Milo Yiannopoulos isn’t ready for “Real Time” and it shows

Bill Maher’s public service:

Most people have no idea who Milo is, except that he claims to be “Dangerous.” Friday night, Bill Maher showed them

Bill Maher's public service: Milo Yiannopoulos isn't ready for "Real Time" and it shows
(Credit: Getty/Drew Angerer/HBO/Salon)

When it was announced that this week’s episode of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” would feature so-called “right-wing provocateur” Milo Yiannopoulos, some people freaked out. Many seemed to believe that bringing Yiannopoulos on the show would legitimize a noxious professional troll, as if that horse hadn’t already escaped the barn when America elected one president.

Journalist Jeremy Scahill, co-founding editor of The Intercept, canceled his own booking in protest. In his one-on-one segment with Maher at the top of the show, Yiannopoulos called that approach out: “If you don’t show up to debate, you lose.” On one hand, not every debate is worth sitting in the makeup chair for. (I’ve seen the Milo show; I’ve seen better.) But Yiannopoulos isn’t leading a political movement; he’s an attention-seeking troll. They don’t feed on legitimacy, but rather scandal and outrage, which Scahill helped deliver. For my part, I was irritated that I’d have to sit through an interview with this guy before getting to Leah Remini’s Scientology Dirt Bag, so it’s not like I had a high horse to climb off of.

It’s easy to forget, if you don’t live on the Internet, that most people in America — and quite possibly most “Real Time” home viewers — likely have no idea who Milo is or if they should care about him at all. (Third *NSync alum from the right?) If their first up-close exposure to Milo Yiannopoulos, C-Lister Famous for Something or Other, was last night’s “Real Time,” I can’t imagine they now understand what all the fuss is about.

Yiannopoulos came out quite saucy and self-satisfied — ain’t I a stinker? — so Maher, ever the comedy veteran, heckled him right out of the gate: “You look like Bruno.” Milo pouted, and then turned his exaggerated frown into a smirk after a beat. “You know I told [the make-up artist] to dial down the contouring.”

Despite their flirty greetings, Maher didn’t let Milo off easy. They agreed on a few things, like how liberals are too easily offended, but throughout the interview, Milo seemed squirmy, a bit flustered and obviously outmatched by his host. Maher wasn’t interested in gossiping about Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman, whom Milo lamely joked were funny before they “contracted feminism.” In fact, he dismissed most of Milo’s low-hanging outrage-bait as just kind of stupid.

Maher’s challenge here was not being cast as Principal Skinner arguing with Bart Simpson, and for the most part, he succeeded. “You’re wrong about certain things,” Maher tells him flatly, giving examples from Milo’s own spiels: “Black Lives Matter is a hate group. There’s no such thing as white privilege.”

Maher, a consistent atheist, also dinged Yiannopoulos for “bullshit stupid thinking” when Milo gave Catholicism a pass he doesn’t extend to other religions.

Yiannopoulos insisted that he’s funny and that his jokes “build bridges.” All he cares about, he claimed, is free speech and free expression, which he described as “now a conservative position.”

“I’m the guy who always defends jokes, right up to the point where they pointlessly hurt people,” Maher said, bringing up the campaign of vicious harassment against “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones that got Yiannopoulos banned from Twitter.

Milo’s defense was a mess of facile talking points. “I like to think of myself as a virtuous troll,” he said. He also claimed, “What actually hurts people is murder, violence. Mean words don’t hurt people.”

“Which some people would say you’ve incited,” countered Maher, though he didn’t give any concrete examples.

“They would be idiots,” said Yiannopoulos.

For a couple of years in the 1980s, my family lived in Germany, where Nazi symbols were, for very understandable reasons, forbidden. As an earnest 7-year-old who read a lot of children’s literature set during World War II, it freaked me out to see swastikas scratched and inked into naughty graffiti, presented with as much gravity and political intent as butts-and-boobs doodles were back home. Little kids test social boundaries all the time. They’re drawn to the illicit — like giggling over Nazi symbols, which they know are bad but don’t quite understand — because that which is frightening for abstract reasons can also be thrilling, even titillating. Part of growing up — as I hope the kid at my Catholic school who was responsible for that graffiti did, eventually — is learning how one kid’s abstract illicit thrills can be another person’s concrete and dangerous threats, and adjusting your behavior accordingly.

Yiannopoulos is an intriguing conundrum because even though he’s an out gay man in his 30s, not a doodling child, he refuses to connect his own flippant denigration of gay people as hyper-sexed, druggy and untrustworthy — abstract jokes he’s in on — to the concrete threat of discrimination or even violence that LGBT people face from those who may feel emboldened or justified by those attitudes. Maybe he feels those fears are idiotic. Most of his fans are likely in it for the dark thrill of an illicit giggle alone: the permission to laugh at a gay joke because a gay man made it. But how grotesque of a spotlight-chaser does one have to be to ignore the possibility of the fan that isn’t? And how narcissistic is it to forcibly extend that “in on the joke” intimacy to those who haven’t issued an invitation first, like women, black people or Muslims?

On one hand, it’s a pity Maher didn’t have time to delve that deep into a discussion of the philosophy of “j/k lol” with Yiannopoulos. On the other hand, it’s not like Milo said anything on “Real Time” that indicated he’d be up for a challenging intellectual discussion about where the line is, and what it’s used for.

Throughout the segment, Milo demonstrated that as far as provocateurs go, he’s nowhere near Maher’s level. You can disagree with Maher’s positions on politics and religion, but he’s a pro who can back a gag or a flat statement up with reason and consistency. Milo’s a snarky brunch friend on a second round of Bloodies for people who don’t have snarky brunch friends. (Get off Gab once in a while and buy a round, fanboys! You can get your fill of Lena Dunham jokes in person.) He’s managed to build a public speaking and publishing career on little more than being shameless, disgusting and reasonably attractive at the same time. America, land of opportunity!

Maher closed the segment by scolding his audience. “Stop taking the bait, liberals!” he cried. “You’re all freaking out about this fucking impish British fag! You schoolgirls!”

Maher’s using his words as a blunt instrument here, but the sentiment’s not wrong. Exposing Yiannopoulos as a lightweight “famous for doing nothing” vacuous Twitter celeb on TV — as Maher just did — is likely going to be more effective at limiting his cachet and influence than inadvertently building up his illicit, underground cred through outrage. Pushing a malignant thing like Milo Yiannopoulos out into the spotlight isn’t necessarily normalizing it. Sometimes the cliché is true, and sunlight really is the best disinfectant.

Let’s consider the evidence that Trump is a traitor

trump-cia-speechedited

None dare call it treason:

Has Trump’s entire team been compromised by Putin? If so, everyone who continues to support him is complicit 

On Monday evening, national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after supposedly losing the “trust” of President Donald Trump by failing to adequately and fully explain his phone conversations with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.

As The New York Times explained on Wednesday, FBI agents apparently concluded that Flynn had not been “entirely forthcoming” in describing a phone call he had with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. That set in motion “a chain of events that cost Mr. Flynn his job and thrust Mr. Trump’s fledgling administration into a fresh crisis.”

As the Times report elaborated, Trump “took his time” deciding what to do about Flynn’s dishonesty and was none too eager to fire him.

But other aides [such as other than press secretary Sean Spicer] privately said that Mr. Trump, while annoyed at Mr. Flynn, might not have pushed him out had the situation not attracted such attention from the news media. Instead, according to three people close to Mr. Trump, the president made the decision to cast aside Mr. Flynn in a flash, the catalyst being a news alert of a coming article about the matter.

“Yeah, it’s time,” Mr. Trump told one of his advisers.

Flynn is not alone. Other Trump operatives are also under investigation by the FBI for potentially illegal contact with senior Russian intelligence operatives.

This information is not new. The New York Times and other American news media outlets were aware of reports about Russian tampering in the 2016 election as well as an ongoing federal investigation of Trump, his advisers and other representatives. Instead of sharing this information with the American people during the election campaign, the Times and other publications chose to exercise “restraint” and “caution.” Decades of bullying by the right-wing media and movement conservatives would pay great dividends.

Afraid of showing any so-called liberal bias, the corporate news media demonstrated little restraint in its obsessive reporting about the nonstory that was Hillary Clinton’s emails. This, in conjunction with other factors, almost certainly cost her the election.

In all, the Republican Party and its voters have abandoned their Cold War bona fides and their (somewhat exaggerated) reputation as die-hard enemies of Russia and the former Soviet Union. To borrow from the language of spy craft, it would seem that they have been “flipped” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Despite mounting evidence suggesting that Trump’s administration has been compromised by Russia, his public continues to back him. The Republican Party and its leadership have largely chosen to support Trump in a type of political suicide mission because they see him as an opportunity to force their agenda on the American people and reverse or undo by the social progress made by the New Deal, the civil rights movement, feminism, the LGBT movement and other forces of progressive change.

In the midst of these not so new “revelations” about Michael Flynn and other members of Trump’s inner circle, the news media is now fixated on the Nixonian question: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” This question ought to not be treated like a mystery. The answer should be readily apparent because it is a direct reflection of Trump’s political and personal values.

Trump has repeatedly shown that he is a fascist authoritarian who admires political strongmen and autocrats such as Putin. In keeping with that leadership style, Trump has surrounded himself with family members and other advisers so as to insulate himself from criticism — and also to neuter any political rivals. In violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, Trump is also using the office of the presidency to personally enrich himself, his family members and other members of his inner circle, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Donald Trump also has a longtime pattern of open admiration for gangsters and organized crime.

In sum, Trump’s presidency has many of the traits of a criminal enterprise and a financial shakedown operation, masquerading as a democratically elected government.

Flynn resigned because he got caught, not because of what he did. White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed this with his statement during Tuesday’s press briefing that Flynn did “nothing wrong or inappropriate.” In response to this most recent scandal, Trump and his surrogates are now trying to focus on “the leaks,” rather than the potential crimes that may have been committed. Like most political strongmen, Trump values secrecy and loyalty above all else. Those things must be maintained at all costs, even if that means that a given member of the ruling cabal might occasionally have to fall on his or her own sword.

Based on the increasing evidence of communication between his inner circle and Russian operatives, it appears plausible that Trump either actively knew about Flynn’s actions (and perhaps even directed them) or chose to look away while actively benefiting from them. Either choice should disqualify him from the presidency.

In an earlier essay for Salon, I argued that for a variety of reasons that Trump can be considered a traitor to the United States. By that standard, his voters and other supporters who do not denounce him are also traitors, and any Republican officials who continue to back Trump are traitors as well. Recent revelations about Flynn and the still unknown extent of contact between other Trump advisers and Russian agents serve to only reinforce the truth of my earlier claim.

Republicans and other conservatives behave as though they have a monopoly on patriotism and exclusive claims to being “real Americans.” Now is the time for them to test that commitment. Do Republicans and other conservatives love power more than their country? I fear I know the answer. I ask the question in the hope that I am wrong.

None dare call it treason: As the Flynn scandal widens, let’s consider the evidence that Trump is a traitor

Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

“Saturday Night Live” reclaims its satirical mojo amid a national emergency

Thanks, Trump!

“SNL” has found a new satirical urgency in the age of Trump — partly because we know how much he hates it

Thanks, Trump! "Saturday Night Live" reclaims its satirical mojo amid a national emergency

Kyle Mooney and Alec Baldwin on “Saturday Night Live,” February 4th, 2017. (Credit: NBC/Will Heath)

For the better part of a decade, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” seemed to be all about manufacturing viral videos for social media and pandering to an almost insufferable “both sides are equally evil” take on American politics. When “SNL” wasn’t churning out weird-for-weirdness-sake viral hits, it was carefully balancing its criticisms of the Republican Party — a longtime target of the legendary late-night sketch show — with obvious and self-conscious jabs at president Barack Obama and the left. Some of it was deserved, while, other times, “SNL’s” political satire felt soft-pedaled and awkward.

During that time, the impact of “SNL” on the American political scene was eclipsed by “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show,” as well as cult-classic films like “Idiocracy” and especially sketch shows like HBO’s “Mr. Show with Bob & David.” As the George W. Bush years wore on, much of the greatest political satire was found online, beginning with Flash cartoons during the dot-com boom and exploding into a media phenomenon via YouTube in 2006. Even a basic cable network like VH1 unexpectedly tested the political satire waters with a short-lived animated sketch show I created and produced, circa 2003 through 2005, called “VH1’s Illustrated,” where we ripped everything from Guantánamo Bay and drug legalization to Dick Cheney’s raping of national parks for oil.

To be clear, when I talk about political satire, I’m specifically referencing short or long-form comedy that focuses its weapons on nefarious social and political elites — targeting powerful villains where it hurts them the most and, more important, owning the message. No apologies. No quarter.

“SNL” used to do this. The cast that emerged in the mid-1980s, for example, created political sketches that both defined and ridiculed the rightward shift in politics during the Reagan era. With its classic sketch about Reagan’s dual personalities, one affable and one brutal and calculating; or Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush — complete with Dan Quayle played by a 12-year-old boy; and Phil Hartman’s outstanding Bill Clinton, gregariously illustrating the interdiction of U.N. relief supplies by Somali warlords using menu items from McDonald’s, this period represents  a high-water mark for “SNL” as a whole and for two of its most legendary political minds, Al Franken and Tom Davis.

Fast-forward to the modern era, and while political comedy had flourished on many other platforms, “SNL” somehow had lost its satirical edge — until this year, that is, and the ascendancy of Donald Trump. It’s difficult to fully encapsulate the importance of the re-emergence of “SNL” as a force for unrelenting political satire. For the first time in at least a dozen years, Lorne Michaels, along with head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider and naturally this season’s cast, are producing political satire that’s both outrageously funny and totally merciless.

Clearly, Alec Baldwin’s Trump is the centerpiece of the season. And it’s what Baldwin and the crew do with Trump that makes these sketches so wonderful. Unlike in previous seasons, Baldwin’s Trump sketches aren’t simply about an amusingly accurate impersonation. On the contrary, this time around “SNL” is aiming these sketches directly at Trump’s fragile, delusional ego and the show is not pulling any punches. Everything is on the table, and no one in the White House is safe from the “SNL” juggernaut.

Whether the cast is hitting Trump’s erratic cluelessness or Kellyanne Conway’s frantic spin control, cleaning up her boss’s aforementioned erratic cluelessness with her intolerable knack for deflection, or whether it’s Steve Bannon as a Grim Reaper shadow president, there’s almost nothing about Trump’s circus sideshow that “SNL” won’t seize upon. Hell, even the small details make for big statements, like Baldwin’s wearing of a Russian-flag lapel pin during last weekend’s cold open.

What makes the Trump material on “SNL” so brilliant is that, perhaps for the first time, the cast and crew are more than aware that Trump is watching. Rather than being deferential, “SNL” is deliberately crawling up Trump’s ass, and the cast knows this is working, thanks to Twitter. With Trump as the target, there’s a heretofore nonexistent third dimension added to the comedy now. Namely, we know for a fact that Trump despises it and will absolutely obsess about it for days. We know it damages him.

Combined with the jokes and the impressions, this third dimension — call it the Trump effect — gives us a near-perfect illustration of what political satire ought to do: trolling the powerful and despotic, while knowing for certain that it’s having the desired impact. Again, we know he’s watching and it’s destroying him. I’d give just about anything to have surveillance footage of Trump watching one of Baldwin’s performances. He has to be seething, face redder than his ridiculous tie, screaming at the television until hoarse, while internally dying a little more every second.

Now we have Kate McKinnon’s unbelievably accurate impression of Trump’s beleaguered spinbot Kellyanne Conway and, as of last weekend, Melissa McCarthy, too. McCarthy’s unexpected Sean Spicer sketch was perhaps the only Trump-related bit to overshadow Baldwin’s ingenious cold open. Once again, we’re treated to an endlessly hilarious “press briefing” sketch that’s made even better with the inclusion of the Trump effect — the knowledge that it was so unapologetic and so ruthless, there’s perhaps a wishful possibility Trump could fire Spicer because of it.

No, the impact wasn’t solely because Spicer was played by a woman. It was that McCarthy’s impression of Spicer was definitive. There won’t be a better Spicer impression; it’s hers now. McCarthy’s Spicer reminded me of Dana Carvey’s process for celebrity impersonations, in which it’s more about nailing the vibe of a character than sounding like a recording of the person. It’s the difference between a Carvey impression and, say, a Darrell Hammond sound-alike.

It’s important to note that during the Felicity Jones episode a few weeks ago, there were three feminist-leaning sketches in a row during the first 40 minutes of the show, including one that featured McKinnon as the ghost of Susan B. Anthony. On the same night as McCarthy’s Spicer sketch and Baldwin’s Grim Reaper sketch, there was a filmed satire of the Trump administration’s Muslim ban in which an overworked bureaucrat is tasked with awkwardly editing Trump’s new anti-Muslim travel rules into a customs video for passengers on an international flight. This is what political satire is all about.

At the risk of being overly effusive, it’s difficult to underscore how valuable “SNL” has become in the era of Trump. Baldwin, McCarthy, McKinnon and the rest of the troupe are giving America what we so desperately need right now. They’re saying exactly what has to be said and doing so with a direct line to Trump’s addled brain. In some cases, the “SNL” cast might even be risking its own safety. Despite this, they’re rolling on and there’s no sign of their letting up. “Saturday Night Live” has the power, now more than ever, to undermine an administration that transparently seeks to suppress objective reality and oppress the people. And the show has more than risen to the occasion.

Choosing the finest era in the 40-year history of “SNL”  is impossible, but I’d suggest this era is perhaps its most important. I’m relieved and confident to report that truly subversive and smart political satire has triumphantly returned to Studio 8H. Please keep it coming.

Steve Bannon’s war with Islam

Trump may not even understand his adviser’s apocalyptic vision

Bannon has long yearned for a civilizational conflict between the West and the Muslim world. Now he may get it

Steve Bannon's war with Islam: Trump may not even understand his adviser's apocalyptic vision

(Credit: Getty/Win McNamee/AP/Evan Vucci/Muhamed Huwais)

There seems to be considerable urgency right now to enshrine Donald Trump’s Islamophobia into law. Talk of an immigration ban, a Muslim registry and even internment camps once sounded like the machinations of a spray-tanned salesman looking to indulge the electorate’s need for a good villain narrative. Amid an atmosphere of overwhelming chaos, the early days of Trump’s reign have made clear, however, that Islam is Public Enemy No. 1 and serves as the centerpiece of Steve Bannon’s ethno-nationalist agenda. (Trump’s ban on immigration and travel from certain Muslim-majority nations is currently on hold, thanks to a Friday federal court order. That does nothing to resolve the larger questions.)

Bannon called Trump “a blunt instrument for us” in an interview last summer with Vanity Fair. He added, “I don’t know whether he really gets it or not.” That the former Breitbart executive editor would have an outsized role in a Trump administration should have been evident long ago. In Trump, Bannon found a petulant Twitterphile and a manipulable tool who has minimal interest in policymaking and little insight into his own limitations. As he sought an upheaval to remake an America rife with perceived threats, Trump was, as Lawrence Douglas wrote, “the proper vehicle to carry the fight forward.”

For Bannon, the fight is against Islam. There are echoes of Samuel Huntington’s 1993 essay in Foreign Affairs called “The Clash of Civilizations?” Huntington wrote of a world that had been divided along “fault lines” such as culture, which could spur conflict between Islamic civilization and the West. Bannon speaks of the current war with “jihadist Islamic fascism” in apocalyptic terms and sees it as the latest iteration, as Uri Friedman wrote, “of an existential, centuries old-struggle between the Judeo-Christian West and the Islamic world.”

Further, Muslim immigration gnaws at Trump’s foremost consigliere. He evinces ignorance in his ideas about sharia, yet uses the term frequently when discussing Muslim immigrants, who “are not people with thousands of years of democracy in their DNA.” Though roughly 100,000 Muslims have entered the United States in each of the last few years, he claimed in December 2015 that 1 million would be entering in each of the next two years.

These statements were a prelude to Trump’s “Muslim ban,” an executive order that was signed shortly after inauguration (and is now on hold, at least for the moment). Its swift enactment was the first sign that Bannon’s war on Islam had begun. He hastily crafted the ban without regard for the Department of Homeland Security — or for that matter the State, Defense and Justice departments. Soon court orders were being defied and acting attorney general Sally Yates was fired for her refusal to enforce Bannon’s opening salvo. Christian refugees would be given priority over others to enter the country, as an individual’s religious identity is apparently the only indicator of his or her suffering.

Bannon’s temerity was on full display as he sought to engineer the civilizational crisis that he has clearly relished for years. His consolidation of power was complete when Trump took the unprecedented step of offering Bannon — a man with no experience or background in national security, foreign policy or the military — a permanent seat on the National Security Council. (Yes, Bannon was once a Navy officer. He left the service in 1983.) Now the man who admires darkness, Satan and Darth Vader will influence major decisions of war and peace.

All this unrestrained jingoism risks causing a conflagration at a time of isolated fires that are being managed and contained adequately. As Robin Wright of the New Yorker noted, the Obama administration “has turned the tide on jihadism over the past two years. The two premier movements — the Islamic State and Al Qaeda — are both on the defensive.” In the United States, attacks by Muslims were responsible for only one-third of 1 percent of all murders in 2016.

Even Bernard Lewis, who fathered the phrase “clash of civilizations” when he wrote of the Arab world’s need to expunge Islam from its politics, cautioned against an exaggerated response to the Judeo-Christian world’s ancient rival. “It is crucially important,” he noted, “that we on our side should not be provoked into an equally historic but equally irrational reaction against that rival.”

But Bannon desires carnage.

Through the immigration ban and its associated rhetoric, jihadists and at least seven Muslim-majority countries have been given notice of the Trump administration’s intentions. This is a not a U.S. government that will call Islam a religion of peace, as George W. Bush did. Or one that will be reluctant to use the term “Islamic” to prevent giving groups like ISIS legitimacy, as Barack Obama did.

Yet ISIS is emboldened now because Bannon’s undaunted pursuit of a clash will help its goal to “eliminate the gray zone” of coexistence between Muslims residing in the West and their non-Muslim neighbors. ISIS hopes that Bannon’s stark intentions will make Muslims in the West disillusioned about its acceptance and tolerance, boosting recruitment and sympathy for their deranged cause. As Abu Omar Khorasani, a senior Islamic State commander in Afghanistan, said, “This guy [Trump] is a complete maniac. His utter hate towards Muslims will make our job much easier because we can recruit thousands.”

In addition, as Dan Byman, a staff member of the 9/11 commission, noted, Muslims in the United States may become more disenchanted “and thus easier to recruit or inspire to be lone wolves. In addition, it may make communities feel they are suspect and decrease vital cooperation with law enforcement. The hostile rhetoric that goes with these bans makes all this more likely.”

Muslims both within and without the United States will likely become collateral damage amid the tumult Bannon seeks. The hopes and aspirations of Muslims for years have been scuppered within the mere seconds it took Trump to sign his executive order. In fairness, these are not fires started by President Trump, who seems only to be carrying the torch handed him by an insidious, ingenious adviser who wants to set the world ablaze.

SALON 

Jalal Baig is a physician and current Hematology/Oncology fellow based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @jalalbaig

“Bowling Green massacre”: Kellyanne Conway, Rand Paul fabricate attack to defend Muslim ban

Conway complained to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that the media covered up a terror attack that never happened

"Bowling Green massacre": Kellyanne Conway, Rand Paul fabricate attack to defend Muslim ban
(Credit: MSNBC)
This story has been corrected since it was originally published.

Kellanne Conway appears to be dabbling with “alternative facts” again.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that aired on Thursday night, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager and now an adviser in his administration, referenced the “Bowling Green massacre” when justifying the president’s controversial executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries and suspending the United States’ Syrian refugee resettlement program.

“I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a 6-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. It didn’t get covered.”

While Matthews did not press Conway on her Bowling Green massacre claim in the interview, so much of her statement is untrue that essentially the only accurate part is that there were no media reports fitting her description.

First of all, Obama didn’t stop the Iraqi refugee program.

The Obama administration imposed additional background checks on Iraqi refugees in 2011 but did not stop or ban Iraqi refugees from resettling in the U.S.

As for Conway’s complaints that the “Bowling Green massacre” didn’t get covered, it didn’t get covered because it didn’t happen.

Conway may have been referring to two Iraqi men living in Bowling Green, Kentucky who were indicted in 2011 for using improvised explosive devices against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and also for attempting to send weapons and money to Al-Qaeda in Iraq for the purpose of killing U.S. soldiers. Both are serving life sentences. Neither the money nor the weapons ever reached foreign shores, the Associated Press reported, because they were intercepted by an FBI investigation into the two men’s activities. As Vox notes:

During the investigation, the FBI found something worrying: fingerprints from Alwan on a roadside bomb in Iraq. This suggested there was a very specific flaw in America’s refugee screening process: Databases of fingerprints from Iraqi militants were not well-integrated into the broader State Department–run refugee admissions process. As a result, the Obama administration initiated a new review of all roughly 57,000 Iraqi refugees who had been recently admitted into the United States.

Neither man was linked to attacks or planned attacks within the United States.

Those incidents received a fair amount of media coverage, but public interest was limited since there was never even a plot to massacre people in Kentucky. The local newspaper – the Bowling Green Daily News – noted that the case received extensive coverage.

We couldn’t cover the Bowling Green Massacre because it didn’t happen, but this newspaper has written close to 100 stories about that case.

But despite the best reporting efforts of his local paper, even one of Kentucky’s Republican senators echoed Conway’s wholly inaccurate account.In a separate interview with MSNBC, Paul referred to “the attempted bombing in Bowling Green, where I live.”

Contrary to what both the senator and Conway appear to be pushing by spreading the myth of a terror attack in Bowling Green, attempted or a massacre, analysis by the Cato Institute of terrorist attacks on US soil between 1975 and 2015 found that foreign nationals from the seven countries targeted by Trump’s travel ban – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia – have killed no Americans.

Conway’s conspicuous “massacre” comment comes less than two weeks after she defended false assertions about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd as “alternative facts.”

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving — Sean Spicer, our press secretary — gave alternative facts,” Conway told NBC’s Chuck Todd while discussing Spicer’s claim that the Jan. 20 crowd was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.”

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon’s Deputy Politics Editor and biggest Golden State Warriors fan in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

A new war on birth control

Trump hires an anti-birth control policy adviser — and Republicans in Congress prepare to escalate the attack

A new war on birth control: Trump's victory has empowered the sex scolds
(Credit: Getty/ Alex Wong/AP/Andrew Harnik/Getyy/hbak)

Bad news for anyone who hoped that Donald Trump’s history as an adultery-loving and fornication champion might put a chill on the Republican Party’s war on sex: It seems that his election is instead inspiring the party of scolds to double down on their quest to punish ordinary people for having sex because they like it.

Trump, being wealthy and male, gets a pass for his lengthy history of sleeping with any woman who will have him — and bragging about grabbing the pussies of those who won’t. But for those of us who aren’t privileged enough to be wealthy men, Republicans are going to do everything in their power to inflict punishment in the form of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted childbearing.

Trump’s willingness to fully embrace the Junior Anti-Sex League was demonstrated on Thursday, when his transition team announced the hire of Katy Talento as domestic policy counsel for the White House, focusing on health care. Not only is Talento against abortion — which is par for the course in Republican circles — she’s also an anti-birth control fanatic.

Like most anti-contraception militants, Talento has an elaborate set of pseudoscientific arguments against the use of hormonal birth control. In a 2015 piece she wrote for The Federalist titled “Miscarriage Of Justice: Is Big Pharma Breaking Your Uterus?” Talento tried to scare women away from using effective, female-controlled methods of birth control, like the pill or the implant, by claiming these methods cause miscarriage and infertility.

It’s all nonsense, of course. The pill doesn’t cause miscarriage and most research shows that it doesn’t affect fertility. It may, in fact, improve fertility when a woman goes off the pill and tries to become pregnant.

“Decades of established science clearly show contraception prevents pregnancy — it does not cause abortion or miscarriages,” Dr. Anne Davis, a consulting medical director for Physicians for Reproductive Health, said in a statement. “Women and doctors know from research, as well as our collective experiences, that birth control does not harm a woman’s fertility or health.”

Talento’s half-baked arguments are a classic example of a conclusion looking for an argument. The only reason to cherry-pick a couple of bad studies or arguments, while ignoring the scientific consensus that the pill is safe and effective, is because you don’t like women using it and you’re trying to come up with some nonsense to deter them. And the only reason not to have women take the pill is because you think it makes it too darn easy to have sex.

The Talento pick should put to rest any notion that Trump will stand in the way of the deep-seated Republican longing to deprive women, especially those with a low income, of access to contraception.

With drool practically dripping off his lips, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced on Thursday that Congress would try to defund Planned Parenthood and end Obamacare in a single bill, as soon as possible. While there are many horrific ramifications to such an act, one of the biggest would be stripping millions of women of their current methods of contraception.

About half of Planned Parenthood’s patientsmore than a million people — are on Medicaid. Ryan’s plan would immediately mean that this group of individuals would be prevented from relying on their current reproductive health center. That would leave hundreds of thousands of women abruptly cut off from contraception access, and many of them will not be able to find another provider, especially on short notice.

For many, there will be no way to restore that access, as half of Planned Parenthood clinics are in medically underserved communities, meaning that there are few, if any, alternatives for the women who visit them.

In some states, Republicans have tried to justify cuts to Planned Parenthood by presenting supposed lists of alternative providers for women on Medicaid. These lists were, to put it bluntly, constructed of lies. The majority of clinics on these lists do not have a gynecologist on staff. In Florida, the list of “alternatives” to Planned Parenthood included dentists, optometrists and school nurses.

Even if women can find community clinics that do offer gynecological care, it’s often not as good as what’s available from Planned Parenthood, which offers more flexible scheduling. Generally speaking, these clinics are less equipped to handle contraception needs. Planned Parenthood facilities often have a large stockpile of contraceptive medication, so women can fill their prescriptions on-site — a service more general health clinics typically can’t provide.

Repealing Obamacare, even if Republicans do bother to come up with some flimsy replacement, will be devastating for women’s reproductive health care. Right now, well-women visits and contraception services are covered by insurance plans, without a co-payment required. It’s unlikely these aspects of Obamacare will survive.

That’s a problem, because zero-co-payment contraception has been a wildly successful program. The percentage of women who had to pay nothing out of pocket for oral contraception rose from 15 percent to 67 percent from 2012 to 2014. Not only does that save money; it also improves the rate for contraception use. Research shows that women are more likely to use contraception consistently and effectively if there’s no cost. Other research has demonstrated that when women have to pay out of pocket for contraception, they are often tempted to skip their pills or otherwise skimp on birth control in order to save money — which frequently leads directly to unintended pregnancy.

Of course, a sudden drop in the number of women using contraception would be a feature, not a bug, of Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood and Obamacare. The nominal leader of their party may be a man who spent years going on Howard Stern’s show to brag about his sex life, but the GOP continues to begrudge ordinary women access to basic sexual health care.

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She’s on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

Now Trump gets the Supreme Court — and the damage may be irreversible

Conservatives cared about the court this year, while many liberals didn’t. The damage will last for generations

Now Trump gets the Supreme Court — and the damage may be irreversible
(Credit: Getty/Dominick Reuter/Reuters/Larry Downing/Salon)

Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver, published a piece for Pacific Standard arguing that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was smart to organize an unprecedented blockade of any hearings for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, because the choice likely helped give Donald Trump the presidential election.

“McConnell’s move made the Supreme Court seat an issue for the presidential election,” Masket wrote. “It motivated conservatives to stay on board with the Republican presidential nominee no matter who it was.”

A lot of conservatives, especially evangelical Christians, had their doubts about a glib, insincere libertine like Trump, especially someone who had a history of donating to Democratic politicians and no record of Republican loyalty. But that empty seat on the Supreme Court, Masket argued, tipped the scales.

“The balance of the Court, particularly on such issues as abortion, was in play,” he wrote. “Abandon the nominee, and Hillary Clinton gets to pick the next one, two, or three justices. Stand by the nominee, no matter how repellent, and you get to.”

My inclination is to agree with Masket. One of the most interesting things that I found, talking to attendees at both the Republican and Democratic conventions over the summer, was that Republicans often spoke about the Supreme Court and Democrats almost never did. The tendency to cite control of the court was particularly pronounced among Trump-skeptical Republicans I spoke with. Very few of them talked about the economy but the court came up over and over again. The opposite was true when I spoke with Democratic voters.

Trump understood that as long as he promised an anti-choice, anti-labor, anti-environmentalist philosophy when appointing judges, the Republican voter base would squelch its concerns about putting such a thoroughly unqualified man in charge of the nuclear codes and fall in line. Over the summer Trump took the highly unusual step of releasing a short list of judges he would consider, heavily advertising that the list was basically handed to him by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, two far-right think tanks.

The move was brilliant precisely because Trump clearly doesn’t give two hoots about the Supreme Court or the judiciary in general, despite the fact that he’s been involved in a mind-boggling 3,500 lawsuits over the course of his career and had 75 ongoing when he was elected to office. Letting the Federalist Society pick judges for him clears up his schedule to focus on issues that really matter to him, such as the weight of Miss Universe pageant winners and demanding that black Broadway actors apologize for talking back to powerful white men like Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

For the past week and a half, I’ve been covering what it means for Trump to have the power to fill the Supreme Court seat that was left open after the death of former justice Antonin Scalia in March — and the even more dire possibility that he’ll be able to replace one of the aging liberals on the court in the next four years. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83 years old and Stephen Breyer is 78; Anthony Kennedy, the most moderate of the court’s conservative justices, is 80.)

It’s difficult to deny the conclusion that, in the end, Republican voters are more organized and focused on the long game than Democratic voters, and that ability to focus will pay off. Trump will likely be out in four years — possibly less, if the quickly mounting scandals result in enough legal troubles — but the damage he’s likely to do with his court appointments will last years and in some cases generations.

Using the courts to dismantle the right of workers to unionize, for instance, will pay off dividends for Republicans long after Trump leaves the White House in the inevitable cloud of shame and disgrace. Unions can organize and educate voters and represent the only real hope that Democrats have of convincing some of those longed-for white working-class voters to stop voting racial resentments and begin voting their economic self-interest. Republicans get this, which is why they have focused heavily on creative litigation aimed at destroying unions, and now they are on the cusp of dealing some wounding blows.

It’s the same story with conservative lawyers’ chipping away at campaign-finance laws. Trump will do plenty of damage to both parties, but the free flow of money in politics means that the Republicans will be able to rebuild more easily than the Democrats, who have a much less wealthy donor base. Just as important, elevating the power and voice of the wealthy over everyone else will help Republicans continue to capture more state legislatures and congressional seats, reinforcing the horrific situation we have now, whereby a Republican minority is ruling over a Democratic majority.

This year’s election postmortems were tedious before they even began, of course, but please indulge me for a moment: The media’s unwillingness to cover the court issues, especially McConnell’s unprecedented and unconstitutional holdup of Obama’s court appointee, was a major act of malfeasance. Yes, it’s hard to keep a story in the news when there aren’t new developments to cover. But McConnell’s corrupt and anti-democratic behavior was a far more serious story than Hillary Clinton’s email management. It should have been extensively covered, and it was not.

This problem is made all the more serious when you consider the divergent media consumption of conservative Americans and everyone else. Most Americans, moderate or liberal, get their news through the mainstream media. Most conservatives turn to conservative media, like Fox News. Conservative media is better about covering the court issues and keeping them at the forefront of voter minds, and the result was that Republican voters had their votes moved on this issue. For more Democratic-leaning voters, it completely fell out of mind.

The result is that Republican voters treated this election as if it were an urgent one, and millions of voters who turned out for Obama in the previous two presidential cycles couldn’t be bothered to cast ballots this time around. Perhaps if they had really understood that this election would determine the direction of the federal courts for a generation, they would have reconsidered their decision to stay home rather than vote for Hillary Clinton.

 

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She’s on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte