Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Why Now? Or On The Timing Of Trump's Most Recent Wrath Tweets

It's not news that Trump has racist and sexist views.  He ran on those views, after all.  So I am not particularly interested in trying to saw open his skull to see what monsters there might tell us about why* he is tweet-attacking four progressive Democratic politicians, all of them women and all of them women of color.

A more interesting question than repeatedly asking if he might, after all, be a teeny weeny bit bigoted, is to ask why he chose to attack "the Squad" at this particular point in time.

The most obvious explanation is this one:

Mr. Trump clearly sees a political advantage in his targeting of the congresswomen, betting that by focusing attention on them, he will be better able to paint all Democrats with a broad brush of socialism and radical policies.
“The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them,” Mr. Trump gloated on Twitter on Monday evening. “That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!”

Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster and strategist, said Mr. Trump’s latest remarks reflected a broader strategy to use the same kind of racial animus that helped propel his 2016 presidential bid to bolster his base for his 2020 re-election push.

And the timing may simply be because Maureen Dowd had just written a column (in her inimitable slap-the-bitches schoolyard style) which strongly suggests that Nancy Pelosi tries to distance the views of the Squad from the general messages of the Democratic Party.** 

Thus, the situation was tailor-made for Trump to hop into the saddle and ride this particular pony of our political apocalypse.  (I'm being taken captive by bad metaphors!  Help!  Send chocolate!)

But other tentative explanations exist.  For instance, the Epstein case is very much in the news, and there may be good reasons why Trump might wish to make certain that there are competing baits for the journalist fishes out there.

And the man really is a master baiter.


* In one sense his tweets are nothing more than the old "America.  Love It Or Leave It" argument, which frames dissent as treason. 

In another sense it's just his id speaking.  He loves letting it off the leash because he knows that his base adores him for their chance of vicariously doing the same, and, as we all know, nothing bad ever happens to Trump when he does that. 

But there are also political reasons for focusing the magnifying glass on the Democrats while the southern border continues as a pure hell on earth and so on.  The media eagerly swallows his bait and then dangles off his fishing rod, helpless and dull-eyed.  (I told you that I'm being kidnapped by bad metaphors today!)

**  I have not tried to analyze that Dowd column and Pelosi's possible thought processes which led her to giving that interview to an opinion columnist who truly detests Democratic women and always analyzes them from the Mean Girls Angle.

Life is too tiring as it is.   

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Cases Of R.Kelly And Jeffrey Epstein. Compare And Contrast.

From recent news:

Singer R. Kelly has been arrested in Chicago on federal sex crime charges, according to two law enforcement officials.
The 52-year-old was arrested by NYPD detectives and Homeland Security Investigation agents on sex trafficking charges, officials tell News 4, and it is expected he will be brought to New York.

The R&B star has been the subject of different sexual abuse allegations for nearly two decades, with some of the alleged acts dating back to 1998.
Back in February, Kelly was charged with aggravated sexual abuse involving four women, three of whom were minors when the alleged abuse occurred. He pleaded not guilty and was released from Chicago's Cook County Jail after posting bail.

A jury in 2008 acquitted Kelly of child pornography charges stemming from a video showing him having sex with a girl as young as 13, prosecutors claimed at the time. Kelly faced 15 years in prison for that charge, but the young woman in that claim denied it was her and did not testify.

If you think there might be an echo in the room, you are correct.  This case looks a lot like the Jeffrey Epstein case:  Both men are rich and powerful and both have successfully slithered out of earlier sexual abuse allegations concerning minors, while apparently not changing their lives at all.

But there are differences, too.  R. Kelly is black, Jeffrey Epstein is not, R. Kelly is a famous musician, Jeffrey Epstein is mostly famous for being close to famous people, and the two used different strategies in their (alleged) preying for victims:

R. Kelly has been accused of creating a cult* where women and girls were held hostage inside his properties, while Epstein seems to have kept his targets on longer leashes**, to be called back when required.

Still, the differences in those hunting styles disguise a deeper similarity, one which is an integral part of much sex trafficking:

The relationship between the sex trafficker and the exploited minor is often "a mental tether and not a physical chain," she said.
"Once manipulated" by the sex trafficker, "she can be in any social space and still be exploited but not see herself as a victim," she continued.


With victims too young to understand that they're being manipulated and used, they often tragically blame themselves or cover for their abuser. 

Victims reported that Epstein paid them when they were hard up for cash — and paid extra when they brought new girls. He offered them affection, or promised to boost their future careers. That’s what kept them coming back to his palatial Palm Beach estate for years.
That line of thinking isn’t uncommon for victims of human trafficking rings, experts say, and it can take years for survivors to realize they were victimized twice: once sexually, and a second time through manipulation with money, power, or praise.
“They’ll often talk about the extent to which they have agency in their own decision, but they don’t see themselves as being exploited,” said Rachel Lovell, sex trafficking expert and assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University. “They see themselves as being in love, as making the best decisions with the limited circumstances that they have.”


This article, from 2017,  gives some insights into how the process of —what?  conversion? brain-washing? — slowly worked for one woman, Kitti Jones, who has since sued R. Kelly.

Note how familiar some aspects of that gradual tightening of the noose sound.  Kelly used the kinds of devices domestic and intimate partner abusers routinely employ, only he did it to several girls and women at the same time.  Another woman suing Kelly, Faith Rodgers, recounts similar incidents in 2018:

The allegations are similar to others made against Kelly recently, from women who allege he held them against his will in a “cult”, where as well as being forced into sexual acts, the women had their diet and even use of the bathroom controlled by Kelly. Rodgers’ lawsuit describes her case as “run-of-the-mill R Kelly sexual abuse”.

** Or used the girls and women he had already hunted to find him new targets.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Meanwhile, At Trump's Golf Resort

From today's presidential news, anno 2019:

President Trump’s golf resort in Doral, Fla., is scheduled to host a golf tournament Saturday put on by a Miami-area strip club, which will allow golfers to pay for a dancer to serve as their “caddy girl” while they play at the president’s club.
The “Shadow All Star Tournament” is organized by the Shadow Cabaret, a strip club in Hialeah, Fla.

So it goes. I'm trying to imagine what the reactions of the public would be if, say, Hillary Clinton had done something similar.  For instance, suppose that she had organized a fund-raising party where the guests could pay to have young male strippers sit at their tables during the dinner.*

* To be clear she never did that.  And to be even clearer, I wrote that paragraph to point out the gendered nature of the above arrangement.  It's female dancers that the male golf-players pay for.  And to be clearer than that, this is about sex, but it's really only about sex for the buyers, and not for the sellers.  Still, most of Trump's base would like all of reality to work like this:

Mancuso said there would be no nudity at the resort. On the course, he said, the caddies would wear pink miniskirts and what he called “a sexy white polo.” Afterward, however, the golfers and the dancers would return to another venue — the cabaret itself — for what he described as a “very tasteful” burlesque show, which could involve nudity.
“They’re going to be clothed the whole time” at the golf course, Mancuso said. “At the venue is different.”

Human Rights For Thee, My Brother, But Not For Me?

The Trump administration is doing the bidding of Vlad "The Impaler" Putin and of the fanatic religious fundamentalists.  We know that, of course, but that bidding is now going to affect the way the US foreign policy will interpret human rights.  My guess is that the new definition of human rights will try to return that concept to the era of the American Founding Fathers when women, as a class, had very few rights and when blacks counted as fractional human beings.


The Trump administration said Monday that it will review the role of human rights in American foreign policy, appointing a commission expected to elevate concerns about religious freedom and abortion.


A group of Democratic senators said in a letter last month that they were dismayed that the commission was being assembled without congressional oversight. Several of the names of people reported to be on it, they charged, support discriminatory policies against gays and lesbians, “hold views hostile to women’s rights, and/or to support positions at odds with U.S. treaty obligations.”

The hilarious aspect in this is that these changes are also very much desired by the groups the United States is currently fighting in Syria and in Afghanistan.

Fundamentalists are brothers under the skin, and it's pretty clear that the new "rights" would not affect the human rights of straight religious men.  Everyone else, fasten your seat belts.

I am always uncomfortable when people use the term "religious freedom," unless carefully specified, because one person's religious freedom too often seems to mean that other people must lose their rights of being viewed as equally human beings.  Besides, religious communities use that term to police the members of their own flock which can, ironically, strip those members of their human rights.  There's an odd collective aspect to that term, which may be why organized religion likes it. 

Whether this new commission ends up having any power or not, the very fact that it has been created makes me sad.  It's an ominous sign of the end of that era when powerful Western powers paid at least lip service to general human rights, the fair treatment of women and of sexual minorities and so on.  Unless we fight to preserve those basic rights, of course.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

On Privilege As Initially Defined: Jeffrey Epstein And Private Law

The billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein was arrested yesterday on sex trafficking charges involving minors:

Epstein has been arrested for allegedly sex trafficking dozens of minors between 2002 and 2005 while residing in New York and Florida, according to a story broken by The Daily Beast and confirmed by CNN. The new indictment reportedly accuses Epstein of paying underage girls in cash for "massages" in order to molest or otherwise sexually abuse them at his residences in either the Upper East Side of Manhattan or in a wealthy neighborhood of Palm Beach, Florida. The indictment will also reportedly claim that some of Epstein's employees and associates helped him recruit these girls for his abuse — and that many of the sex abuse victims ultimately assisted him in recruiting his future victims.

This is not the first time Epstein has faced similar allegations*.  In 2007 and 2008 he avoided similar federal charges in a plea deal which many have criticized as overly lenient:

Before the plea deal, Mr. Epstein, a former hedge-fund manager, had been friendly with Donald J. Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.
He pleaded guilty to lesser state charges of soliciting prostitution, served 13 months in a county lockup and registered as a sex offender. His jail arrangement allowed him to get out of the Palm Beach County Stockade six days a week to work out of his office.
Well, the deal may have been overly lenient, but it was also just shitty:

The plea deal that protected Mr. Epstein from federal charges was signed by the top federal prosecutor in Miami at the time, Alexander Acosta, who is now President Trump’s labor secretary.
In February, a judge in Florida ruled that the prosecutors led by Mr. Acosta violated federal law when they failed to disclose Mr. Epstein’s nonprosecution agreement to his victims.
The agreement was negotiated in secret while victims were told prosecutors were still pursuing a possible federal criminal case.

Scan through the last two quotes above, and you do get the feeling that the law for some people is, indeed, in a very concrete sense a private law, which is one of the original meanings of "privilege:"  

The unwashed masses have one law, the rich and powerful and their tribal associates have a different one.

And why not, in their own minds?  After all, they have the right to have the best cars, wines, houses and caviar.  They get to fly in private jets.  They never have to stand in line.  Why shouldn't they have access to the bodies they most desire for sexual purposes, even if the law for the hoi polloi regards that access as illegal?

To be crystal-clear, the above paragraph is my attempt to enter the mind of someone like Jeffrey Epstein.  It is NOT what I believe, of course.  In particular, there's an enormous moral and ethical difference between cars, houses, wines and caviar on the one hand and the bodies of young and very vulnerable** girls and women on the other hand.

*  For even earlier hints about all this, see this article.   Or Google Epstein's name and "parties." The problem, of course, is that until cases are brought to court (or good third-party evidenced is presented) all the hints must be treated as mere rumors by those of us who are on the outside of the judicial system.

** The NYT article:

One of the victims, Courtney Wild, now 31, was wearing braces when she first met Mr. Epstein. “Jeffrey preyed on girls who were in a bad way, girls who were basically homeless,” Ms. Wild told The Herald. “He went after girls who he thought no one would listen to and he was right.”

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

What Was Your First Memory?

Because this is a holiday week in the US, I feel free not to write about only politics and other stress-inducing topics.  For a change of pace, I thought back to the misty past when I was a very small goddess, to figure out my first memory.

The one I'm surest about* is this:

I am upright in the hot sun.  Outside.

Heat.  Light.  Light and heat.  From above.  Above exists.  Cold below.  Below exists.  The stepping stone is cold and I stand on it.  I exist.

I am not the heat, I am not the light, I am not the cold or the stone. 

I AM, small, I end there and I end here, and I stand on this stepping stone and it is hot and it is glaring white above and my legs (I have legs) are bare and warm and I wear a ---- onesie?  and a baby bonnet.
What's your first memory?

*  I have another one which is a little fuzzier and involves hearing people talk but not being able to understand a single word.  Also, feeling like a turtle on its back, unable to move toward the light from the window.   But the one I write about here is much stronger.

Monday, July 01, 2019

She Is Not My Type. The Recent Sexual Assault Allegation Against Donald Trump.

"She is not my type."  That's partly how Donald Trump responded to the allegations that he had sexually assaulted Jean E. Carroll, long an advice columnist for Elle magazine, in a Bergdorf & Goodman dressing-room twenty-three years ago.

These allegations appeared in print at the Cut which published a short excerpt from Carroll's forthcoming book.  Here's the central bit:

The moment the dressing-room door is closed, he lunges at me, pushes me against the wall, hitting my head quite badly, and puts his mouth against my lips. I am so shocked I shove him back and start laughing again. He seizes both my arms and pushes me up against the wall a second time, and, as I become aware of how large he is, he holds me against the wall with his shoulder and jams his hand under my coat dress and pulls down my tights.
I am astonished by what I’m about to write: I keep laughing. The next moment, still wearing correct business attire, shirt, tie, suit jacket, overcoat, he opens the overcoat, unzips his pants, and, forcing his fingers around my private area, thrusts his penis halfway — or completely, I’m not certain — inside me. It turns into a colossal struggle. I am wearing a pair of sturdy black patent-leather four-inch Barneys high heels, which puts my height around six-one, and I try to stomp his foot. I try to push him off with my one free hand — for some reason, I keep holding my purse with the other — and I finally get a knee up high enough to push him out and off and I turn, open the door, and run out of the dressing room.

Carroll wrote that she told two women about the event at the time, and two women have come forward to verify that. Trump's response was that Carroll is "totally lying" and that "she is not his type."

I find it hard to get over the idea that "she is not my type" would be a defense against sexual assault allegations.  Indeed, I can't get my head around that.  I wonder what his type for sexual assault purposes might be...

The longer the Trump era continues, the more I feel like Alice in Wonderland: (1)

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." 

Saturday, June 29, 2019

And Our Dear Leader Speaks About The Demise Of Liberal Democracy

This is funny:

President Trump held a lengthy news conference Saturday in Osaka, Japan, during which he displayed his apparent ignorance of some very basic political terms and historical concepts.
When asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comments saying Western-style liberalism was “obsolete,” Trump apparently thought this term literally referred to the western United States and American liberals.


Democratic liberalism, of course, does not refer to the western United States, but rather the Western world -- which generally includes the United States and much of Europe. And liberalism is a political theory that values the freedom of the individual. That term has come to be associated with left-leaning American politicians and political activists, but some right-leaning political thinkers still claim the term as their own.
Broadly speaking, democratic liberalism has been the leading political ideology across the western world since World War II. Of late, though, populist movements across Europe have gained power, leading to questions about how long liberal democracies can survive. Putin’s comments were clearly about that, but Trump doesn’t appear to have processed this very significant development on the world stage.

No.  It's not funny.  It's frightening, as if we live in a mirror world where the Russian dictator is pleased that the idea of democracy, freedom of the individuals and associated concepts such as human rights are now becoming obsolete, and the wannabe American dictator doesn't even understand what the fuck Vlad The Impaler is talking about.

The BBC has a more detailed take on both the meaning of liberal democracy in the Western world, and Putin's assertions:

"Putin's position is that Russia has a specific and different kind of civilisation, where sovereignty trumps democracy, and national unity and stability trumps rule of law and human rights," says Prof Cox.
"Not surprisingly, he's not keen on Western-style liberalism, which he'll see as a fundamental challenge to his style of government.

Bolds are mine. 

Putin's views remind me of how Mussolini, too, made the trains run on time...

Never mind.  The point of this post is that while Putin's war-of-the-ideas uses sophisticated weapons in, say, cyber-warfare, Trump brings with him a toy train.