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Tucker Carlson hits a new low with his website's article on "hot" Syrian refugees.

Carlson, the founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller, is famous for his bow ties, but it takes more than dapper dressing to make a gentleman. Amid the xenophobic trash that has disgraced the discussion of Syrian refugees, his website has published what is hands down the most awful piece of trolling on the subject. “13 Syrian Refugees We’d Take Immediately” is a listicle featuring photos of “Syria-sly hot” women. 

Of course, one can’t expect more from The Daily Caller, which has a history of frat-boy sexism, as when Tucker’s brother Buckley referred to a Bill de Blasio spokesperson as “a self-righteous bitch.”

September 19, 2018


Kavanaugh’s accuser wants an FBI investigation but Senate Republicans are resisting.

Christine Blasey Ford, who has nearly capsized the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh by accusing him of sexually assaulting her when they were both teenagers, is locking horns with the Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee over how her claims should be evaluated. Via her lawyers, Dr. Blasey (to use her professional name) is insisting that the FBI investigate her story before she testifies at the Senate hearings. Senate Republicans, led by Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee chairman, want a much more bare bone approach: hearings where both Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh testify but no one else does.

“Dr. Ford’s testimony would reflect her personal knowledge and memory of events,” Grassley noted in a statement. “Nothing the F.B.I. or any other investigator does would have any bearing on what Dr. Ford tells the committee, so there is no reason for any further delay.”

In essence, the Republicans want to turn the hearings into a strict she-said-he-said affair, with nothing more on offer than competing claims from two parties. This is the best path the Republicans have for salvaging the nomination, since it would mean that many neutral individuals could conclude there is no way to know the truth of Dr. Blasey’s claims, since they are contested.

What is notable is that Dr. Blasey is trying to bring more evidence to the table. As William Saletan of Slate notes, this matter doesn’t have to be one of rival testimony since there are factors that can be examined by an outside investigator, such as witnesses (notably Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge and two other people Dr. Blasey says were at the party). Judge denies the allegations but hasn’t testified under oath about them.

The Republicans are hostile to an evidence-based investigation because it would both delay the nomination (which they hope to wrap up well before the mid-term elections) and it might turn up unpleasant surprises. But these are political objections which have little to do with giving Dr. Blasey a fair hearing. She has the superior argument in noting that a narrow hearing where only she and Judge Kavanaugh speak is not the best way to establish the truth of this matter.

September 18, 2018

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America is taking in far fewer refugees, but a greater percentage of Christians.

Axios is reporting that the policies of the Trump administration are changing the demographics of America’s refugee population. This year, 70.6 percent of the refugees taken into the United States were Christian, as against 14.5 percent who were Muslim. This stands in sharp contrast to the parity these two world religions had between 2012 and 2016, when the two religions had rough parity, when both hovered between 40 percent and 50 percent. The United States is taking in far fewer refugees from Myanmar and Somalia. As Axios reports, “For no known reasons, the White House expressed particular concern over allowing refugees from Somalia into the U.S., former chief of the refugee affairs division at USCIS Barbara Stack told Zoe Chace in the latest episode of This American Life.”

But looking at just the percentages, as against the absolute numbers, is deceptive. The fact is the United States is taking in far fewer refugees from all religious groups, with Christians being less disfavored than others but still getting rejected at a higher rate than before. Although President Donald Trump has vowed to help Christian refugees, in absolute terms his administration has taken in 40 percent fewer of them last year.

Mary Giovagnoli, director of Refugee Council USA, argues that administration policies to create more hurdles for Muslim refugees have also had the effect of hampering Christians seeking asylum in the United States. “Ironically, these policies, while clearly aimed at Muslim refugees, ensure that Christians and other religious minorities from many of the countries on Trump’s list of suspect travel ban nations are also kept out,” she notes. “It suggests that the president has no real interest in religious persecution or the tenets of religious freedom.”

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Trump says he feels “so badly” for Brett Kavanaugh.

Speaking at press conference on Tuesday with Polish President Andrzej Duda, President Donald Trump expressed support for his embattled Supreme Court nominee. “I feel so badly for him that he is going through this,” Trump said. “Honestly I feel terrible for him, for his wife ... and for his beautiful young daughters. I feel terribly for them.”

Trump expressed the desire to have both Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasey Ford testify in Senate hearings. “Hopefully the woman will come forward, state her case,” the president remarked. “He will state his case before representatives of the United States Senate. And then they will vote, they will look at his career, they will look at what she had to say from 36 years ago, and we will see what happens.”

Trump has a long history of defending male associates accused of gender-based abuse or sexual misconduct (as well as defending himself from such charges). About his former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who was accused of assaulting two of his ex-wives and a girlfriend, Trump said, “He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent but you’ll have to talk to him about that.”

About onetime Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore, who was accused of molesting a teenager and trying to seek physical relations with more, Trump said, “He totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen.” Trump has made similar arguments on behalf of disgraced former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and the late disgraced former Fox News executive Roger Ailes.

At the time of accusations against Porter, Trump tweeted:

There is a revealing passage in Bob Woodward’s book Fear where he reports on advice Trump gives “to a friend who had acknowledged some bad behavior toward women.”

According to Woodward, Trump said, “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women. If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead. That was a big mistake you made. You didn’t come out guns blazing and just challenging them. You showed weakness. You’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to be aggressive. You’ve got to push back hard. You’ve got to deny anything that’s said about you. Never admit.”

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If Republican voters are complacent, Donald Trump can only blame himself.

In a recent interview, former White House advisor Steve Bannon expressed worry that Republican voters were too confident about the GOP keeping control of Congress, which might prevent them from being sufficiently motivated to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. Bannon has good reason for concern.

Polling strongly suggests Demcorats have a real chance at retaking the House of Representatives. Yet as Bloomberg reports, a private poll conducted by the Republican National Committee reveals that, “fully half of self-identified Republicans don’t believe Democrats are likely to win back the House. And within that group, 57 percent of people who describe themselves as strong Trump supporters don’t believe Democrats have a chance (37 percent believe they do).”

These “strong Trump supporters” probably believe this because they have been listening to the president himself. In speeches and on Twitter, Trump has constantly pooh-poohed the idea of a “blue wave” of Democrats winning and insisted offered up a counter-narrative of a “red wave” of Republican victories.

The compulsive boasting now may be backfiring.

As Trump tweeted on August 5:

The RNC report cited by Bloomberg argues that the GOP needs to put out the exact opposite message: “We need to make real the threat that Democrats have a good shot of winning control of Congress.” This will be a hard sell since admitting the possibility of defeat goes against Trump’s entire public persona.

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Trump reduces the number of refugees America will admit to a record low.

In keeping with his larger agenda of reducing the number of immigrants, both legal and undocumented, that the United States will accept, the president has been systematically lowering the number of refugees allowed annually into the country.

In his final year in office, former President Barack Obama set the refugee cap at 110,000. Last year, there was an internal struggle in the Trump administration between nativists, led by White House aide Stephen Miller, and the Department of Defense and the State Department over what the limit should be. Miller wanted to shrink it to 15,000. State and Defense were arguing for a limit of 50,000. Ultimately, the administration settled on 45,000. This year, Miller was able to get Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his side, which has led to a further reduction to 30,000.

Miller argued that U.S. resources were overstretched by asylum seekers (migrants who ask for asylum after entering the United States, versus refugees who are processed abroad) and that these resources should be spent clearing up these cases. Since asylum cases often end in deportation, a shift in resources in that direction also served Miller’s agenda of limiting the number of foreigners who gain permanent status in the United States.

The refugee cap is a ceiling, rather than a goal. By heightening the vetting process, it’s possible to further limit the number of refugees. This year, the U.S. has only accepted 20,918, well below the cap of 45,000 that could be admitted and even below next year’s cap of 30,000.

Nazanin Ash, the vice president for policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee, notes that setting asylum seekers and refugees against each other in a struggle for resources is a deliberate choice. “In justifying its policy intention, the administration has pitted those seeking asylum against refugees,” Ash told The New York Times. “The administration has the resources it needs to effectively administer both programs, as historic admissions levels prove.”

Historically, the United States has been the world’s most welcoming nations for refugees. As Vox notes, “between a third and a half of all refugees who’ve been permanently resettled since the end of World War II have come to America.” One of the most profound policy shifts of the Trump era is the rejection of this legacy.

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Trump is declassifying documents to punish his imagined enemies.

The White House announced on Monday night that it would declassify portions of a foreign-surveillance warrant application targeting former Trump aide Carter Page as well as FBI reports of interviews with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. That FISA application relied partly on the Steele dossier, which contains damaging allegations about Trump, and Ohr had contacts with Christopher Steele before the election.

The White House also ordered the release of text messages related to the Russia investigation from government cell phones used by Ohr and four other ex-DOJ officials with various connections to the Russia investigation: former FBI Director James Comey, former deputy director Andrew McCabe, and former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the materials were released “at the request of a number of committees of Congress, and for reasons of transparency.” A group of House Republicans led by Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes had previously requested the records from the White House as part of their longstanding effort to uncover purported surveillance abuses against the Trump campaign in 2016. Past efforts by Nunes and his associates to discredit the Russia investigation have not lived up to their hype.

The decision is a subtle but momentous step for Trump, effectively harnessing the presidency’s national-security powers for his own political advantage. It comes days after Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, pleaded guilty to multiple federal charges and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation. Trump praised Manafort last month for not cooperating with federal prosecutors and floated the prospect of pardoning him after the investigation wraps up—with the implicit condition that he not assist it.

It’s unclear how and when the documents will be made public or whether the intelligence community will be able to redact personally identifying information from them. California Representative Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democratic member, wrote on Twitter that DOJ and FBI officials “have previously informed me that release of some of this information would cross a ‘red line.’”

September 17, 2018

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Orrin Hatch offers confusing defense of Brett Kavanaugh.

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch made comments Monday supporting Kavanaugh’s beleaguered Supreme Court nomination, but in ways that did nothing to settle the underlying challenge of a serious accusation of sexual assault. Speaking to reporters at the Capitol, Hatch related that he spoke to Kavanaugh who said, “he didn’t do that, and he wasn’t at the party.” It’s not clear which party Hatch and Kavanaugh are referring to since the accuser did not provide any details to identify it.

Hatch added, “So, you know, clearly, somebody’s mixed up.” Asked if the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, was to be believed, Hatch indicated no. “I think she’s mistaken,” the Republican Senator said. “I think she’s … she’s mistaken something that I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know her.”

But in the same gaggle, Hatch also indicated that even if Ford were telling the truth, it wouldn’t matter. “If that was true, I think it would be hard for senators to not consider who the judge is today,” Hatch said. “That’s the issue. Is this judge a really good man? And he is. And by any measure he is.”

So Hatch’s position is: Ford is mistaken because Kavanaugh wasn’t at a party that Ford didn’t really describe but it wouldn’t matter if Ford were telling the truth because Kavanaugh is a good man. The philosopher Jacques Derrida described this type of thinking as “kettle logic”: the making of contradictory arguments with no regard for internal coherence. It’s only added to the atmosphere of highly charged chaos heading into the week.

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Elon Musk, duly warned, gets sued for calling a diver a “pedophile.”

The Tesla CEO, who has a history of ill-advised comments, is now facing a legal challenge after he referred, without evidence, to a British diver as a “pedophile.” The diver, Vernon Unsworth, came into conflict with Musk during the rescue operation of 12 Thai youths who were trapped in a cave with their soccer coach.

Musk had tried to intervene in the operation by offering the services of a mini-submarine. Unsworth, who was helping with the rescue, criticized Musk’s suggestion as a public relations stunt. In response, Musk tweeted out a challenge to Unsworth, referring to him on July 15 as “pedo guy.” Although Musk initially apologized, the billionaire inventor continued to taunt the diver. In an email interview with a BuzzFeed reporter, Musk described Unsworth as “an old, single white guy from England who’s been traveling or living in Thailand for 30 to 40 years.” Musk also claimed that Unsworth journeyed to Thailand “for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time.” Usworth’s lawyer has repeatedly called these allegations “false,” and threatened a lawsuit. “I fucking hope he sues me,” Musk wrote to a Buzzfeed reporter earlier this month.

Unsworth’s lawsuit, now filed, lays out a factual critique to these and other claims. “Mr. Unsworth is not a pedophile. Mr. Unsworth has never engaged in an act of pedophilia. Mr. Unsworth is not a child rapist,” the lawsuit states.

Shareholders of Telsa are already reportedly unhappy with Musk’s loose cannon behavior, which has recently included tweeting a plan to re-privatize the company, and openly smoking marijuana on a podcast. The lawsuit is not likely to cheer them up.

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Kavanaugh accusations divide the right.

The bombshell news that Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist, has come forward to accuse Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge of sexually assaulting her when they were all teenagers presents a dilemma for those who support his nomination. Do they continue to fight on Kavanaugh’s behalf and risk looking like they are indifferent to serious allegations of sexual assault? Or do they push Kananaugh to resign, even amid ambiguous evidence, at the cost of due process?

Between these two stark choices lie a range of options. One of the most thoughtful responses was from Sarah Quinlan of RedState who argued that a thorough investigation of the allegations was needed to preserve the legitimacy of the courts. “It would hurt the legitimacy of the Supreme Court to force a confirmation through when there appears to be a serious and credible accusation without an attempt to investigate the claims,” she contended.  

An equally judicious approach was taken by David French of National Review, who judged the accusation as “serious” but not definitive. French also allowed that more evidence could come forward to change that assessment, so his position seems to be the same as Quinlan: Let the process shift through competing claims.

Some of French’s colleagues reacted differently. Jim Geraghty muddied the water by pointing to a lack of corroborating evidence: “As of this writing, there are no photographs of the two together, no letters between them, no physical evidence proving that the two met each other, much less that the events occurred as she described.” But it’s not surprising that such letters and photographs don’t exist. Ford is not claiming that she and Kavanaugh had a relationship. Rather, her account is of being assaulted by him at a small party. Asking for evidence that isn’t pertinent to the claims is clearly a tactic of obfuscation. 

In The Federalist, David Marcus claimed that the fact the allegations weren’t brought forward in the hearings is proof they were weak. “After a lifetime of good service, Kavanaugh is being thrown under the bus of a single vague accusation,” Marcus laments. “Feinstein could have raised this months ago, could have made it a point of questioning during the hearings. She didn’t. ... I think she knew it wasn’t a strong enough allegation.” Marcus’s narrative ignores Ford’s own account, however: Ford herself was deeply divided, wanting to share her story but unwilling to go public. That fact alone explains why the story came out the way it did, via leaks after after the hearings.

Many on the right have argued that the allegations should not be given much weight since Kavanaugh was 17 years old at the time. The polemicists making this claim—and one libertarian, Megan McArdle—went so far as to suggest that it would be no problem if Kavanaugh even committed murder or rape as a teen:

As against those who argue that the accusation is likely true but immaterial, others claim that Kavanaugh is the target of a smear. Candace Owens, the communications director of Turning Points USA, described it as a #MeTooWitchhunt:

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Confirming judges was Trump’s magic bullet until Brett Kavanaugh.

For the last 20 months, as the Trump administration has been beset by scandal after scandal, conservatives have held on to a simple mantra: judges. In June of this year, shortly after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt said:

The president and the GOP-controlled Senate have already put one-eighth of the federal appeals bench in their seats. Each of those new appointees— all principled “originalists” in the mold of the late Justice Scalia—will have more than 400 participations in 2018 alone. Critics from the #NeverTrump crowd need to balance their criticism with this remarkable record of repair of the bench.

The confirmation of judges has, in many ways, been the inverse of the rule within the administration: disciplined and effective, with unimpeachable conservative credentials. Trump seems to understand this. While he shouts out his judicial record at rallies, he largely stays out of the way. He knows that, as long as conservative judges keep getting approved, both his base and the Republican establishment will be in his corner. Confirm enough judges and all sins are forgiven.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned Trump against nominating Kavanaugh to replace Kennedy, reportedly citing his sizable and controversial paper trail from the Bush administration. But Trump apparently took a liking to Kavanaugh and nominated him anyway. What has followed has been a nightmare, with that paper trail playing only a small part. Kavanaugh may have lied under oath. Over the last few days, he has been accused of sexual assault as a teenager. Senate Republicans—and prominent conservatives—appear to be standing by him for now, but his nomination is in jeopardy. A scheduled committee vote on Thursday may be pushed back to allow his accuser to testify before Congress.

The fact that Trump himself has stayed silent on this issue so far is a testament to how important judicial nominees have been to his presidency. But Trump’s recklessness in nominating Kavanaugh has imperiled what would unquestionably be his most important achievement as president—ensuring a conservative majority on the Supreme Court for a generation—which can only imperil his support among conservatives.

Republicans face a tricky political question. Is there enough time to push through a (likely more conservative) nominee before the midterms? If not, is it better to abandon a damaged nominee, in the hopes of making the composition of the Supreme Court an election issue? Or would scuttling the nomination only demoralize their voters, who are growing weary of a scandal-prone president fond of shooting himself in the foot? There is, of course, a moral question about Kavanaugh’s nomination as well. But Republicans have shown a willingness to set those aside again and again over the past three years.