Discernible Gains

Both [world] wars were fought, really, with a view to changing Germany. … Yet, today, if one were offered the chance of having back again the Germany of 1913 — a Germany run by conservative but relatively moderate people, no Nazis and no Communists, a vigorous Germany, united and unoccupied, full of energy and confidence, able to play a part again in the balancing-off of Russian power in Europe … in many ways it wouldn’t sound so bad, in comparison with our problems of today. Now, think what this means. When you tally up the total score of the two wars, in terms of their ostensible objective, you find that if there has been any gain at all, it’s pretty hard to discern.

George Kennan, American Diplomacy (1951).

No Sift next week. The next articles will appear September 29.

This week’s featured articles are “Infrastructure, Suburbs, and the Long Descent to Ferguson” and “Is Ray Rice’s Video a Game-Changer?“.

This week everybody was talking about war against the Islamic State

Look at the Kennan quote above, and think about this: If, right now, there were a secular Sunni leader who could hold Iraq together, keep the religious radicals in check, and serve as a regional counterweight to Shiite Iran, that wouldn’t sound so bad.

I’ve just described Saddam Hussein.

That ought to make us humble about what American military power can achieve in Iraq, or Syria, or anywhere else in the Middle East. At great expense in both lives and money, we fought two wars and lost no battles. But if there has been any gain at all in the overall situation, it’s pretty hard to discern.

Nonetheless, the march into a third Iraq War — expanded to include Syria this time — continues. In a speech Wednesday night, President Obama admitted that “we can’t erase every trace of evil from the world” (an implicit criticism of President Bush), but pledged that “We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”

And when we’ve done that, then will the situation be better than it was in 2002 or 1990?


For some mysterious reason, Dick Cheney is advising congressmen on what to do in Iraq, rather than testifying at his war crimes trial. Thom Hartmann:

When we, the supposed leaders of the free world, don’t punish the worst political criminals in our history, it sets a terrible example for the rest of the world. … [W]hen we do terrible things and nobody is held accountable, that gives the green light for everyone else to do the same.

Leaving aside moral considerations, the country listened to Cheney during the run-up our Iraq invasion of 2003. Pretty much every fact he told us was false, and every piece of advice he gave was wrong. Why would anyone ever listen to him again? (Except when he testifies at his trial, of course. We owe him that much.)

and Ray Rice

You can’t un-see the video of Ray Rice decking his wife in the elevator. I think a lot of the men who see it are going to have a harder time explaining away future stories of domestic violence. That point gets spelled out in more detail in “Is Ray Rice’s Video a Game-Changer?“.

and Apple

It’s amazing how much buzz surrounds the announcement of any new Apple product. Three were announced this week

  • iPhone 6, which is bigger, thinner, faster and so on, but really not that revolutionary. If you have both an iPhone 5 and an iPad mini, you might be able to replace both of them with one device.
  • Apple Watch, (I guess iWatch sounded too voyeuristic) which is promised for early 2015. It’s a time-telling thing that you wear on your wrist and costs hundreds of dollars, but otherwise it clashes with all our traditional notions of an expensive watch. Previously, such a watch was an heirloom to hand down through the generations, not a gadget to replace every two or three years. It’ll be interesting to see whether Apple can change that. First responses: some people like the idea, some don’t.
  • Apple Pay. (Again, iPay doesn’t sound right.) Someday, somebody is going to get the electronic wallet right, and that will change everything. Is this it? Maybe. Maybe not.

[full disclosure: I own Apple stock. I've tried not to let it bias me.]

but I’m still talking about Ferguson

I know, it’s starting to look like an obsession. But the example of Ferguson illustrates some previously hard-to-grasp theories about how our society might decline. I connect the dots in “Infrastructure, Suburbs, and the Long Descent to Ferguson“.

and you also might be interested in …

The Senate debated a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision and allow Congress to pass laws regulating campaign finance again. 42 Republican senators voted to filibuster, so the auction of our highest offices will continue.

It was a party-line vote. Remember that the next time a Republican senator like Susan Collins — or any Republican candidate — claims to be a moderate or independent-minded or something. Or when someone tells you that a Democrat like Landrieu or Manchin might as well be a Republican.

On important issues like this, the individual candidates don’t matter. Only the party matters. You may wish it weren’t that way, but it is.


The ObamaCare “train wreck” keeps refusing to wreck. Connecticut was supposed to be evidence of the wreck; it’s second-year premiums were going to go up 12.5%. And then they went down instead. Premiums are also expected to drop in Arkansas. Costs to the federal government have been lower than expected. An update from Washington state shows that other train-wreck predictions are also failing: More people continue to sign up as they become eligible, and the number of people who stop paying their premiums has been small.

Weren’t the death panels supposed to be up and running by now? What’s taking so long?

The Daily Show sent a reporter out to get an ObamaCare “disaster” story, and he did indeed find someone who lost her job: a nurse in a free clinic in Tacoma, which has closed because they got all their patients signed up for insurance. The parody of media attempts to spin continuing good news as bad news is hilarious. The clinic’s former patients are happy with ObamaCare, but they are “obviously biased by their personal positive experiences”. When the nurse says that she has moved on to work on other important causes like human trafficking, the reporter imagines his headline: “ObamaCare Forces Nurse Into Sex Slave Trade”.


From ESPN:

Nearly three in 10 former NFL players will develop at least moderate neurocognitive problems and qualify for payments under the proposed concussion settlement, according to documents filed by the league and the players. … Former players between 50 and 59 years old develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia at rates 14 to 23 times higher than the general population of the same age range, according to the documents. The rates for players between 60-64 are as much as 35 times the rate of the general population, the documents reported.


Air Force Times reports that an atheist airman will have to sign an oath that ends “so help me God” if he wants to re-enlist. Otherwise he will have to leave the Air Force when his current term expires in November. The Air Force claims its hands are tied by Congress, which mandated the oath.

Article VI of the Constitution says:

no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

I wonder if all those congressmen who talk so much about the Constitution and religious freedom will support changing this clear violation.


On lighter religious note: When the Rapture comes, what’s going to happen to all the pets left behind? Not to worry, After the Rapture has you covered. For a one-time fee of $10, they’ll add your pet to their database and promise that their Rapture-proof heathen care-givers will give him/her a good home.

Is this a joke, a scam, or a serious attempt to fill a need? Your guess is as good as mine.

 and let’s close with something I am never ever going to do

skateboard the Alps.

Is Ray Rice’s Video a Game-Changer?

The reality of domestic abuse gets harder to deny.


Star NFL running back Ray Rice’s assault on his then-fiancée/now-wife is old news. He was arrested in February, and plea-bargained from criminal charges down to court-supervised counseling. (Emily Bazelon explains: “when a victim refuses to cooperate with the prosecution, the calculus for prosecutors shifts away from trial and conviction.”) Way back then, TMZ released a video showing Rice dragging the unconscious mother-of-his-daughter out of an elevator in an Atlantic City casino.

The NFL suspended him for two games, a punishment that raised a furor in light of the season-long suspension of receiver Josh Gordon for “substance abuse”, presumably marijuana. The NFL claimed it was bound by its previous policies, which it changed so that any future domestic violence incident would draw at least a six-game suspension. (But abusers keep playing while their cases work through the legal system.)

The Rice family.

None of that is new. But this week TMZ released a video of what happened inside the elevator. In it, we see Rice throw the punch that knocked Janay Palmer out. In an abstract sense, the new video didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know: We knew he knocked her out, we just hadn’t seen him do it. It shouldn’t have changed anything.

But it did. Almost immediately, the Baltimore Ravens released Rice, who otherwise would have been their main ball-carrier when his original suspension ended next week. The NFL then made his suspension “indefinite”, and New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft speculated that Rice would never play in the NFL again.

One of the most striking reactions came from ESPN analyst and former player Mark Schlereth, who nearly dissolved into tears as he imagined a player in his own locker room, someone he would have identified with and felt loyal to, doing such a thing. It’s worth watching.

[The video] put a face to domestic violence. I’m not saying Ray Rice’s face, I’m saying the act of domestic violence. Because it was so shocking. And as the father of two daughters, and the [grand]father of a granddaughter, it was frightening for me to see that. The violence that occurred, the callous nature with which that violence occurred … I guess I had never really gone through that mentally before, to really understand what that looks like. And that put it together for me, of how vicious in nature this is.

I’m sure a lot of women are shaking their heads in a well-duh sort of way: You discovered that domestic abuse is callous and vicious? Your Nobel Prize is in the mail, Mark.

But if Schlereth is typical of a larger group of men — and I believe he is — then the Rice video may be a tipping point in the public discussion of domestic violence. Until now, when men have heard accounts of domestic violence, a lot of us have at some level empathized with the abuser, as if he might be like us on a really bad day. Just as an ordinary man might snap in the middle of an argument and say something he doesn’t mean and later regrets, or maybe act out physically by slamming a door or punching a wall, maybe an abuser does something reflexive that — unintentionally, almost accidentally — results in physical harm.

That’s obviously not what happens in this video. Rice just decks his fiancée. Yeah, they are tussling physically, but the much larger and stronger Rice could easily have fended off Palmer’s blows or held her wrists and waited for her to calm down. Instead, he knocks her out, then looks down at her limp body as if he’s seen all this before.

Witnessing that reality could significantly change the way men listen to accounts of domestic violence. Like Schlereth, many men had “never really gone through it mentally before”, and now they have. Now they understand viscerally that this isn’t something any man might have done on a sufficiently bad day. The man in this video doesn’t deserve a single ounce of our sympathy.

Related short notes

Not to say that there aren’t still some men who will make excuses for Ray Rice. And even some women.


Meanwhile, women have been writing about Janay Palmer, who is now Janay Rice. An anonymous writer on The Frisky wrote “Why I Married My Abuser“.

when I saw the footage of ex-Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée Janay Palmer, I wasn’t surprised that she was now his wife. It isn’t — as many of the commenters on the original TMZ video have said — “all about the money,” or “she doesn’t care about taking a punch,” and it’s especially not that “she is telling all women it’s okay for your man to beat you.”

… It’s beyond silly to say that any woman who is getting smacked around thinks it’s acceptable to be smacked around. No one knows better than a woman who is being abused that it is wrong. Not leaving isn’t the same as consent. I stayed because I was traumatized and isolated. I believed that Hank really loved me and that no man with less passion/ anger (those words were conflated for me) would ever love me like him.

There’s a whole Twitter feed of stories like this: #WhyIStayed. And a companion: #WhyILeft. As with #YesAllWomen, it’s not abstract argument, it’s people telling their stories. The sheer accumulation of them is hard to explain away.


The NFL and the Ravens came out looking really bad — more interested in managing a PR problem than anything else. They claim they didn’t see the inside-the-elevator video until it became public, but that seems doubtful. Schlereth certainly didn’t buy it:

A Rice souvenir repurposed.

Protecting the shield means that we’re supposed to honor and understand the privilege of playing in the league, not supposed to cover up our mistakes and accept those. And that’s where the NFL in my mind is really letting me down, and let every guy who plays in this league down. Because I can’t imagine saying “No, we don’t have access to that video” and you saying, “OK, well, that’s good enough for me. We’ll move forward.” That’s unacceptable.

And besides, what the video changed is the depth of the public anger, not our factual understanding of what happened.


Jon Stewart’s reaction is also worth watching.


If you’re looking for a male hero in this story, I propose this girl’s Dad.

Infrastructure, Suburbs, and the Long Descent to Ferguson

Three dots connected.


Dot 1. The Long Descent. The most pessimistic book I’ve ever reviewed in the Sift is John Michael Greer’s The Long Descent: a user’s guide to the end of the industrial age. Greer paints a very plausible picture of how, over centuries, industrial civilization might fall apart.

The short version is that as the climate degrades and fossil fuels become simultaneously more expensive and less useable, each generation inherits from its more prosperous ancestors an infrastructure that it can’t afford to maintain. Society muddles through from year to year — sometimes even seeming to advance — until some part of that poorly maintained infrastructure snaps and causes major destruction. The destroyed area may get rebuilt, but not to its previous level. The resulting community has less infrastructure to maintain, but is also less prosperous, and so the cycle continues into the next generation.

New Orleans is one example. Hurricane Katrina was an act of Nature (and possibly a consequence of global warming), but the reason it destroyed so much of New Orleans was the failure of the city’s infrastructure. As Jed Horne reported in The Washington Post:

key levees, including the 17th Street and London Avenue canals in the heart of the city, failed with water well below levels they were designed to withstand. As the Army Corps [of Engineers] eventually conceded, they were breached because of flawed engineering and collapsed because they were junk. … The Corps and local levee boards that maintain flood barriers pinched pennies, and suddenly Katrina became the nation’s first $200 billion disaster.

For a rising city like London in 1666 or Chicago in 1871, such large-scale destruction is an opportunity to rebuild bigger and better. But New Orleans has rebuilt smaller, losing almost a quarter of its population between 2000 and 2012. The flood protection system has been rebuilt, but still not to a level that could withstand the next Katrina.

The collapse of Detroit lacks a Katrina-level catastrophe, but follows a similar pattern: Detroit’s sinking tax base can’t maintain a major city, and every attempt to either raise taxes or spend less just exacerbates the decline.

At any particular moment, you can always find something else to blame: corruption, say, or mismanagement. But rising cities are also corrupt and mismanaged, maybe more so — see Tammany Hall. It’s not that declining communities lack virtue, it’s that flourishing communities can afford vice.

Greer imagines the same scenario on a planetary scale. He sees places like New Orleans and Detroit not as unique examples of dysfunction, but as coal-mine canaries. The same vicious cycles that are driving them downward will eventually manifest everywhere.

Dot 2. The suburban Ponzi scheme. In June, 2011, Charles Marohn published “The American suburbs are a giant Ponzi scheme” at Grist (also reviewed in the Sift). His point is that car-oriented suburbs create only the illusion of wealth. In the long run, they are enormous bad investments that create unmaintainable communities.

America’s early suburbs were outlying towns that were gradually engulfed by urban sprawl in a more-or-less natural way — Oak Park, Illinois and Arlington, Massachusetts come to mind. But the 20th century created car-oriented commuter towns out of nothing. Everything was new at the same time: new houses, new roads, new schools, new stores, new sidewalks, new bridges, new sewers, and so on.

As a result, nothing needed fixing right away, so taxes could be low. Sound accounting would have required these towns to build up big maintenance funds for the day when things started wearing out. But under sound accounting, those communities wouldn’t have been quite so attractive in the first place. And whatever the accountants said, why would voters tolerate higher taxes if the town was sitting on a pile of money?

As long as there was rapid growth — new subdivisions, new roads, new malls, etc. — the game could continue: Even after the potholes started, the tax base was still big compared to the relatively small part of the suburb that needed fixing. That’s why Marohn calls it a Ponzi scheme: Just as Ponzi’s later investors paid the dividends of the early investors, the suburb’s new neighborhoods pay for the maintenance of its old neighborhoods.

But trees don’t grow to the sky, so eventually a suburb reaches its carrying capacity. And when growth plateaus, the maintenance time bomb starts ticking. A decade or two later, everything seems to wear out at once, while the tax base stays comparatively flat. Now the local government faces a choice: raise taxes or let things start falling apart. Either option makes the town a less attractive destination for the high-income families and high-margin businesses it needs — especially in comparison with fresher suburbs still in their low-tax, low-maintenance, everything-is-new growth phase.

That starts a slow-but-steady decline, until eventually you have not just high tax rates, but also cracked sidewalks, pot-holed streets, underfunded schools, dingy libraries, litter-filled parks … and the kind of residents who can’t afford to live anywhere nicer.

Eventually, in other words, you have Ferguson, whose population reached its current level in 1960. Marohn spelled it out in late August.

When places like this hit the decline phase – which they inevitably do – they become absolutely despotic. This type of development doesn’t create wealth; it destroys it. The illusion of prosperity that it had early on fades away and we are left with places that can’t be maintained and a concentration of impoverished people poorly suited to live with such isolation. … Unfortunately, nothing I’ve brought up here is really unique to Ferguson. All of our auto-oriented places are somewhere on the predictable trajectory of growth, stagnation and decline. Racial elements aside, I think we are going to see rioting in a lot of places as this stuff unwinds.

Dot 3. The Ferguson revenue structure. As I’ve discussed before, Ferguson didn’t erupt simply because Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown. That was just the spark. Combustible anger had been building up in Ferguson for a long time.

Ferguson erupted because the less affluent black majority resented being in a predator/prey relationship with the mostly white police. It would be bad enough if that relationship were entirely based on racism or abuse of power, but it goes deeper than that: It’s economics. Reuters reports:

Traffic fines are the St. Louis suburb’s second-largest source of revenue and just about the only one that is growing appreciably. Municipal court fines, most of which arise from motor vehicle violations, accounted for 21 percent of general fund revenue and at $2.63 million last year, were the equivalent of more than 81 percent of police salaries before overtime.

That’s why in 2013, Ferguson police issued 3 warrants for every household in the city, raising $321 per household. According to Thomas Harvey of Arch City Defenders:

Some of our municipalities are seeking to raise revenue through the use of their municipal courts. This is not about public safety. The courts in those municipalities are profit-seeking entities that systematically enforce municipal ordinance violations in a way that disproportionately impacts the indigent and communities of color.

Charles Mudede of Slog widens his view to include a statistic from AP: The “homicide clearance rate”, i.e., the percentage of murders that police solve in America, has dropped from 91% in 1963 to 61% in 2007.  Mudede suggests a simple explanation:

Catching murderers costs money. Cities do not have money.

In other words, why have your police out spending the town’s money investigating serious crimes when they could be making money for the town by hassling jaywalkers like Michael Brown? In an era when your businesses are already moving away and your property values are stagnant or sinking, how else are you going to raise revenue?

Mostly, that revenue is going to come from poor people who can’t afford lawyers and have no place to move to. That may seem harsh, but if you change the practice, you’ll have to come up with an alternative revenue stream, preferably one that won’t chase away more businesses and more professional-class families. What could it be?

And so, concludes Reuters, changing the way Ferguson polices its people is going to be “easier said than done”.

Put it together. For the last couple centuries, we’ve had a simple formula for increasing wealth: Take something that people used to do with their muscles and figure out a way to do it by burning fossil fuels. Augmenting human effort with the energy stored in coal, oil, and gas has created a level of luxury that would have seemed magical to our ancestors.

During that time of increase, you didn’t have to worry much about either the fuel you were burning — there was more where that came from — or the atmosphere you were burning it into. Now we’re starting to hit limits on both sides. We have to go to extremes — deep in the ocean, deep underground, far into the polar regions — to find new fuel; and if we burn all that we have discovered, the change in our climate could be catastrophic.

So you don’t have to go all the way to Greer-level pessimism to realize that creating wealth will be trickier in the centuries to come. Many of the things that may look like wealth-creation actually aren’t; they just shove someone else into poverty, or create debt that will eventually have to be written off — like the “profits” investment banks booked during the housing bubble.

When generation-to-generation economic growth is large and reliable, you don’t have to worry too much about the long term, because your grandchildren will be rich enough to handle the messes you leave for them. So it makes a certain amount of sense to push costs off into the future. But if we genuinely don’t know whether generations-to-come will be richer or poorer than we are, then it’s important that we do our accounting right. It’s also important that we build robustly, so that communities are viable under a wide variety of scenarios. Assuming that everybody will have a car or that food can be imported cheaply creates brittle communities that someday may have to be abandoned. A flourishing society can afford such write-offs. But if maintaining the infrastructure we inherit is the difference between advance and decline, we’ll have to be smarter.

And finally, we need to figure out how to rebuild or write off the mistakes of the past. Places like Ferguson — and there are a lot of them — are not sustainable in their current form. They will never generate the capital to remake themselves, and the outside capital they attract will be mainly from vultures who want to squeeze the last bits of value out of the community’s decline and despair.

In the short term, the easiest way to deal with that dysfunction is to blame it on the people who live there and lack more viable options. Their local governments can figure out ever more inventive ways to squeeze money out of them and leave them in squalor, while the rest of us lecture them about their lack of middle-class values. But the fundamental mistakes are not theirs. Those mistakes were made decades ago, and have been quite literally set in stone.

The Monday Morning Teaser

This week will have two featured posts that cover very different topics. The first is “Infrastructure, Suburbs, and the Long Descent to Ferguson”. I know, I’ve done a lot of Ferguson posts in the last month. But bear with me: This one uses Ferguson to illustrate the kind of big societal issue it’s hard to get a handle on otherwise.

Following the argument in John Michael Greer’s book The Long Descent, I think the central issue in whether the 21st century will see growth or decline is whether we are productive enough to maintain the infrastructure we inherit. (In Detroit, for example, the answer is pretty clearly “no”.) That in turn depends on how sustainably that infrastructure was designed in the first place, which is the main topic of Charles Marohn’s blog Strong Towns. Marohn argues that the car-oriented suburb is fundamentally unmaintainable, and that after a several-decades-long period of illusory prosperity, most of those suburbs will find themselves unable to support a level of economic activity that keeps the potholes fixed and the utilities running.

That’s where Ferguson is now, and that’s why it has to rely on misdemeanor fines for a substantial portion of its town budget. When the suburban car-culture illusion pops, you’re left with broken infrastructure and residents who can’t afford to move anywhere nicer. Your easiest way to raise revenue is to use the police to squeeze more fines out of the captive population. No wonder resentment builds.

Marohn expects to see a lot more Fergusons.

The second article will be “Is Ray Rice’s Video a Game-Changer?”. I think it is. Seeing domestic violence happen is different than just hearing about it, and I think a lot men who used to make excuses for abusers have had their eyes opened.

The weekly summary starts with a quote that made my jaw drop when I first read it twenty years ago, and the prospect of another Iraq War has made it very topical. The summary will also sample the wide range of opinions on the Apple Watch, point out that the “ObamaCare train wreck” continues not to wreck, and demonstrate once again that the real religious discrimination in this country isn’t against Christians, it’s against atheists. (Muslims too, but the example that popped up this week concerned atheists.)

Expect the Ferguson article around 9, the Ray Rice article at 10, and the weekly summary by 11. (All times EDT.)

Waves

Arabs could be swung on an idea as on a cord. … They were incorrigibly children of the idea, feckless and colour-blind, to whom body and spirit were for ever and inevitably opposed. … They were as unstable as water, and like water, would perhaps finally prevail. Since the dawn of life, in successive waves they had been dashing themselves against the coasts of flesh. Each wave was broken, but, like the sea, wore away ever so little of the granite on which it failed, and some day, ages yet, might roll unchecked over the place where the material world had been, and God would move upon the face of those waters. One such wave (and not the least) I raised and rolled before the breath of an idea, till it reached its crest and toppled over and fell at Damascus. The wash of that wave, thrown back by the resistance of vested things, will provide the matter of the following wave, when in the fullness of time the sea shall be raised once more.

– Lawrence of Arabia, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922)

The terrible reductive conflicts that herd people under falsely unifying rubrics like “America,” “the West,” or “Islam” and invent collective identities for large numbers of individuals who are actually quite diverse, cannot remain as potent as they are, and must be opposed. … Rather than the manufactured clash of civilizations, we need to concentrate on the slow working together of cultures that overlap, borrow from each other, and live together in far more interesting ways than any abridged or inauthentic mode of understanding can allow. But for that kind of wider perception we need time, and patient and skeptical inquiry, supported by faith in communities of interpretation that are difficult to sustain in a world demanding instant action and reaction.

– Edward Said, preface to the 2003 edition of Orientalism

This week’s featured post is “Terrorist Strategy 101: a review“. Maybe ISIS acts like our worst nightmare because they want us to attack them.

This week everybody was talking about ISIS

The featured post is about ISIS, and how it needs America to play the Great Satan role. But lots of other people were talking about ISIS too, like satirist Andy Borowitz:

Arguing that his motto “Don’t do stupid stuff” is not a coherent foreign policy, critics of President Obama are pressuring him to do something stupid without delay. Arizona Senator John McCain led the chorus on Tuesday, blasting Mr. Obama for failing to craft a stupid response to crises in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine. “If I were President, you can bet your bottom dollar I would have done plenty of stupid stuff by now,” McCain said.


I won’t go line-by-line through the op-ed McCain and Lindsey Graham published in the NYT, because Peter Beinart already did. Short summary: McCain/Graham push President Obama to combine stuff he’s already doing (but they pretend he isn’t doing) with stuff beyond the power of any president. (“Any strategy … requires an end to the conflict in Syria, and a political transition there.”) Then they sprinkle in lots of what Beinart calls “happy words” like acting deliberately and urgently, and make completely unsupported pronouncements like “ISIS cannot be contained.”


Conor Friedersdorf asks the kind of question hardly anybody pursues: John McCain has a long record of foreign policy pronouncements. Is he ever right? And if not, why are we still listening to him?

Friedersdorf recalls this gem, from 2003:

no one can plausibly argue that ridding the world of Saddam Hussein will not significantly improve the stability of the region and the security of American interests and values.

That’s why Iraq is such a rock of stability now, because we fought what McCain called “The Right War for the Right Reasons”.


Peter Beinart had a second good piece this week, in which he recalled Walter Russell Mead’s four-part typology of American foreign policy views:

  • Wilsonians who export grand American visions like democracy, Christianity, or capitalism.
  • Hamiltonians who defend the international trade our economy depends on.
  • Jeffersonians who want the U.S. to stay out of international conflicts, for fear war abroad will damage liberty at home.
  • Jacksonians who avenge insults to our national honor.

Beinart attributes the recent push to crush ISIS mainly to Jacksonians, who see those YouTube beheadings as unforgivable insults. Obama’s “Don’t do stupid stuff” mantra is mainly anti-Jacksonian, because “honor” is the only one of four values unrelated to any pragmatic interest.


Rand Paul continues to re-affirm my opinion about him: He is a lightweight who hasn’t thought through the slogans he inherited from his Dad. If he looks like a threat to win the 2016 nomination when the Republican debates begin, sharper candidates like Ted Cruz or Chris Christie will tear him apart.

A couple weeks ago on Meet the Press, Paul sounded Jeffersonian:

I think that’s what scares the Democrats the most, is that in a general election, were I to run, there’s gonna be a lot of independents and even some Democrats who say, “You know what? We are tired of war. We’re worried that Hillary Clinton will get us involved in another Middle Eastern war, because she’s so gung-ho.”

A few days later, AP quoted an email Paul wrote to supporters, which pushed a more Jacksonian line:

If I were President, I would call a joint session of Congress. I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.

In each case, it sounded good, so he said it. There’s no coherent thought process behind either statement.

and naked pictures on the internet

You would think online pictures of naked women would be old news, but this week everybody was talking about new naked pictures: Upwards of 100 celebrities had their iCloud accounts hacked, resulting in the release of nude selfies of movie star Jennifer Lawrence, supermodel Kate Upton, and other famous women.

Against my usual policy, I’m going to comment without making any effort to examine the original source material — and no, none of the links here will get you any closer to those pictures — because that’s kind of the point. This is a violation. It’s like taking pictures through a keyhole or pulling down a stranger’s bikini top at the beach. (“Why did she wear something that flimsy anyway?”) This time you’ll almost certainly get away with it. But seriously, is that the kind of person you want to be? Lena Dunham summed it up:

Remember, when you look at these pictures you are violating these women again and again. It’s not okay.


Watching the online reaction to the photos has been like lifting up a rock and seeing verminous beasties that usually stay underground. It’s amazing to read all the well-don’t-take-nude-pictures-then and she-shouldn’t-have-trusted-the-cloud comments that appear over and over in just about every comment thread. They’re like the she-was-asking-for-it response to rape.

Part of the motivation is the usual human bad-things-won’t-happen-to-me-because-I’m-smarter-than-most-people thing, which lost its charm for me when my wife got cancer. But there’s also an undercurrent of misogyny, and what feminists call “the rape culture”: the idea that women exist for men’s amusement, and that once a woman has made any concession to male voyeurism, she’s abandoned her right to draw a line anywhere.

Salon‘s Andrew Leonard and Jezebel’s Mark Shrayber have collected and commented on the outrage expressed on Reddit as the site tries to restrict distribution of the photos. Some men apparently believe that if naked photos exist anywhere, they have a God-given right to see them.


Slate‘s Emily Bazelon makes a good legal point:

Every day, movie and TV producers succeed in getting videos that have been posted without their consent taken down from major websites. … Yet in the days since Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities discovered that their nude images were stolen, and then posted without their consent on sites like Reddit and 4Chan, the stars can’t get the images taken down. … This is crazy. Why should it be easy to take down Guardians of the Galaxy and impossible to delete stolen nude photos?

Answer: Because Congress’ top priority is protecting corporate profits. As with so many issues, the trail leads back to campaign finance reform.


Included in the release are pictures of Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney taken when she was under 18, so under the law they’re child pornography. You really, really don’t want them found on your hard drive.


For what it’s worth, Apple says it’s not their fault: Hackers brute-forced the passwords on the accounts rather taking advantage of some Apple software flaw. But they have announced new features to warn you when there are signs your account has been hacked. (“Here is a photo of your horse running away. Would you like to shut the stable door now?”)


And finally, if you want to see racy pictures of Kate Upton, Sports Illustrated has gobs of them. They’re shot in exotic locations by world-class photographers, and some of them are pretty hot. And here’s the best part: Kate consented to have them published. So the only point in looking instead at pictures she wanted to keep private is to violate her privacy. If violation and lack of consent make pictures sexier to you, you need to have a long conversation with yourself.

and Governor Ultrasound’s guilt

Ex-Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was found guilty of corruption, and his wife was convicted as a co-conspirator. Rachel Maddow was the first national-news pundit to take this story seriously, and has been on it ever since, so her coverage of the verdict includes the most background.

Who he was and how he became governor in the first place was through the televangelist, hard-core, social conservative, family values power structure, in which he promised us that he would be the man to save marriage in Virginia, that his personal family values would become the public policy of the state of Virginia. He would remake the state’s Christian morality in the image of his own Christian family and his own Christian marriage.

McDonnell’s defense turned all that upside-down. Under the law, his wife wasn’t a public official, so she could only be an accomplice to corruption; if he wasn’t guilty, she couldn’t be. So the defense was that it was all her fault. She was the one who solicited gifts from a Virginia businessman and implied he would get something from the governor in exchange. And their relationship was so strained they were incapable of conspiring.

Reportedly, McDonnell had previously turned down a plea-bargain deal that would have avoided a trial, kept his wife out of jail, and convicted him of only one count. Amanda Marcotte draws the lesson:

McDonnell has dedicated his career to the idea that women should sacrifice everything for the good of “family,” including bodily autonomy and personal safety, but the second he’s called upon to take on the responsibility of a good Christian husband to protect his wife, he ran away and tried to foist as much as the blame as he could on her. Turns out family values wasn’t about men and women sacrificing together for family, just a cover story to excuse male dominance over women.

and Democrats letting Independents carry the ball against right-wingers

Two similarly odd stories this week: Democrats withdrawing from a race so that an independent would have a chance to defeat a far-right Republican.

In Alaska, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Byron Mallott announced he and independent Bill Walker would form a unity ticket against Republican incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell. Walker will get the top spot and Mallott will run for lieutenant governor. Hard to say if this maneuver will work: Parnell had a 42%/42% approval/disapproval rating in a recent poll, and was winning the three-way race with only 37% support. I haven’t seen any post-announcement one-on-one polling of the Parnell/Walker race.

In the Kansas Senate race, Democratic nominee Chad Taylor announced he was dropping out of the race in favor of independent Greg Orman in their race against Republican incumbent Pat Roberts. But Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach (already famous for his voter suppression efforts) says Taylor’s name will have to stay on the ballot.

Again, it’s hard to say if this will work, whether Taylor stays on the ballot (but doesn’t campaign) or not. Nate Silver is skeptical of a pre-announcement poll that said Orman would win a head-to-head race, but he doesn’t pretend to know that anything else will happen either.

Also unknown is what Orman would do if his vote were the difference between Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell becoming majority leader. If his vote is decisive, he promises only to “sit down with both parties and have a real frank discussion about the agenda they want to follow.”

If I were Orman, I’d start answering that question with a complete fantasy: “I’ll organize a controlling bloc of moderate senators on each side who are sick of gridlock and want to get something done.”

and you also might be interested in …

New stuff about the Michael Brown shooting. Two new witnesses tell a familiar story: Brown had his hands up and wasn’t endangering Darren Wilson.

No witness has ever publicly claimed that Brown charged at Wilson. The worker interviewed by the Post-Dispatch disputed claims by Wilson’s defenders that Brown was running full speed at the officer.

“I don’t know if he was going after him or if he was falling down to die,” he said. “It wasn’t a bull rush.”

Also, the Ferguson police chief was lying about why he released the surveillance tape that seemed to show Michael Brown stealing cigars from a convenience store. Chief Thomas Jackson said he had to release the tape, because reporters had made FOIA requests for it. The Blot reports:

a review of open records requests sent to the Ferguson Police Department found that no news organization, reporter or individual specifically sought the release of the surveillance tape before police distributed it on Aug. 15.

Last month, TheBlot Magazine requested a copy of all open records requests made by members of the public — including journalists and news organizations — that specifically sought the release of the convenience store surveillance video. The logs, which were itself obtained under Missouri’s open records law, show only one journalist — Joel Currier with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch — broadly requested any and all multimedia evidence “leading up to” Brown’s death on Aug. 9.

Other records that would have been subject to Currier’s request, including 9-1-1 call recordings and police dispatch tapes, have yet to be formally released by the agency.

So the release was part of an intentional smear of Michael Brown, which Chief Jackson covered up by lying. Makes you wonder what else the Ferguson police have lied about.


NYC Police probably didn’t know Chaumtoli Huq was a human-rights lawyer when they arrested her for standing outside the restaurant where her husband and kids were using the bathroom. They just knew she was a dark-complexioned person near a pro-Palestine rally.


Guess what? When your political system is based on money, foreign money has a vote. Sunday’s NYT exposed how money from foreign governments influences think tanks whose research wields considerable influence in Congress.

As a result, policy makers who rely on think tanks are often unaware of the role of foreign governments in funding the research.


The WaPo’s “The Fix” blog disagrees with my assessment of Hillary Clinton’s statement on Ferguson (from last week), finding it “surprisingly bold” and “among the most substantive”.


NY Review of Books’ article “The Dying Russians” is both fascinating and horrifying. For decades, Russia has simultaneously had a low birth rate and an inexplicably high death rate. So it’s de-populating in a way that has never been seen in peacetime absent some major plague.

Another major clue to the psychological nature of the Russian disease is the fact that the two brief breaks in the downward spiral coincided not with periods of greater prosperity but with periods, for lack of a more data-driven description, of greater hope.


Tuesday at Idaho State, an armed professor shot himself in the foot during class. Is this a great idea or what? That was on the sixth day of class. How long before one of these bozos kills somebody?

Meanwhile, in the I-can’t-believe-we’re-even-debating-this department, a gun control group is trying to get Kroger to take a stand against openly carrying firearms into its grocery stores.


Fast food workers — from McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFCdemonstrated for higher wages and a union in several cities Thursday.


After years carrying water for Wall Street interests, Eric Cantor now has a $2-million-a-year job for an investment bank. It makes you understand why congresspeople have no fear of the voters.


The Obama executive orders on immigration we’ve been expecting … well, wait until after the election.

Obama faced competing pressures from immigration advocacy groups that wanted prompt action and from Democrats worried that acting now would energize Republican opposition against vulnerable Senate Democrats. Among those considered most at risk were Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. … White House officials said aides realized that if Obama’s immigration action was deemed responsible for Democratic losses this year, it could hurt any attempt to pass a broad overhaul later on.

and let’s close with a map that shows our real divisions

Terrorist Strategy 101: a review

What if ISIS acts like our worst nightmare because it needs us to attack?


It’s been ten years since I wrote “Terrorist Strategy 101: a quiz” explaining how Osama bin Laden’s apparent insanity actually made sense. In retrospect, I overestimated Al Qaeda’s ability to launch attacks in the U.S. — a popular mistake at the time — but the general framework holds up pretty well. Replace “Bin Laden” with “al-Baghdadi” and “al Qaeda” with “ISIS”, and the main points still apply today.

The core message of TS-101 is that if you are a violent extremist with a big dream, your toughest problem isn’t that there are violent extremists on the other side ready to oppose you. Your toughest problem is that almost all the people who (at least at some level) share your big dream have better things to do with their lives. They have jobs and kids and classes, bands that might hit it big, possible lovers to flirt with, and novels they’re sure would be best-sellers if only they could get them finished.

If you’re a would-be Supreme Leader, it’s a huge challenge: Around the world, people would rather get on with the business of living than give their all to the Great Struggle.

Somehow you have to screw that up.

So your big mission — which, ironically, you share with the extremists on the other side of the spectrum — is to flatten the bell curve. In order to bring your air-castles to Earth, you need to make the center untenable. All those folks who consider themselves moderates — if you let them, they’ll muddle along while you get old and the Great Historical Moment slips away. You need everyone to realize right now that compromise is impossible, the other side can’t be trusted, and we all have to kill or be killed.

Perversely, your best allies in this phase of the struggle are the people you hate most, who also hate you. Of course you’d never actually conspire with them, minions of Satan that they are. But you don’t need to, because the steps in your dance are obvious from either tail of the distribution: rachet up the rhetoric and escalate an attack-and-reprisal cycle until compromise really is impossible and everyone is radicalized. Only after the center is gone do the two extremes meet in the second round of the play-offs. It’s a very basic pattern of history, and it never changes: from Caesar/Pompey to Bin Laden/Cheney, extremists have to come in pairs, because they need each other.

What ISIS has.

OK, so now imagine you’re Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS. At the moment, you control a large swath of not very much. In Iraq, the Shiite government holds the southern oil fields around Basra, and the Kurds have the northern fields around Kirkuk. You’ve got the western desert. In Syria, flip it around: All the good stuff is in the west, and you’ve got the east. You made headlines by expanding your map-area really fast, but that’s because there wasn’t much there in the first place. (John McCain and Lesley Graham describe your territory as “the size of Indiana“, but a better analogy would be the parts of Nevada that don’t include Reno or Vegas.)

But you do have one important asset. You are the current holder of the Big Dream: a re-unified Caliphate, all the Muslims in the world (or at least the Sunnis) joined in the kind of empire that made Harun al-Rashid a storybook legend. Once, before the West cut the Dar-al-Islam into little pieces and put puppet kings and sticky-fingered generals in charge of each one, Baghdad was the jewel of the world, the center of the greatest empire on Earth.

It could be again.

Lots and lots of the world’s billion-or-so Muslims share that dream at a low level, the way suburban Methodists share the dream of Jesus’ return. It’ll happen someday and that’ll be great, but … you know … I’ve got to get ready for that thing at the office Monday afternoon, and then there’s little Jamal’s soccer game in the evening.

You need to screw that up — all the distracting stuff that gives Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia more to live for than the dream of the Caliphate — and you can’t do it alone. You need help if you’re going to radicalize enough idealistic young men and women to overthrow the current governments of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and a dozen other places.

A restored Islamic Caliphate.

You need America.

In particular, you need a big, blundering, violent America that kills children and calls it “collateral damage” as if Muslims weren’t human at all. You need American troops kicking down doors of innocent families and looking under the chadors of virtuous women in case they might have weapons down there. You need the American president acting like he’s Emperor of the World, drawing other countries’ borders and deciding who can be involved in their governments.

You need an America that says it’s at war with all of Islam — not just you, all of it. Nobody believes you when you say that, but when Americans say it, they will.

You need an America that won’t let its own Muslims assimilate, that harasses them whenever they try to fly or build houses of worship or just walk around looking like Muslims.

You need an America that is scared of you. Nobody cares if you proclaim yourself Grand High Poobah of Everything. But if Americans are on global TV, telling the world that you’re the Baddest Baddy in the History of Badness … you can work with that. That looks great on your website. Deep down, lots of the people whose allegiance you are seeking wish they had what it takes to make U.S. senators quiver with fear or quake with anger. If you have that special something, they’re going to want to identify with you.

Maybe you need to wave a red handkerchief at the American bull to get him to charge. So don’t just execute the Americans you find. (Any thug can do that.) Cut off their heads and put the videos on YouTube. You and I both know that it makes no difference — dead is dead, after all, whether the instrument of death is a barbaric sword or a civilized missile from a high-tech aerial drone. But Americans go crazy when you do shit like that. Maybe crazy enough to come back and start killing people again, crazy enough to return their soldiers to places where ordinary people can get a shot at them. And then the cycle will become self-stoking, because the dead can’t have died in vain, can they? Once you get the feedback loop started, death justifies more death.

So far, it seems to be working.

And so you don’t have to be a mind-reader to know what al-Baghdadi is thinking right now: Thank you John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Thank you, Joe Biden. Thank you, Phil Robertson and Sean Hannity. Thanks to all the other crazy right-wing Christian preachers far too numerous to list. Thanks to everybody who is making it impossible for President Obama to follow his own advice not to “do stupid stuff“.

The stupid stuff ISIS needs from America is on its way, so al-Baghdadi is grateful to all of you. You’re doing a job he could never do for himself.

But he owes you nothing, because it’s a fair trade: He’s radicalizing your followers just like you’re radicalizing his. The bell curve is flattening. The center is becoming untenable.

It’s amazing what extremists can accomplish when they share a common goal.

The Monday Morning Teaser

How time flies: It’s been ten years since I wrote “Terrorist Strategy 101: a quiz” to explain why Bin Laden’s worst enemies in the Bush/Cheney administration were actually his best friends — they radicalized his base and in exchange he radicalized theirs.

Well, lo and behold, this decade has its own evil insane terrorist superman who will destroy us all unless we get him first: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. And all the same logic applies, as I’ll spell out in this week’s featured article “Terrorist Strategy 101: a review”.

The weekly summary will contain other links to the ISIS story, as well as a discussion of the celebrity nude photo leak, the guilty verdict on the McDonnells, and a number of other short notes.

Expect the terrorist strategy article to post around ten, and the summary around eleven, EDT.

Normal Behavior

Is [St. Louis County] particularly bad in terms of the quotient of police officers who act like this? Or is this just normal, and we just happened to have the cameras pointed there?

Chris Hayes

This week’s featured post is “5 Lessons to Remember as Ferguson Fades into History“. Last week’s featured post “What Your Fox-Watching Uncle Doesn’t Get About Ferguson” was popular, getting over 7,500 page views. August as a whole was the highest-traffic month in Sift history, with 163K views — most of them for “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“.

This week everybody was talking about police and black people

At least on the liberal side of the media, incidents where innocent blacks are harassed or otherwise mistreated by police are starting to be covered as a pattern, rather than as isolated events that may not be newsworthy on their own. That’s one of the topics discussed in “5 Lessons to Remember as Ferguson Fades into History“.

If you like the Norman Rockwell parody in that post, here’s a higher-art-quality version of the same idea.


Salon examines how a totally false “fact” — that Michael Brown fractured Officer Wilson’s eye socket — spread from a conspiracy-theory web site all the way to the Washington Post, without anybody bothering to check it until after it was national news.

and sexual harassment in the Senate

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has a new book coming out, and what everyone wants to talk about is her account of rude sexist interactions with male senators. (I suspect those take up a fairly small portion of the book.) Like this one recounted in The New York Post:

one of her favorite older senators walked up behind her, squeezed her waist, and intoned: “Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby.”

Politico‘s John Bresnahan tweeted:

I challenge this story. Sorry, I don’t believe it.

But female journalists were far from shocked. MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell sounded like Casablanca‘s Captain Renault.

Men behaving badly on Capitol Hill? What a surprise.

and Market Basket

If you want a feel-good story for Labor Day, this is it. Workers and customers got together and fired management. It required a billion-dollar deal to buy out his cousin’s controlling interest, but Artie T is back in charge. Lawrence O’Donnell (who clearly enjoyed his chance to drop some R’s, i.e. “Mahket Basket”, “Ahty T” ) drew the lesson:

How many workers in America would do that? Go on strike because their very rich CEO was pushed out in a family feud power play? … That’s what it takes to be a beloved CEO: exactly what you think it would take. Pay well, know employees by name, care about them, talk to them, know what they want and what they need to do a better job.

Until these last six weeks I hadn’t realized that any of the local grocery chains treated workers better than the others, so I usually went to whichever store I happened to be passing when I realized I wanted something. But I stayed away from MB during the controversy, and observed that all the other stores were crowded with people who were also avoiding Market Basket. Now that the fight is over, Market Basket has won my loyalty.

and you also might be interested in …

AlterNet and DailyKos offer a precise estimate of the danger ISIS terrorists pose to U.S. cities: Zero.

How likely is it that a genuine ISIS cell is hiding in the United States lining up, let’s say, zeppelins of death right now? Very, very, very unlikely. So unlikely that even planning for it would prove we’re the ones who are insane.


So what are the odds that Republicans will eventually join Democrats in backing a carbon tax, which could both fight global warming and replace taxes they hate more? Also zero. Grist‘s Ben Adler is “sorry to burst your bubble“. But Republicans won’t support a carbon tax until they start accepting science, which they show no signs of doing.


Follow up to my comment about Hillary Clinton two weeks ago: Clinton’s tepid response to the Michael Brown shooting and the Ferguson protests hasn’t reassured me about her potential candidacy. It took until Thursday — 18 days after the shooting — for her to say anything, and then her comments had a little something for everybody.

Everybody sympathizes at some level with the Brown family, so Clinton started there: “my heart just broke for his family because losing a child is every parent’s greatest fear and an unimaginable loss.” Like everybody, she wants a “thorough and speedy investigation”. On the violence, she said: “This is what happens when the bonds of trust and respect that hold any community together fray. Nobody wants to see our streets look like a war zone.”

And that’s the problem: She’s criticizing Nobody. Whether you think police over-reacted or that their military response was appropriate in the face of black violence, she’s with you. It’s a tragedy; no one is to blame.

And even in the part of her remarks most sensitive to the black experience, she identified we with whites. OK, she was at a tech conference and the audience was probably pretty pale, but still:

Imagine what we would feel, what we would do if white drivers were three times as likely to be searched by police at a traffic stop as black drivers, instead of the other way around. If white offenders received prison sentences 10 percent longer … if a third of all white men — look at this room, take one third — went to prison during their lifetime. Imagine that.

Here’s what I’m imagining: A Democratic candidate who promotes Democratic ideals. One big advantage Republicans have had the last few decades is that in every election, their candidates tell the voters why they should embrace the conservative worldview. Democratic candidates typically “move to the center”, with the result that many voters never hear an empassioned liberal message.

I take Elizabeth Warren seriously when she says she won’t run and supports Clinton. Bernie Sanders is thinking about running. I love Bernie, but truthfully, I hope someone younger and cooler will carry the progressive flag.


This graph summarizes Pew Research polls about the views of members of various religious groups. It reminds me why I’m a Unitarian Universalist. Can the Anglicans really be that economically conservative? And the UCC, where Jeremiah Wright preaches?

We need a word for …

the sense of frustration you feel when you can’t join a boycott, because you never use that product anyway. Burger King is buying Tim Horton’s so that it can become a Canadian company and stop paying U. S. taxes. Good luck selling burgers to all those Canadian tourists, because patriotic Americans should stop buying them. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown suggests two alternatives:

Burger King’s decision to abandon the United States means consumers should turn to Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers or White Castle sliders. Burger King has always said ‘Have it Your Way’; well my way is to support two Ohio companies that haven’t abandoned their country or customers.

Unfortunately, the loss of my business is not going to do BK much damage.

Let’s close with some feminism in an unexpected place

Namely, country and western music. Maddie and Tae want guys to know what it’s like to be “The Girl in the Country Song”, so they made a role-reversing video.

And Kira Isabella gets serious about date rape in “Quarterback“.

5 Lessons to Remember as Ferguson Fades into History

If you learned anything from Ferguson, how are you planning to hang on to it?


Remember the days right after the Newtown Massacre? For a week, maybe two, it seemed like the country had finally woken up and nothing would ever be the same. Twenty innocent children were dead, along with six adults who tried to protect them. And it was our fault. Mass shootings had been happening more and more often for years, and — unlike Australia, which had the same problem and solved it — we’d done nothing. But now that was all going to change.

Be a Target(ed) shopper.

It didn’t. Within months, all the vested interests that benefit from our crazy lack of gun laws had re-asserted themselves, and nothing happened. Or rather, things continued getting worse, with the momentum still on the side of the guns-everywhere movement. Instead of trying to get rid of assault rifles (or at least keep them away from the mentally ill), we’re debating whether or not you can hang one over your shoulder while you shop for Oreos. (The ad to the right is a parody, but the picture is genuine.)

So now we’ve had Ferguson, another national trauma that has mesmerized the media and caused a number of people to see the light on some important issues. Maybe someday we’ll look back and see the Michael Brown shooting and the ensuing protests as a tipping point, a moment when things started to turn around. Or maybe we have just briefly tossed in our sleep and will soon settle back down.

In part, that decision is up to all of us. Will we let the things we’ve learned these last few weeks slip away like the trig identities we crammed into our heads for the big math test? Or will we hang on to our new understandings and not settle back into the same old conversations? Will we demand that our news sources and our political representatives recognize these realities? Or not?

The first step in hanging on to new knowledge is spelling it out clearly. Here’s my attempt to isolate five simple Ferguson lessons that we shouldn’t forget or let the country forget. I admit they’re not rocket science. If they were, we’d already be forgetting them.

1. Police mistreat black people. It’s not a fantasy created by “the grievance industry” and it’s not a few isolated incidents caused by a handful of bad apples, it’s a pattern.

Some parts of the national media have finally started covering it like a pattern, and drawing attention to incidents that by themselves wouldn’t usually get national attention. Just this week I ran across the following stories.

  • New information the John Crawford shooting came out. On August 5, a 22-year-old black man was killed by police in a WalMart in Ohio because he was carrying an air rifle that he had picked up from a shelf. We had already heard from his girl friend, who was talking to him on the phone as he was being shot. Tuesday, we heard that the shooting was captured on WalMart’s surveillance video. It has not been released (though information favorable to the police has been), but Crawford’s parents and their attorney have been allowed to see it. The attorney said that Crawford was facing away from officers when they killed him, and that “John was doing nothing wrong in Walmart, nothing more, nothing less than shopping.” One of the officers involved in the shooting is back on the job. (A fake news site’s story of a second WalMart shooting got taken seriously by a number of people, but didn’t actually happen.)
  • Chris Lollie was arrested and tased by police in St. Paul while he was waiting for his kids to get out of school. He was trying to walk away from police when they got violent with him. The incident was recorded on his cellphone when it happened in January, but only became public recently after charges against Lollie were dropped and he got his phone back. St. Paul police have defended their officers’ actions, which is hard to imagine as I watch the tape.
  • Kametra Barbour and her four young children were pulled over in Texas, even though their car was a different color than the one police received a complaint about. The police dashcam video shows the terrified woman being forced at gunpoint to walk backwards towards the police cruiser, protesting all the while that they’re making her leave her frightened children alone in the car. The confrontation doesn’t end until her 6-year-old son also gets out of the car and walks toward police with his hands up. (What if he’d come out some other way?) “Do they look young to you?” one officer finally asks the other.
  • A week and a half ago TV producer Charles Belk was walking back to his car from a Beverly Hills restaurant when his evening took a bad turn. “I was wrongly arrested, locked up, denied a phone call, denied explanation of charges against me, denied ever being read my rights, denied being able to speak to my lawyer for a lengthy time, and denied being told that my car had been impounded…..All because I was mis-indentified as the wrong ‘tall, bald head, black male,’ … ‘fitting the description.’ ” It was six hours before his lawyer convinced police to watch the surveillance video and recognize that the bank robber’s accomplice was obviously not Belk. According to his lawyer (as summarized by ThinkProgress) “many other individuals who found themselves in Belk’s situation without his resources would likely have been detained at least until Monday”.
  • Rev. Madison T. Shockley II published similar stories from his own life, his father’s, and his son’s. “I fit the description. I was a black man.”

What makes these stories hit home is that they’re not about purse-snatchers who got roughed up a little too much. They’re about people who did nothing and suffered for it.

I know blacks must look at this lesson and say, “Well, duh.” But for the most part, whites — and the media that caters to whites — have refused to take it seriously until these last few weeks. Many of us came to a similar insight after Trayvon Martin, and then backslid into denial. Let’s not do it again.

2. Police kill a lot of people in America. Responding to the racism charge, some conservatives put forward a bizarre police-kill-white-people-too case centered on the shooting of Dillon Taylor in Salt Lake City — as if that should make everybody more sanguine about Michael Brown or John Crawford. But if white deaths are what it takes to get a certain segment of the public excited about police violence, then let’s publicize them. Because whether you break things down by race or not, there’s a problem.

You can say policing is a tough, dangerous job — and it is. But somehow police in other countries manage to do that job without killing nearly so many people. No government agency totals the exact number — it’s like we don’t really want to know — but various available statistics point to around 400 police killings a year in the United States. Here’s how that stacks up internationally.

If you want some real contrast, look at Iceland, where last December police shot and killed someone for the first time in the country’s history. Admittedly, Iceland is a thousand times smaller than the U.S., but even so, at our rate you’d expect Icelandic police to shoot someone dead every two or three years, rather than once since World War II.

3. We need better ways to hold police accountable. One inescapable feature of the Michael Brown investigation is that the Ferguson police are an interested party, and are not simply seeking to bring the truth to light. (For example, the only detail they were willing to release from Brown’s autopsy was that he tested positive for marijuana. And they released a video that they claimed was Brown stealing cigars from a convenience store, but not an incident report on his death.) It’s crazy to believe that they — or a prosecutor who works hand-in-glove with them every day — will investigate Brown’s death fairly and see that justice is done.

And yet, that is the standard situation whenever a citizen feels mistreated: Police will investigate themselves and find that whatever they did was justified. After police killed his white son, Michael Bell did the research:

In 129 years since police and fire commissions were created in the state of Wisconsin, we could not find a single ruling by a police department, an inquest or a police commission that a shooting was unjustified.

Police will also control — and distort — the flow of official information to the media. Reporters, in turn, depend on police leaks for their scoops, so they are often active participants in smearing victims. (It’s the same pattern we saw in the lead-up to the Iraq War, when reporters whose careers depended on their relationships with Bush administration sources published whatever they were told as if it were fact.)

Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel (whose interview with Chris Hayes starts around the 14-minute mark) suggests a common-sense reform:

There should be a civilian review board in Ferguson and in every city in America. And what that means is that you can’t allow the police to investigate the police. You have to have independent civilians looking at the complaint. We need a permanent special prosecutor for police misconduct so we can finally get accountability.

In April, Wisconsin passed a law requiring an outside investigation whenever someone dies in police custody. Every state should follow.

There has been some limited accountability for the most outrageous police behavior during the Ferguson protests. Dan Page, the frighteningly paranoid St. Louis officer I described last week, has been allowed to retire; he’ll get full pension and benefits, but at least he’s not wearing a badge any more. Ray (“I will fucking kill you”) Albers was forced to resign. Matthew (“These protesters should be put down like a rabid dog the first night”) Pappert was fired. Chris Hayes asks the right follow-up question:

The national media came to one (in some ways) random metro area suburb, St. Louis Country, with a hundred cameras for two weeks. And you’ve got at least four police officers essentially caught on camera doing really awful things, and a bunch more unnamed. It was almost a random audit. And the thing I can’t help thinking is “OK. There’s two ways to interpret this. Is this area particularly bad in terms of the quotient of police officers who act like this? Or is this just normal, and we just happened to have the cameras pointed there?”

What if we put the cameras right on the police? Events in Ferguson have added momentum to the notion that all police cars should have dash-cams and all officers should wear cameras on their uniforms. Private sources have donated enough body cameras for every Ferguson officer to wear one. Let’s see if they do.

4. White privilege is real. Stephen Colbert advised the Ferguson protesters to learn from Cliven Bundy and his friends in the militia movement.

By the way, black people, why can’t you be more like these guys? They were armed, and they dared the cops to shot them, and nothing happened. Just figure out whatever was different about them, and you’ll be fine.

But being treated with more respect by police is just one aspect of white privilege, which affects everything from hailing a cab to whether your resume will get you an interview. Pre-Ferguson, most whites reacted to talk about white privilege as if it were just an Ivy League way to call them racists or tell them to STFU.

But recently more whites have started to get it and explain it to others. One of the most approachable explanations is in “What My Bike Has Taught Me About White Privilege” posted by Pastor Jeremy Dowsett on his blog A Little More Sauce. Dowsett, who is white but has non-white children, compared being black in America to his own experience riding a bicycle on the busy streets of Lansing.

[Bike riders] have the right to be on the road, and laws on the books to make it equitable, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are on a bike in a world made for cars. Experiencing this when I’m on my bike in traffic has helped me to understand what privilege talk is really about.

Now most people in cars are not intentionally aggressive toward me. But even if all the jerks had their licenses revoked tomorrow, the road would still be a dangerous place for me. Because the whole transportation infrastructure privileges the automobile. It is born out of a history rooted in the auto industry that took for granted that everyone should use a car as their mode of transportation. It was not built to be convenient or economical or safe for me.

And so people in cars—nice, non-aggressive people—put me in danger all the time because they see the road from the privileged perspective of a car.

Similarly, our laws promise racial equality and not all whites are racists, but our society was built with whites in mind. Systems that seem perfectly natural and transparent if you’re white are problematic if you’re not.

Elaborating on Dowsett’s metaphor from my biking perspective: I can’t count how many times I’ve nearly fallen off a no-shoulder country road because car drivers have no idea how loud a “light” beep of the horn sounds to someone not enclosed in a glass-and-metal bubble. (Apparently they worry that their internal-combustion engine might “sneak up” on me because it seems so quiet to them.) Keep that in mind the next time you offer a “reasonable” criticism of the black experience.

Jon Stewart’s epic response to conservative fury that blacks “make everything about race” is worth watching from the beginning, but it came down to this:

Race is there, and it is a constant. You’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how f*cking exhausting it is living it.

How are we whites going to keep this increased consciousness of privilege from fading away? Christian Lander, who writes the blog Stuff White People Like, suggests making it the next ice-bucket challenge. He observes that what whites really need to raise their awareness of (far more than any deadly disease) is what it’s like to be a black teen. So he proposes the BT Challenge: Video yourself doing something that is dangerous for a black teen — like, say, walking to the convenience store for Skittles — and post it on social media.

5. We need to de-militarize our society. Americans from coast to coast were repulsed and alarmed by the images of mine-resistant military vehicles roaming American streets with camo-clad police snipers perched on top of them. It was way beyond ironic that equipment created to defend an occupying army in a guerrilla war was being deployed against American citizens protesting excessive force from police.

The militarization of police has been roundly denounced — most effectively by John Oliver — and it deserved every word of that denunciation.

That public outcry has even started to have some effect. Anchorage police have rescinded their request for military vehicles. Claire McCaskill will be chairing Senate hearings on police militarization.

But while MRAPs are obviously over the top, Ladd Everitt from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence told Business Insider that some advanced weaponry is justified by the level of armament police might face (from someone other than mostly non-violent protesters).

 “We see this as a product of the continuing arms race between law enforcement and civilians that has been going on for decades.” Everitt said the increasingly sophisticated weaponry being sold to U.S. civilians is forcing police to keep up, with both sides purchasing ever more powerful weapons. The arms race means “police officers have legitimate fears about the nature of the firepower they are confronting on a daily basis,” he said.

So the problem isn’t just the militarization of American police, it’s the militarization of American society.

That puts a different spin on the gap in police killings between the U.S. and every other first-world nation. American police are on a hair trigger because, in a country with over 300 million firearms, the possibility that a suspect might start shooting at them is never far from their minds. Over the course of a long career, it just doesn’t seem safe to take the more laid-back approach of a German or English policeman.

Bear that in mind the next time the NRA frames guns-everywhere as purely a question of personal rights. No matter how responsible and well-intentioned that gun-toting Oreo shopper might be, his presence raises the temperature in the room. All of us — and especially police — have to shorten our response times, given how fast a situation can turn deadly. So whether I choose to carry a gun or not, that raised room temperature might get me killed someday.

And that brings me full circle, back to gun control. Remember Newtown?

The Monday Morning Teaser

Happy Labor Day. If you have a paid holiday today, thank the unions.

This week’s featured article is titled “5 Lessons to Hold on to as Ferguson Fades into History”, though I’m still monkeying with the wording. Often it seems like the country learns something from a traumatic news story, but then it all goes away in a month or two. Let’s not do that this time.

In the weekly summary, Market Basket gave us a feel-good Labor Day story, Senator Gillibrand’s book has everybody talking about sexual harassment in the Senate, Burger King wants to have corporate taxes its way, Hillary Clinton’s Ferguson statement seems late and weak, and there really is feminist country & western.

I’m aiming to post the 5 Lessons article around ten EDT, and the summary by noon.

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