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Melania Trump’s “boys will be boys” defense betrays a maternal kind of sexism.

Speaking to Anderson Cooper, Trump used a familiar but disturbing argument to defend the fact that her husband has boasted about assaulting women: He’s just a big child. As she explained, “They were kind of a boy talk, and he was led on, like egged on, from the host to say dirty and bad stuff.” Throughout the interview, she kept reframing Trump’s words as just “boy talk,” which led to a memorable exchange:

Cooper: He described it as locker room talk, to you, you’ve sort of alluded to that, is that what it is to you as well? Just locker room talk?

Trump: Yeah, it’s kind of two teenage boys, actually they should behave better, right?

Cooper: He was 59.

Trump: Correct. And sometimes I said I have two boys at home, I have my young son and my husband, so, but I know how some men talk, and that’s how I saw it, yes.

The “boys will be boys” defense constitutes a particular type of sexism, one that has a maternalist flavor. By casting her husband as the “boy” she has has to look after, Melania Trump empowers herself on some level—she’s the adult in the room. But it comes at the expense of giving her husband a wider license, which extends to mistreating women in general. What’s good for Melania Trump on a personal level isn’t necessarily good for her gender—and indeed in this case they are in direct opposition.  

March 30, 2017

Canada’s Lactate-gate scandal, explained.

Last Sunday, the Globe and Mail posted an article by columnist Leah McLaren describing how, approximately ten years ago, she almost breast-fed the infant son of Michael Chong, a prominent conservative politician. In the most embarrassing passage of an ill-conceived column, McLaren wrote:

I walked into a bedroom with coats piled high on the bed and noticed that in the corner, sitting wide awake in a little portable car seat, was the cutest baby I’d ever seen. On the table beside him was a monitor. I smiled at the baby, the baby smiled back. Now this was a connection.

I leaned over and gingerly picked him up and then sat down in a chair to give him a cuddle. He felt gorgeous in my arms, all warm and lumpy and milky-smelling in the way small babies are. Somehow, my pinky finger ended up in his mouth and I was astonished at strength of his sucking reflex. “C’mon lady,” said his eyes. And I suddenly knew what he wanted. And I of course wanted to give him what he wanted. The only problem was, I had no milk. But would it be so bad, I wondered, if I just tried it out—just for a minute—just to see what it felt like?

I looked at the baby monitor as if it might be watching me, but thankfully this was before monitors had cameras.

Then slowly, carefully so as not to jostle the infant, I began to unbutton my blouse. Just as I was reaching into my bra, a shortish man with in a navy suit walked into the room.

The man who walked in was Michael Chong. McLaren handed the baby over to him, bringing to a close an episode that she now acknowledges was “wrong and rude and frankly a bit weird of me.”

The Globe and Mail quickly removed the article but it still exists in a cached form and has garnered international attention. The Globe and Mail has now suspended McLaren and forbidden her from talking to the press.

But Lactate-gate, as the scandal deserves to be called, isn’t over yet. After all, there must have been editors who approved of the story before publication. What did they know about the attempted breastfeeding and when did they know it?

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John Conyers’s Medicare for All bill gains steam in the wake of Trumpcare’s failure.

The office of the Democratic representative from Michigan tells the New Republic that his Medicare for All bill now has 78 co-sponsors, with today’s addition of Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida.

“I have been introducing the Medicare For All bill every session of Congress since 2003, and I’m the longest serving member of Congress. I have never seen more enthusiasm and energy behind this issue than what I’m seeing today,” Conyers said in a statement. “I will keep introducing this bill as long as it takes because access to health care—not just health insurance, but quality, affordable care—is a universal right, not a privilege for those who can afford it.”

Conyers has introduced the bill yearly in the House since 2003, to varying degrees of support from fellow Democrats. Seventy-eight co-sponsors is the most it’s had since 2009, and though it’s DOA in a Republican-controlled government, its renewed popularity is a source of optimism for single-payer backers on the Hill. It comes at an auspicious time, as Democrats move from their tentative victory in keeping Obamacare alive to a new health care reform message for 2018 and beyond.

A congressional aide with knowledge of the situation tells the New Republic that single-payer is “a winning message.”

“The will is there at the grassroots. The will is there among progressives which are the Democratic base. The will is there among the constituents of more moderate and centrist Democrats,” he said. “It’s just a question of if the party wants to decide to do something smart for a change.”

He added, “I hope that the [Democratic] caucus decides to make it a campaign issue because I think it would work a lot better than some of the things we’ve been trying.”

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Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend is coming to HBO, which could be a very good thing.

The Italian production companies Wildside and Fandango have planned a 32-episode series to cover all four Neapolitan Novels, while HBO has only signed on to eight episodes so far. The project will be filmed in Italian, with English subtitles, and will likely premiere in 2018.

Considering the novels’ explosive popularity around the world, it was probably inevitable that they’d be adapted to either film or television. Still, adapting a series that is not only widely beloved, but also the center of so many fraught conversations on gender and authorship and privacy, could be a recipe for a minefield. This is also the team (HBO and Wildside) that brought us The Young Pope earlier this year, so treading lightly may not necessarily be their strong suit.

Saverio Costanzo, the Italian director who will helm the series, called the books “very literary but also very cinematographic.” Indeed, the novels have been compared to soap operas, since they feature themes of jealousy and betrayal, as well as ever-rotating romantic pairings. This is not to diminish the intellectual gravity of Ferrante’s novels, but rather to grant those traditionally marginalized and feminized forms of narrative artistic weight. The reimagined soap opera has been having a good couple years in TV, with shows like Jane The Virgin (which plays off the telenovela) and the imminent return of Twin Peaks (which David Lynch styled off American soaps).

It is also a small comfort that Ferrante herself will apparently co-write the series. If it can balance those more TV-ready themes with the novels’ nuanced explorations of Italian feminism and class struggle, it could make for some pretty groundbreaking television.


House Republicans can’t even agree on a meeting. How do they hope to pass a health care bill?

The GOP has been a shambles since the epic failure of Trumpcare last Friday. Donald Trump clearly has no idea what to do next, except to be mad online at the hard-right Freedom Caucus. Now, Paul Ryan and House Republicans are kicking around the idea of resuscitating health care reform.

That is, if they can get different factions to even meet. According to Axios Presented by the Dharma Initiative, talks about health care moving forward have already deteriorated. There was supposed to be a meeting yesterday between the Tuesday Group, the Freedom Caucus, and the Republican Study Committee. It never happened. Actually, whether a meeting was ever on the table is also a subject for them to fight over. As reported by Axios: “A Tuesday Group source denied a meeting between the 3 groups was ever agreed to. But there were discussions between the 3 groups to have a meeting to hash it out, and a Freedom Caucus source believes the group reneged on the deal.”

We know the GOP is not playing 4D-chess. But at this point it looks like they are not even playing Connect Four.

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Donald Trump has no idea what to do next.

Immediately after House Republicans’ pitiful attempt at health care reform failed, the conventional wisdom—pushed by Trump himself—was that the White House was moving on, and fast. Trump talked about using budget reconciliation—a parliamentary maneuver that conveniently requires zero votes from Democrats—for tax reform, which, like Obamacare, has long been a goal of congressional Republicans and the special interests and superrich people who fund them.

But a few days later, it was reported that Trump was considering pushing tax reform and a huge infrastructure package simultaneously—perhaps to lure Democrats into some kind of Grand Bargain. Then it came out that Trump actually didn’t want to give up on health care reform just yet, and that Mike Pence had been dispatched to the Capitol to see if he could strike a deal with House Republicans. All this even though Mitch McConnell made it clear that he wasn’t interested in the Senate taking on Obamacare repeal after it bombed so spectacularly in the lower chamber.

Trump’s tenth week in office, in contrast to the feverish activity of his ninth, seems like a hangover week for everyone. Republicans are icing the bruises they got from repeatedly punching themselves in the face, and Democrats seem to have grown a bit tired of winning, as Trump, ironically, promised they would. On Thursday morning, Axios Presented By Alexander Strategy Group reported that Trump—whose inner circle consists of past business associates, old campaign hands, and his own family—wants to widen his net. “Friends who talk frequently to Trump,” wrote Mike Allen, “tell us the president will make one big change in response to the health-care fiasco: In the constant check-in phone calls for which he’s famous, he’s going to talk with a wider array of people—and include more Democrats.”

Democratic outreach has been pushed by Trump’s friend Chris Ruddy. Paul Ryan, meanwhile, is using it as a stick to keep Republicans in line: “What I worry about, Norah, is that if we don’t [pass a GOP health care bill], then [Trump will] just go work with Democrats to try and change Obamacare and that’s not—that’s hardly a conservative thing,” he told Norah O’Donnell of CBS News. “[I]f this Republican Congress allows the perfect to be the enemy of the good, I worry we’ll push the president into working with Democrats, he’s been suggesting that as much.”

Trump muddied the waters further on Thursday with a tweet castigating both his potential allies on the right and left.

Trump’s Democratic outreach might be in earnest or it might be a threat. But, like every other piece of Trump’s agenda, it is up in the air right now because Trump himself has no idea what policy to push or what coalition to form.

March 29, 2017

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Republicans’ sneaky plan to smother future environmental regulations just passed the House.

The Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act, which passed on Wednesday by a 228-194 vote, is a pernicious attempt to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from creating rules to protect the environment and public health.

The bill, introduced by Texas Republican Lamar Smith, requires the EPA to only use scientific studies for which all data is publicly available and the results are easily reproducible. This is much harder to do than it sounds. Many public health studies use private medical data, while others contain trade secrets and industry data. Moreover, public health studies are impossible to reproduce when, say, they’re based on one-time pollution events or on people who have died since the study was conducted.

David Stevenson, a member of Trump’s EPA transition team, told me last week that the HONEST Act would be instrumental in preventing regulations of carbon dioxide and other pollutions. “Almost everything that has been done in the last 10, 11, 12 years would not pass the standards [under the bill],” he said. “The Clean Power Plan, ozone regulations, particulate matter regulations—everything has been built on science that has not been peer-reviewed, that the data’s not visible, or that there’s only been one person doing the study.”

There isn’t yet a version of the HONEST Act in the Senate, and some of its leading opponents believe the Senate wouldn’t have the votes to pass it as a standalone bill. But they worry it could be slipped into a must-pass appropriations bill.


Are House Republicans really gearing up to get clowned on health care again?

Just five days after one of the most embarrassing self-owns in political history, Bloomberg reports that House Republicans are considering holding a vote on repealing Obamacare in only two weeks. Bloomberg says that “members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who helped derail the bill, have been talking with some Republican moderate holdouts in an effort to identify changes that could bring them on board with the measure.” One member, Oregon Representative Greg Walden, even joked that it was high time for a political resurrection. “We’re approaching the Easter season,” Walden said. “Some things rise from the dead.”

In sacred texts, yes—but the Capitol is about as far from the Holy Land as you can get. While the whispers that health care isn’t quite dead have been growing louder—I wrote about them yesterday—the probability of House Republicans going through with this plan seems to be slim, especially considering that no one has yet to offer any changes to the American Health Care Act, one of the most hated bills ever.

That Republican House members would be risking failure mere weeks after a colossal blow to their credibility makes this even less plausible. The Associated Press reported yesterday that Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are moving on: “It’s pretty obvious we were not able, in the House, to pass a replacement. Our Democratic friends ought to be pretty happy about that because we have the existing law in place, and I think we’re just going to have to see how that works out,” McConnell said on Tuesday. “We believe it will not work out well, but we’ll see.”

These should not be comforting words to House Republicans who wish to hold a vote. It’s possible that the point is to send a bad bill up to the Senate, where it will die. This would kill two birds—the bill and the ability to claim that the House passed a repeal bill—with one stone.

But that is a 4D chess explanation, which does not fit the blundering political maneuvering that we’ve seen from House Republicans. (If this was the plan, moreover, House Republicans would have passed the AHCA last week.) More likely than not, they are using this as an opportunity to quiet raging donors who are furious that they botched health care reform. “If both the Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group can agree on some things, then we’re in good shape,” Representative Morgan Griffiths told Bloomberg. That tells you pretty much all you need to know about the status of the bill—it will require hardliners and so-called moderates to come together and, from what we’ve seen over the past month, that’s not going to happen.


Ivanka makes the nepotism official.

This afternoon it was reported in the New York Times that daddy’s dearest daughter will become an official government employee: an unpaid adviser to her father. For all intents and purposes, Ivanka, who has shown up to a lot of meetings with foreign dignitaries, was already doing this job. Only a week ago, she moved into an office in the West Wing, and faced backlash for the questionable ethics of being an unofficial employee. (As Norm Eisen told Politico, “If she can voluntarily subject herself to the rules, she can voluntarily un-subject herself to the rules.”)

Making her role official is an attempt to sidestep this criticism. In a statement, Ivanka said, “I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees.” But this is akin to putting a Band-aid on a bullet wound. The Trump family has already ignored a host of ethical guidelines, and the new position doesn’t solve Ivanka’s particular conflict-of-interest problems; while Ivanka put her fashion and jewelry line into a trust, she still owns it.


What will Donald Trump learn about tomorrow?

Trump is really doing well. First he learned about Frederick Douglass, who is being recognized more and more every day. Then he played with a truck and made vroom-vroom sounds. Now he’s learned about Susan B. Anthony:

He is such a good helper! Now these women know all about Susan B. Anthony, who got arrested for trying to vote while female. American women definitely don’t know anything about her.

No word about his behavior at naptime, but if he is very, very good perhaps he will get a gold star. What a big important day for a big important boy! If we turn the Constitution into a chapter book, we may survive this yet.

Lamar Smith (left) with House Speaker Paul Ryan in January. Zach Gibson/ASSOCIATED PRESS

House Republicans held an insane hearing just to attack climate science.

The Trump administration has been nothing if not a master class in gaslighting—the art of manipulating people, often through lies, into questioning their own sanity—and its pupils on Capitol Hill have clearly been taking notes. On Wednesday, the Republicans on the House Science Committee held a three-hour hearing on the merits of climate change science, a cavalcade of falsehoods so relentless and seemingly rational that one might well need psychiatric counseling after having watched it.

There were four witnesses: One scientist from within the scientific mainstream, and three from the climate-denial fringe. This witness makeup, the result of Republicans’ majority power, created an environment where there appeared to be exponentially more doubt about the reality of global warming than actually exists in the scientific community (97 percent of climate scientists say global warming is problematic and caused by humans). The stated intention of the hearing was to bring “integrity” back to the scientific process. “It is important that we have the best available data to make informed decisions,” said Republican Congressman Andy Biggs of Arizona. “It is also important that this data is grounded in sound science that is not biased or part of a larger political agenda.”

That sounds perfectly reasonable, but an “honest discussion” of the data is not what happened. It was not honest, for example, when House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith angrily said the Heartland Institute—an organization that openly denies climate science—does not deny climate science. It was not honest when Smith criticized Science magazine—one of the country’s most prestigious science publications—as being a non-objective source of information about science. Nor was it honest that the discussion would be apolitical. Judith Curry, a scientist who doubts mankind’s role in climate change, ended her opening statement thus: “Let’s make scientific debate about climate change great again.”

At one point, a Republican on the committee even tried to pin the label of “climate denier” on Michael Mann, a world-renowned climate scientist the Democrats had called to defend mainstream science. Georgia Congressman Barry Loudermilk asked Mann if he though it was possible, even in the slightest, that humans are not the main driver of climate change. Mann said that based on the current data, it’s not possible. Loudermilk concluded: “We could say you’re a denier of natural change.”

For being the only witness who accepted the mainstream position on climate change, Mann sure took a beating. Representative Paul Higgins pressed Mann to prove he wasn’t “affiliated or associated” with the Union of Concerned Scientists or the Climate Accountability Institute, two left-leaning climate science advocacy groups. Mann, clearly confused, said he knew people in the groups but didn’t work for them. Texas Congressman Randy Weber then attacked Mann for not being able to “remember” if he’s affiliated with the groups. “It certainly seems to be a convenient lack of memory,” Weber said.

For all their gaslighting, these Republicans never did conceal the true intention of the hearing: to bully the scientific mainstream. Smith even suggested as much last week at Heartland’s annual conference for climate change deniers, where he was met with cheers when he announced his three chosen witnesses. When he mentioned Mann, the crowd loudly booed, and Smith smiled. “This hearing is going to be so much fun,” he said.