stephens said. "They ran campaign ads about it. To those Republicans and conservatives watching this, just apply the same standard to Donald Trump that you would have applied to President Obama."

Watch the clip below:

"To those republicans and conservatives watching this, just apply the same standard to Donald Trump that you would have applied to President Obama."

— AlterNet (@AlterNet) July 13, 2018

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