The Memory Hole

The official forgetting we are supposed to do will not produce the desired result.
[Eventually] people forget why they are supposed to forget, and then they start to remember.

— an anonymous Chinese man commenting on the Cultural Revolution,
quoted in Patrick Smith’s Somebody Else’s Century.

This week’s featured posts are “2016’s Mission Impossible: Support Jeb While Forgetting George” and “Civics for Dummies: Judicial Review“, where I explain why Mike Huckabee should have flunked 9th grade.

This week everybody was talking about the Amtrak accident

A derailment in Philadelphia killed 8 and injured 200. It’s still not clear whether bad track played any role, or if better tech would have avoided the accident, but the incident did provide an opening to discuss our generally crumbling infrastructure.

Whatever caused this week’s derailment, it’s crazy that we just went through years of high unemployment and low interest rates, but we didn’t borrow money to hire people to fix our at-risk bridges, build a 21st-century power grid, and upgrade our railroads.

and the Boston Marathon Bomber

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving brother of the pair who planted the bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013, was sentenced to death on Friday. Three died in the bombing and at least 260 were injured. The brothers also killed an MIT policeman while trying to escape.

Several factors weighed against a death sentence: His age (19 at the time of the bombing), the possibly dominating influence of his older brother (who died in the shoot-out with police), and a plea from the parents of an 8-year-old victim that the state settle for life imprisonment in order to get the case completed. (If this case follows the usual pattern, appeals could continue for a decade or more before Tsarnaev is executed.) A Boston Globe poll showed that 57% of Bostonians favored life without parole, against only 33% who wanted death. (Death is a possibility only because Tsarnaev’s case is federal; Massachusetts has no death penalty.)

I seldom discuss the death penalty on this blog, because my position is mushy. I’m against the vast majority of executions, but I don’t have a clear set of principles to put forward, and I would rather save my effort for injustices with more deserving victims.

A thought-provoking book on the death penalty is Debbie Morris’ Forgiving the Dead Man Walking. Morris is a surviving victim of Robert Willie, whose execution inspired the book and movie Dead Man Walking. Willie kidnapped and raped Morris, but she managed to escape before being murdered like Willie’s other victims.

Morris became an anti-death-penalty activist, and her book describes the sense of peace she found after she “forgave” Willie, an event of mostly spiritual/psychological significance, because it happened only after Willie’s execution. To me, that’s what makes the book so thought-provoking: I wonder if Willie being dead played a role in the peace Morris reached, even if she doesn’t see it that way.

Morris’ situation is one of the rare examples in which I could support the death penalty: when there are traumatized surviving victims who will always be looking over their shoulders as long as the murderer is alive. (Morris testified against Willie, and the one time he briefly escaped from prison, he might have been headed in her direction.)

But the simple desire of surviving friends and relatives for revenge doesn’t move me. And I don’t think national trauma justifies executions either: Robert Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, is serving Year 47 of his life sentence, and I’m fine with that. I’d be fine with Tsarnaev in prison for the next half-century too.

and Jeb Bush’s bad week

He had trouble fielding one of the campaign’s most predictable questions: “On the subject of Iraq, knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” After four days with four different answers, he finally found the one he should have been practicing in front of a mirror for months: “I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.” I discuss all this in detail in one of the featured posts: “2016’s Mission Impossible: Support Jeb While Forgetting George“.


This week’s other 2016 news was best expressed by Gail Collins:

Former ambassador John Bolton announced he would not be running this week, stunning many Americans who had no idea former ambassador John Bolton even existed.

If Donald Trump runs, that will stun many other people who believe he’s a fictional TV character.


Also, Marco Rubio spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations on the “three pillars” of his foreign policy:

  • American strength. He called for higher defense spending and making the domestic-spying part of the Patriot Act (Section 215) permanent. I found this statement a bit chilling: “We must never find ourselves looking back after a terrorist attack and saying we could have done more to save American lives.” As long as we’re not a completely totalitarian state, we could always do more to save American lives.
  • “Protect the economy” through free trade. Rubio inverted the typical usage of the word protect, which usually means protecting American industries from foreign competition. He endorsed TPP and similar trade agreements, and pledged to “use American power to oppose any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace, or outer space.”
  • Moral clarity regarding America’s core values. He defined those values as: “a passionate defense of human rights, the strong support of democratic principles, and the protection of the sovereignty of our allies”. But this is just rhetoric unless he gets down to cases, because those principles are often in conflict. Take the overthrow of Muburak’s regime in Egypt, for example. Should we have supported human rights or protected our ally? What if the sexist, autocratic Saudi monarchy faces a revolution?

One piece of Rubio’s “moral clarity” is a point that virtually every Republican candidate has voiced: We should not “hesitate in calling the source of atrocities in the Middle East by its real name — radical Islam.”

I don’t think the Obama administration or its defenders have done a good job explaining why this is such a bad idea. So let me give it a try.

The most important battlefield of the current struggle is inside the minds of Muslim teen-agers, particularly the talented ones who have opportunities in their personal lives. (Anwar al-Awlaki comes to mind. His formative years are recounted in some early chapters of Jeremy Scahill‘s book Dirty Wars.) They could go to college and become engineers or dentists or something. On the other hand, they could join ISIS or al Qaeda, or do some lone-wolf terrorism wherever they happen to live, like the Tsarnaev brothers.

I know radical Islam sounds terrifying to many Americans, but how does it sound to those kids? For comparison, imagine how radical Christianity sounds to kids growing up Baptist in Georgia or Catholic in Boston. I suspect it sounds like something they should aspire to. So wouldn’t it be a huge mistake to tell those Baptist or Catholic kids that the way to be a “radical Christian” is to assassinate doctors and blow up abortion clinics?

Similarly, ISIS recruiters would love to convince Muslim teens around the world that the way to practice radical Islam is to join them. Radical Islam is a term of strategic importance. We should fight ISIS for it, not surrender it to them.

[Slate‘s William Saletan details how Republican rhetoric about Islam echoes ISIS rhetoric, then comments: “Remind me again who’s naïve.”]


Josh Marshall’s hindsight on Iraq is more interesting than Jeb Bush’s.

and you also might be interested in …

In a current article in The Atlantic, Ta-Nahisi Coates points out a double-standard in President Obama’s rhetoric: He’s willing to single out the black community for moral lectures, but

[Y]ou will hear no policy targeted toward black people coming out of the Obama White House, or probably any White House in the near future. That is because the standard progressive approach of the moment is to mix color-conscious moral invective with color-blind public policy. It is not hard to see why that might be the case. Asserting the moral faults of black people tend to gain votes. Asserting the moral faults of their government, not so much. I am sure Obama sincerely believes in the moral invective he offers. But I suspect he believes a lot more about his country which he chooses not to share.

Coates has long argued that since the oppression of black people was very color-conscious, helping them overcome that oppression needs to be color-conscious too (rather than relying on generic anti-poverty programs like Food Stamps). Last year he wrote “The Case for Reparations“, which I reviewed.

The current article’s most striking quote:

In a country where Walter Scott was shot in the back, where Eric Garner was choked to death, where whole municipalities are—at this very hour — funding themselves through racist plunder, fleeting references to “past injustice” will not do.


Can anybody spot what’s wrong with this tweet from the Texas Senate Republican Caucus?

Yes, it’s the cross. Apparently, only Christian religious freedom is protected in Texas. But why would anybody outside the majority religion need protection, anyway?


Remember the 20-week abortion ban the House almost passed last January, but pulled after the female representatives they need for cover balked? It’s back, and this time it passed.

and let’s close with something enviable

Those of us who don’t own dogs never get greeted like this:

Civics For Dummies: Judicial Review

Or: Why Mike Huckabee should have flunked 9th grade.


The possibility that the Supreme Court might soon rule in favor of same-sex marriage, resulting in its legality in all 50 states, is causing a certain amount of panic on the Religious Right. In response, presidential candidates whose campaigns hope to exploit that panic have been spreading dangerously ignorant ideas about the Constitution and the judicial branch of government. And, as ignorant people often do, they’ve been claiming that everyone else is ignorant, while they alone grasp the true nature of the Founders’ vision.

For example, when NewsMax asked Dr. Ben Carson about same-sex marriage, he responded:

First of all, we have to understand how the Constitution works. The president is required to carry out the laws of the land, the laws of the land come from the legislative branch. So if the legislative branch creates a law or changes a law, the executive branch has a responsibly to carry it out. It doesn’t say they have the responsibility to carry out a judicial law.

And Mike Huckabee presented a similar perspective in more detail:

Getting a decision from the Court is not tantamount to saying, “That settles it. It’s the law of the land.” And when I hear people say that I just cringe, and I’m thinking: “How many people passed 9th-grade civics?” This is not that complicated.

There are three branches of government, not one. We don’t like it if the executive branch overreaches, and pretends that it can act in indifference to the other two. And neither can we sit back and allow the Court — one branch of government — to overrule the other two.

And so when a court rules that same-sex marriage is OK, it doesn’t mean that the next day marriage licenses should be issued for same-sex couples. It simply means that if the legislature agrees with that court decision, and the representatives of the people, the elected officials, if they then put this into legislation, and it is signed and enforced by the executive branch, then you have same-sex marriage. But until those other two branches act, what you have is a court opinion and nothing else.

Clearly, Governor Huckabee’s 9th-grade civics teacher has a lot to answer for, because he seriously misunderstands how our system of government works. So let’s back up and answer a simple civics question: How does the Supreme Court come to have the power to say what laws mean and even to determine that some of them are unconstitutional?

Where judicial review comes from. People who dislike particular court rulings often imagine that this power of judicial review wasn’t in the Founders’ original vision at all; somewhere along the line the Supreme Court just usurped it. But in fact the Founders foresaw judicial review and approved.

If you want to know what the Founders thought the Constitution meant, one of the best places to look is in The Federalist, a series of essays Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote to explain the new Constitution and encourage states to ratify it. In Federalist #78, dated June 14, 1788, Hamilton wrote:

The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts. A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. … [W]henever a particular statute contravenes the Constitution, it will be the duty of the judicial tribunals to adhere to the latter and disregard the former.

So where does the power of judicial review come from? From the Founders. It goes all the way back.

Without judicial review, our constitutional rights are meaningless. This idea is easiest to explain through a hypothetical: Imagine that a Clinton landslide in 2016 sweeps in large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. When the new Congress takes office in January, 2017, it passes this one-sentence law:

Whereas Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee are pernicious individuals whose continued liberty is detrimental to well-informed public discourse, they shall be imprisoned in the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas for a period of ten years.

President Hillary Clinton signs the law. Federal agents arrest Carson and Huckabee and drag them to Leavenworth. What happens next?

First, notice that even though the Carson-Huckabee Imprisonment Act of 2017 went through the process the Constitution lays out for passing a law, it is still blatantly unconstitutional. In technical terms it’s a bill of attainder, which the Constitution specifically forbids in Article I, Section 9:

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

But how does that fact do Carson and Huckabee any good? They can complain to the agents who arrest them. They can complain to their Leavenworth guards and cell mates. But so what? “Yeah, yeah, join the club,” they’ll be told. “Everybody in here is innocent.”

Short of counting on friends with guns to break them out, there is only one effective thing they can do: file a writ of habeas corpus, (another Article I right). In other words, Carson and Huckabee can make their jailers justify themselves before a judge. That judge then has the power to say that the Carson-Huckabee Imprisonment Act is unconstitutional. And the very instant that decision comes down, they have to be released.

Notice what doesn’t happen here: There is no “judicial law”, no Carson-Huckabee Release Act that the judge has to pass. And the judge’s ruling is not a suggestion that the other two branches might want to revise or repeal the Carson-Huckabee Imprisonment Act. Carson and Huckabee don’t have “a court opinion and nothing else”. They have their freedom.

If they didn’t, then the Constitution’s protection against bills of attainder would be meaningless. Congress could just refuse to pass a Release Act, or President Clinton could veto it, or just not get around to enforcing it. And Ben and Mike would sit in jail, no matter what rights they had in theory.

All our rights are like that. If you can’t bring your case before a judge who has the power to tell the other branches “Stop doing that right now!”, then in practical terms you don’t have any rights.

Interpretation. I intentionally made that last example simple: a one-line law that stood on its own and did something obviously wrong. But lawmakers with bad intentions are usually sneakier than that.

A much more likely scenario is that Carson-Huckabee imprisonment would be a page of legalese somewhere in the middle of a 300-page bill that built a dam and changed food-stamp requirements and made Al Sharpton’s birthday a national holiday. It wouldn’t mention Carson or Huckabee by name; it would just give the administration power to imprison people who fit some abstract description. Of the people described, only Carson and Huckabee would be worth bothering to arrest. Or maybe 100 people would get arrested, of whom 98 really would be dangerous to the public.

However it shook out, the effect would be the same: Ben and Mike would find themselves in Leavenworth without a trial. But now their habeas corpus case is more complicated, because it isn’t obvious that the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2017 — which contains that one significant page — is a bill of attainder. Somebody has to interpret it, and weigh its effects against the abstract definition of a bill of attainder, or against the 14th Amendment’s abstract guarantee of “due process of law”. Exactly how much “process of law” were Carson and Huckabee “due”, and did they receive it? Lawyers from the Clinton Justice Department might concoct some very slick arguments saying that they did.

And that brings us back to Hamilton: “The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts.” If the courts are prevented from doing that job, then a clever lawmaker or a hostile administration can take away your rights.

Change. Another way my example is simple is that “bill of attainder” means pretty much the same thing today as it did when the Constitution was written in 1787: a law that sends people to prison without a trial. But it’s reasonably certain that the Constitutional Convention of 1787 had no idea it might be creating a right for same-sex couples to marry, and neither did the people who drafted and passed and ratified the 14th Amendment after the Civil War.

So how can a judge “find” that right in the Constitution today? Did the Founders and subsequent amendment-drafters not understand what they were writing? Were all previous judges stupid not to see this right that judges see today? Or if you don’t believe those absurd things, how is marriage equality not a total abuse of the power of judicial review?

The answer is that even when the text of a law doesn’t change, the practical meaning of that law can change as the world changes around it. Today we have lots of “constitutional” rights that the Founders could not have imagined. When they wrote the Second Amendment, they weren’t picturing AR-15s. When they guaranteed “freedom of the press”, they weren’t thinking about blogs. The Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” didn’t originally have anything to do with the pictures on your smart phone, or the possibility that police might see through your walls with infrared devices.

Today, those kinds of issues come up all the time, along with examples of extended rights we probably shouldn’t have. (If a nuclear weapon can be shrunk down to a suitcase that I can carry, should I have a right to “bear” those “arms”?) In a perfect world, maybe we’d be constantly updating the Constitution to make this stuff clear. But judges don’t get to live in that perfect world; they have to decide the cases that come before them on the basis of the laws on the books.

One solution would be for a court to throw up its hands whenever a case involved something lawmakers hadn’t foreseen. (“How should I know what to do with bazookas?”) In an era with fast technological change and a dysfunctional Congress, increasingly large parts of life would move outside the law. So you’d have the right to bear the same kind of ball-and-powder weapons the Minutemen used, or to print whatever you wanted on a press like Ben Franklin’s. Beyond that, though, your rights would start to evaporate.

Instead, in the American legal tradition, judges read the laws as embodiments of principles, which can then be abstracted and applied to new situations. You really wouldn’t want it the other way.

Marriage equality. In the case of same-sex marriage, the main thing that has changed since the Founding era isn’t the Supreme Court, it’s opposite-sex marriage. In 1789, any gay or lesbian couple claiming they had a right to marry would have been laughed out of John Jay’s Supreme Court, and rightfully so.

That’s because in a truly “traditional” marriage husband and wife are legally distinct roles that can only be filled by people of the appropriate gender. As Blackstone’s authoritative Commentaries on the Laws of England put it in 1765:

By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband. … The husband also, by the old law, might give his wife moderate correction. For, as he is to answer for her misbehaviour, the law thought it reasonable to intrust him with this power of restraining her, by domestic chastisement, in the same moderation that a man is allowed to correct his apprentices or children; for whom the master or parent is also liable in some cases to answer.

Only the husband could own property or sign contracts. No wife could enter into employment without her husband’s approval. There was also no concept of marital rape; for all practical purposes, a wife’s body was her husband’s property, so if he chose to use that property in the ways that husbands typically did, the law saw no issue.

(BTW: Anybody who uses the phrase “traditional marriage” and doesn’t mean what I just described is playing games with words. A marriage of spouses equal under the law is not at all “traditional”, even if the spouses are of opposite genders.)

In that legal environment, a same-sex couple trying to marry would be doing something absurd. Who would be the husband and who the wife? Whose contractual agreements would be valid? Which spouse could discipline the other? And in an era when only men could vote, wouldn’t democracy be undermined if some households had two votes and others none? Nonsense!

But all those circumstances changed. As Justice Ginsburg framed the issue last month:

Marriage was a relationship of a dominant male to a subordinate female. That ended as a result of this court’s decision in 1982 when Louisiana’s Head and Master Rule was struck down … Would that be a choice that states should [still] be allowed to have? To cling to marriage the way it once was?

In current law, the roles of husband and wife are virtually interchangeable. There continue to be social and cultural differences, and many religions still encourage husbands and wives to take on distinct roles. But nothing in the law forces them to do so.

So under the law as it currently exists, same-sex marriage is not absurd, and it exists without causing any apparent problems in about half the country, as well as in several other countries.

Equal protection. In addition to “due process”, the 14th Amendment guarantees each American “the equal protection of the laws”. In practice, that phrase has been interpreted to mean that if the government treats some people differently than others, it has to have a good reason. The more significant the discrimination, the weightier the reason needs to be.

That’s why laws that provide a marriage option to opposite-sex couples but deny it to same-sex couples are in trouble: because it’s increasingly hard to say what legitimate reason the government might have for that discrimination. Salon summarized Justice Breyer‘s analysis like this:

When states try to justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry, “the answer we get is, well, people have always done it,” observed Breyer. That answer won’t do, because it was used to justify racial segregation. “Or, two, because certain religious groups do think it’s a sin.” That can’t justify a law either. “And then when I look for reasons three, four and five, I don’t find them. What are they?”

So the claim that gays and lesbians want to “redefine marriage” has it exactly backwards. During the last century-and-a-half, marriage has already been redefined. And in marriage as it exists today — rather than during the Revolution or the Civil War — what’s our justification for refusing its advantages to same-sex couples?

In short, the Constitution and the 14th Amendment haven’t changed, but the world has changed around them. Nor is the Supreme Court being asked to “redefine marriage” or to pass a “judicial law” legalizing it. That’s not what a court is for. But we do need the Court to tell us what “equal protection” is going to mean in the context of today’s marriage laws.

That’s a use of judicial power I think Alexander Hamilton would understand.

2016’s Mission Impossible: Support Jeb While Forgetting George

Republicans won’t repent the Bush/Cheney mistakes, so they have to keep pushing them out of mind.


The aura of inevitability around Jeb Bush’s nomination started to flicker this week, as he gave four different answers about Iraq in four days.

  • Monday, he responded to Fox News’ Megan Kelly’s question: “On the subject of Iraq, knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” With “I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody.” (In her 2014 book Hard Choices, Clinton addressed the topic like this: “I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple.”)
  • Tuesday, he told Sean Hannity that he had misinterpreted Kelly’s question, but still avoided answering: “I don’t know what that decision would have been, that’s a hypothetical. But the simple fact is that mistakes were made.”
  • Wednesday, at a town hall meeting in Nevada, he defended Tuesday’s non-answer, citing the feelings of the families of the soldiers who died in Iraq: “Going back in time and talking about hypothetical, ‘what would have happened, what could have happened,’ I think does a disservice for them.”
  • Thursday in Arizona, he finally gave the opposite of Monday’s answer: “Knowing what we now know, what would you have done? I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.”

While this clumsy performance does raise doubts about Bush’s ability to run a smooth campaign — how could have he not have foreseen that question and prepared a better answer? — it was just a bad week, and he has a lot of weeks to get back on track before any votes are cast. But Jeb’s Iraq misfortunes underline a larger handicap for Republicans in general in Jeb in particular: In response to the horrible shape President Bush left the country in — and the corresponding electoral disaster of 2008 — the Republican Party still has not developed any better strategy than pretending George W. Bush never existed.

For comparison, Bill Clinton came back from his impeachment to be one of the most valued campaigners in the Democratic Party, with prime-time speaking slots at every Democratic Convention since he left office. (Bill has in fact spoken at every convention since he gave a widely-panned nomination speech for Mike Dukakis in 1988. I wonder if seven in a row is a record.) But W has been a no-show at Republican conventions, and his political appearances in general have been limited to closed-door fund-raisers in front of audiences known to be friendly. As for the other major players in his administration: Dick Cheney was not even in the country during the 2012 GOP convention, where the only speaker with a major Bush-administration role was Condoleeza Rice, who Romney’s people needed for racial and gender diversity.

During this time that they’ve kept W himself locked in the basement, though, Republicans have never rejected his policies or philosophy. Again, compare to the Democrats: Bill Clinton’s centrist “New Democrats” turned away from classic liberalism after bad losses in 1980, 1984, and 1988; and recent Democrats have changed their minds about specific Clinton administration policies while continuing to cite the successes — relative peace, low inflation, low unemployment, and budget surpluses — of the Clinton era in general. For example, many Democrats cheered when the Supreme Court rejected the Defense of Marriage Act, and Hillary’s recent speech against “mass incarceration” implicitly rejected Bill’s 1994 crime bill.

But in spite of all the “revolutionary” noise the Tea Party has made since Bush left office, their candidates’ proposals (with the exception of Rand Paul’s isolationism and several candidates’ anti-immigrant positions) are to do more of what Bush did: cut taxes on the rich, cut regulations on corporations and the big banks, boost fossil fuel production, deny global warming, hold the line against gay rights, keep chipping at abortion rights, and don’t shy away from new wars in the Middle East.

You can’t ask for forgiveness if you won’t repent, so Republicans’ only option is to keep pushing out of mind the mess left behind the last time a president implemented these policies.

Like all people trying to forget a traumatic past, Republicans are full of impatience and even anger when Democrats bring it up: Why can’t Obama stand on his own record rather than keep blaming things on the disaster he inherited from his predecessor? The rare occasions when they speak the forbidden name usually are coupled with some major memory lapse, as when Rudy Giuliani edited 9/11 out of history: “We had no domestic attacks under Bush.”

I’m reminded of a quote in Patrick Smith’s Somebody Else’s Century, from a Chinese man reflecting on the horrors of the Cultural Revolution: “The official forgetting we are supposed to do will not produce the desired result. [Eventually] people forget why they are supposed to forget, and then they start to remember.”

It’s still too soon for Republicans to remember the Bush administration, because the American people still haven’t forgotten why we’re supposed to forget. So any successful 2016 Republican general-election campaign will have to continue making the Bush/Cheney years disappear. And, as we saw this week, the candidate least likely to pull off that trick is Jeb Bush.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Two posts demanded to be written this week, which pushes my Bernie Sanders article off another week.

In the first, I identify the problem that was really at the root of Jeb Bush’s bad week: Republicans have never come up with a better response to the disaster of his brother’s administration than to pretend George W. Bush was never president. They won’t defend W and they won’t denounce him. They haven’t changed their philosophy to explain why he was wrong. So his name can never be mentioned. That denial is why they get angry whenever Democrats bring him up: When is Obama going to stop blaming other people for his problems?

The one candidate who can’t use this strategy is Jeb Bush. So what’s he going to do? I discuss that question in “2016’s Mission Impossible: Support Jeb While Forgetting George”. It should be out around 8 EDT or so.

In the second article, I decided the misinformation Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee are spreading about a possible gay-marriage decision by the Supreme Court needs some kind of response. Under the guise of respecting the Constitution, Carson and Huckabee are just flat-out lying about our system of government. That kind of propaganda has results that linger beyond the immediate issue, so I wrote “Civics for Dummies: Judicial Review”. Expect it about ten.

That doesn’t leave much room for a weekly summary, but I do have to say a few things about the death penalty and why we shouldn’t identify the enemy as “radical Islam”. And Texas Senate Republicans tweeted a very revealing image about religious freedom. I’m still looking for a good closing, so I’m not sure when it will be out.

Sure Signs

The complete lack of evidence is the surest sign that the conspiracy is working.

— Anonymous (or maybe they just don’t want us to know who said it)

This week’s featured post is “Rating This Week’s Craziness“. It introduces the Weekly Sift’s Crazy Scale, for rating the relative danger posed by the sheer insanity of stories and events that need more than just a debunking.

If you’re wondering what I was up to last week when I didn’t put out a Sift. I was telling a Unitarian Universalist congregation how Universalism provides a religious unification of a bunch of positions that often get dismissed as “politically correct”.

This week everybody was talking about crazy stuff

In addition to the stuff that made it into the featured article, this NYT cartoon summarized a bunch of other crazy-sounding things that are really happening:

and Baltimore

The riots are over and the National Guard is packing up, but Baltimore gave rise to a lot of interesting public discussion (as well as a lot of complete crap).

For one thing, who knew street gangs were this articulate?

The NYT Magazine‘s “Our Demand is Simple: Stop Killing Us” is well worth your time. So is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Clock Didn’t Start With the Riots“, which makes this excellent point:

I read the governor in the New York Times today and he was saying in the paper that—you know, because it’s going to be a big day tomorrow—he was saying “violence will not be tolerated.” And I thought about that as a young man who’s from West Baltimore and grew up in West Baltimore and I thought about how violence was tolerated for all of my life here in West Baltimore. …

I don’t want to come off as if I’m sympathizing or saying that it is necessarily okay, to inflict violence just out of anger, no matter how legitimate that anger is. But I have a problem when you begin the clock with the violence on Tuesday. Because the fact of the matter is that the lives of black people in this city, the lives of black people in this country have been violent for a long time.

There’s a similar problem with all those columns about how street violence is the wrong way to make the point that police violence against already-subdued black men has got to stop. If we call for communities like Baltimore and Ferguson to quiet down, that’s got to be coupled with a commitment to start listening when they speak in softer voices. Otherwise we’re just saying: “Pipe down to make it easier for me to ignore you.”

Larry Wilmore makes this point humorously but effectively in his “Justice for Tamir Rice” piece. Tamar Rice is the 12-year-old who was playing with a toy gun in a public park near his home, when Cleveland police rolled up and killed him within seconds, all of which was captured on video. Cleveland has been peacefully waiting for some kind of resolution in this case for five months. With a Comedy Central lawyer standing over his shoulder to make sure he doesn’t actually call for violence, Wilmore observes that non-confrontation isn’t getting anything done.

There’s a self-fulfilling pattern here: If violence is the only kind of speech you’ll pay attention to, then sooner or later you’ll get violence.

Finally, there are all the white pundits saying or writing something along the lines of: We elected Obama to make race relations better, and they’ve gotten worse. Elspeth Reeve answers that point in The New Republic with “The White Man’s Bargain“. She starts with an NYT report quoting Republican strategist Rick Wilson:

A number of people “crafted this tacit bargain in their heads,” he said, speaking of Mr. Obama’s election. “This is going to be the end of the ugly parts of racial division in American.”

Reeve then raises this question about the “tacit bargain”:

What is being exchanged? Wilson is probably not saying people thought police would stop killing unarmed black kids because Obama was elected. Perhaps instead he is saying people thought black people would stop getting so mad when it happened. What he means is that people (and, let’s say this right here: white people) are eager to pay off the whole legacy-of-slavery-and-systemic-racism tab, to finally settle up and not have to think about social justice anymore. Wasn’t making a black guy president enough?

She goes through the long history of whites making imaginary bargains, which goes all the way back to slavery. She concludes:

What tacit bargainers have always been asking is: Isn’t there something else we can substitute for true equality? The answer is no.

and new presidential candidates

The big political news since the last Sift is that Bernie Sanders is running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. So Hillary won’t simply be coronated, and somebody will make the case for real liberalism in this cycle.

I’m trying not to make the Sift all-2016 all-the-time, so I won’t get to Bernie’s announcement speech until next week. My snap reaction is that everybody left of Hillary should be happy that the primary campaign will keep her from drifting too far right. Beyond that, I need to decide how far my enthusiasm for Bernie should go: Will I vote for him in the New Hampshire primary? If do, is that because I’m making a statement or because I want him to get the nomination? If he did get nominated, would he stand a chance in the general election against, say, Jeb Bush or Scott Walker? Give me another week to think it through.

On the Republican side, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Mike Huckabee all joined the race, which is getting unusually crowded. Rick Santorum announced a date for his announcement: May 27. (I don’t know why he hadn’t previously announced that he was going to announce the date of his announcement. It just came totally out of the blue.)

Again, it will take some time for me to add these candidates to my 2016 speech series. I do have a snap reaction to Carson: I’m not sure he understands his role in the Republican Party, which is to provide cover against accusations of racism, as Herman Cain did in 2012. White audiences can cheer Carson’s aggressive and disrespectful criticisms of President Obama without worrying about being called racists.

But as Obama starts to fade from the scene, that role becomes less important. If Carson wants to stay relevant, he’ll have to move on to providing cover for more general I’m-not-a-racist-but criticisms of the black community. His path forward is to say things about Baltimore that are more extreme than a white candidate can get away with. I’m not sure he realizes he signed up for that.

Fiorina, meanwhile, is well set up to provide the same service for sexist Republicans who need to trash Hillary. She could easily wind up with the VP nomination.


The religious right has Huckabee, Santorum, and Cruz to choose from. But in view of the bad advice God has given his family in the past, it’s Jeb Bush who should be pushed to spell out exactly what role God will play in his administration.

and you also might be interested in …

We’re about six weeks from a Supreme Court decision on King v. Burwell, the suit that might make ObamaCare subsidies illegal in about half the country. Congressional Republicans have written in the WaPo “Republicans have a plan to create a bridge away from Obamacare” so that millions of people would not instantly lose health insurance.

Unfortunately, only one relatively unimportant committee in the Senate and none in the House have held any public hearings about this plan. As for assembling a coalition in the House to pass it — the kind of thing John Boehner has not been particularly good at — there seems to be no motion at all. HuffPost’s Jonathan Cohn says what I’ve been thinking:

the absence of a public effort to match the public rhetoric matters only if Republicans are actually serious about passing a plan. They may not be. Their real goals may be purely cosmetic — to insulate the party from a political backlash should millions of people suddenly lose health insurance and, more immediately, to ease the anxiety of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, either of whom might hesitate to issue a ruling with such potentially devastating consequences to so many people.


Two weeks ago, I told you about a poll that showed how sensitive opinions on abortion are to how the question is phrased. (You get a more pro-life response if you phrase the question in terms of abstract right-and-wrong, and a more pro-choice response if you phrase it in terms of women’s rights.) Wednesday, the NYT’s Upshot blog described how poll results about abortion get less polarized as the questions focus on specific cases: Many people who say that abortion should be “illegal in all cases” will nonetheless say it should be legal if the mother will die. Conversely, many people who say it should be “legal in all cases” still think it should be illegal to abort a healthy fetus ready to be born.

That’s the extreme edge of a more general phenomenon: People who think they are diametrically opposed to each other on abortion often agree on a lot of specific cases. Apparently, much of the polarization centers on what comes to mind when you hear the word abortion. Do you think of a promiscuous woman who couldn’t be bothered to use birth control, and now wants to get rid of a problem-free pregnancy rather than offer a healthy baby to a couple who would give it a good life? Or do you think of woman carrying a child for her rapist, or facing serious health issues?

I think the winning choice-leaning argument goes something like this: Every woman, every family, and every pregnancy is different, so ideally the decision to carry a fetus to term would be made by the people involved, and not by a legislature or a court or a bureaucrat. But the decision to abort becomes more morally weighty the longer the fetus develops, so the law should push women to decide promptly, and demand higher levels of justification for later-term abortions.

Sweden seems to have it about right, in my opinion:

The current legislation is the Abortion Act of 1974 (SFS 1974:595). This states that up until the end of the eighteenth week of the pregnancy the choice of an abortion is entirely up to the woman, for any reason whatsoever. After the 18th a woman needs a permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) to have an abortion. Permission for these late abortions is usually granted for cases in which the fetus or mother are unhealthy. Abortion is not allowed if the fetus is viable, which generally means that abortions after the 22nd week are not allowed. However, abortions after the 22nd week may be allowed in the rare cases where the fetus can not survive outside the womb even if it is carried to term.

Wikipedia adds:

The issue is largely settled in Sweden and the question of the legality of abortion is not a highly controversial political issue. … Consensus in Sweden is in favour of preventing unwanted pregnancies by the use of birth control and the primary goal is not to lower the amount of abortions, but rather the goal is that all children that are born should be wanted.


In the Republican-controlled Congress, climate-change denial is a two-step dance:

  1. Claim that the science isn’t settled yet, so more research is necessary before we take any action.
  2. Defund that research.

and let’s close with something fantastic

like Key & Peele’s musical trip to Negrotown, where you can wear your hoodie and not get shot.

Rating This Week’s Craziness

What should we do when debunking just isn’t enough?


Sometimes inaccurate news stories or false factoids get widely distributed and need to be corrected, like “Obama was born in Kenya” or “Saddam was behind 9-11.” Other times, claims about economics or history need correcting, like “Tax cuts raise revenue.” or “The Civil War wasn’t about slavery.” Debunking such popular misconceptions may not get the attention it deserves in the national media, but it does get covered if you know where to look: Snopes.com specializes in it, newspapers have fact-checking columns, and some news-and-opinion TV shows include regular features like Rachel Maddow’s “Debunction Junction” or Lawrence O’Donnell’s “Rewrite”.

But then there’s stuff that isn’t just wrong, it’s crazy, like the myths about  FEMA concentration camps a few years ago. Debunking the alleged “facts” just doesn’t seem adequate, because people who assess things rationally … well, they wouldn’t have believed the story to begin with, would they? For a story like that, the question that needs an answer isn’t “Is X true?”, but “Are there are really people out there crazy enough to believe X?”

And if there are, what should we do about them? If you’ve ever met such a person and tried to argue, no mere fact-checking column can help you, because the storehouse of pseudo-facts that support the crazy idea is bigger than you can possibly imagine. Each of those then needs its own debunking, and the whole thing goes fractal in a hurry.

So when crazy things ricochet around on my Facebook news feed, it’s often hard to decide what level of attention they deserve. It’s tempting not to take them seriously, but if all the sensible people do that, maybe the insanity will metastasize into delusions popular enough to have real influence on our political process, like the ObamaCare death panels. Maybe by ignoring them, I allow irresponsible politicians to dog-whistle; i.e., to say things that sound innocuous to the general public, but send another message entirely to the part of the population crazy enough to think they’re “in the know” about this. Worse yet, the wider these things spread, the more likely they are to reach the ears of some unstable person who will take violent action, like the guy police apprehended on his way to shoot up the Tides Foundation, a well-meaning organization that Glenn Beck thrust into the center of some big conspiracy theory.

On the other hand, maybe the whole point of craziness is to distract the public from discussing genuine issues, and if I respond I’m just playing along. Craziness has been running high lately — I’ll get into that below — and it’s probably not a coincidence that the news-for-rational-people has been very upsetting to the right-wing fringe lately: The protests in Baltimore — and the sporadic violence that spun out that situation — have emphasized that the police-killing-black-young-men issue is not going away; the black community is justifiably mad as hell and they’re not going to take it any more. The Supreme Court might be on the brink of recognizing marriage equality for gays and lesbians. There might be a peace agreement with Iran. And the second consecutive year of record temperatures makes global warming much harder to deny.

Given all that, how comforting it must be for extremists to create scenarios where the righteousness of their cause is obvious, like if Obama declares martial law in Texas and starts confiscating guns. Insane scenarios like this are the comfort food of far-right politics: They’re not going to happen, but imagining that they could underlines how important your movement must be — the Tyrant will have to bring down the Republic to try to stop us! — and lets you live in a heroic Red Dawn fantasy rather than in the real world, where you’re probably just an ignorant bigot.

With those considerations in mind, I’ve decided that — instead of fact-checking or satirizing —  craziness calls for something more along the lines of the Fire Danger scales you see in the national parks. Here’s the scale that makes sense to me:

  • Green. The only danger is to your blood pressure if you let yourself pay attention.
  • Blue. Laugh. You should probably have heard of this, but if it starts bothering you, let it go.
  • Yellow. Somebody you know probably takes this seriously, but it’s not going anywhere. Bookmark a debunking article, and if Cousin Bob tries to get you interested, invite him back into the sane world by sending him the link. (If he replies with a 10-page de-debunking, ignore him. Life is too short.)
  • Orange. This has the potential to get out of hand. It’s starting to infiltrate mainstream political discourse, and if the wrong people take it seriously, bad things could happen. Learn the key phrases that indicate someone is infected with this meme. When you hear them, you have a decision to make: Either quietly back away, or draw the topic into the foreground: “Are you really claiming …?” This is the level where it makes sense to start psycho-analyzing: What anxiety is really at the root of this?
  • Red. Bad things are already happening, and you hear the craziness from people who are not even crazy, they’re just poorly informed enough to be susceptible. You need to educate yourself and start actively inoculating the people you care about. Extra credit: Is there some way you can take action on the actual anxiety-causing issue?

Given that scale, let’s start evaluating the unusual run of craziness we’ve been having these last few weeks.

1. Jade Helm 15. Wikipedia describes Jade Helm 15 as “a planned United States military training exercise that is scheduled to take place over multiple states in the US from July 15 through September 15, 2015. It will involve U.S. Army Special Operations Command (SOC) with other U.S Armed Forces units in a multi-state exercise that includes Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.

But if you look at it through the eyes of paranoia … well, that’s what makes it such a great crazy theory: It’s hard to argue with because it’s hard for reasonable people to grasp exactly what the threat is supposed to be. Maybe it’s a dry run for the imposition of martial law, or maybe it’s not even a drill, it’s martial law itself, or something else that involves confiscating guns (and secret tunnels under abandoned WalMarts). Because if President Obama were about to launch a coup against his own government, the place he would absolutely have to get under control first is Bastrop, Texas. I mean, if the Red Dawn patriots are anywhere, everybody knows that’s where they’d be.

The New Republic‘s Brian Beutler supplies the needed psychological analysis:

There’s a good amount of mythical and self-important thinking going on here, but there is also a very real sense in which these conservatives conceive of themselves as beleaguered, bent over a barrel by the federal government, living every day at the breaking point. It helps explain why [Senator Ted] Cruz believed a missive about using the Second Amendment as an “ultimate check against government tyranny” would make for a winning fundraising pitch, and why South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (also running for president) had to remind him that armed insurrection didn’t work out so well for his state a while back.

But this reasoning collapses without a foil. The secessionist impulse can’t be attributable to the ebbs and flows of social policy alone. If we live our lives on the razor’s edge of rebellion, there must be an equally reactionary adversary somewhere in the middle distance threatening our autonomy. That’s what gives rise to a projection of the kind we’re seeing in Texas today. Without an enemy, real or imagined, threatening our autonomy, we’re not patriots. We’re merely zealots.

Rating: Yellow/orange. It’s tempting to call this one blue, because liberals have gotten a lot of laughs out of it. But numerous Republican officials have responded as if the upset members of their party’s base had a legitimate concern, so it has definitely crossed the line into the mainstream. We can only hope that no wackos are taking this so seriously that they start shooting at our troops this summer. That plan probably wouldn’t work out well for them.

2. Kids posing with the Confederate flag. This one is true: The craziness isn’t in believing the rumor, but in why anybody would do this to begin with. Apparently egged on by some of their parents, eight teens dressed for the prom at Chaparral High in Parker, Colorado took a few minutes to pose for this picture and upload it to the internet. (Media versions of the photo have blurred the teens’ faces to protect them from their own foolishness.)

Denver’s Fox31 quoted a University of Colorado-Denver history professor identifying the flag as “first the Tennessee flag and more importantly the army of Virginia’s battle flag” before becoming the symbol of the KKK after the Civil War.

One of the parents speculated that there was no racist intent involved, but that “in their immaturity they kind of think it’s a sort of a cowboy type of thing.” Other commenters have suggested admiration for a “Southern lifestyle” a la Duck Dynasty.

CNN’s debate between Marc LaMont Hill and Ben Ferguson is instructive. Ferguson (a white conservative) accepts that the kids were probably not trying to offend blacks, and sees this very lack of race-consciousness as a sign of progress.

It may not be race as much as you’re trying to make it into race. It could actually be that there are younger people in America today that are not obsessed about racial issues or being bigoted or racist as you’re implying there are.

And Hill (black) replies, “Yeah, they’re called white people.” His point is that the ability to live without consciousness of race is itself part of white privilege. Blacks are never able to forget that there is a racial divide, or to ignore the possibility that whites might read something offensive into what they do. (I’m trying to picture how this story would play in the media with the races reversed: black kids with guns surrounding a Black Panther or Nation of Islam banner. I find it hard to imagine that pundits would accept a claim of innocent intent or see it as a sign of racial progress.)

Rating: Green, but orange if you have any connection to Chaparral High: If kids are coming out of your school without understanding what that flag really means — particularly when surrounded by whites with guns — you’ve got a problem.

3. Christianity is in danger of being “criminalized”. As unbelievable as it might be to outsiders (who see the Religious Right throwing its weight around all over our society), conservative Christians honestly believe both that they are persecuted and that their persecution is about to take sudden turn towards something truly dark and tyrannical.

This bizarre notion has been around for many years. In 2005, Janet Fogler published The Criminalization of Christianity: Read this book before it becomes illegal! (If it has become illegal in the subsequent decade, no one has told Amazon.) She in turn attributed the phrase to a speech she heard in 1997: “The ultimate goal of the homosexual movement is the criminalization of Christianity.”

A number of Republican presidential candidates are dog whistling about this idea, as when Ted Cruz said “Religious liberty … has never been more in peril than it is right now.” But Mike Huckabee is explicitly making this looming criminalization one of the themes of his presidential campaign. In a conference call recorded by Right Wing Watch, Huckabee laid it out:

Christian convictions are under attack as never before. Not just in our lifetime, but ever before in the history of this great nation. We are moving rapidly towards the criminalization of Christianity, where it’s not simply going to be that a church’s tax-exempt status is threatened, but more importantly, where [there are] criminal charges for a person who defies the new government norm. … We would be in essence criminals for preaching the scriptural truth about holy marriage.

He justified this fear by citing “numerous cases” across the country of “chaplains in the military being told to put their Bibles away, no longer pray in Jesus name”. (Air Force Chaplain James Bradfield explains the origins of this canard: When soldiers have been ordered to attend a meeting, regulations say the invocation of that meeting — if any — should be non-sectarian. So it is inappropriate to pray in Jesus’s name, or in Allah’s or Buddha’s. In short, the regulation is against forced devotion, not devotion in general or Christian devotion in particular.)

To me, this a classic example of what I have elsewhere called privileged distress: as a favored group loses some of its privileges and is treated more like everyone else, its members imagine that they are being persecuted.

The sad thing is that Huckabee and his ilk are blind to the sense in which Christianity really is being criminalized — by Christians who believe their higher righteousness justifies them in ignoring the laws and Constitutional principles the rest of us have to live by. Scott Roeder, for example, criminalized Christianity when he killed abortionist Dr. George Tiller. Governor Jindal is criminalizing Christianity when he conspires to misappropriate public funds to promote his religious views in the Louisiana public schools. And Huckabee himself is advocating the criminalization of Christianity later in this same conference call, when he urges local government officials to defy court orders to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Rating: Red. Bad things are already happening. The proponents so-called “religious liberty” bills in the state legislatures often take as given that Christian belief and practice is in some kind of legal danger.

4. Obama is bringing on the Apocalypse. This story, in my opinion, got blown out of proportion. In an interview on a religious-right radio program, Michele Bachmann accused President Obama of helping Iran get nuclear weapons, which spins the world toward disaster. But then she segued into a common Christian belief: that the worse things get, the closer we are to the Second Coming.

To my mind, this is comparable to a point Communists often make: that the worse things get, the closer we are to the Revolution. And Bachmann never completely boiled it down to “Obama is causing the Apocalypse”, as you might assume from the headlines.

I find another clip from this interview more interesting, because it illustrates how the conservative mind uses theories of dark magic to deal with the cognitive dissonance caused by the increasing evidence for climate change: Since President Obama has “in effect, declared war on Israel”, he has invoked the curse in Genesis 12:3 against the United States. The interviewer (Jan Markell) sums up the consequences: “As we speak, they’re severe, from economic issues to some of the weather-related issues: drought on the west coast, unparalleled, unprecedented snowstorms on the east coast.” And Bachmann responds: “It’s my opinion that that is only the very threshold or down payment.”

Rating: Green.

5. Two guys die trying to shoot their way into a Muhammad cartoon contest. Like #2, this one really happened. The American Freedom Defense Initiative — an anti-Muslim group whose president is Pamela Geller — attempted to recreate the Charlie Hebdo situation in Garland, Texas.

They succeeded. Two extremely foolish Muslim extremists took the bait and wounded a security guard. They were gunned down by police and died.

The incident reminds me of high school, where a big guy might start talking trash about a little guy’s Mom or girl friend, hoping he’ll attack and provide an excuse to beat the crap out of him. Yeah, the little guy is wrong to react, but that doesn’t make me root for the big guy either. Larry Wilmore nailed it:

Make no mistake, it is absolutely, unequivocally wrong to shoot people who do things that offend you, but two things can be wrong at the exact same time. Even if Pamela Geller’s argument about free speech is valid, she can still be a dick.

If somebody has a real point they’re trying to make, and if the best way to get that point across is through a cartoon with Muhammad in it, I totally support the right to draw that cartoon no matter how many Muslims it incidentally pisses off. But if pissing off those Muslims is the whole point, I still agree in a legal sense, but my sympathy is limited.

I know it’s Bill Maher’s job to make the New Rules, but here’s one I’d like to propose: If you portray AFDI as innocent victims, you are absolutely forbidden ever to claim that any victim of any crime was “asking for it”. If supermodels want to walk down inner-city sidewalks by themselves at 3 a.m., naked but for solid-gold jewelry, they’re just exercising their right to free expression.

Rating: Red. Craziness really starts to take off when you can provoke a crazy response from the opposite fringe. Eventually you can get into the center-destroying cycle of reprisals I described a decade ago in Terrorist Strategy 101.

6. Obama is promoting a race war so he can cancel the elections. World Net Daily is the New York Times of conspiracy theorists. On its site you can find columnists like Erik Rush, who will “connect the dots” and explain to you what this Baltimore nonsense is really about.

The common denominator, as we have seen illustrated above, in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore, in the White House and across America: Marxists and militant Muslims working together in a coordinated effort to precipitate circumstances that will eventually “necessitate” the imposition of martial law. …

The operatives in Baltimore are but one contingent of Obama’s Revolutionary Army; illegal immigration and amnesty activists are another, as are various other entitled and protected class groups the political left has cultivated over many years. Effective manipulation of these demographics will be integral in determining whether or not he can successfully turn us all against one another at the appointed time.

Another WND columnist, Morgan Brittany, says “I completely agree” with that Rush column, and elaborates:

I don’t think the chaos in Baltimore “just happened”; I think it was planned and is the next step in the breakdown of our society.

Another piece of the plan is the “over-charging” of the officers who killed Freddy Gray, because when they are inevitably acquitted, Obama’s Marxist/Muslim allies can incite similar riots across the country.

If the verdict is not what they want, perhaps Obama will have to institute martial law to preserve order, form a national police force and postpone the 2016 elections.

Michael Savage knows who will be in that national police force: Obama’s about to “deputize” the Crips and Bloods to “keep order on the streets”.

You’re going to see more race war right up until the Labor Day of 2016 for an obvious reason. … they’re going to take the street garbage and they’re going to take the illegal immigrants and they’re going to warp the entire election.

Rating: Blue. But only because everything from Savage or WND rates as Blue until it gets picked up elsewhere; I’ll upgrade this bit of craziness to Yellow as soon as I see it on Fox.

The Obama-planned-Baltimore theory has potential. If you take as an axiom that white racism in America is ancient history, then these repeated unnecessary police killings of black men and the deep anger they evoke in the black community are profound mysteries. What better explanation could you find?

The Monday Morning Teaser

I’m back from my break to go on a one-stop speaking tour, and it’s been an eventful couple of weeks. Unfortunately, a lot of what has been buzzing around the media has been articles that usually get bookmarked in my Crazy folder, the kind of stories where my first reaction isn’t “What happened?” but “Somebody really did that?”

So yes, residents of Bastrop, Texas (pop. 7,218) really did grill a U.S.  lieutenant colonel about whether he was planning a military takeover of their town, complete with gun confiscation. (When he said no, they didn’t believe him.) Kids on their way to a prom in Colorado really did stop to pose for pictures with guns and a Confederate flag. Anti-Muslim extremists in the U.S. really did hold a Muhammad cartoon contest, and two gun-wielding Muslims really did fall for that bait and get themselves killed.

I’ve often puzzled over how the Sift should respond to such stuff — sometimes the incident or rumor has already gotten too much attention, so covering it just makes it worse — and so this week I’m trying something new: I’m introducing my Crazy Scale, based on the color-coded fire-danger scale you see in the national parks. It’s for stories where the question you really need answered is: “How concerned should I be?” In other words: Can you safely ignore this bit of craziness? Can you laugh and move on? Or does it deserve more of your attention than that?

That’s the featured article this week. It’s almost done, and should be out before 8 EDT. In the weekly summary, we’ve got a bunch of new presidential candidates, including Bernie Sanders, who will get a longer article next week. (In general, I’m trying not to make the Sift all-2016, all-the-time. So I’ll get around to Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina in my own good time, and Mike Huckabee already shows up in the crazy-scale article.) A lot of interesting discussion came out of the Baltimore riot. There’s more about the complexity of public opinion on abortion. And we’ll close with a musical trip to Negrotown, guided by Key & Peele. I’m aiming to have that out around 11.

 

The Horror

Cruz, Paul and Rubio, all running for President. Hey, I thought I was supposed to write the horror stories.

Stephen King

This week’s featured post is “The New Clinton Allegations: Fog or Smoke?

No Sift next week

I’ve learned I don’t have it in me to do a Sift on Monday if I’ve led a church service on Sunday. Next Sunday I’ll be at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois (my hometown), talking about “Universalism, Politics, and Evil”. The text of that talk will eventually show up on my religious blog, Free and Responsible Search.

This week everybody was talking about the environment

It was Earth Day, after all, which is a good time to consider how we’re doing. It’s a mixed bag. The disaster scenarios where the average global temperature goes up by 4 degrees or more are still out there. But — in spite of just finishing the hottest March ever — some observers are starting to see evidence of a turn-around.

The best news is the rapid growth of solar and wind energy. They still produce a tiny amount of the world’s power or the United States’ power, but the trend lines look really good. Coupled with the fact that electricity usage in the U.S. has been flat since the popping of the real estate bubble in 2008 — a mixed blessing, because slow economic growth is part of that story — we see charts like his one, in which the U.S.’s non-sustainable power production (in green) has been trending down. (Notice, though, that the vertical scale doesn’t go to zero, so the percentage of solar and wind looks bigger than it actually is.)

TPM is in the middle of a five-part series about these trends, called “The Renewables“. It calls attention to the fact that many of our worst carbon-producers — coal-fired power plants — are wearing out. The wind-and-solar uptick isn’t Mitch McConnell’s imaginary “war on coal”, it’s just the ordinary replacement cycle, where worn-out plants cycle off and the cheapest and most efficient sources are used for new production.

Informed Comment goes out on a speculative limb with this prediction:

future historians may look back on 2015 as the year that the renewable energy ascendancy began, the moment when the world started to move decisively away from its reliance on fossil fuels.


Climate Denial 2.0, as presented by Jeb Bush: Yes, we’re causing global warming, but all we should do about it is keep fracking.

The essence of the position is that curbing carbon emissions involves wrecking the economy, which demonstrates a common fallacy about long-term externalities: If what we’re doing is headed towards a long-term disaster, then it’s not economical. If your economic calculations don’t show that, then you’ve left something out. It’s like saying you can’t afford to change the oil in your car or fix the leak in your house’s roof.

Just to give one example: Humanity has a lot invested in our coastal cities. As sea levels rise, we’ll either have to move those cities or build expensive floodwalls around them (and deal with the costs of disasters that breach those walls, as happened in New Orleans). A truly accurate economic calculation would attach some of those costs to each unit of fossil fuel we burn. If we made those kinds of calculations, we might find that fossil fuels are a very expensive way to get energy.

Another example: the California drought. What if climate change ultimately makes large-scale agriculture infeasible in California, which currently has a bigger farming industry than any other state? What’s the economic cost of that? Where does that figure in Bush’s understanding of what is or isn’t economical?

Still, the upside of Denial 2.0 is the recognition that flat-out denial — the conspiracy of liberal scientists theory — isn’t working any more.


What’s the “greenest” way to read a book, the one that puts the least pressure on the environment? Get it from the library, Grist says. Obviously, if you already have some device that lets you read e-books, downloading and reading additional books on it is greener than buying printed books. In terms of carbon footprint, the break-even point of a dedicated e-book reader vs. printed books that you keep in your personal library (rather than spread the environmental impact by passing them on to other people) is about 20-25 books.

The article leaves out an environmental advantage that I see in my life: The space I save by not storing all those books is one important factor that allows me to stay in an apartment within walking distance of the library. Otherwise I might need a house, with all the environmental costs that involves.


Public transportation has to be part of the conservation picture, but even in big cities there’s a last-mile problem (or maybe a last-few-miles problem): How do you get to public transit, or to where you want to go from where public transit leaves you? With that in mind Slate‘s Seth Stevenson surveyed the current range of motorized devices that you might reasonably carry onto a crowded subway car. He finds a couple of foldable motorized scooters to be both fun and practical.

A little less practical — because it’s so hard to learn — is the Solowheel, which a Grist reporter describes as what you’d get if “a unicycle had sex with a Segway”. It may not be “the future of urban transportation”, but it sure looks fun for the people who master it. You just have to see it.

and a trade deal

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a 12-nation trade agreement that doesn’t exist in final form yet, though apparently there is a secret draft.  So in spite of the headlines you might be seeing, nobody is being asked to ratify the agreement just yet.

The current issue is whether the Obama administration will get “fast track authority” for the final round of negotiations. This is something past presidents have had for trade agreements like NAFTA. It means that when the treaty is complete, the Senate will have a simple yes-or-no ratification vote and won’t be able to demand changes. Multi-nation trade deals are almost impossible to negotiate if other nations don’t believe we are agreeing to the final text, so not granting such authority virtually kills U.S. participation in the treaty.

Unlike most issues, this isn’t a Democrat vs. Republican thing. Republicans like lowering tariff barriers, and aren’t usually disturbed by the idea that our government might be signing away its ability to regulate multinational corporations. Instead, this battle is between President Obama and Democrats like Elizabeth Warren.

I like to agree with both of those people — Warren somewhat more often than Obama — and the issues involved are complicated, so I’m not going to take a side until I’ve done more research. To get the flavor of the dispute: here’s Warren’s WaPo op-ed from February, and President Obama’s radio address promoting the TPP.

and drones

Thursday, President Obama acknowledged that a drone strike in January against an Al Qaeda compound near the Afghan-Pakistan border unintentionally killed two western hostages, one American and one Italian. In a separate strike, an American citizen believed to be working with Al Qaeda was killed. From the NYT:

Micah Zenko, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations and lead author of a 2013 study of drones, said the president’s statement “highlights what we’ve sort of known: that most individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the government does not know their names.”

Mr. Zenko noted that with the new disclosures, a total of eight Americans have been killed in drone strikes. Of those, only one, the American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who joined Al Qaeda in Yemen and was killed in 2011, was identified and deliberately targeted. The rest were killed in strikes aimed at other militants, or in so-called signature strikes based on indications that people on the ground were likely with Al Qaeda or allied militant groups.

The incident called attention to the intentional blindness the American public has maintained regarding warfare: As long as our troops aren’t being killed in some country, we pretend we’re not at war there. But a drone strike is an act of war. We’re at war in Pakistan and Yemen and Syria and several other countries.

And I’m sure Obama’s apology to the families of the two hostages has rankled people in those war-torn countries. How many innocent civilians have we killed with drones, but their families didn’t get presidential apologies because they weren’t Americans or Europeans?

and money in our presidential politics

The featured article “The New Clinton Allegations: Smoke or Fog?” focuses on the charges that there was some kind of corruption involving the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s decisions as Secretary of State. But this is also a good time to take a look back at the “vast right-wing conspiracy” against Bill Clinton, which turned out to really exist.


 

We have a result in the Koch Primary: Scott Walker wins. Or at least that was the initial indication; apparently a recount is happening. And recent polls say that Marco Rubio is leading in the Adelson Primary., while other billionaires are backing Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum. If the billionaires can’t find consensus soon, eventually the Republican Party might have to consult some voters.


Included in NRA President Wayne LaPierre’s denunciation of Hillary Clinton was the line “Eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough.” Because 43 consecutive white male presidents didn’t symbolize anything. If in 2007 some black girl looked at a row of presidential portraits and saw 43 white men, she shouldn’t have read anything into that at all.

That’s privilege in a nutshell: When the privileged group runs things, that’s just normal; it means nothing and is not worth talking about. So when President Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court, the headlines were all about the first female justice. But when President Ford appointed the previous justice (John Paul Stevens), nobody remarked on symbolic significance of the 101st consecutive male.


Over at the conservative Weekly Standard, Jay Cost is asking “So What About Money in Politics?” He spends the first half of the article establishing his conservative bona fides: trashing the Clintons, denouncing “identity politics”, accusing liberals of hypocrisy, and making the ridiculous claim that “complaints about Citizens United itself are mostly a red herring”. But ignore that part: It’s ideological boilerplate, similar to the way that Soviet research articles all had to start with a paragraph about how this wonderful breakthrough would have been impossible without the genius of Marx, Lenin, and whoever the current leader happened to be.

Keep reading, because eventually Cost gets around to saying something important:

[Y]ou can’t beat something with nothing. Where is the anti-corruption agenda of the right? Where are the counterparts to the good-government organizations spearheaded by Ralph Nader? Other than the Center for Competitive Politics, helmed by former Federal Election Commission chairman Bradley Smith, and Take Back Our Republic, a new organization founded by those who helped Dave Brat take down Eric Cantor last year, one is hardpressed to think of conservative entities promoting a vision of good government. Conservatives have spent enormous intellectual capital on issues like education, health care, and taxes—but what about corruption? When Democratic pols rail against Citizens United, what reforms can Republicans counter with?

None. And if you want to know why, just look at the Republican presidential nomination process, where everyone is competing to curry favor with the Kochs, Sheldon Adelson, and a handful of other billionaires. This is how the perfectly legal corruption of our political system happens: not through quid-pro-quo deals (where you make a donation and then the Justice Department to drops your antitrust case or something), but through control of the agenda. You can’t get elected without going to the billionaires, and you just can’t tell them that they already have too much power, even if most voters agree with you.

and you also might be interested in …

Fascinating article over at ThinkProgress about a poll Tresa Undem did for Vox about abortion. Polls typically ask people to choose among abstract legal question like: “Abortion should be legal in almost all cases; abortion should be legal in most cases; abortion should be illegal in most cases; or abortion should be illegal in all cases.”

Undem split her sample in two, gave half the usual list of options, and gave the other half the same options rephrased in terms of women’s rights: “Women should have a legal right to a safe and accessible abortion in almost all cases. … Women should not have a legal right to any kind of abortion.”

That simple change made a big difference in the results. The most pro-choice option went from 27% to 38%, while the most pro-life option went from 16% to 11%. The poll goes on to ask more detailed questions, phrasing them to draw the respondent into a woman’s experience rather than picture himself/herself as an abstract rule-maker. The answers show large majorities (70% or so) consistently supporting the idea that once a woman has decided to have an abortion, she shouldn’t be harassed about it or made to jump through unnecessary hoops.

Here’s an example I found striking: “Would you want a woman who has had an abortion to feel shame, or not?” The responses split 67%-26% against shame. I’ll bet if you wrote the woman out of the question — “Is an abortion something to be ashamed of?” — you’d get a different split.


Another interesting result from the same poll: Asking “Do you consider yourself a feminist or not?” gets a resounding No (52%-18%). But asking half the respondents “Do you believe in social, legal, and economic equality of the sexes?” gets a Yes (78%-6%), and asking the other half “Do you believe in equality for women?” garners even more approval (85%-3%).

So apparently more than half the population believes feminism means something else.


Also at Vox, this brilliant visualization of the gradual polarization of Congress. Maybe I’m biased, this doesn’t look to me like a symmetric process; it looks like a red dot solidifies, pulls away from the mass, and then grows.


Sometimes I think I’m getting an exaggerated notion of the shear craziness that’s out there, and then I read a direct quote like this one from former House majority leader Tom Delay:

I think we got off the track when we allowed our government to become a secular government. When we stopped realizing that God created this nation, that he wrote the Constitution, that it’s based on biblical principles.

I would love to know when Delay thinks “we allowed our government to become a secular government”. In actual history, the Founders very intentionally created a secular government by writing the Constitution. The Constitution was virtually unique among the political documents of its day because it didn’t invoke God.


It’s hard to do a better takedown of Bobby Jindal’s NYT op-ed “I’m Holding Firm Against Gay Marriage” than the Human Rights Campaign’s red-pencil markup, which begins by editing the title to: “I’m Losing the Fight Against Marriage Equality”.


A win in the struggle against monopoly: The Comcast merger with Time Warner Cable seems to be off.


Recent stories from Missouri point out that we still have a long way to go on race:

  • Tyrus Byrd will be Parma’s first black mayor and first female mayor, after winning the election 122-84 in a town with 700 residents. Within a week, five of the town’s six police officers had resigned, along with the city attorney, the clerk, and the manager of the water department.
  • A day after a memorial tree for Michael Brown was planted in a Ferguson park, it was cut down by vandals. (And later replaced.)

I’m not sure whether the vandalism counts as a hate crime under the law, but it certainly illustrates the concept of a hate crime: This was not just a crime against a tree or a park; it was an attempt to demoralize Ferguson’s black community and to remind them of their inferior and vulnerable status. It deserves a more serious punishment than ordinary vandalism.


Amy Schumer’s parody of Friday Night Lights connects some dots about the football culture and rape. As the coach says:

How do I get through to you boys that football isn’t about rape? It’s about violently dominating anyone that stands between you and what you want!


It’s not what you do, it’s who you are. Give classified information to unauthorized people, then lie to the FBI about it, and you’ll go to jail. Unless you’re a general, of course.

and let’s close with something fun

like what toddlers are doing when you’re not looking.

The New Clinton Allegations: Fog or Smoke?

This week the pre-publication publicity for the book Clinton Cash began, and at least one of the claims it makes — that a State Department decision made while Hillary Clinton was Secretary might have been influenced by large contributions to the Clinton Foundation — was picked up by the New York Times. And that raised the question: Is this the kind of fog routinely pumped out by political operations to raise an opponent’s FUD factor, or is this smoke that indicates some kind of fire?

Political cartoonists saw it both ways.

and

Which way is right? If we’re just talking about Clinton Cash, the answer seems clear: It’s a political attack that you shouldn’t take too seriously. But the NYT is harder to write off.

Clinton Cash. The author, Peter Schweizer, is a former Bush speechwriter and the coauthor of Bobby Jindal’s autobiography. He has a history of making sensational claims that don’t pan out. [1] And he doesn’t even claim to have solid evidence of any wrong-doing on the part of either Bill or Hillary Clinton. As ThinkProgress summarizes:

Schweizer makes clear that he does not intend to present a smoking gun, despite the media speculation. The book relies heavily on timing, stitching together the dates of donations to the Clinton Foundation and Bill Clinton’s speaking fees with actions by the State Department.

Even if nothing is wrong, suspicious timing is an easy case to make, because the apex of the power-and-money pyramid is a small world. The kind of people who have money to give to foundations and/or political campaigns are also the kind of people that government regulations are trying to control. So if you cast your net wide enough, you will inevitably find sequences where a gift of some sort is followed by a favorable decision of some sort. The question is whether the two are related. This situation has come up so frequently for so long that both possibilities have Latin names. If they are related, it’s quid pro quo. If they’re not but you assume they are, it’s the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

And whether it is involved in anything nefarious or not, the Clinton Foundation was always going to be a conservative target. The Clintons can rightfully be proud of the good work done by the Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, so Republicans would naturally want to make those political assets unusable. That strategy goes back to Karl Rove: Try to turn your opponents strengths into weaknesses. (Example: the swiftboat attack on John Kerry’s military record.)

So although long-time Clinton-haters will want to distribute Schweizer’s book to all their friends, if you’re a Clinton supporter wondering if you should reconsider, or an uncommitted voter considering Hillary as a possible president, Clinton Cash by itself should not figure in your calculations. This kind of book was bound to be written whether there’s any genuine issue or not.

But the NYT deserves more attention.

The uranium company. The Times looks at one example from Schweizer’s book, concerning a Canadian uranium-mining company that owned properties in both Kazakhstan and the United States. It’s a complicated story that takes place over many years: The Canadian company UrAsia Energy, which was run by a friend of Bill Clinton and a long-time Clinton Foundation supporter, bought mines in Kazakhstan, merged with the South African company Uranium One, and then was bought out by the Russian national mining company Rosatom. The final transaction required the approval of several government agencies in Canada, the U.S., and probably some other countries. One of the needed U.S. approvals came from the State Department, while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. All through this period, the Clinton friend was giving large contributions to the Clinton Foundation, and many of his executives and business partners were as well, for a total in the millions of dollars. (See the timeline.)

And there’s another entanglement:

And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.

None of this in itself is illegal, and none of the individual pieces are even unusual. Other former presidents have leveraged their fame and connections to raise money for good causes, like the Carter Center or the Ford Institute. Other former presidents get large speaking fees, sometimes in circumstances that an uncharitable observer would see as suspicious. Relatives of other presidents or presidential candidates have had business relationships with people who may have hoped to gain political influence. [2]

Bill Clinton is different from other former presidents in two ways: The Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative are far larger than anything established by other presidents, and (through Hillary) Clinton still arguably affected government policy. Corporate money spent on previous presidents had sent a more indirect message to the currently powerful, (“Look how grateful we can be to leaders who are nice to us.”) rather than looking like a quid pro quo transaction.

What makes corruption? The seriousness of this story depends mainly on three questions:

  • Did the Clintons promise the uranium businessmen anything in return for their contributions and the speaking fee?
  • If they did promise something, did they deliver? In other words, is it possible to connect the dots from the businessmen to the foundation to Hillary to the State Department people who recommended approving the deal?
  • Should the State Department have blocked the deal? Does Rosatom owning uranium mines in the U.S. and Canada compromise American security? Or would torpedoing the deal have had negative affects elsewhere in our relations with Russia or other countries? (It’s also worth asking why the other relevant agencies approved the deal, or whether anybody lower in the State Department wanted to veto it.)

The NYT story provides no evidence that any of those question have a Yes answer. Maybe further digging will produce such evidence. But that’s speculative.

Another thing that would give this story legs is if the Clintons personally profit from their foundation in ways that weren’t already widely known. [3] Without such profit, we’ve got a story about trying to influence a politician by giving to her favorite charity. If someone tried to influence a feminist politician by giving a lot of money to the Girl Scouts, that wouldn’t feel like a serious corruption story.

Appearance and reality. The question that’s not speculative is: Why did Hillary let the appearance of corruption get this far? Or, as Amy Davidson put it in The New Yorker:

Are the Clintons correct in saying that there is an attack machine geared up to go after them? Of course. But why have they made it so easy?

Secretary Clinton was asked about precisely these kinds of conflicts-of-interest during her confirmation hearings, and she assured the Senate that she had an extensive full-disclosure agreement with President Obama, one that went far beyond what the law ordinarily requires of either foundations or government officials. (Steve Kornacki runs the tapes.) And yet the bulk of the uranium-related contributions weren’t disclosed.

Davidson goes through the details of the explanation of how this non-disclosure didn’t technically violate the full-disclosure agreement.

I also asked the foundation to explain its reasoning. The picture one is left with is convoluted and, in the end, more troubling than if the lapse had been a simple oversight. … That structural opacity calls the Clintons’ claims about disclosure into question. If the memorandum of understanding indeed allowed for that, it was not as strong a document as the public was led to believe—it is precisely the sort of entanglement one would want to know about.

In short, we’re back to what the meaning of is is. The non-disclosure is certainly a violation of the spirit of Hillary Clinton’s agreement with President Obama — as well as what she told the Senate — even if the letter of the agreement was somehow upheld.

Conclusions. If I had to pick one person as the sharpest talking-head on cable news, I think it would be MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki Here was his conclusion:

There is no smoking gun in anything that we learned today, and the Clintons are adamant that there is no there there. And it really might be as simple as that. But: There is the appearance of a conflict here, the possibility of a conflict. That’s what the reporting shows today. And that’s what Hillary said six years ago there wouldn’t be. There are questions here. There are difficult questions here, murky questions here, but legitimate questions.

And his guest Alex Seitz-Wald chimed in:

It’s hard to believe that these people are giving millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation without at least some of them thinking that they might curry some favor with the Clintons. Whether that favor was returned or not, we haven’t seen that. But it certainly creates this perception, and that’s a problem.

Legally, I’ll bet there turns out to be no issue: no indictments for bribery, perjury, or obstruction of justice. Politically, I think the outcome will boil down to Amy Davidson’s final question: “Is this cherry-picking or low-hanging fruit?” Or: after all the time and money spent on opposition research, is this the best anti-Hillary story her opponents have? If it is, she’ll be fine. But if this is just the appetizer, there might be a problem.


[1] If you look at the list of previous Schweizer claims, a pattern emerges: He finds something in the public record that makes you go “Hmmm.” And then (if it makes a Democrat look bad) he publishes a conclusion he draws from that finding, without doing even the simplest checking to see if there’s a real issue.

One example is the claim by Schweizer’s Government Accountability Institute that President Obama skips over half of his daily intelligence briefings. This claim became the basis of an attack ad against Obama, which The Washington Post fact-checked and called “bogus”.

The grain of truth at the bottom of the charge was that about half the time Obama prefers to read his daily intelligence briefing rather than have a face-to-face meeting. The GAI report was based on analyzing the president’s published schedules, which showed all the face-to-face meetings. On days without a scheduled meeting, Obama was “skipping” the briefing.

But every president does this differently, the WaPo said, concluding that “Under the standards of this ad, Republican icon Ronald Reagan skipped his intelligence briefings 99 percent of the time.”

Similarly, Schweizer used the president’s public schedules to claim that Obama had never met with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during the three years prior to the ObamaCare rollout. This claim also turned out to be bogus, for reasons anybody who watched The West Wing would easily understand: High officials go in and out of the Oval Office all the time without being on the schedule published in the morning.

[2] The earliest example I remember is Ronald Reagan taking $2 million for a 9-day speaking tour of Japan. Reagan’s free-trade policy and his opposition to protective tariffs had been very beneficial to Japanese corporations, which now had a chance to show future presidents how grateful they could be.

In addition to a few charitable enterprises, Gerald Ford’s post-presidency was occupied by serving on numerous corporate boards, from which he received a nice income for doing not particularly much.

These practices are not uniquely American, either. In 2009 The Guardian reported:

The former prime minister Tony Blair has received millions of pounds through an unusual mixture of commercial, charitable and religious income streams. Since he stepped down from office in 2007, his financial affairs have been described by observers as “Byzantine” and “opaque”.

As for the appearance of gaining influence through business dealings with a relative, George W. Bush’s business career was repeatedly saved from disaster by rich people who were politically connected to his father, and several of Tagg Romney‘s clients and partners also had political connections to Mitt. Whether or not these were attempts to curry favor through other means is in the eye of the beholder.

Or favors can appear to flow through a relative in the other direction. The International Business Times reports:

While Jeb Bush was governor of Florida, state pension officials committed at least $1.7 billion to financial firms whose executives were “Pioneer” fundraisers for his brother’s presidential campaigns. To achieve Pioneer status, the fundraisers had to amass at least $100,000 worth of bundled contributions to one of George W. Bush’s campaigns.

That could be corruption, or it could just be the small-world phenomenon: Lots of financial executives were Bush fund-raisers; if you distributed pension funds by throwing darts at the Yellow Pages, you’d probably hit some of their firms.

None of this excuses whatever the Clintons might or might not do. But we should not imagine that there is some unique “Clinton problem”.

[3] None of the articles I’ve seen mentioned whether any of the Clintons draw a salary for the foundation work they do, or if that compensation is reasonable. I suspect they don’t, but if you know, leave a comment.

The Monday Morning Teaser

You knew, once it was clear that Hillary was in the race, that there’d be new attempts to raise some kind of scandal. Bill’s administration seldom went more than a few months without somebody attempting to make a scandal out of something: Whitewater, Travelgate, Vince Foster … there was always something. Monica Lewinsky was the scandal that finally stuck, but that came after years of throwing mud at the wall.

This week’s featured post looks at the new book Clinton Cash and the wannabee scandal that the NYT picked up from it this week. It just needs a proofreading, so it should be out within the hour.

The week provides a lot of other stuff to talk about: Earth Day, a drone mistake, Obama vs. Warren on the trade deal, and the ongoing spectacle of presidential candidates courting billionaires rather than voters. I didn’t have time or space to give those topics the treatment they deserve, so I’ll be pointing you to other people’s stuff.

And this week I ran across some fascinating articles not directly related to the headlines: a well-designed poll revealed the complexity of the public’s feelings about abortion, and somebody red-penciled Bobby Jindal’s op-ed on gay marriage marriage equality and religious freedom discrimination to make it more accurate. Plus there’s some fun stuff: what you’d get if a Segway had sex with a unicycle, and what toddlers really do when they’re left alone in the back yard.

I’m not sure how long it will take to get all that together. Certainly by noon, maybe sooner.

 

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