Political Choices

Somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize. … This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America.

President Obama, responding to the Umpqua Community College shooting

Maybe gun purchasers should have to undergo an invasive ultrasound & be informed by a doctor of the possible consequences of their actions.

Anna Marie Cox

This week’s featured post is “Bernie’s Epistle to the Falwellites“. (It includes how I think the pro-choice position should be explained to conservative Christians. Probably I should break that out into a separate article sometime.) The talk I gave last week at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois — addressing the question of how I follow the news so closely without getting depressed — is here.

These last two weeks, everybody has been talking about John Boehner’s resignation

He’ll leave Congress at the end of October. In the short term, resigning made it easier to avoid a government shutdown: Boehner allowed a clean continuing resolution to reach the floor, where it passed even though most Republicans voted against it. The new deadline is December 11, on the new speaker’s watch, and I expect a shutdown then.

The process for electing a new speaker begins Thursday. The Atlantic explains.

The race for speaker is a two-part process. On October 8, Republicans will gather behind closed doors to elect their leader by secret ballot. To win, McCarthy needs just a majority of the conference, or 124 votes. The formal election for speaker, however, occurs at the end of the month on the House floor, in public. McCarthy’s bigger problem would come if a faction of more than 29 Republicans refuses to vote for him on the floor, which would cause the House to be deadlocked. That’s how Boehner’s conservative opponents had tried to oust him in January, when 25 Republicans voted for someone else.

The leading candidate is Boehner’s second-in-command, Kevin McCarthy of California.

and the Pope’s visit

Pope Francis gave a speech to Congress. It would not have been appropriate for him to make a ringing call to political action, and he didn’t. But the four Americans whose examples he praised — Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton — gave the speech a liberal tone. He called for abolition of the death penalty, and warned against “every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind”. He connected Europe’s Syrian refugee problem with our own Hispanic immigrant situation:

We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.

He quoted from his anti-global-warming encyclical Laudato Si, without saying the words global warming or climate change, but talking about “environmental deterioration caused by human activity”. He also expressed worries about the institution of marriage, but without referring to same-sex unions:

Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

A sideshow of the Pope’s visit was his meeting with Kim Davis, which her lawyers tried to spin into an expression of support. An official statement from the Vatican says otherwise:

Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City. Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family. The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.

Esquire‘s Charles Pierce suspects the episode was engineered by conservative American clergy who resent Pope Francis’ change in emphasis away from issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. (CBS Chicago agrees.) It’s a conspiracy theory, but a plausible one.

and guns

The shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon left ten people dead, including the shooter.

In his remarks afterwards, President Obama seemed to lose patience with the political logjam that prevents even the slightest increase in gun regulation. Possibly as a result, there has been more media discussion of guns than any time since the Sandy Hook shooting.

A few articles worth your attention: Vox has an insightful collection of charts about gun violence. Jeffrey Toobin explains the history of the Second Amendment, and why the idea that it protects an individual right to own guns is a recent development. The Armed With Reason blog takes on the notion that we need guns to defend against central-government tyranny, which it describes as “a fundamental misreading of how authoritarian regimes actually come to power”. (To which I’ll add: The Dutch have only about 4 guns per hundred people, compared to our 89, but somehow Dutch democracy survives.)

and the Planned Parenthood witch hunt

As is so often the case, it takes a comedian to do justice to this story. Here’s Seth Meyers:

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards “testified” to a House committee Tuesday, though as Slate summarized:

Richards didn’t end up testifying so much as simply absorbing a barrage of questions that she would begin to answer only to be interrupted, criticized, and/or talked over by Republican congressmen

Slate compiled a video of all the times Richards got interrupted. In some sense the hearings worked for both sides: Republican congressmen got to show their base how tough they are, while the rest of the country saw them ask a well-composed woman difficult questions, then badger her rather than let her answer.

In what was supposed to be one of the gotcha moments of the hearing, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) confronted Richards with this graph (minus the attribution to an anti-abortion group, which one of Richards’ assistants was sharp enough to recognize and whisper in her ear in time for her to point it out).

If you look at the right-hand side for more than a second or two, you might wonder why 327,000 seems much larger than 935,573. Vox studied the source numbers a little longer, and came up with this more complete and accurate chart.

So, like most organizations, Planned Parenthood’s mix of services changes over time. But the impression that abortions are soaring while non-abortion services are falling is not accurate.

There’s a larger a framing problem in the way the defund-Planned-Parenthood campaign is discussed. Republicans talk about the $500 million of federal funds the organization receives as if there were a “Planned Parenthood” line in the federal budget, and they were just trying to cut that line or redistribute those funds to other women’s-health organizations.

In fact, the government doesn’t fund Planned Parenthood, it funds some of the non-abortion services Planned Parenthood provides. FactCheck.org explains:

Planned Parenthood’s government funding comes from two sources: the Title X Family Planning Program and Medicaid. About $70 million is Title X funding, Planned Parenthood spokesman Tait Sye told us. The rest — about $293 million — is Medicaid funding, which includes both federal and state money.

So if you’re a Medicaid patient and you think you might have an STD, you can get tested and treated at a Planned Parenthood clinic and PP will get reimbursed by Medicaid. In order to “defund” Planned Parenthood, the government would have to specify that it reimburses clinics for those services except for Planned Parenthood. Such a provision can be phrased in ways that circumvent the constitutional ban on bills of attainder — ACORN ultimately lost its claim in a similar case — but the spirit of Constitution is clearly being violated.

Missouri has completed its investigation of charges that Planned Parenthood is illegally trafficking in fetal body parts, and found no wrong-doing. This tracks with previous results in four other states.

Carly Fiorina continues to insist she wasn’t lying about the grisly body-parts-harvesting video she claims she saw. She could instantly resolve this controversy in her favor just by posting a link to the video. From the fact that she hasn’t, you have assume that she can’t. Nobody else has been able to find it either, including the people who supposedly made it.

Interestingly, the witch hunt doesn’t seem to be working with the American people. Polls consistently show a majority in favor of Planned Parenthood continuing to receive federal reimbursements for the work it does.

and greedy corporate behavior

Two examples got a lot of attention: Volkswagen’s cheating on the emission tests on its diesels, and Turing Pharmaceuticals’ price-gouging on drugs.

According to the EPA:

a sophisticated software algorithm on certain Volkswagen vehicles detects when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and turns full emissions controls on only during the test. The effectiveness of these vehicles’ pollution emissions control devices is greatly reduced during all normal driving situations. This results in cars that meet emissions standards in the laboratory or testing station, but during normal operation, emit nitrogen oxides, or NOx, at up to 40 times the standard.

So this isn’t just fudging a number somewhere, it was a systematic attempt to fool the EPA. The result of the cheating is that VW was able to avoid the trade-off between fuel economy and smog, allowing VW’s diesels to post MPG ratings far beyond other cars in their class. Apparently, VW was also cheating in Europe, and other car companies (like BMW) may be implicated in similar schemes.

The victim here was not some nebulous concept like “the environment”. Chances are, some people died because of it, and health care costs increased.

The gouging on drug prices, by contrast, was perfectly legal, and pointed out flaws in the system rather than criminality. Turing acquired Daraprim, a drug used to fight parasitic infections that can be fatal to AIDS patients, and jacked up the price from $13.50 a tablet to $750.

Turing’s founder Martin Shkreli instantly became what Mother Jones called “the poster child for evil scum”.

That’s because he was perfect for the role. He’s a Wall Street hedge fund guy. He was fired by a firm he founded when the board accused him of using the company as a “personal piggy bank to pay back angry investors in his hedge fund.” He looks like a callous young punk. And instead of hiding behind a PR flack, he happily gave interviews where he all but told the world to fuck off and pay his price if they wanted Daraprim.

MoJo’s explanation of Shkreli’s strategy — they call it “regulatory arbitrage” — is fascinating: The drug has been around forever and isn’t protected by patent, so theoretically anybody could compete with Turing. In order to do so, though, you’d have to prove to the FDA that your manufacturing process produced a version that was safe and effective. That would require testing, which would take time and money. And when you finally got your approval, Turing could sandbag you by cutting its price again. So what sane company would bother?

This kind of thing is happening all over: There are lots of well-established needed-but-low-volume drugs that have only one approved manufacturer. For a big drug company like Merck or Johnson & Johnson, jacking up the price isn’t worth the bad publicity. But a small company can buy the rights, charge more-or-less whatever it wants, and make a huge profit.

So, for example, you’ve probably taken the antibiotic doxycycline at some point in your life. (I know I have.) In the last 18 months, its price has gone from about 3 cents a pill to over $5 a pill. There has been no change in the drug’s legal status or cost of production.

The attention these recent cases have drawn has renewed interest in letting Medicare and Medicaid bargain directly with drug manufacturers — because it makes no sense to pay the market rate when that rate is being set by a monopoly. In a larger sense, it points out the fundamental absurdity of establishing a “market price” for saving someone’s life.

Considering VW and Turing together just re-emphasizes a point I made several years ago: Corporations are sociopaths. When the system is set up to reward good behavior and catch and punish malefactors, they’ll behave well. But if they could make more money by kidnapping toddlers and selling them into slavery, they would. According to the prevailing understanding of corporate ethics, CEOs would be remiss in their fiduciary duty to their stockholders if they ignored the growth opportunities in the toddler slave market.

and you also might be interested in …

No matter what kinds of crowds he draws or how high his poll numbers go, Bernie Sanders can’t get the mainstream media to acknowledge that lots of people like what he’s saying. A recent poll showed that Clinton’s lead over Sanders had shrunk from an astronomical 60 points in June to seven points. CNBC headlined this not as “Sanders surges” but as “Clinton loses ground”.

When the story is “Clinton loses ground” you can segue into the bogus email scandal, whereas if the story were “Sanders surges”, you might have to talk about something real, like single-payer healthcare, free college, and a job-creating push to rebuild America’s infrastructure. Can’t have that, can we?

Trevor Noah’s first week as host of The Daily Show demonstrated that he has his own style, which will take some getting used to if you were expecting a Jon Stewart clone. But his take-down of Donald Trump was amazing.

Whenever you point out that voter-ID laws are really voter-suppression laws, somebody who already has a driver’s license is bound to ask: “How hard is it to get an ID?”

Well, in Alabama it just got harder.

Due to budget cuts, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said that 31 satellite DMV offices would no longer have access to driver’s licenses examiners, meaning that residents will need to travel to other counties to apply for licenses.

Coincidentally, 8 of the 10 counties with the highest percentage of black voters will be affected, including every county where blacks make up at least 75% of the electorate. But going to another county to get a license isn’t that high a hurdle … if you can drive there.

Jeb Bush gave the usual excuse for why his tax plan favors the rich: Since they pay the most in taxes, any cut is going to benefit them disproportionately.

Tax cuts for everybody is going to generate a lot more for people who are paying more. I mean, that’s just the way it is.

Matt Yglesias points out why that isn’t true, and gives an example where everyone gets a tax cut, but the very rich don’t get a bigger cut than anybody with a taxable income of at least $9225.

In general, the reason Republican tax cuts favor the rich is that they always cut the rates. But if you leave the rates alone and stretch the brackets, that effectively caps the cut for any individual. Yglesias’ example (which stretches the 0% bracket) is one of many such possibilities.

Donald Trump’s tax plan also is a bonanza for the rich. Are you surprised?

You might think that an MD like Ben Carson would be less anti-science than the other Republican candidates. You’d be wrong. Recently an anti-evolution talk he gave to a Seventh Day Adventist group in 2012 began getting attention. It was full of amazing misrepresentations of the big bang and evolutionary theory.

There is, for example a well-worked out theory of the evolution of the eye, and has been for decades. But Carson sums it up like this: “according to the theory [of evolution] it [the eye] had to go pukh! and there was an eyeball, overnight, just like that, because it wouldn’t work in any other way.”

It’s one thing when somebody decides they don’t believe current science. It’s something else when they authoritatively misrepresent it to an audience.

WaPo’s fact-checker goes after the frequently repeated idea that the Muslim doctrine of taqiyya allows Muslims to lie about their faith to gain political advantage. (They nail Ben Carson for this, but they could have picked any number of people.) The reality is much less sweeping:

the Koran suggests that a person who faces religious persecution can withhold the identity of their faith in order to avoid bodily harm or death.

Carson mentioned taqiyya as a reason not to support Muslim candidates, even if they appeared to reject imposing Sharia on Americans. WaPo awarded him four Pinocchios, its lowest rating for truthfulness.

and let’s close with something fascinating

If you’re old enough, you remember when crayon boxes had colors like Flesh, that tacitly assumed all children were white. And of course, the original color of band-aids was based on assumptions about the skin it was supposed to blend in with. But I had never understood the racial assumptions behind color photography until Vox explained it.

Early color film didn’t have the dynamic range of today’s film (or digital sensors), so not all parts of the spectrum got equal coverage. Kodak knew that people mostly wanted to photograph other people, so they tuned their system for “skin” tones — white people’s skin tones. Photography’s implicit racial bias didn’t start changing until the 1970s, and then not necessarily to accommodate darker-skinned people: The makers of chocolates and wood furniture complained that the differences between their dark-brown and light-brown products weren’t showing up in pictures. Even today, your camera’s facial-recognition software may work better for white faces.

To me, this is a great example of how racial privilege works, and why it doesn’t require the kind of conscious hatred most whites imagine when they hear the word racism. In a situation where it is difficult to serve everybody, of course the privileged classes — whites in this case, but men, straights, Christians, and so on in others — will get served first. And they won’t even have to notice: If you were a white family in the 1960s and didn’t have any black friends you wanted to photograph, your “photographic privilege” was invisible to you. You just took pictures, and when they turned out well you assumed everybody else’s did too.

The 2016 Stump Speeches: Bernie’s Epistle to the Falwellites

[This article is part of a series on the speeches of 2016 presidential candidates. A previous Bernie Sanders speech was discussed here.]

I finally got around to watching Bernie Sanders’ speech to the students at Liberty University on September 14. [video, transcript]. I wasn’t as impressed as I had expected to be.

The most impressive thing is that he was there at all. Presidential candidates usually only talk to audiences of their supporters, and when they go to foreign territory it is often only so that their supporters can see them talking tough to the opposition (like Mitt Romney’s speech to the NAACP in 2012). But I think Bernie went to the center Jerry Falwell’s empire in an honest attempt to make converts, or at least to show that he wasn’t the Devil. More candidates, on both sides of the political spectrum, should show their flags in hostile territory. I’d love to see Hillary Clinton explain her views to an NRA convention, or Donald Trump speak to La Raza.

For their part, the Liberty University people treated Sanders with respect. He got a generous introduction from President Falwell — Jerry’s son — the audience did not boo or heckle, and some Sanders’ supporters from outside the university community were allowed to attend.

Sanders made an attempt to speak his audience’s language. He quoted the Golden Rule from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He quoted the verse from Amos that Martin Luther King often quoted, about justice rolling down like a river. And the rest of his speech was a litany structured around the phrase “There is no justice when …” that confronted the audience with the facts of income inequality in America.

I applaud him doing that. I think conservative Christians too often let themselves rationalize the economic process in America, without really confronting the results of that process.

But I think he made three mistakes. The first is that he gave a very traditional speech/sermon, standing at a podium with a printed text, speaking in the tone and cadence of a 19th-century orator who needs to make sure his voice carries to the back of the auditorium. Liberty University students are used to much higher production values than that. (Compare Ted Cruz’ announcement speech at the same venue, where he walks around the stage and speaks without notes, in a tone that suggests he is talking to each student individually.) Liberty is a place to give a TED talk, not a Cross of Gold speech.

Second, his message about income inequality is all statistics and no stories. As Stalin is supposed to have said, “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” When I read the conversion stories of people raised in the Religious Right who subsequently leave that movement, it’s never a statistic that turns them around, it’s confronting the human reality of people that their theology has written off. (In Rachel Held Evans’ memoir Evolving in Monkey Town — I think I’ve got the right source, but my memory might have shifted the story from somewhere else — she tells about being on a mission trip to China, looking out the bus window and realizing that according to her theology, all those millions of people out there are going to Hell. It’s the first time that she realizes deep down that “the Damned” aren’t minions of the Devil, they’re mostly just people trying to live their lives as best they can.)

Similarly, what I would want to get across to the Liberty students is the human reality of poverty in America, the fact that many poor people are already doing the best they can, and that they don’t need a lecture about values and character, they need help. That is best communicated in stories. Then you can bring in statistics and argue that they need help on a scale that individual charity can’t give, a scale that nothing but government is big enough to provide.

And only then should you reach beyond the giving-help idea, and ask why our system produces so many people who need so much help. Could we organize society differently, so that more people could succeed with less help?

Finally, while I give him credit for submitting to a Q&A at the end, he didn’t seem very well prepared for the obvious question: Why does he talk so much about protecting our society’s children, but not want the government to protect the unborn?

What he says is not bad as far as it goes: He points out the inconsistency of wanting a small government that will stay out of people’s personal lives, but also wanting that government to regulate pregnancy. But that attack on the conservative position doesn’t defend the consistency of his own views. He also doesn’t confront the question on the religious/political grounds from which it came.

Here’s what I would say: Our society and our laws recognize that something makes a human life different than an animal life, so that killing a human is murder, while killing a cow or pig is just agriculture. That difference is not something you can point to on an ultrasound — that humans have hearts or feel pain — because animals have all the same organs and suffer just like we do. For most of a pregnancy, most of us would be hard pressed to tell the difference between an ultrasound of a human fetus and a chimpanzee fetus.

Religions talk about this ineffable something as a soul, but throughout history religions have had different teachings about when the soul enters the body. Jesus doesn’t talk about the issue in any records we have, but in his day just about everyone believed the soul entered the body at the quickening, the time when a woman first feels her fetus move in the womb. Some religious leaders have taught it happened later, even as late as the first breath, as the Bible describes in Genesis 2:7. More recently, many denominations have begun to teach that the soul enters the body at conception.

A basic American principle that goes back to the Founders is that the federal government should not be adjudicating theological disputes, or taking the side of one sect against another. This is a principle whose value I think we can all see, because as satisfying as it might feel sometimes to imagine the government imposing our theology on everyone else, it would be so much worse to have the government impose somebody else’s theology on us.

That’s why I believe decisions about abortion should be made not by legislators or bureaucrats, but by individual women and their families, in consultation with the medical and spiritual advisers they choose.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I’m back from my week off (which wasn’t really a week off; I gave a talk in the Midwest which I’ll link to in the weekly summary). A lot happened: the Pope came and went; Speaker Boehner announced his resignation; not coincidentally, the government shutdown got delayed until December, when it’s the new speaker’s problem; we had yet another mass shooting; two big corporate-greed stories broke: the VW diesel-emissions fraud, and the jacking-up-drug-prices story; the witch-hunt against Planned Parenthood continued; and Alabama made the boldest voter-suppression move yet.

Meanwhile, I have a promise to keep from two weeks ago: reviewing Bernie Sanders’ speech at Liberty University. So maybe I’ll get on with that and leave the rest to the weekly summary. So “Bernie’s Epistle to the Falwellites” should come out by 8 EDT, and the weekly summary around 11.

Scary and Unscary

NO SIFT NEXT WEEK. The next set of articles will appear on October 5.

It’s not hard to scare people, but it’s extremely difficult to unscare them.

Dr. Paul Offit, on vaccines

This week’s featured post covers Wednesday’s Republican debate: “Three Hours in Bizarro World“.

This week everybody was talking about Ahmed Mohamed

I’m assuming you’ve heard the basics of the story of Ahmed Mohamed and his clock-that-wasn’t-a-bomb. Now that social media has brought national attention to the story and given Ahmed a happy ending — despite a recent backlash — the narrative has taken on a fairy-tale quality. So let me draw the moral: When you’re young and relatively powerless, the small-minded people who control your immediate environment may seem to define reality, but they don’t. There’s a larger world out there, and sometimes it may come in on your side.

There’s another lesson to learn from the self-congratulating response the local officials had. For example, the letter to parents sent out by the high school principal acknowledges no mistakes, makes no apologies, and implies that Ahmed did something against the school’s code of conduct. It goes on to suggest:

this is a good time to remind your child how important it is to immediately report any suspicious items and/or suspicious behavior they observe to any school employee so we can address it right away.

Such policies are sometimes called “see something, say something” — the PopeHat blog refers to them as “willful paranoia” — and Ahmed’s story underlines how they are inherently discriminatory. What people think they “see” — a Muslim kid with a bomb, for example — depends on what they expect to see. And that, in turn, depends on the stereotypes in their heads. So see-something-say-something is a paved road that runs directly from the unspoken bigotry from our collective unconscious to bigoted action in the physical world.

For a completely different example of how this works, consider the death of John Crawford III. Crawford was a 22-year-old black man shopping in a Walmart near Dayton, Ohio. The store video shows him pick up a toy gun and then wander around talking on his cellphone, doing nothing particularly threatening or out of the ordinary. But a white shopper “saw something” — a thug with a gun — and “said something” by calling 911. The police showed up expecting to face armed resistance, “saw” Crawford with a rifle, and gunned him down before he had a chance to understand what was happening.

Maybe the scariest part of Ahmed’s story is the way that Islamophobes — Bill Maher, Sarah and Bristol Palin, Fox News — still want to support the school and police response, or at least blunt the sympathy Ahmed has received.

The most satisfying part? That’s easy: The fact that Ahmed gets to move to a school that wants him, while officials at his former school get no chance for a no-hard-feelings reconciliation scene in front of cameras. So Mr. Principal, Ms. Mayor, and all the rest of the Irving, Texas power structure — guess what? Sometimes when you screw up, you don’t get to define it away. You know what you did? You reinforced the country’s negative stereotypes, not of Muslims, but of white Texans.

and the continuing backlash against Black Lives Matter

Capitalizing on the success of its mythical War on Christmas, Fox News has invented a War on Cops and blamed BLM for it — ignoring a decades-long decline in police deaths that has made it safer to be a policeman now than at any time since the 1960s.

Also, none of the violence-against-cops incidents that are supposed to be part of the War on Cops has been credibly linked to BLM. No one at BLM has endorsed them or taken credit for them. So both aspects of the “BLM is fighting a war on cops” meme are false: There is no War on Cops, and BLM isn’t trying to start one.

One effect of the War on Cops meme is to justify aggressive actions against BLM and its allies, one of which hit home for me this weekend. My church (First Parish in Bedford, Massachusetts) has been displaying a Black Lives Matter banner on the side of our colonial-style building. Saturday night it was vandalized, as shown below. The church has a predominantly white professional class membership and sits in the middle of politically blue New England. But that didn’t protect our banner.

It turns out such vandalism is fairly common. If you google “church black lives matter banner vandalized”, you’ll find a bunch of them — including a church in Bethesda, Maryland whose banner was vandalized twice and then stolen.

This kind of thing may seem like a harmless prank if you haven’t thought about it much, but when it happens to you it feels like a warning shot: People don’t like what you’re saying, and they know where you live. They’re not afraid to break the law to shut you up.


My church yesterday.

and the Republican debate

This is how dedicated I am to staying on top of the news: I watched the whole effing three hours of it. (If you have done something bad recently and need to punish yourself, you can too: Here’s the video and transcript.) My horror at the more-or-less complete denial of reality is covered in “Three Hours in Bizarro World“.

My general impressions about the horse-race aspects of the debate pretty much tracked everyone else’s: If I turned off my internal fact-checker, Fiorina looked impressive. She was confident and authoritative; she handled the men well. Rubio also looked strong.

Trump was Trump; if you liked him before, you probably still like him. But he did seem to shrink as the debate got more wonky. So if I were the RNC, I’d push for wonkier questions in future debates, and hope that makes him look like the short kid in a game of keep-away.

I can’t judge Ben Carson, probably because I have so little in common with his target audience. I thought he was unimpressive in this debate, but that’s what I thought about the last debate, and his support jumped afterward.

If I had to pick out a loser, I’d choose Scott Walker. Nothing he said was memorable. He has mastered boilerplate conservative rhetoric, but can’t put any zing into it. I couldn’t tell whether Bush did himself any good or not.

The first post-debate poll more-or-less validated everybody’s first impressions: Fiorina up, Trump still leading, but with less support, Carson slipping, Rubio up a little, and Walker crashing.

and Bernie Sanders at Liberty University

I want to write about this speech, but the story got crowded out by the Republican debate. I’ll get to it. In the meantime, you can watch for yourself.

One comment I will make: Liberals need to do more of this. We shouldn’t write people off just because they happen to live in a conservative stronghold or belong to a conservative demographic.

One way you can tell that Bernie Sanders is becoming a more credible candidate is that the Right has begun trying to take him down. Up until now, they’ve been expressing a grudging respect for him, because they saw him as damaging the candidate they were really worried about, Clinton.

But last Monday the WSJ printed a scary headline about the $18 trillion price tag for Sanders’ proposals over the next decade. The Nation looked at that a little closer: Most of that $18 trillion is the $15 trillion that creates a Medicare-for-all single-payer healthcare system. So that’s not a new expense for the American people, it’s just a shift of resources from private insurance to public insurance.

Then you get to figure in the fact that Medicare has proven to be more efficient than private insurance.

According to Gerald Friedman, an economist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who authored the analysis cited by the Journal, that transition would reduce American healthcare costs by almost $10 trillion over 10 years through economies of scale, better control of pharmaceutical costs, and savings on administrative bloat. … Sanders’s Medicare expansion would cost $15 trillion, but without it American businesses and taxpayers would spend $20 trillion over the same period, while still leaving millions uninsured.

So, not that scary after all.

I mean, I couldn’t really be so shallow as to choose a candidate based on who has the coolest t-shirt, or advise you to do the same, but … isn’t this a seriously cool t-shirt?

and Republican candidates and Muslims

Donald Trump raised eyebrows by not challenging a questioner at a New Hampshire rally who said that Muslims are “a problem in this country” and that “we know our current president is one”. Further, President Obama is “not even an American”. The guy asked “when can we get rid of them?” Them in this case seems to refer to training camps where Muslims learn to “kill us”, though some people have interpreted them to mean American Muslims. It’s also a little vague whether the questioner intended to say that such camps are here in America.

Trump gave an evasive answer about how “We’re going to be looking into that and plenty of other things”. Sunday on ABC’s This Week, Trump refused to answer questions about the incident.

But other Republicans did answer questions. Ben Carson said he believes President Obama is a Christian and said “I certainly would not have accepted the premise of a question like that.” But he went on to say that a candidate’s faith should matter to voters “if it’s inconsistent with the values of America. … But if it fits within the realm of America and [is] consistent with the Constitution, no problem.”

In a subsequent interview, he was more explicit: “I do not believe Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country.” He added that if a Muslim candidate “publicly rejected all the tenants of Sharia and lived a life consistent with that, then I wouldn’t have any problem.”

Nobody ever asks the follow-up questions I’d like to hear: Are some versions of Christianity — Dominionism, say? — also inconsistent with the Constitution? If not, what’s principle distinguishes Dominionism from Sharia?

but only liberals were talking about Jade Helm 15

which ended Tuesday without establishing martial law in Texas or any other state. Or at least that’s what they want us to think. Maybe martial law was established, but we all don’t notice because of mind-control beams from the cell towers or something.

My Google search of Alex Jones’ Infowars site didn’t turn up anything about the Jade Helm 15 military exercise since mid-July, but back in March he was warning: “This is in preparation for financial collapse, or maybe Obama not leaving office.”

JH-15 exemplifies how the extreme right wing keeps its followers in perpetual fear: Instead of a Jade Helm retrospective admitting that none of the wild predictions had panned out, Tuesday’s Infowars was full of new warnings about the dangers of taking in Syrian refugees, who might be jihadi infiltrators.

Same pattern for the NRA: You never see a retrospective about how Obama will be out of office in a year and a half, but he still hasn’t taken away anybody’s guns. No, no — the gun seizure is going to start any minute now. It’s been any-minute-now for six and a half years.

The Right is like an apocalyptic cult. No such cult ever throws a party to celebrate the fact that the world didn’t end when it was supposed to — next Monday, by some accounts — much less reviews what they got wrong and or draws the lesson that everybody should be more skeptical the next time somebody thinks he sees signs of the End. There’s never any time for that, because there’s always a new apocalypse to worry about, and its countdown clock is getting dangerously close to zero.

and you also might be interested in …

Arnold Schwarzenegger has been named as the new host of Celebrity Apprentice. The punch line to that story is so obvious I can’t even figure out who said it first: Donald Trump has lost his job to an immigrant!

August numbers are in: 2015 is still on pace to be the hottest year on record. If trends continue, it will break 2014’s mark by a considerable margin.

How climate-change deniers sound to normal people.

While I’m talking climate change, you have to love Jerry Brown’s response to Ben Carson’s statement: “I know there are a lot of people who say ‘overwhelming science’, but then when you ask them to show the overwhelming science, they can never show it.”

Brown wrote Carson a letter on official Governor of California stationery, and enclosed a thumbdrive containing the most recent report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

AP points out the obvious: Republican rhetoric about inequality doesn’t influence the tax plans they propose, in which tax cuts overwhelmingly go to the richest. Citizens for Tax Justice does the numbers on Jeb Bush’s proposal: The poorest 20% of taxpayers would see an average cut of $227, while the richest 1% would get an average cut of $82,392.

Vox connects the media’s credulousness at Jeb’s tax claims with its hyperfocus on Clinton’s emails, and recalls what happened in 2000: Every little wardrobe choice by Al Gore got dissected for evidence of inauthenticity, while W’s absurd claims that his tax cuts were fair and wouldn’t wreck the budget went unanalyzed.

National Review‘s current disgust with Donald Trump’s followers prompts Jeet Heer at The New Republic to look at the history of the “snobs vs. slobs” struggle inside the conservative movement. The often-repeated story that William F. Buckley excommunicated the John Birchers (I think I’ve repeated that one myself) is a little more complicated.

and let’s close with something

A horror becomes an adventure if you live to post the video. Here, a driver escapes the fires in Anderson Springs, California.

Three Hours in Bizarro World

Republican presidential debates have made fact-checking obsolete.

In a typical political debate, fact-checkers play the same role that referees do in football: They apply standards and call penalties. And like referees, they depend on the fact that violations are fairly rare. The football-refereeing system works because, even on plays that draw flags, 20 or 21 guys do more or less what they are supposed to do, making the one or two violations stand out. But nobody could referee a game in which all the players ran around the field doing whatever.

In the same way, fact-checking works pretty well when the checkers just need to catch those half-dozen-or-so moments when somebody misquotes a statistic or gets a date wrong. If a debater cherry-picks data to “prove” a point, or oversimplifies a complex situation, a checker can introduce additional information to give readers a more complete picture — as long as it doesn’t happen too often.

But when standards of truthfulness and accuracy vanish as completely as they did in Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate (here’s the video and transcript), fact-checking is out of its league. When the consensus of participants is that they would rather discuss an alternate reality, picking out a handful of “errors” the next morning just doesn’t address the situation.

So, for example, the debate’s most memorable moment, the one that caused a lot of observers to pick Carly Fiorina as the “winner”, was her denunciation of Planned Parenthood. In that short speech, she didn’t simply quote some numbers out of context or use an unjustified pejorative term, she invented an entire scene from the undercover videos attacking Planned Parenthood, described it in graphic detail, and then dared Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to watch it. [1]

And Fiorina looked most presidential when she rattled off all the things America should be doing to intimidate Putin out of meddling further in Syria — unless you realize that President Obama is pretty much doing all that already.

It’s 9-11. Do you know who your president is?

Or consider the evening’s biggest applause line: when Jeb Bush responded to Donald Trump’s characterization of his brother’s presidency as “a disaster”: “You know what? As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure. He kept us safe.”

Well, except for that one time, when (after ignoring warnings in intelligence briefings) President Bush lost far more Americans to terrorism in one day than President Obama has in seven years, and then in response lost thousands more American soldiers attacking a country that had nothing to do with 9-11 — removing a secular government that was keeping Islamic radicals in check and neutralizing Iran’s biggest rival in the region — while letting Osama bin Laden escape and stay hidden until Obama nailed him years later.

If that’s what you mean by “keeping us safe”, then sure, President Bush totally kept us safe. And the audience at the Reagan Library loved it, though what I heard them applauding was not Jeb himself, or even W’s record, but a candidate’s willingness to stand tall and spit in the face of an uncooperative Reality. That’s the quality Republicans seem to be looking for in a president this time around.

As for the Planned Parenthood videos, Ted Cruz had his own fantasies:

On these videos, Planned Parenthood also essentially confesses to multiple felonies. It is a felony with ten years’ jail term to sell the body parts of unborn children for profit. That’s what these videos show Planned Parenthood doing.

In a word: no. Even after being doctored, the videos don’t show that, “essentially” or any other way. If they did, a political smear campaign against the organization wouldn’t be necessary; you could just prosecute them.

Speaking of prosecution, Chris Christie didn’t just repeat his previously debunked lie about being appointed U.S. district attorney on September 10, [2] he spun a crowd-pleasing fantasy about prosecuting Hillary Clinton for the wildly overblown email “scandal”.

The question is, who is going to prosecute Hillary Clinton? The Obama White House seems to have no interest, the Justice Department seems to have no interest. I think it’s time to put a former federal prosecutor on the same stage as Hillary Clinton.


And I will prosecute her during those debates on that stage for the record we’re talking about here. The fact she had a private email server in her basement, using national security secrets running through it, could have been hacked by the Russians, the Chinese, or two 18-year-olds on a toot wanting to have some fun. [3]

Then there was Donald Trump connecting vaccines to autism — a well-studied theory that has been pretty thoroughly debunked. [4] Ben Carson, a doctor who knows better, briefly alluded to that reality, but then acquiesced to Trump’s implication that the currently recommended schedule of vaccines might cause harm, even if the individual vaccines are safe. He did not comment when Trump then told an anecdote about a child whose autism appeared shortly after vaccination. Rand Paul, who has an M.D. from Duke, volunteered his support to Trump: “I’m also a little concerned about how [vaccines are] bunched up.” [5]

No one then protested when Mike Huckabee segued from “controversies about autism” to another topic. Because there are no scientific facts on Bizarro World, there are just “controversies” — like climate change or evolution — that people can believe whatever they want about.

So how do you “fact check” that exchange? That’s not just one lineman jumping offside, it’s a rugby scrum breaking out in the middle of a field goal attempt. Throwing a flag just won’t cover it.

With all that going on, who has time for the ordinary job of a fact-checker? Like flagging Scott Walker’s absurd exaggeration that his pamphlet on healthcare is “an actual plan” to repeal and replace ObamaCare, which puts him in a position “on day one” to “send a bill up to Congress”. [6] Or ridiculing Marco Rubio’s non sequitur that “America is not a planet” as an excuse for doing nothing about climate change. Or pointing out Donald Trump’s often-repeated falsehood about birthright citizenship, that

Mexico and almost every other country anywhere in the world doesn’t have that. We’re the only ones dumb enough, stupid enough to have it. [7]

Compiling a list of errors for this debate would be misleading. Such lists imply that the rest was more-or-less correct, like the football plays that don’t draw penalties. But the specific divergences from reality that I have called out are like Jonathan Swift’s fleas: the closer you examine the text, the more you will find, without limit.

So I deny any claim that I have “fact-checked” the Republican debate. I spent three hours in Bizarro World, and while I was there I saw some strange things. But there was much, much more to see.

[1] How, I wonder, are Obama and Clinton supposed to accept Fiorina’s dare, when even the makers of the video can’t produce the scene she has conjured up?

[2] It’s not fair to mention that lie without also busting Carly Fiorina’s ridiculous secretary-to-CEO claim. Fiorina temped as a secretary during summer vacations from Stanford. Paul Krugman comments:

If her life is a story of going from “secretary to C.E.O.,” mine is one of going from mailman to columnist and economist. Sorry, working menial jobs while you’re in school doesn’t make your life a Horatio Alger story.

I picked up a few extra bucks as a busboy one New Year’s Eve, and then just a few years later I had a Ph.D. in mathematics! If that’s a rags-to-riches story, then just about every successful person in America has one.

As the pro-Carly site fromsecretarytoceo.com will tell you, she grew up in “a modest, middle-class family”, i.e., her father, Joseph Tyree Sneed III, was dean of Duke Law School before becoming Deputy Attorney General and then a federal judge.

Let’s not even get into her record as CEO of HP. The WaPo has that covered.

[3] The image of national security being endangered by Hillary’s emails seems to be completely bogus. The heart of the issue has been described by The Wall Street Journal as a “bureaucratic turf war over complicated issues of classification”, i.e., whether information that the State Department considered unclassified at the time should have been reclassified, after input from other departments.

David Ignatius talked to experts whose opinions mirror what I remember from when I had a security clearance:

First, experts say, there’s no legal difference whether Clinton and her aides passed sensitive information using her private server or the official “state.gov” account that many now argue should have been used. Neither system is authorized for transmitting classified information. Second, prosecution of such violations is extremely rare. Lax security procedures are taken seriously, but they’re generally seen as administrative matters.

Where I used to work, a security violation — like leaving a secret document overnight in your desk drawer rather than locking it up in an approved safe — could earn you and your boss a very uncomfortable meeting with the security department. Repeated violations like that could probably get you fired, though I didn’t know anybody that happened to. But criminal charges were reserved for intentional espionage, not screw-ups. So the Obama administration and the Justice Department “have no interest” in prosecuting Clinton because there is no reason to do so.

[4] Autism tends to get noticed at about the same age as certain vaccines are administered. That seems to be the whole connection between the two. So there are bound to be a number of children whose autism is discovered shortly after they get vaccinated. If that correlation-in-time happens to your child, I’m sure the evidence against vaccinations seems compelling. But eliminating that kind of illusory causality is why we do scientific studies.

[5] The New York Daily News asked the head of New York City’s health department to comment:

The CDC guidelines aren’t willy-nilly. Infants are at greater risk of complications from these diseases. That’s why we give the vaccinations to infants. There’s no evidence to support the notion that too many shots are being given too quickly. An infant’s immune system can handle it. … What we do know is that when parents delay immunizations, it puts their children at risk of acquiring life-threatening infections.

But conservative “news” site Breitbart.com headlined this exchange differently: “Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Rand Paul Foil Jake Tapper Vaccine Ambush“. By working together, the candidates saved Bizarro World from a reality-based invasion.

[6] For example, here’s Walker’s complete section on services for long-term illnesses like Alzheimer’s:

One of the greatest threats to middle-class American families is the obligation to pay for long-term services and supports (LTSS) for seniors who develop chronic or disabling medical problems. My plan would reform existing regulations to better protect middle-class families from financial hardship and to prepare for future LTSS. It would also deregulate the current Long-Term Care insurance market to allow the private sector, including health insurers, to offer products that reflect consumer demands for assistance at home. When LTSS and acute care services are coordinated, the cost of each can be lowered.
Does that sound like it’s ready to be passed into law “on day one”?
[7] In reality, it’s a New World vs. Old World thing. European countries by and large don’t have birthright citizenship, but most countries in the Western Hemisphere do, including Mexico and Canada. This has been pointed out often enough that Trump either doesn’t want to know it, or does know it and lies about it anyway.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I wanted to write about Bernie Sanders speaking at Liberty University — I really did — but I couldn’t stay away from the bright shiny object of the Republican debate. Watching it was one of those what-color-is-the-sky-on-your-planet experiences for me, a departure from reality that ordinary fact-checking just can’t cope with. So this week’s featured article is “Three Hours in Bizarro World”. It should be out around 8 EDT.

The weekly summary has a lot to cover: Ahmed Mohamed’s clock-that-wasn’t-a-bomb, of course; the escalating attacks on Black Lives Matter; Jade Helm 15 ending as the simple military exercise the Pentagon always said it was, without overthrowing democracy-as-we-know-it; a few notes on Bernie Sanders in lieu of a full analysis of his message to Evangelical Christians; and a bunch of other stuff, before closing with a harrowing escape from California wildfires. I still have a lot of paragraphs to finish and references to check, so let’s guess that appears around noon.

BTW, I won’t be sifting in the coming week. But if you happen to be in west central Illinois (or across the Mississippi in northeastern Missouri or southeastern Iowa) Sunday morning, you can hear me talk at the Unitarian Church of Quincy.

Invoking 9-11

Invoking 9/11 to attack diplomacy with Iran would be like criticizing Nixon going to China because of Pearl Harbor.

Chris Hayes

This week’s featured post continues the 2016 Stump Speech Series with Ben Carson.

This week everybody was talking about the Iran deal

which is going to go into effect, now that Senate Democrats have stuck together to block a resolution of disapproval. Meanwhile, the House defeated a resolution of approval, which seemed mostly a moot point after the Republican leadership decided not to bring a resolution of disapproval to the floor. Even if a disapproval resolution could pass the House, the vote on the approval resolution indicated that Democrats had enough votes to sustain a veto.

Ted Cruz organized a rally against the Iran deal, but was upstaged by Donald Trump. I agree with TPM contributor Jason Stanford‘s assessment:

The pity of this all [i.e., Trump’s rhetoric about “winning”] is that the Iran deal shows how America can lead (and win!) in an increasingly disorganized world. We negotiated with Iran from a position of strength. We had support from our European allies. We had Iran’s billions in our banks. Behind door number one was Iran giving up their nuclear weapons program. Behind door number two was Iran becoming the next destination for Drone Airlines. The United States gave up nothing in this deal. In exchange for their own money, Iran gave us what we wanted: an Iran without The Bomb.

This is what winning looks like. This is our enemy surrendering their weapons without a fight not because they love us but because they know they would not survive the fight.

As I said.

The White House couldn’t resist pointing out that Dick Cheney is the last person we should be listening to about diplomacy or the Middle East.

and Kim Davis getting out of jail

at least until she starts refusing marriage licenses to gay couples again. She appears to be walking a fine line: She won’t issue such licenses herself, but she won’t prevent deputies from doing so, as long as the licenses are attributed to a court order rather than her authority as county clerk. She doubts whether such licenses are valid, but I’m not sure who would have both the standing and the inclination to test that in court. So it looks like same-sex couples in Rowan County, Kentucky will indeed get the equal protection of the laws.

Mike Huckabee made a political spectacle out of Davis release (and managed to shut Ted Cruz out). Watching the rally outside the jail, or the clips from it shown on the news networks, you might have imagined that Huckabee played some role in freeing her. But no, he was just cashing in on her publicity stunt.

An amazing amount of nonsense is being repeated about the Davis story, and you can find almost all of it in Huckabee’s comments. For example, he emphasized the unfairness of Davis being held without bail.

Jeffery Dahmer got bail, the Boston Stranger got bail, John Wayne Gacy got bail. Kim Davis, because of her convictions, was not given bail.

But bail is for people who are still innocent until proven guilty, even if what they’re charged with is horrible. Contempt of court is a finding of the judge, who has already ruled, so the comparison to Dahmer is silly — Dahmer didn’t get bail after he was found guilty.

In general, bail for contempt of court would be nonsensical, because sitting in jail until you comply with the court’s order is the whole point.

And then there’s this Huckabee gem:

If somebody needs to go to jail, I’m willing to go in her place and I mean that because I’m tired of watching people being just harassed because they believe something of their faith.

Of course, jailing Huckabee would make absolutely no sense, since he wasn’t the one defying a court order. Punishing one person for the deeds of another is substitutionary atonement, which doesn’t even make sense in religion, much less in law.

Nobody who defends Davis wants to answer questions about how far their religious-freedom principle applies. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, co-host Mika Brzezinski asked the same question I raised last week: Can a clerk who takes Jesus’ denunciation of divorce seriously refuse to issue marriage licenses to divorced people? Huckabee danced and dodged and never did answer.

Ben Carson was asked the same question by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, and also danced, but not quite as well:

This is a Judeo-Christian nation, in the sense that a lot of our values are based on a Judeo-Christian faith. And when there are substantial numbers of people who actually believe in the traditional definition of marriage — I’m one of them, doesn’t mean that I don’t think other people can do whatever they want to do, but I don’t actually believe that they have a right to force their way of life upon everybody else, nor would I try to force my way of life upon everybody else.

To the extent that response means anything at all, Carson seems to be claiming special rights for conservative Christians, because there are “substantial numbers” of them and because he believes that their faith defines the nation. I think that’s what just about all of Davis’ supporters believe, but most don’t want to admit it.

Apparently this billboard just went up in Davis’ home town.

I made a similar point once:

You can accurately describe American marriage after 1981 in a lot of ways, but “traditional marriage” is not one of them. I don’t know of any traditional society where husbands and wives have been equal under the law.

or maybe twice:

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.

One proposed solution to Kim Davis’ problem is the First Amendment Defense Act. Walter Olson explains what’s wrong with it: The FADA explicitly grants rights to anyone who “believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

In other words, your rights under FADA depend on whether you have the proper beliefs.

Astoundingly, the protection would run in one direction only: It would cover those who favor traditional definitions of marriage, while leaving those who might see merit in same-sex marriage or cohabitation or non-marital sex perfectly exposed to being fired, audited or cut off from public funds in retaliatory ways.

In real-life governance, of course, there is no reason to think that wrongful pressure on dissenters cuts only one way: Some federal employees get targeted by their bosses for leaning right, others for leaning left. Under FADA, however, only one side gets to run to court complaining of ill treatment.

Olson concludes:

FADA as currently drafted isn’t really an accommodation law. It’s an our-guys-win law.

It looks like a shoot-out over Kim Davis will be avoided, but right-wing crazies are coming closer and closer to insurrection. Oath Keepers — one of the groups of armed wackos that intimidated federal agents out of enforcing the law on public-land-moocher Cliven Bundy — announced that it was sending armed guards to protect Kim Davis from being arrested again, if she went back to defying the court. What could possibly go wrong with that plan?

Fortunately, Davis rejected the offer and seems to be trying to avoid giving the court grounds for re-arrest rather than angling to go out in a hail of gunfire. So this time we were just one lunatic short of that scenario.

One aspect of the armed-patriot movement that never gets enough attention is its white privilege. Imagine Black Lives Matter defying a court order and the New Black Panthers sending armed guards to protect BLM leaders from arrest by U.S. marshals. Is there any chance that wouldn’t end in a bloodbath? And wouldn’t the same people who support Oath Keepers and Kim Davis now be cheering when it did?

While we’re talking about insurrection, a poll finds that 43% of Republicans could imagine supporting a military coup in the United States.

but not enough people are talking about Republican attempts to sabotage the next climate-change agreement

The Paris Climate Conference starts in November. Wikipedia says

The conference objective is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.

If you’ve been listening to the campaign speeches of Republican candidates, one of the biggest objection they make to the United States taking any action against climate change is that one nation acting along can’t accomplish anything.

Carly Fiorina:

What all the scientists also tell us is that a single state, or single nation acting alone can make no difference acting alone. … California can be the most onerous regulatory regime in the world, which they are, and it won’t make a bit of difference in climate change.

Rick Santorum:

Is there anything the United States can do about it? Clearly, no. Even folks who accept all of the science by the alarmists on the other side, recognize that everything that’s being considered by the United States will have almost – well, not almost, will have zero impact on it given what’s going on in the rest of the world.

Marco Rubio:

America is a country, it’s not a planet. So we can pass a bunch of laws or executive orders that will do nothing to change the climate or the weather but will devastate our economy.

So you might expect Republicans to applaud the prospect of getting the rest of the world to act in concert. I mean, you could imagine U.S. climate rules driving jobs away to India, but new world rules aren’t going to send jobs to Mars.

Well, guess again. Politico reports:

Top Republican lawmakers are planning a wide-ranging offensive — including outreach to foreign officials by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office — to undermine President Barack Obama’s hopes of reaching an international climate change agreement

Jonathan Chait asks and answers the obvious question:

Why would Republicans try to persuade the rest of the world to keep pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? One reason is that, while other countries transitioning to low-emission fuels may not cost American consumers anything, it definitely costs American fossil-fuel companies. People who own large deposits of coal and oil want to sell it abroad. The Republican climate-change strategy has been hatched by a group of Republican politicians and fossil-fuel lobbyists so tightly intermingled there seems to be no distinction between the interests of the two.

… In any case, the old conservative line, with its explicit or implicit promise that international agreement to reduce emissions might justify domestic emissions cuts, has suddenly become inoperative. The speed at which Republicans have changed from insisting other countries would never reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions to warning other countries not to do so — without a peep of protest from within the party or the conservative movement — says everything you need to know about the party’s stance on climate change.

I haven’t figured out a good way to research the question I’m asking, so I’m mainly just trusting my own (possibly nostalgic) impressions. But didn’t politics used to stop “at the water’s edge“? In the Obama Era, congressional efforts to torpedo American diplomacy have become normal. But I can’t remember anything similar in past administrations, certainly not supported by the leadership of the party out of power.

and you also might be interested in …

Today’s Great Moment in Irony:

Jon Chait has turned optimistic on climate change.

Surprise! “Jeb Bush’s Tax Plan is Mostly a Giveaway to the Rich“. Who could have predicted?

While the full details are still vague, the basic outline lowers the corporate tax rate, offers a reduced tax rate on money corporations have stashed overseas, cuts the top individual rate from 39.6% to 28%, and ends the estate tax altogether, so that dynasties of inherited wealth can dominate America even more than they do now.

You might wonder what will replace that revenue and prevent the kind of massive deficits his brother’s tax cuts caused. Growth! It didn’t work for W, but Jeb’s tax cuts will boost GDP growth to 4% per year. Because he says so.

The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson did the research I only fantasized about, and answered the conservatives who have been comparing the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision to Dred Scott.

In fact they have backwards “which side in the marriage debate has inherited the Dred Scott legacy”: In the 7-2 decision saying that blacks could never be citizens and had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect”, the majority 7 were interpreting the law the way today’s conservatives do, and the dissenting 2 were making the arguments of today’s liberals.

In particular, the Dred Scot 7 invoked original intent, arguing that since the man who wrote “all men are created equal” was a slave-owner, clearly the Founders did not intend the so-called “rights of man” to extend to blacks. Chief Justice Taney wrote that

No “change in public opinion” about the races “should induce the court to give to the words of the Constitution a more liberal construction.”

Today’s conservatives argue that letting same-sex couples marry degrades the institution of marriage. In 1857, Justice Daniel made the same argument about blacks and the institution of citizenship.

Justice Kennedy’s rhetoric about the “dignity” of same-sex relationships is often mocked as his own moral invention rather than a strictly legal argument. Justice McLean’s Dred Scott dissent had similarly lofty rhetoric:

A slave is not a mere chattel. He bears the impress of his Maker, and is amenable to the laws of God and man, and he is destined to an endless existence.

McLean made a living-Constitution argument that would be familiar to today’s liberals:

McLean acknowledged both the sorry racial views of the Founders’ time and the allowance for slavery in the Constitution, but he suggested that the language used could have a better meaning in a freer era. Madison, he noted, was careful to keep out of the Constitution words that “convey the idea that there could be property in man.” (Indeed, the Constitution never refers to a “slave” but to a “person held to service or labor.”) There was always more of a debate about slavery, and a consciousness of wrong, than Taney let on. The Constitution has, built into it, a hope for change.

This is a rich article and has much more to it. Go read it.

and let’s close with something sentimental

Namely, a celebration of Dads.

The 2016 Stump Speeches: Ben Carson

Dr. Carson is the calm and authoritative voice of conservative truthiness.

[This article is part of a series on the speeches of 2016 presidential candidates.]

More than even Donald Trump, Ben Carson’s appeal — and he has appeal; numerous recent polls have him second to Trump both nationally and in key states — derives from not being a politician. When he talks, he does not seem to be giving a speech. If a typical politician sounds like a minister preaching on Sunday, Carson sounds like the same minister chatting with his Bible-study class on Wednesday evening. It is easy to imagine him in his previous life as a pediatric neurosurgeon, describing a particularly difficult case to a roomful of colleagues.

A second piece of his appeal is his life story: He came out of poverty, got an education, and reached the top levels of a challenging profession. Other candidates may talk about the struggles of their parents or grandparents to achieve the American dream, but Carson can point to his own rise out of poverty. (He doesn’t harp on it, though, because in the conservative circles where he travels, his story is already well known.) He is black and clearly must have experienced some racism in his life, but he projects no bitterness about it. America has been good to him, and he is grateful.

In the same way that his life embodies the American dream, his candidacy embodies a common conservative dream: that we don’t need policy experts or even political parties, we just need to turn our government over to good people with common sense. Carson expressed it like this in his announcement speech [video, transcript]

We have to get the right people in place. We need, not only to take the executive branch in 2016, and when I say we, I’m not talking Republicans – I’m talking about anybody who has common sense, you know. We have to have another wave election and bring in people with common sense, who actually love our nation and are willing to work for our nation and are more concerned about the next generation than the next election. That’s what’s going to help us. [1]

More than any other candidate, Carson communicates the truthiness of the conservative movement. [2] He has a Reaganesque ability to sound convincing while saying wild things that conservatives know in their hearts must be true, even if they aren’t.

Outline of the speech. [video, transcript] Carson announced his candidacy on May 4. He begins by introducing his wife and children, and then makes his low-key announcement.

Now, I have introduced my family. You say, well who are you? I’ll tell you. I’m Ben Carson, and I’m a candidate for President of the United States.

He then starts telling his mother’s story, as evidence that “America is a place of dreams” and in refutation of “a lot of people” who “are down on our nation”. Carson’s mother married his father at 13 to escape her family. But her husband turned out to be a bigamist, so they got divorced, leaving her as a single mother with a third-grade education. She worked as a domestic and they lived with relatives in a Boston tenement.

Boarded up windows and doors, sirens, gangs, murders. Both of our older cousins, who we adored, were killed.

But she after consulting God (“She asked God for wisdom. And you know what? You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to talk to God. You just have to have faith. And God gave her the wisdom.”), she instilled good values in Ben and his brother, and they succeeded.

From his mother’s desire to stay off welfare, he segues into a discussion of how welfare creates dependency.

there are many people who are critical of me because they say Carson wants to get rid of all the safety nets and welfare programs, even though he must’ve benefited from them. This is a blatant lie. I have no desire to get rid of safety nets for people who need them. I have a strong desire to get rid of programs that create dependency in able-bodied people. And we’re not doing people a favor when we pat them on the head and say, there, there, you poor little thing, we’re going to take care of all you needs; you don’t have to worry about anything.

And a denunciation of socialism.

You know who else says stuff like that? Socialists. … They say it’ll be a utopia and nobody will have to worry. The problem is all of those societies end up looking the same, with a small group of elites at the top controlling everything, a rapidly diminishing middle class, and a vastly expanded dependent class. [3]

Which is not what America was intended to be.

And I’m not an anti-government person by any stretch of the imagination. I think the government, as described in our Constitution, is wonderful. But, now we’ve gone far beyond what our Constitution describes, and we’ve begun to just allow it to expand based on what the political class wants, because they like to increase their power and their dominion over the people, and I think it’s time for the people to rise up and take the government back.

The “political class” is the villain of Carson’s story. [4]

I’ll tell you a secret. The political class comes from both parties and it comes from all over the place.

He paints an idealized picture of early America.

You’ve got to remember it was the can-do attitude that allowed this nation to rise so quickly. Because we had people who didn’t stop when there was an obstacle. That’s how those early settlers were able to move from one sea to the other sea across a rugged and hostile terrain. [5]

That can-do attitude contrasts with the timidity of today’s Americans, who are intimidated by political correctness.

We’ve allowed the purveyors of division to become rampant in our society and to create friction and fear in our society. People are afraid to stand up for what they believe in because they don’t want to be called a name. They don’t want an IRS audit. They don’t want their jobs messed with or their families messed with. But isn’t it time for us to think about the people who came before us? … We dare not soil their efforts by being timid now and not standing up for what we believe.

Belying his humble tone, Carson presents himself as the kind of brave man we need.

I’m not politically correct, and I’m probably never going to be politically correct because I’m not a politician. I don’t want to be a politician, because, politicians do what is politically expedient, and I want to do what is right. We have to think about that once again in our country.

When he talks about fixing the economy, he starts with the national debt:

You need to know who your representatives are. And you need to know how they voted, not how they said they voted. And if they voted to keep raising that debt ceiling, to keep compromising the future of our children and our grandchildren, you need to throw them out of office. [6]

He attributes to “economists” the view that:

when the debt to GDP ratio reaches 90%, at that point economic slowdown is inevitable. [7]

He goes on to talk about how “the most dynamic economic engine the world has ever known” won’t work “when we wrap it in chains and fetters of regulations” and “when you have high taxation rates”. The only specific policies he mentions involve cutting corporate taxes: He wants to cut the corporate tax rate, and have an even cheaper rate to induce companies to repatriate profits held overseas (though he doesn’t specify either rate). He then closes by coming back to the notion that expertise is not necessary:

The real pedigree that we need to help to heal this country, to revive this country: Someone who believes in our Constitution and is willing to put it on the top shelf. Someone who believes in their fellow man and loves this nation and is compassionate. Somebody who believes in what we have learned since we were in kindergarten. And that is, that we are one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

The myth of America. Whenever American history comes up in Carson’s speech, it’s the kind of history most Americans want to believe, rather than the kind that actually happened. I’ve already mention the “can-do attitude” that built America without needing to steal Indian land or enslave African workers.

He talks about freedom of the press like this:

You know, the media, the press, is the only business in America that is protected by our Constitution. You have to ask yourself a question. Why were they the only ones protected? It was because our founders envisioned a press that was on the side of the people, not a press that was on the side of the Democrats or the Republicans or the Federalists or the Anti-Federalists.

Again, it would be nice to think so. But  pamphlets were the main method of debate in early America, and “freedom the press” meant nothing more to the Founders than the right to own a press yourself or hire somebody who could print your pamphlets. It did not refer to an institution of “the Press” as we think of it today. And such newspapers as existed in the early days of the Republic were more partisan than the present New York Times or Wall Street Journal, not less. (Wikipedia: “Nearly all weekly and daily papers were party organs until the early 20th century.”)

The idea that journalism should be a profession with professional standards of public responsibility really starts in the 1920s with Walter Lippmann.

Social truthiness. Carson’s race and up-from-the-ghetto life lend authenticity to a number of social myths conservatives like to believe. For example, his explanation of the Baltimore riots is not that anybody actually cared about Freddy Gray or police abusing their power in the black community; poor blacks just saw an opportunity to go wild and take stuff.

This past couple of weeks, there’s been a great deal of turmoil in Baltimore – where I spent 36 years of my life. … The real issue here is that people are losing hope and they don’t feel that life is going to be good for them no matter what happens. So when an opportunity comes to loot, to riot, to get mine, they take it.

And government anti-poverty programs just create dependency.

My mother was out working extraordinarily hard. Two, sometimes three, jobs at a time, as a domestic. Trying to stay off of welfare. And the reason for that was she noticed that most of the people she saw go on welfare never came off of it. And she didn’t want to be dependent. … I have a strong desire to get rid of programs that create dependency in able-bodied people. [8]

In Carson’s idealized American past, federal programs weren’t necessary, and they wouldn’t be necessary now if we recovered traditional values.

There were many communities that were separated from other communities by hundreds of miles, but they thrived. Why did they thrive? Because people were willing to work together, to work with each other. If a farmer got injured, everybody else harvested his crops. If somebody got killed, everybody else pitched in to take care of their families. That’s who we are. We, Americans, we take care of each other.

But we should do it as individuals, not through the government. And people who don’t succeed? It’s their own fault: If they’re not disabled, they must be lazy or stupid.

You don’t have to be dependent on the good graces of somebody else. You can do it on your own if you have a normal brain and you’re willing to work and you’re willing to have that can-do attitude.

People focusing on racial issues aren’t exposing problems, they’re creating problems.

We’ve allowed the purveyors of division to become rampant in our society and to create friction and fear in our society.

What we need instead is colorblindness. In an interview after touring Ferguson this week, he said:

A lot of people perceive everything through racial eyes, but my point is that we don’t have to do that. What we have to do instead is to begin to see people as people. [9]

Conspiracy theory dog whistles. A lot has been made of Carson’s ability to rise in the polls without getting the kind of media attention that has fueled Donald Trump’s candidacy. But this ignores the extent to which Carson is a darling of the alternative conservative media: talk radio, evangelical conferences, and web-based empires like Alex Jones and Newsmax.

Carson’s speeches are littered with references that the alternative-conservative-media audience will recognize and regard as established facts, when they are nothing of the kind. For example, that the IRS is being used to persecute conservatives:

People are afraid to stand up for what they believe in because they don’t want to be called a name. They don’t want an IRS audit.

On Planned Parenthood (which isn’t mentioned in the announcement speech) Carson has said:

I know who Margaret Sanger is, and I know that she believed in eugenics, and that she was not particularly enamored with black people. And one of the reasons that you find most of their clinics in black neighborhoods is so that you can find a way to control that population.

That’s debunked here and in more detail here. (I never knew that one of those “racist” Sanger quotes floating around the internet was originally said by W.E.B. Du Bois.) And he has totally bought the claim that Planned Parenthood is “harvesting” and “selling” baby parts.

Thanks largely to Glenn Beck, Saul Alinsky (who has been dead for 43 years) has become famous as the grand strategist of the Great Liberal Conspiracy, and Rules for Radicals as important as Chairman Mao’s little red book. (Take any bad thing and use it in a sentence with “Saul Alinsky” and “George Soros” and you’re halfway to a right-wing conspiracy theory.) So Carson says:

You have to recognize that one of the rules in Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, is you make the majority believe that what they believe is no longer relevant and no intelligent person thinks that way and the way you believe is the only way intelligent people believe. And that way they’ll keep silent. Because I’ll tell you something. They don’t care if you don’t believe what they believe, as long as you keep your mouth shut.

Is anything like that true? If you google “Saul Alinsky” and look for recent references, they’re almost all from conservative sources, because he’s actually not that important in liberal discourse. Half of liberals have never heard of him, and to the rest of us Rules is one of those books we think we ought to get around to reading someday, but never do.

Consequently, people like Carson can attribute anything they want to Alinsky, and who’s going to say they’re wrong? Well, I guess I am: Fact-checking Carson gave me one last push to read Rules for Radicals. (It’s short, flows well, and you can find it free on the internet.) It doesn’t contain anything resembling the rule Carson mentions. Whether he got his “rule” from some fabricator like Beck or made it up himself I can’t say. But Alinsky’s book is all about how to get powerless people to speak up, not shut up. (The subtext is Alinsky’s disgust with the late-60s student radicals, whose rhetoric was designed to shock and piss off blue-collar workers rather than make common cause with them against the establishment.)

Conclusion. In tone and manner, Ben Carson is the anti-Trump — calm and collected, not aggressive or even particularly animated most of the time. He avoids conflict, even when baited by an expert like Trump.

But in many other ways, he’s a Trump alternative: an outsider brought in to fix our broken government; appealing to “common sense” rather than expertise in law, economics, foreign policy, the military, or any other relevant field; almost completely lacking specific proposals [10]; and free to say what white conservatives think ought to be true, unencumbered by actual facts.

[1] What I find amazing in that quote is the “actually” — as if it would be remarkable to find in our government people whose love for our country is genuine. But this is a common belief in conservative circles. In February, a poll asked Republicans whether President Obama loves America. By a 69%-11% margin, they said no.

[2] Truthiness, defined by Wikipedia as

a quality characterizing a “truth” that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.

was coined by Stephen Colbert in one of his show’s most memorable segments.

Face it folks, we are a divided nation. Not between Democrats and Republicans, or conservatives and liberals, or tops and bottoms. No. We are divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart.

[3] If you compare the United States to actual socialist countries like Denmark or Sweden, Carson has it exactly backwards. A person born poor under Scandinavian socialism has a far better chance of achieving prosperity than a poor American — the exact opposite of what you’d expect if America were the land of opportunity and socialism trapped people in a “dependent class”.

And “a small group of elites” dominating “a rapidly diminishing middle class”? That’s us, not them.

[4] “The political class” is an interesting spin that allows Carson to be pro-business and pro-wealth while sounding populist. “Politicians” have betrayed us, but Carson never discusses who they’ve betrayed us to. So his proposals — a flat tax, lower corporate taxes, less regulation, a tax holiday for repatriating overseas profits — all further the interests of what Bernie Sanders calls “the billionaire class”.

[5] I find this passage particularly odd. First, because Carson’s focus on the “can-do attitude” obliterates the role of slave labor and land stolen from the Native Americans in building this country. And second, because “we” are the heroic “early settlers”. Carson identifies with them, and not with his slave ancestors, who were driven like cattle across that “rugged and hostile terrain”.

[6] Note the focus on the debt ceiling, as if we could solve the problem of rising government debt by simply outlawing it. (His web page promotes a similar gimmick, a balanced budget amendment that he doesn’t bother to state. It’s an amendment that will balance the budget; what else do you need to know?)

Business Insider‘s Henry Blodgett has a clear explanation of what happens if we don’t raise the debt ceiling:

On that date, if the debt ceiling has not been raised, the United States will begin to default on payments that it is legally obligated to make, payments that Congress has already promised that we will make. … The Treasury will only be able to pay about 60% of the bills that are owed. In relatively short order, therefore, the United States will stiff about 40% of the people and companies it owes money to.

… To not raise the debt ceiling is to say that it is totally okay to stiff people and companies we owe money to–and, more importantly, to actually stiff them. This is astoundingly reckless and irresponsible behavior (not to mention illegal).

Apparently, refusing to pay bills you have already run up constitutes doing “what is right”.

If you honestly think that the national debt is our country’s worst problem — I don’t — then you need to talk about the budget, which Carson has not done. You need to specify which spending you’re going to cut, where the revenue is going to come from, and how the math works out. That’s the hard work of governing, which Carson has shown no interest in.

[7] Actually that’s a single team of two economists, they didn’t really say “inevitable”, and their results depended on a spreadsheet error that was exposed over two years ago. Economist Dean Baker summarizes:

When the error is corrected, there is nothing resembling the growth falloff cliff associated with a 90 percent debt-to-GDP ratio that had been the main takeaway from the initial paper.

[8] Notice he says only that she was “trying” to stay off welfare, not that she did stay off it, or that he didn’t benefit from other government programs. We know that his family received food stamps and that he got free glasses from a government program. What additional government help Carson or his mother received is conjecture.

So his life story could be told with the exact opposite spin: Government help kept his family from falling through the cracks of society, giving him the chance to work hard, get an education (at public schools), and succeed.

[9] So the situation is a little like kindergarten, when a kid would say shit or fuck. You couldn’t report that to the teacher because then you’d have to say the word yourself.

Similarly, if racists are mistreating people of a different race, how would you even notice that unless you are making racial distinctions yourself? Being truly colorblind means not just that you don’t treat people of different races differently, but that you can’t see racism at all.

[10] Looking around Carson’s web site reminds me of Ezra Klein’s comment about Mitt Romney in 2012: that he had presented “simulacra of policy proposals”, avoiding any details that would allow outside experts to analyze them. But Carson makes Romney look like a wonk. His issue-focused pages each contain about one relevant buzz-phrase that hints at Carson’s intentions.

On the health care page, that phrase is “health savings accounts”. (And that’s his field; he’s a doctor!) His tax system would be “fairer, simpler, and more equitable“. Here, at least, he has given a few more details in speeches: At the first debate, he endorsed “tithing”, which seemed to be a reference to a flat tax. Elsewhere, he elaborated: He does want a flat tax, one that applies even to the poorest people, because “we all need to have skin in the game“.

In order to raise the same revenue as the current system, he believes the flat rate would need to be “between 10 and 15 percent”. That range is an indication of how much thought he has put into this: If you make $50,000 a year, will you pay $5,000? $7,500? More if Carson’s assumptions — whatever they are — prove too optimistic? He doesn’t know.

The Monday Morning Teaser

This week the Sift’s 2016 speech series gets to Ben Carson, who might be the most interesting of the Republican candidates. Without much attention from the mainstream media (but plenty of attention from conservative and Christian talk radio), he has moved into a solid second place in the polls behind Donald Trump. Like some 21st-century revision of the famous Teddy Roosevelt dictum, he speaks softly but says wild things. He embodies the conservative fantasy that government doesn’t require any special knowledge or skill, but only common sense and a good heart. If Trump implodes, he might be the one to pick up the pieces.

The Carson article should be out around 9 EDT. The weekly summary will discuss the Iran deal’s survival in the Senate, the 9-11 anniversary, Mitch McConnell’s attempt to sabotage the Paris climate summit, the Jeb! tax plan, and Kim Davis’ prospects for staying out of jail. It should appear around 11.

Where to Begin

It is painful to accept fully the simple fact that one begins from where one is, that one must break free of the web of illusions one spins about life. Most of us view the world not as it is but as we would like it to be.

— Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals (1971)

This week’s featured posts are “Is Kim Davis a Martyr?” and “Damned Lies and Employment Statistics“.

This week everybody was talking about that clerk in Kentucky

which I cover in “Is Kim Davis a Martyr?” Meanwhile, a liberal Christian imagines having the same kind of “religious freedom” conservative Christians claim.

and a big mountain

Republicans (except the ones in Alaska) are up in arms that President Obama has recognized Alaska’s name for its tallest mountain, which was also the mountain’s traditional name prior to colonization by Europeans. This shows just how irrational the urge to condemn whatever Obama does has gotten.

and refugees in Europe

Vox does its usual good job of providing context. One thing I’ll add is that those fleeing the Syrian civil war are giving us a preview of coming events. As climate change continues and sea levels rise, millions will be forced to migrate, most of them poor people who have no obvious place to go.

and another good-but-unspectacular jobs report

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy added 173,000 jobs in August, dropping the unemployment rate to 5.1%. As usual, this led to a chorus of denials that things are really that good, which I examine in “Damned Lies and Employment Statistics“.

and backlash against Black Lives Matter

Inside the conservative news bubble, two events are all it takes to establish a narrative. And here they are:

The Houston sheriff connected the two, and it was off to the races. Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly were quick to join the chorus. And then there’s a whole subterranean layer of conservative media most liberals don’t even know about, like Infowars.

So now, as far as your crazy uncle is concerned, it’s an established fact that BLM is a hate group that advocates assassinating cops: He’s heard the chant and he can name the deputy. So even if no further events fit that narrative, we’ll continue hearing it for years.

Not that it matters to the conservative narrative, but here’s what an actual BLM activist, Shaun King, has to say:

Both the official Black Lives Matter organization, its representatives, and its loosely connected friends and partners actually have real agendas, real goals, real plans, and none of them, explicit or inferred, has ever suggested violence against police.

… Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by police nine months ago and police and prosecutors claim to still be investigating, but days after a criminal kills a white officer, the sheriff is already making declarative statements about motive and inspiration. The double standard is thick.

This cartoon gets to the heart of what’s wrong with the “all lives matter” response: The implication is that there’s nothing special about the lack of value American society puts on black lives. Analogously, imagine that a girl goes missing, and her mother makes a request at her church that people pray for the safety of her child. And then someone else stands up and says dismissively, “We should pray for the safety of all children.”

More clueless yet are the people pushing the “Blue Lives Matter” meme. Consider, for example, the recent shooting of a policeman in Fox Lake, Illinois. The response to that shooting — national news updates, a manhunt involving hundreds of people — is the virtual definition of what it means for a life to matter.

Compare that to the initial response to Trayvon Martin’s death: Police believed the shooter’s story, gave him back his gun, and let him go home. Black teen-agers get shot every day; what’s the big deal?

After protests and news coverage forced local officials to begin taking Trayvon’s death seriously, he was as much on trial as his killer. A large portion of our news media wanted to focus on whether he was a thug, whether he might have been on drugs, what he did to deserve to be shot, and so on.

That doesn’t happen when a police officer dies. We don’t have a national conversation about whether the victim was a dirty cop or what past mistakes he might have made. We don’t concoct speculative scenarios to justify the shooting, and make the officer’s family prove them wrong. Not that we should, but cop deaths are the gold standard for what it means for a life to matter. What if the lives of young black men mattered like that?

A South Carolina policeman recently got a one-year-house-arrest plea deal for killing a middle-aged black father. What’s that say about the relative value of their lives?

It’s worthwhile for white people to spend some time thinking about how whiteness affects their relationship with the police. Here are 20 specific ways.

and you also might be interested in …

The Iran deal is going to survive Congress. 37 senators have announced support for it so far, with four Democrats still undecided. If all four support it, a congressional rejection of the deal can be filibustered and won’t pass. But if it does pass, the 34 senators would be enough to sustain President Obama’s veto.

Matthew Gordon suggests a simple color-and-orientation change to make Obama’s logo work for Trump.

The saga continues in the Tea Party Utopia that is Governor Brownback’s Kansas:

Ever since the state Supreme Court in 2014 ordered the legislature to increase funding for education, Governor Sam Brownback and his allies in Topeka have sought to wrest power over appointments from the Supreme Court and make it easier to replace judges.

The legislature tried to strong-arm the judicial branch like this:

The judicial budget includes a self-destruct button that would wipe out all funding for the state courts if any court halts the 2014 law reducing the Supreme Court’s authority or finds it unconstitutional.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, last week a judge did strike down the law. The ruling is on hold pending appeal, so for now the Kansas courts remain open. Meanwhile, Kansas continues to have real problems, in addition to the ones created by the dysfunction of its government.

John Oliver reports on the joys of lying about history.

This is where Republicans have gotten: For a long time, they were bragging about their “deep bench” of 2016 candidates, as in this cartoon from just a month ago.

Now, some are looking to Mitt Romney to save the Party.

and let’s close with something I should have realized on my own

Willy Wonka must be one of the re-generations of Dr. Who. I mean, the Great Glass Elevator should have tipped me off: How many people have little boxes that can take them into space?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,673 other followers