Category Archives: Weekly summaries

Each week, a short post that links to the other posts of the week.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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?

What Goes Around

Conservative media and Fox News in particular have spent years – decades, if you count talk radio – training their audiences to believe that exhortations against sexism and racism are nothing but the “political correctness” police trying to kill your good time. … You can’t tell people, day in and day out, that nothing is more fun than putting some mouthy broad in her place and then get upset when they continue to think it’s fun, even when the mouthy broad is one of yours.

— Amanda Marcotte “Why Fox News’ Defense of Megyn Kelly is Going to Backfire

This week’s featured articles are “Hey, Nerds! Politics is a System. Figure it out.” and “Protesting in Your Dreams“.

This week everybody was talking about Hurricane Katrina

which hit New Orleans ten years ago Saturday. A bunch of interesting retrospectives have appeared.

Slate posted “The Myths of Katrina“, including the notion that “no one could have predicted” what happened. In fact, the gist of the disaster appeared in a local newspaper article three years earlier: the levee failures, and what would happen next:

Amid this maelstrom, the estimated 200,000 or more people left behind in an evacuation will be struggling to survive. Some will be housed at the Superdome, the designated shelter in New Orleans for people too sick or infirm to leave the city. Others will end up in last-minute emergency refuges that will offer minimal safety. But many will simply be on their own, in homes or looking for high ground.

… Hundreds of thousands would be left homeless, and it would take months to dry out the area and begin to make it livable. But there wouldn’t be much for residents to come home to. The local economy would be in ruins

The anniversary is an ambivalent moment. New Orleans is a viable city again, so that’s worth celebrating. But the recovery has been uneven, with upscale neighborhoods rebuilding quickly and many poorer areas still full of abandoned homes.

The new New Orleans is a smaller, somewhat wealthier, and definitely whiter city; about 100,000 of its black Katrina-refugees never returned. As 538 elucidates, these losses were concentrated among middle-income and upper-income blacks, particularly the young professionals. Among whites it’s the reverse: young white professionals and entrepreneurs are flocking in. Jacobin comments about one gentrifying neighborhood:

The declining poverty rate does not speak to some miraculous redistribution of wealth to working-class families, but rather to their forced exit amid a corresponding influx of high-income residents.

and another shooting

This one happened on live television.

With every new shooting, we go through the motions of trying to put gun control back on the agenda. But (as Dan Hodges summed up in a tweet) Newtown really kicked the life out of that movement. If massacres of white professional-class school children are acceptable, requiring not even a smidgen of change, it’s hard to raise energy to try again.

If you do decide to try again, Vox has collected data for you and presented it well. Two things stood out for me:

  • We’re averaging about one mass shooting (i.e., 4+ victims) per day. So if the aftermath of a mass shooting is not an appropriate time to talk about gun control (because that would “politicize tragedy”), then there will never be an appropriate time.
  • States with a lot of guns have about the same number of suicides-by-other-means as states with fewer guns, but quadruple the number of firearm-suicides. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that guns cause suicides. Remember that the next time you think about buying a gun. Someday you’ll be depressed, and you’ll know that gun is sitting there.

and 2016

A second poll confirms that Bernie Sanders really is ahead in New Hampshire. Another poll suggests he’s making serious gains in Iowa.

I’m getting increasingly annoyed at the media coverage of both Sanders and Clinton.

You know which 2016 candidate is consistently drawing the biggest crowds? Not Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders. (BTW, Sanders beats Trump 45%-37% in a head-to-head match-up. So which one is the more serious candidate?)

And yet Bernie’s ability to draw a crowd is not news. Whether Trump’s recent rally in Alabama was bigger or smaller than Sanders’ rallies Portland and Los Angeles is open to interpretation. (Some estimates of Trump’s crowd were marginally larger than Sanders’.) But what’s not open to interpretation is the coverage: The news networks hyped Trump’s rally before it happened and treated it like a major event afterwards. But the sizes of Sanders’ crowds, when they get mentioned at all, are presented as weird little factoids.

When Sanders gets encouraging poll numbers, like the recent NH and Iowa ones I just mentioned, nobody says, “Wow! People really like this guy.” Nobody focuses on what he’s saying or why it’s inspiring so much enthusiasm. Instead, the story is about Clinton’s weakness: Democrats are so dissatisfied with Hillary that even Bernie Sanders might beat her in New Hampshire and Iowa.

And that brings me to the Clinton coverage, which has been even worse. The only stories you hear about Clinton consist of something-might-be-wrong-somewhere speculation about her emails. And yet, if you stick to the facts, it’s hard to justify the claim that anything actually is wrong. I’ve had a hard time finding a clear statement of what might be wrong, or a clear accusation whose truth or falsehood could be established. Quite likely this is Benghazi or Filegate or Vince Foster all over again.

I don’t see the media applying this maybe-something-somewhere-might-turn-out-to-be-bad standard to any other candidate. Rick Perry is under indictment. Scott Walker had an election-fraud investigation quashed under questionable circumstances by Wisconsin’s partisan Supreme Court. Like Clinton, Jeb Bush used a private email account while governor, and decided for himself which emails to release to the public. Marco Rubio has received “hundreds of thousands of dollars” of personal assistance from a billionaire he’s done political favors for.

Is any of that getting Clinton-style coverage? Coverage based on imagining what might turn out to be wrong (if new incriminating evidence somehow appears) rather than restricting attention to what we actually know? I’m not saying those stories should get that kind of attention, but why is the Clinton-email story getting it?

Frank Bruni explores the mystery of why Donald Trump seems to be the choice of the GOP’s Evangelical Christian wing:

Let me get this straight. If I want the admiration and blessings of the most flamboyant, judgmental Christians in America, I should marry three times, do a queasy-making amount of sexual boasting, verbally degrade women, talk trash about pretty much everyone else while I’m at it, encourage gamblers to hemorrhage their savings in casinos bearing my name and crow incessantly about how much money I’ve amassed?

Has anybody seen a camel pass through the eye of a needle lately? That would explain it. Crooks and Liars compares Trump’s indifference to religion in his own life to Dick Cheney’s draft-dodging:

Right-wingers … don’t really care about whether a candidate or elected official has lived in accordance with their values. What they want is a candidate or elected official who will use their values (or, frankly, use anything) as a club to beat the people they don’t like — Democrats, liberals, immigrants, Muslims.

A standard applause line at Trump rallies is when he says the Bible is his favorite book, but when pressed in an interview to pick out one or two favorite verses, he had no answer. In her recent interview with Trump, Sarah Palin referred to this as a “gotcha” question — I suppose because you can’t expect a good Christian to remember phrases like “the 23rd Psalm” or “the Sermon on the Mount” off the top of his head.

Trump hasn’t produced any TV ads yet. (Whether or not he’ll spend the serious money necessary to buy TV time is my main criterion for determining whether he’s seriously running for president or just using his campaign to build his brand.) So Jimmy Kimmel made one for him:

Kimmel satirizes of the vagueness of Trump’s message, but that’s precisely what makes it dangerous: Trump’s vaguely targeted anger allows his audiences to imagine him railing against whatever makes them angry. Hence the calls of “white power” from his Alabama supporters.

The New Yorker has more:

On June 28th, twelve days after Trump’s announcement, the Daily Stormer, America’s most popular neo-Nazi news site, endorsed him for President: “Trump is willing to say what most Americans think: it’s time to deport these people.” The Daily Stormer urged white men to “vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents our interests.” …

Jared Taylor, the editor of American Renaissance, a white-nationalist magazine and Web site based in Oakton, Virginia, told me, in regard to Trump, “I’m sure he would repudiate any association with people like me, but his support comes from people who are more like me than he might like to admit.”

Trump also has earned the support of David Duke and various other white nationalists. He hasn’t sought their endorsements, but he doesn’t have to. He’s angry at a lot of the same people they hate. The exact why doesn’t matter.

Another implication of vagueness is even scarier: Without a lot of specific policy ideas, or a coherent political philosophy, or a political viewpoint expressed consistently through the years, the Trump campaign by default becomes a cult of personality. Trump’s America will be “great again” not because of any specific thing it will do, but because of him. Our greatness will follow from the greatness of our leader.

I think that’s why words like fascist are starting to crop up, and comparisons to Europe’s far-right movements.

and you also might be interested in …

When talking about the poor, it helps to have data about who they are.

Here’s the scariest thing I saw this week.

A front page contributor on Red State comments:

There is no vocal advocate of Donald Trump’s GOP candidacy in 2016 that would tell you this publically, but I’ll bet $20 that a significant plurality of Trump’s backers feel what the women in this Youtube video below feel on a daily basis. They would only demur because they are sick and tired of being accused of racism for feeling the way they feel.

and let’s close with some reassurance

Whatever you did this week, you didn’t screw up this badly.


I just thought I had a few weeks left. But I was surprisingly at ease. I’ve had a wonderful life and thousands of friends, and I’ve had an exciting, adventurous, and gratifying existence. … Now I feel that it’s in the hands of God, whom I worship, and I’ll be prepared for it when it comes.

Jimmy Carter, on the prospect of dying of cancer

This week’s featured post is “The Do-Something-Else Principle“.

This week everybody is talking about the stock market

The Dow fell more than 3% on Friday and has continued falling this morning. It’s down more than 10% from its highs. This could mean one of three things:

  • A normal market correction of the type that happens periodically. The market comes back over the next six months or so with no appreciable effect on the economy. An extreme example was the Crash of 1987, which looked like the start of another Great Depression, but wasn’t. The next recession didn’t hit until 1990. AP writes: “Corrections are natural in a bull market, a pause in the market’s march higher, and this one is long overdue. They usually come about once every 18 months. The last one was four years ago.”
  • A signal that a normal recession is starting. The economy is depressed for about a year and then starts growing again. It’s a little early for a normal recession, but not that early: The business cycle has been running at around 7-9 years, and it’s only been six since the end of the last recession. Also, growth has been sluggish during the expansion, which usually would point to a longer cycle. But the economy isn’t a clock, so maybe the business cycle is running faster this time around.
  • A signal that a global economic catastrophe is beginning, like the Great Recession that began with the market collapse of 2008. A global catastrophe happens when the market realizes that everyone’s economic projections have been built on sand, and so all plans need to be re-evaluated. For example, the real estate bubble, which was based on the idea that people with no money and no prospects would make good on the mortgages they should never have been given. Financial “innovation” had over-leveraged the economy, so that once the dominoes started falling they fell faster and faster.

Everybody’s concern is focused on China: Maybe they’re having their first real recession since their economy grew large enough to affect the world economy. Maybe the long-term China growth story is an illusion; if that’s the case, that would be reason to expect a catastrophe.

Personally, while I could easily believe we’ve all mis-estimated China’s growth rate (given the opacity of its economy), I still believe the underlying story that China is growing spectacularly over the long term. So I’m picturing either a market correction or a normal recession.

The disturbing thing about the prospect of a recession is that governments around the world — not just ours — are still stuck in an austerity mindset, so they’re unlikely to do the kind of stimulus spending that would shorten the recession. Only the Chinese and Japanese governments look philosophically prepared to do the right thing.

and Jimmy Carter

People can argue about whether Carter was a good president. (I think a lot of his decisions and proposals look better in retrospect than they did at the time.) But to me it’s beyond all argument that Carter has been the best ex-president ever. Humble, caring, active for human rights and democracy, and never just cashing in on his fame and former influence … he’s consistently been out there trying to do the right thing as he saw it, without a lot of ego getting in the way.

All in all, I think Carter makes a better advertisement for Christianity than just about any of the high-profile Christian leaders I can think of. That came through once again in the press conference he gave Thursday about his cancer diagnosis. One of the selling points of Christianity is that the prospect of salvation should allow a believer to face death with equanimity. Well, here’s Jimmy Carter, facing death with equanimity.

and the Iran nuclear deal

Somebody must be putting big money behind the following ad urging Congress to reject the agreement, because I’ve been seeing it over and over.

The speaker is a former Iranian political prisoner, and he tells a story of being tortured, even though Iran has signed a treaty against torture. He draws the parallel:

Now they have signed a deal promising no nuclear weapons, but they keep their nuclear facilities and ballistic missiles. What do you think they’ll be doing?

It’s an effective ad if you don’t think about it too hard. If you do think about it, though, its argument starts to fall apart.

First, Iranians who want their government to reject the deal could make the same commercial about us. We also signed a treaty against torture and tortured people anyway. Why should they trust us to keep our side of the agreement?

The reason the United States has been so cavalier about violating the Convention Against Torture (and Iran in violating whatever treaty it is supposed to have signed; it isn’t party to the CAT, so I’m not sure what agreement the ad is referring to) is that its enforcement mechanisms are weak. The U.N.’s Committee Against Torture is supposed to monitor the agreement, but it has no power to punish violators. (That’s why members of the Bush-Cheney Gang are still at large.)

By contrast, the nuclear deal contains provisions for detecting and punishing any Iranian cheating, and insures that the economic sanctions against Iran would “snap back” into effect. You can, of course, imagine some magical way Iran could evade this detection or interfere with the snapback process, but you could similarly imagine a loophole to any agreement. If vague fears were enough to derail a treaty, there would be no treaties.

The people who do arms control for a living are satisfied with the enforcement provisions. So are numerous retired American generals and admirals, as well as former Israeli security officials. (Current military or intelligence officials in either country are usually reticent to make public statements opposing the position of their government — and may be fired if they do — so former officials play a larger role in such discussions.) However, as Josh Marshall points out

that’s only the opinion of people who actually know what they’re talking about.

When the issue is detecting hidden nuclear facilities, those people are so far from a majority that they barely matter politically.

And that brings us to the Associated Press’ “scoop” that Iran will do the inspecting itself, under a secret agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

That sounds very shocking and makes the whole deal seem like a sham. But again, that’s only if you are an AP reporter who is fed a leak by an interested party and doesn’t bother to check the story with anybody who has real expertise.

Vox‘ Max Fisher consulted an actual arms control expert (Jeffrey Lewis at Middlebury College’s Monterey Institute of International Studies), who has been following the agreement as it developed. He was neither surprised nor appalled by AP’s “discovery”.

The bottom line here is that this is all over a mild and widely anticipated compromise on a single set of inspections to a single, long-dormant site. The AP, deliberately or not, has distorted that into something that sounds much worse, but actually isn’t. The whole incident is a fascinating, if disturbing, example of how misleading reporting on technical issues can play into the politics of foreign policy.

Econ blogger Noah Smith punctures the myth of Iran’s growing regional dominance. His argument for Iran’s weakness has four main points: Iran is committed to proxy wars it can’t win; it has many rivals and no allies; the outlook for its oil-dominated economy is bleak; and its low fertility rate will keep its population from growing.

and 2016

This seemed to be the week when everybody started asking “What if the Trump candidacy isn’t a joke?” It was supposed to collapse after he characterized Mexican immigrants as rapists, and again after he insulted John McCain’s war record, and again after he had to debate the professional politicians, and again when his post-debate comments insulted Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.

But none of that dented his popularity among the Republican electorate, so this week Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi wrote “Donald Trump Just Stopped Being Funny” and The Atlantic started looking seriously at why people support him. VoxLee Drutman offers the most sensible explanation of the Trump phenomenon I’ve seen yet: The Republican donor class wants to increase immigration and decrease Social Security. But rank-and-file Republicans want the opposite. Trump is speaking for them. This also makes sense of the attraction of a self-financing billionaire candidate: He seems outside the power of the donor class.

Vox points out the horrifying truth contained in a recent Fox News poll: Collectively, the crazy Republican candidates are out-polling the supposedly rational ones. If you add up the totals of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee, you get 53%. Support for the “establishment” candidates that the voters are expected to get in line behind eventually (Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Chris Christie) adds up to a mere 26% — barely more than Trump polls by himself.

Simply consolidating everyone behind one of the candidates who is acceptable to elites isn’t going to get the job done. Party leaders need to find a way to actually pry support away from one of the candidates who’s unacceptable to them. So far, they have no idea how to do that.

Things look a little better (but still bad) for the establishment in the latest CNN poll: Trump-Carson-Cruz-Huckabee is at 40% and Bush-Walker-Rubio-Kasich-Christie at 36%.

Jeb Bush explained away his unexpected single-digit poll numbers by saying, “I’m the tortoise in the race.Jay Leno then quipped that the race was “between the Tortoise and the Bad Hair”.

Carly Fiorina’s recently expressed views: against mandatory vaccinations (“when in doubt, it is always the parents’ choice”), against doing anything about climate change (“All the scientists that tell us that climate change is real and man made also tell us this: a single nation acting alone will make no difference at all. So we can destroy every job in this nation, we can destroy the coal industry, we can destroy the agriculture industry … But here’s the truth, ladies and gentlemen: those livelihoods and lives are being destroyed not at the altar of science, but at the altar of ideology. … This is about ideology — it is not about science.”), and against having any federal minimum wage (“minimum wage should be a state decision, not a federal decision”).

On that “no single nation” point about climate change: A candidate who is serious about that view would push for international agreements on climate change. But in April Fiorina told the Christian Science Monitor that any international deal on greenhouse gases “would not be effective”. So in any practical sense, Fiorina wants to do nothing to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Fiorina has never held elective office, but her claim to fame is from the business world, where she was CEO of Hewlett-Packard. However, she wasn’t a particularly good CEO. David Nir assembles the evidence; to me the most striking detail is that HP stock soared when the board announced it had forced her out, at one point getting 10.5% ahead of the previous day’s closing price.

“The stock is up a bit on the fact that nobody liked Carly’s leadership all that much,” said Robert Cihra, an analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners. “The Street had lost all faith in her and the market’s hope is that anyone will be better.”

If another Republican president (not to mention another Bush) is such a great idea, you have to wonder why the GOP has dropped the last one down the memory hole. If you only listen to the GOP presidential candidates, you might imagine that Ronald Reagan was the last Republican president.

Historian Aurin Squire observes:

This upcoming election marks the latest great GOP purge of history. … The RNC solution to a mountain of damning evidence is a campaign to erase and displace—that is, erasing Bush from the public memory and displacing as many disasters on to Obama. This is a test of the RNC propaganda machine to see how many people they can get to believe whatever they want. Case in point: Almost as many people blame President Obama for the Hurricane Katrina fiasco as the president in office at the time. Anyone with a smart phone and opposable thumbs could figure out that Obama was not president during Katrina and had nothing to do with the aftermath. But if you can alter the memories of 40 to 45 percent of Louisiana Republicans through constant propaganda, the whole country can’t be far behind. It’s a great way of being wrong, and therefore never learning from bad decisions.

Rolling Stone‘s Tim Dickinson points out a disturbing intersection of harsh policies: five Republican candidates (Cruz, Paul, Walker, Jindal, and Huckabee) are against both rape exceptions on abortion bans and against birthright citizenship. That produces the following result:

It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which an undocumented woman in America is raped by a man (perhaps a relative) who is also not a citizen. GOP politicians holding both views would force this woman to give birth to her rapist’s baby — and then deny that child citizenship.

The best version of the Republican debate comes from Bad Lip Reading.

If you want to understand how the magic of BLR works, ThinkProgress explains.

and you also might be interested in …

A touching story about end-of-life care.

OK, I admit this is kind of geeky, but I think it’s fascinating: Mathematicians have discovered a new tessellating pentagon. In other words, you could tile an infinite plane using only that one pentagonal shape, leaving no gaps. (To grasp what’s special about that, make yourself a few identical regular pentagons, and see how far you get before you start leaving gaps.)

It’s said to be only the fifteenth such pentagon ever found and the first new one to be found in 30 years. Finding one is a bit like discovering a new atomic particle, Dr. Casey Mann, associate professor of mathematics at the University of Washington in Bothell and a member of the team, said in a written statement.

Even if the sheer mathematical wonder of that escapes you, you have to admit it’s kind of pretty.

and let’s close with something I’ll never do

I’ve never written down a formal Bucket List, but if I did I’m pretty sure “jump off the Princess Tower in Dubai” would not be on it.

Not even with a zip line or a pretty girl.

Discomforting Urgency

In this movement exists a kind of urgency that only proximity to terror can produce, and yes, that urgency can be extreme and discomforting, because it must be. The sedative of all normalcies and niceties are the enemies so long as lives are in danger.

— Charles Blow, “Activists ‘Feel the Bern’?

This week’s featured post is “Why BLM Protesters Can’t Behave“.

This week everybody was talking about China

for two reasons: the massive chemical explosion in Tianjin (which was visible from orbit) and the devaluation of the yuan.

Tianjin is a port 75 miles from Beijing, and it contains the kinds of warehouses typical of a port, but on a Chinese scale. Something blew up there early Wednesday morning, killing over 100 people and injuring hundreds more. Thousands have had to leave their homes as sodium cyanide has been scattered widely.

The currency devaluation is one of those technical issues whose effects are anything but technical. The Guardian does a good job laying out various implications. A factor that complicates everybody’s thinking (and makes it more likely that somebody will over-react in a stupid way) is the Chinese government’s lack of transparency. We’re all trying to read tea leaves because we can’t get trustworthy data.

and Iraq

Jeb Bush knows why Iraq is such a mess: Even though the Surge totally worked and everything was fine when his brother left office, Obama and Hillary screwed it all up.

The saddest thing about this fantasy (contained in a “foreign policy speech” he gave Tuesday) is how predictable it was. The day before Obama was inaugurated, I wrote:

It’s just a matter of time before we hear: Bush had the war won, but then Obama came in and threw it all away.

The most direct parallel to Bush’s Iraq revisionism is Vietnam revisionism. Listen to Bruce Herschensohn tell the Vietnam story for Prager “University”:

Decades back, in late 1972, South Vietnam and the United States were winning the Vietnam War decisively by every conceivable measure. … On January the 23rd, 1973, President Nixon gave a speech to the nation on primetime television announcing that the Paris Peace Accords had been initialed by the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the Viet Cong, and the Accords would be signed on the 27th. What the United States and South Vietnam received in those accords was victory. At the White House, it was called “VV Day,” “Victory in Vietnam Day.” … The advance of communist tyranny had been halted by those accords.

Then it all came apart. And It happened this way: In August of the following year, 1974, President Nixon resigned his office as a result of what became known as “Watergate.” Three months after his resignation came the November congressional elections and within them the Democrats won a landslide victory for the new Congress and many of the members used their new majority to de-fund the military aid the U.S. had promised, piece for piece, breaking the commitment that we made to the South Vietnamese in Paris to provide whatever military hardware the South Vietnamese needed in case of aggression from the North. Put simply and accurately, a majority of Democrats of the 94th Congress did not keep the word of the United States. … Many of them had an investment in America’s failure in Vietnam. They had participated in demonstrations against the war for many years. They wouldn’t give the aid.

So there you have it: Hundreds of thousands of American troops fought for almost a decade without a clear result. But just a few more billion in aid to a famously corrupt South Vietnamese government would have finished the job.

That is so much more credible than the other story: that Nixon was a crook thrown out of office for good reasons, and that he was just lying when he declared victory. We could have kept our troops there for another decade, and when we left South Vietnam still would have fallen.

Or, if not more credible, Herschensohn’s version at least makes better wishful thinking for the people who started our intervention in Vietnam or continued it beyond all sense.

The same process is at work in Iraq revisionism: If you don’t want to admit you were wrong (because you want to apply all the same ideas to Iran and ISIS), then Jeb’s story is much more comforting.

I stand by what I wrote in 2005:

We can leave Iraq now, or we can leave after our losses have grown. That is the only choice we have.

America’s key mistake in Iraq was invading in the first place, not getting our troops (mostly) out of harm’s way.

BTW: My Facebook feed has been full of links to the Prager U video by West Point historian Colonel Ty Seidule, making a clear case that the Civil War really was about slavery rather than states rights or tariffs or any of the other excuses Southern whites have invented for denying that their great-grandfathers fought on the wrong side.

I love the message, but the video itself is a Trojan Horse. Here’s a tip: Before sharing something from an institution, take a look at the other stuff it puts out. Prager U is a project of conservative talk-radio host Dennis Prager, who stars in some of the videos. You really don’t want to encourage your friends to wander its “campus” and imbibe its point of view.

The Vietnam revisionism piece quoted above is much more typical of PU than the Civil War video. Other PU videos feature  climate-change denial, anti-feminism, a reduction of the Israeli/Palestine problem to “one side [Palestinians] wants the other side [Israelis] dead”, blaming all the problems of America’s public schools on teachers, and claiming that liberals are more racist than conservatives.

Do you really want to lend credibility to all that?

and 2016

Numbers about the GOP debate are in, so I have to correct a few of my initial responses from last week. First, I was wrong to say that nobody watched the kids-table debate among the candidates who didn’t poll high enough to get into the main event. It turns out six million people did, which would be a big number for any debate this early. I don’t know why they watched, but they did.

Second, I identified the losers of the debate as

Walker, Bush, and Carson. Not because they made any major gaffes, but because they seemed to fade into the background.

Post-debate polls agree with me about Walker and Bush, but not Carson. Ben Carson moved up to second in Iowa. 538 says his national poll numbers have moved up by an average of 2.4% and credits his performance:

Depending on which poll you look at, he was rated as either the most impressive or the second most impressive candidate in the varsity debate.

Again, not sure why.

538 identifies Carly Fiorina (from the kids’ table) as the big winner, going from nowhere to the high single digits, and Scott Walker as the big loser.

Speaking of Fiorina, according to the NYT:

Now, many Republicans, preparing to potentially confront Mrs. Clinton in a general election, are looking anew at Mrs. Fiorina, who rose from being a secretary to running the giant technology company HP, as the party’s weapon to counter the perception that it is waging a “war on women.”

Republicans who hold that hope really need to take a look at the exit polls from 2010, when Fiorina lost the California Senate race to Barbara Boxer. In a year when Republicans actually won the women’s vote nationally (51%-49%), Fiorina lost the women’s vote by a wide margin (55%-39%, with 6% going to “Other”).

If your policies appeal to a group, then nominating a member of that group will boost their turnout, as black turnout increased for Obama in 2008 and 2012. But identity politics won’t save you if your policies suck. If Marco Rubio runs on a platform that calls for building a wall on the Mexican border and tossing all the undocumented immigrants over it, and if his campaign panders to the working-class whites who believe they’d still be making big money on the assembly line if not for all those brown people — then Hispanics will decisively reject him. Ditto for Fiorina and women or Carson and blacks, if they just put a one-of-us face on the anti-woman, anti-black Republican consensus.

Ask your black friends how much pride they take in having Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, or whether his race makes up for him providing the decisive fifth vote to gut the Voting Rights Act.

Or think about this: The last time the Democrats nominated a white man, John Kerry lost the white male vote 62%-37%.

Bernie Sanders shocked everybody by taking the lead in a New Hampshire poll. Polls are noisy this far away from the election, so it could be a blip. Or maybe not.

I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that we’re starting to hear rumblings about Joe Biden and Al Gore (though unidentified “close advisers” to Gore deny it) getting into the race. But the NYT’s Nate Cohn doesn’t think Clinton has much to worry about yet.

New evidence that this election cycle is unique: The negative ads have already started. Here’s Rand Paul’s attack on Donald Trump.

Contrast the bickering and name-calling on the Republican side with what’s going on among the Democrats: They’re competing to produce the best policy proposals. Clinton announced a plan to make college affordable, and Sanders produced a racial-justice platform.

To be fair, Scott Walker is due to unveil his ObamaCare replacement plan tomorrow. Salon’s Simon Malloy is not optimistic about it, given the op-ed Walker published Friday, in which he seems unprepared to recognize any of the real-life trade-offs involved in healthcare policy.

Also, the Trump immigration program is out. I’ll have more to say about it next week.

Trump is an example in the latest phrase I’ve added to the “Conservative-to-English Lexicon

Telling it like it is. Pandering to people who resemble the speaker.  Usage: Middle-aged white guy Wayne Allyn Root: “Donald Trump tells it like it is.” Alternate form: Calling it like he sees it. Usage: Ted Nugent writing, “Donald Trump … calls them like he sees them.”

and Cuba

John Kerry dedicated an American embassy in Havana, a big step towards more neighborly relations with one of our nearest neighbors. Maybe the embargo can end soon.

The embargo made sense for about a year. Castro’s new regime seemed fragile, and it was not unreasonable to think that the extra economic pressure of the embargo might push it over the edge, producing a more friendly government in Havana. Half a century later, it’s still here, because we can’t admit a mistake. (Marco Rubio makes pig-headedness sound like a virtue: “a half-century worth of policy toward the Castro regime that was agreed upon by presidents of both parties.”)

In America, the fundamental political divide on these issues comes down to this: Conservatives believe we are doing other countries a favor when we talk to them. So why are we “giving” Cuba an embassy? (Rubio: “President Obama has rewarded the Castro regime.”) Liberals believe talking to your enemies is just what you do, because you can’t kill everybody you don’t like.

The Atlantic asked the question Americans so often ignore: How does all this look from the other side? It published a column by a Cuban blogger, who imagines telling his grandchildren he was there at this powerful “inflection point” in Cuban history. When he writes about “a collision between two countries”, he’s not talking about the U.S. and Cuba, but the new Cuba and the old Cuba.

and you also might be interested in …

This year might see the most powerful El Niño on record.

36 retired generals and admirals published an open letter titled “The Iran Deal Benefits U.S. National Security”. It says the deal is “the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons”.

We just had the hottest July on record, keeping 2015 on pace to be the hottest year ever, breaking 2014’s record.

Well worth reading: “How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment“. One interesting tidbit is how bogus some of the pro-gun quotes from the Founders are.

“‘One loves to possess arms’ wrote Thomas Jefferson, the premier intellectual of his day, to George Washington on June 19, 1796.” What a find! Oops: Jefferson was not talking about guns. He was writing to Washington asking for copies of some old letters, to have handy so he could issue a rebuttal in case he got attacked for a decision he made as secretary of state. The NRA website still includes the quote. You can go online to buy a T-shirt emblazoned with Jefferson’s mangled words.

Computer programmer Byron Clark has set up his web browser to automatically replace the phrase political correctness with treating people with respect. So here’s how one Donald Trump quote appears:

I think the big problem this country has is treating people with respect. I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for treating people with respect. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either.

Vox writer Amanda Taub comments:

The meaning hasn’t really changed, but it has been made clearer: Trump was asked about his disrespectful treatment of women, and his response was that the very idea of treating women respectfully was a problem for the country as a whole. That’s nonsense. Kudos to Clark for showing us why.

A Michigan math teacher explains “Why I Can No Longer Teach in Public Education“:

I have been forced to comply with mandates that are not in the best interest of kids. … The amount of time lost to standardized tests that are of no use to me as a classroom teacher is mind-boggling. And when you add in mandatory quarterly district-wide tests, which are used to collect data that nothing is ever done with, it’s beyond ridiculous.

… my take-home pay has been frozen or decreased for the past five years, and I don’t see the situation getting any better in the near future. … As a 10th-year teacher in my district, I would be making 16 percent less than a 10th-year was when I was hired in 2006.

If I were poorly compensated but didn’t have to comply with asinine mandates and a lack of respect, that would be one thing.

And if I were continuing my way up the pay scale but had to deal with asinine mandates, that would be one thing. But having to comply with asinine mandates and watching my income, in the form of real dollars, decline every year?

The fervor to fight ObamaCare is getting wacky in some places. Wheaton College is cancelling its student health insurance. Not because ObamaCare forces them to cover birth control — it doesn’t; the college qualifies for the religious non-profit organization exemption. But it has to notify the government that it is claiming its exemption. Then the government can instruct the appropriate insurance companies to cover students’ contraception by a separate policy Wheaton doesn’t pay for.

That’s too much for them; the notification makes them “complicit” in the great evil of birth control. Much better just to let its students go without health care entirely.

More proof ObamaCare is working: Gallup says the number of people without health insurance continues to go down, and it goes down faster in states that implemented the Medicaid expansion portion of the law.

and let’s close with something big

Like the elephant swimming pool at the Fuji Safari Park in Japan.

Inquiring Minds

Finally, there’s the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. We can’t do anything because we don’t yet know everything. We cannot take action on climate change until everyone in the world agrees gay-marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats, who are going to come for our guns.

— Jon Stewart, “Three Different Kinds of Bullshit

This week’s featured post is “The Artful Puppet Master: How Fox turned the first Republican Presidential Debate into a plus for the GOP“.

This week everybody was talking about the Republican debate

The big winner in the debate was the Republican Party, which avoided a potential disaster through Fox News’ careful stage-managing (which I described in “The Artful Puppet Master“). Beyond that, it’s hard to say. Trump, I think, solidified people’s prior opinions. The moderators did their best to trip him up, but the kind of people who liked him to begin with probably liked his answers — and felt confirmed in their loyalty by their impression that Fox was unfair to him.

Rubio was consistently served softball questions and looked good answering them. (Solidifying my prior opinion that Rubio-for-president is a high-concept campaign. Once you grasp “young good-lucking Hispanic conservative” you’ve got the whole message.) Like Trump, Huckabee, Cruz, Paul, and Christie gave answers that appealed to their core audience but probably didn’t convince many other people. Kasich looked like the moderate in the debate — which he isn’t — but whether that will serve him in the Republican primaries seems doubtful.

I thought the losers were Walker, Bush, and Carson. Not because they made any major gaffes, but because they seemed to fade into the background.

If watching the actual debate was too much for you, the Gregory Brothers have turned it into a song.


Pundits tell us that Carly Fiorina won the kids-table debate among the seven Republicans who didn’t rank high enough in the national polls to get into the real debate. They could just as easily tell us that Marvin the Martian won, because absolutely no one watched that debate, probably including half the pundits who tell us Fiorina won. (I kept telling myself it was my due-diligence duty to watch, but life is too short.)

Charles Blow nailed the blindness about racism that the debate exemplified: We focus on the “tip of the spear”, the final interaction between a police officer and a poor black person. But we ignore “the spear itself”, the system that cuts taxes on the politically powerful and then sends police out into powerless neighborhoods to raise revenue by finding violations to ticket.

One thing to keep in mind when you listen to Jeb Bush: The impressive growth numbers he quotes about his two terms as governor of Florida come mostly from good timing. He took office in early 1999 and left in early 2007, just before the housing bubble popped — rocking Florida worse than just about any other state. As PBS’ fact-check on the debate noted: Jeb’s claim that Florida added 1.3 million jobs during his governorship is correct “but by December 2009, 900,000 of those 1.3 million jobs had been eliminated.” Here’s the relevant graph from the Federal Reserve by way of Paul Krugman:

Florida has those jobs back by now, but think about what that means: It actually took 16 years, not 8, to create those 1.3 million jobs. So if you cut all of Jeb’s claims in half — 2.2% long-term economic growth rather than 4.4% — you’re closer to reality.

Krugman comments:

So Jeb is basically promising that as president, he can generate Florida-style bubbles, which bring disaster when they burst, to the rest of America.

A National Journal reporter tried — and pretty much failed — to cover Donald Trump seriously. His attempt makes a great critique of our spectacle-driven politics.

Finally, the people who really deserve a chance to respond to Donald Trump are not the other Republican candidates, but the Mexican-American community. Melissa Fajardo takes a good shot:

You probably think I’m here to say a big “F**k you, Donald Trump.” But actually, I’m here to say “Gracias.” Thank you for making 2016 the year in which immigration will define the election. … We might not all have big fancy hotels or beauty pageants like Trump, but lucky for us, we have a community of more than 11.6 million. And we’re tired of being called criminals and bad people. So in the coming months, we’ll go out to the polls and vote.

and Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart’s final Daily Show Thursday night was a sweet and sentimental send-off. Imagine, as Stewart was about to begin his run, that someone had said to him: “You’re going to do this for 16 years, leave on your own terms, have everybody you worked with turn up for your going-away-party final show, and get played off the stage by Bruce Springsteen.” I think he’d have found that an acceptable future.

Best line of the night: Larry Wilmore (whose Nightly Show got pre-empted for the hour-long Daily Show finale) complained, “Black shows matter, Jon.”

Not so fast, guys. There’s a new cat coming. And from what I saw of his stand-up show in Portsmouth a few weeks ago, Trevor Noah might be up to the job.

and a BLM protest that drove Bernie Sanders off the stage

A Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle was disrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters, who grabbed the microphone and wouldn’t let go. Organizers weren’t willing to give TV cameras the spectacle of police dragging the protesters away, so they cancelled the rally. Later that day, 15,000 people saw Sanders at a different Seattle-area rally.

The protest evoked a lot of discussion in the blogosphere, mostly centering around the question: Why Bernie? Isn’t he one of the candidates most sympathetic to African-American issues?

Several contradictory points are bouncing around.

  • BLM isn’t a top-down organization, so we don’t really know that the two or three black women who grabbed the microphone represent anybody other than themselves. One of the women in particular seems a little atypical.
  • Bernie’s proposals center on class rather than race. Since the lower classes are disproportionately black, his policies would favor them. But he’s not attacking racism directly enough for BLM activists.
  • Some blacks are asking the same question. The comments on the article about the protest in The Root are all over the map.

As I watch Bernie supporters react on my Facebook newsfeed, I’m struck by their frustration about why anybody would vilify a candidate who mostly agrees with them, just because the candidate doesn’t completely agree. I don’t think they realize that Hillary supporters look at them exactly the same way. Bernie himself has been pretty good about not vilifying Clinton, but his Facebook supporters show a lot less restraint.

Jade Helm 15 gets serious

When the lunatics were raving about how the Jade Helm 15 military exercise was really about imposing martial law, I laughed. I laughed a little less when the Governor of Texas pandered to these nuts, and when various other Republican leaders treated them as if they were reasonable people with legitimate concerns.

Now some of them have been caught plotting to lure American troops into a death trap in North Carolina. Shots may have been fired in Mississippi, though that story is a little sketchier.

I realize Republicans don’t want to stop anybody from making up crap about President Obama, no matter how unfounded it might be. But encouraging this kind of insanity has consequences.

but I was thinking about abortion

In particular about Katha Pollitt’s op-ed “How to Really Defend Planned Parenthood” in the NYT.

When you hear someone attempt to defend abortion, too often they’re just defending abortion rights, with a subtext something like: “This is a distasteful, disreputable practice that I think other people should have the right to engage in if that’s how they roll.”

Pollitt argues:

To deflect immediate attacks, we fall in with messaging that unconsciously encodes the vision of the other side. Abortion opponents say women seek abortions in haste and confusion. Pro-choicers reply: Abortion is the most difficult, agonizing decision a woman ever makes. Opponents say: Women have abortions because they have irresponsible sex. We say: rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities, life-risking pregnancies.

… We need to say that women have sex, have abortions, are at peace with the decision and move on with their lives. We need to say that is their right, and, moreover, it’s good for everyone that they have this right: The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary. When we gloss over these truths we unintentionally promote the very stigma we’re trying to combat. What, you didn’t agonize? You forgot your pill? You just didn’t want to have a baby now? You should be ashamed of yourself.

Women who regret their abortions become pro-life crusaders, but the far greater number of women who think they made the right decision leave all that behind them.

It is understandable that women who have ended pregnancies just wanted to move on. Why should they define themselves publicly by one private decision, perhaps made long ago? I’ll tell you why: because the pro-choice movement cannot flourish if the mass of women it serves — that one in three — look on as if the struggle has nothing to do with them. Without the voices and support of millions of ordinary women behind them, providers and advocates can be too easily dismissed as ideologues out of touch with the American people.

Women aren’t the only ones who need to speak up. Where are the men grateful not to be forced into fatherhood? Where are the doctors who object to the way anti-abortion lawmakers are interfering with the practice of medicine?

Here’s what I think: At times, a woman’s decision to have an abortion can be heroic. She is defending her dreams, rather than letting her life get derailed by an accident. She is braving disapproval for the sake of the family she already has, or foresees having when she is better able to care for it, or for the sake of the great things she hopes to do as a woman without children.

Pollitt’s article took me back to “What Abortion Means to Me,” which I wrote in 2012.

We came to this strategy: We practiced birth control faithfully, and planned to get an abortion if it failed. … So that’s what abortion has meant to me as a married man. My wife and I took responsibility for our childbearing. Without the possibility of abortion, we could not have done so.

Another interesting abortion article was in Vox. Julia Pelly reflected on how she mourned her miscarriage, and what that said about her prior pro-choice beliefs.

She might have done what Paul Ryan did when he saw his wife’s ultrasound: interpret personal intuitions about the value of this particular fetus as a universal moral truth that the law needs to impose on everyone else. Instead, Pelly leaves open the possibility that what she mourned were all the hopes she had attached to her pregnancy, which died in the miscarriage. Other women might feel differently about their pregnancies.

Two years later and with a toddler at my feet, I finally feel at peace. I’m at peace with the sadness I felt about my miscarriage — and with my belief that abortion is a fundamental human right. … What’s right for me, or sad for me, or joyous for me, may be just the opposite for another woman. In the absence of this knowing, knowing when life begins, we must defer to the woman and to what feels right to her, to the balance she strikes between the life she carries and the life she has. …

I trust women to know themselves, to know their lives, and to make good choices for themselves. I know now too that making a family is hard, that the beginning of life is ambiguous, part science, part spirit. With something so fragile, so hard, we should do all we can to support women in their journey, to celebrate when they celebrate, to mourn when they mourn. I will always mourn the loss of my unborn baby, and I will always fight to keep women’s right to choose, and access to abortion, alive.

and you also might be interested in …

All hell is scheduled to break loose when Congress returns from its summer recess. Of course there’s the Iran deal to vote on. But a lot of appropriations bills have to pass by October 1 if the government isn’t going to shut down. And another debt ceiling deadline looms.

A billboard in Kansas luring teachers to Missouri.

Do experienced teachers matter, or can we hire pretty much anybody to staff our public schools? Kansas may find out.

Kansas is the poster state for the Tea Party. Governor Brownback has implemented the full tax-and-budget-cuts-will-create-Utopia game plan, with the predictable result that the state is in serious financial trouble and the promised economic boom is nowhere on the horizon.

A lot of those budget cuts have hit the public schools, and some school districts ended the 2014-2015 school year a week or two early because they ran out of money.

As for teachers: pay is low, a law ending teacher tenure (not just for future teachers, but for current teachers who thought they already had tenure) is being challenged in the courts, collective bargaining has been limited, and the overall villainization of teachers has hit the point where the legislature debated a bill criminally prosecuting teachers who present material deemed harmful to minors. (It failed, but there’s always next year.)

Unsurprisingly, teachers are deciding that Kansas is a bad place to pursue their profession and are leaving in droves. Not to worry, though: Six school districts have been given a waiver to hire unlicensed teachers. Because it’s not like there’s any knowledge or skill involved in handling a classroom of kids — you just stand up and talk, right? Who can’t do that?

States are said to be the “laboratories of democracy“. Well, Kansas is experimenting on its kids. We’ll see how it turns out.

This NASA photo of the Moon crossing the Earth seems very peaceful to me. As Rick put it: “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

Media critic Jeff Rouner has a great response to the people who are upset that the new Fantastic Four movie makes the Human Torch black. In particular, he addresses the straight white men who object to this kind of “pandering” to the black segment of the audience or to political correctness or whatever.

Nearly every single movie, comic and video game you have ever enjoyed has been pandered to you as a straight white male. … Did you honestly think that every poster showing a strong, handsome male lead holding a gun and getting ready to do some damage wasn’t designed to appeal to your need to feel and identify as powerful, and that making the lead actor white would make that connection easier?

… My fellow straight white (and cis and abled) males, you’re under a delusion, and that delusion is called normal. We are not normal. Black people aren’t normal. Trans people are not normal. There is no normal. We are all categories with no default setting for the human race. However, for more than 100 years, the vast majority of stories that have been told have been pandered to us.

Where we’re headed:

and let’s close with some art history

The art-museum chase scene from Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

Inexpensive Indulgences

Sometimes I wonder whether these various forms of giving back have become to our era what the papal indulgence was to the Middle Ages: a relatively inexpensive way of getting oneself seemingly on the right side of justice, without having to alter the fundamentals of one’s life.

Anand Giridharadas, quoted by David Brooks

This week’s featured post is “If This Is Munich, We Must Be Germany“.

This week everybody was talking about another policeman killing a black man

Once again, an unarmed black person pulled over for a traffic stop winds up dead. This one is Sam DuBose in Cincinnati. The video here is maybe the worst I’ve seen. DuBose is sitting in his car, cringing backwards and holding an arm in front of his face, when the officer shoots him in the head.

The officer has been indicted for murder and has pleaded not guilty. The two officers who initially backed his made-up story (of being dragged and fearing for his life) have not been charged, apparently because they testified more accurately to the grand jury and did not directly contradict the video.

The more such cases we have on video, the more you have to wonder about the cases where there wasn’t video, and prosecutors or juries believed what the police told them.

and Cecil the Lion

An American dentist and big-game hunter killed a tagged lion who had been a major attraction in a national park in Zimbabwe. Apparently Cecil was lured out of the park to a place where he could be killed. Zimbabwe claims the killing was illegal anyway, and is asking the U.S. to extradite Dr. Walter Palmer of Minnesota.

Black activists on Twitter made very clever use of the incident with the hastag #AllLionsMatter. They have imitated all the things usually posted about victims of police shootings:

why talk about lions being killed by humans when lion on lion crime is at an all time HIGH? they’re killing their own kind!

was a thug. If he hadn’t been so intimidating, he’d still be alive today.

Here is a picture of Cecil the Lion being violent against his own that the media won’t show you. They want to always point fingers at dentists that kill lions, but never talk about the rampant lion on lion crime that takes place everyday in the wild. In addition, Cecil The Lion was found to have traces of tall yellow grass in his system, which has never been known to correlate with violence, but we will just mention it just because. If he had showed the dentist his ID and not have been outside of the Safari, this would have never happened

and Iran

The featured post lists most of the craziest things critics of the Iran deal have been saying. Slate‘s William Saletan watched the committee hearings and came away with this:

Republican senators and representatives offered no serious alternative. They misrepresented testimony, dismissed contrary evidence, and substituted vitriol for analysis. They seemed baffled by the idea of having to work and negotiate with other countries. I came away from the hearings dismayed by what the GOP has become in the Obama era. It seems utterly unprepared to govern.

This is why the GOP deserves what Trump is doing to its presidential process. In a democracy, responsible political leadership is an interface between Reality and the public will. So it combines two roles: representing the public and educating it.

As you know if you’ve ever been elected to the leadership of your church or club or neighborhood group, half of your job is to do the research the members don’t all have the time to do, and then to explain Reality to them, particularly if it doesn’t work the way they think it should.

During the Obama years, Republican politicians have abandoned that educating role. They have brought out the worst in their followers, and whenever possible have taken advantage of any counter-factual notions the base might have. Why not encourage conspiracy theories like Birtherism or Jade Helm? Why not claim that cutting taxes will lower the deficit? Why make people face up to the bad news about climate change?

Trump is the logical outcome of that trend. When he says he’s going to build a wall at the border and make Mexico pay for it, or order Ford to move its factories back to the United States — well, that sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? At this late date, no other candidate is in the position to say, “Wait a minute. Reality doesn’t work that way.” Because none of them speak for Reality any more. It’s been a long time since anyone has told the base that Reality matters.

and Thursday’s Republican debate

The latest polls mostly just confirm what we’ve been seeing: Trump in the lead, with Walker, Bush, and Carson in the next tier. The rest of the debate stage looks like Paul, Rubio, Cruz, Huckabee, Christie, and Kasich. Rick Perry is the first man out (though he’s not that far behind Kasich). Santorum, Jindal, Fiorina, Pataki, Graham, and Gilmore won’t be there.

The need to rise in the national polls so that you’ll be on that stage has been driving the wild rhetoric we’ve been hearing. (Christie has even been advertising, which usually nobody does this early.) Once you get onto the stage, though, you need to do something to get yourself in the next morning’s headlines. I can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with.

but I was thinking about religion

Changing U.S. Religious LandscapeAn updated Religious Landscape Study by Pew Research came out in May. According to a summary on the Pew web site, the big news is the continued growth of “Nones” (people who don’t identify themselves with any particular religion) and the decline of Christians.

The report is based on 2014 data and is compared with the previous 2007 data. (See table.) The percentage of the American adult population describing themselves as either atheist, agnostic, or unaffiliated rose from 16.1% to 22.8%, while the number identifying as Christian fell from 78.4% to 70.6%. Non-Christian religions grew from 4.7% to 5.9%, with Muslims (0.4% to 0.9%) and Hindus (0.4% to 0.7%) responsible for most of that increase.

That’s the kind of change I’d expect to see in a generation, not in seven years.

All major Christian groups declined (see graph to the right), but mainline Protestants and Catholics took the worst of it, with evangelical Protestants growing in number but still shrinking as a percentage of the population.

The composition of the Nones changed as well, as they shifted in a more radical direction. The percentage of atheists nearly doubled (1.6% to 3.1%), and agnostics were also up sharply (2.4% to 4%). Most of the Nones continue to describe themselves as “nothing in particular”, but within that group there was a shift towards those who said religion wasn’t important to them (as opposed to what I think of as the “spiritual but not religious” people).

As a group, the Nones are young and getting younger. Their median age declined from 38 to 36, compared to the median American adult age of 46. Among adults age 18-29, 36% are Nones compared to 56% Christian.

This is a political blog, so think about the politics of these numbers. Howard Dean took a lot of heat back in 2005 when he described Republicans as “pretty much a white Christian party“. But if you listen to the current crop of Republican presidential candidates, a lot of them really aren’t even talking to you if you’re not a white Christian. (Watch Ted Cruz’ announcement speech at Liberty University.) A lot has been made of the steady decline of whites as a percentage of the electorate, and what that means for the Republican strategy, but Christians are declining even faster.

Given that, what to make of this poll of Republicans from February? The headline was about their presidential preferences, but Question 17 was: “Would you support or oppose establishing Christianity as the national religion?” Support: 57%. Oppose: 30%. Not sure: 13%.

and white denial

David Brooks took a lot of heat two weeks ago when he wrote his response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book Between the World and Me. Like here and here and here. And I had a prior opinion: Coates is a valuable voice I frequently quote on this blog, while Brooks’ NYT column is usually a waste of one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in all of Journalism. But I decided not to pile on, because I hadn’t read Between the World and Me. For all I knew, Coates had overstepped and Brooks had a valid point.

OK, I’ve read it now. BtW&M is a beautiful piece of writing. It’s hard to read at times, particularly if you’re white, but it communicates a view that whites are not going to find in a lot of other places.

Also, it’s rare that a writer this talented just lets it rip. Coates’ pieces for The Atlantic have a measured, let-me-lay-out-the-facts tone (similar to what I aspire to here). But BtW&M is written as a letter to his 15-year-old son, and Coates just doesn’t worry about whether he sounds too sentimental or too angry or too anything. He’ll throw an ambiguous image or metaphor out there and let you figure it out. He’s on a roll, and he’s not slowing down for you.

One of the not-fully-explained terms in the book is “the Dream”. The Dream starts out as the idealized white suburban world Coates sees on TV as he’s growing up. It’s a place where people are secure and the institutions of society work almost all the time. Fears are isolated and often irrational; they get resolved before the credits run. It contrasted with the black urban Baltimore Coates was living in, where you had to choose your path to school carefully, and always be aware of who you’re walking with and whether there are enough of you. In Coates’ world, you didn’t solve problems by appealing to the proper authorities, because the authorities were a source of danger in themselves. So you lived in constant fear — everybody did. Whether you hid in your room or joined a gang and bullied others or escaped into drugs or escaped into books, you were responding to that pervasive fear.

As the book goes on, “the Dream” grows to include the self-serving, self-reinforcing, reality-denying worldview of the people who believe that the white suburban world is the whole world, people who don’t understand why everybody doesn’t just solve their problems in the easy ways they would. In the Dream, nothing is fundamentally wrong with America, it’s just that some people don’t know how to take advantage of the opportunities it offers.

In other words, the Dream is where David Brooks lives. And he responds in the way that has become typical for the privileged classes: He acts as if Coates had claimed universality for his experience, and he denies that claim. It’s like the not-all-men response to the Isla Vista murders. Brooks writes:

I think you distort American history. This country, like each person in it, is a mixture of glory and shame. There’s a Lincoln for every Jefferson Davis and a Harlem Children’s Zone for every K.K.K. — and usually vastly more than one. Violence is embedded in America, but it is not close to the totality of America.

But why even stop there? The abject lives of the slaves was not the totality of the plantation, which also included the cultured, genteel lives of the masters. I’m sure many in the KKK lynch mobs were (at other times) good decent family men. For that matter, why do we focus just on the monstrous side of historic figures like Hitler or Stalin? No doubt there were moments in their lives where they were kind and generous and fun to hang out with. Why don’t we ever tell those stories?

The point is: You don’t have a complete picture of America if you don’t include the experiences of its underclasses. You don’t even have a complete picture of white suburban America if you don’t see how it sits next to and interacts with and (yes) oppresses those underclasses. If your knee-jerk reaction to any confrontation with underclass experience is to start waxing eloquent about Abe Lincoln and cute puppies, then you’re living in a dream world.

and seeing candidates for myself

The day after posting the Hillary Clinton edition of my 2016 series, I got to see her do a town hall meeting in a school gym in Nashua (a moderate walk from where I live).

Clinton does a really good town hall. She seemed knowledgeable about everything that came up. She’s personable, and I think the Grandma-in-Chief image is working for her. Somehow, she managed not to sweat while wearing a jacket in a hot room. She answered a lot of questions, but no one seemed to care about the email controversy.

It’s always fascinating to be at a news event and then see how the media covers it. This meeting made it to CNN (once again, I was on the wrong side of the room to be on camera), but only for the question Clinton didn’t answer: Whether or not she would approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. I will give her credit for dodging it directly: She said she wasn’t going to answer, and gave an explanation that was maybe-sorta plausible, rather than bamboozling us for a while and then claiming she had answered. (She says she started the State Department’s decision process and then handed it off to Kerry, so she won’t undercut him by saying what he should do.)

Here’s what you miss about the context: The crowd (maybe 600 people, I estimated) accepted her refusal to answer. There were no boos or protests or follow-up questions on that topic. If you just watch CNN, you’d get the impression that she’s really being dogged by this issue; if you were there, it came and went quickly.

Something I’ve noticed about townhall meetings is that certain candidates cast a kind of spell: Even if I don’t support all their policies, I start making up excuses that could allow me to vote for them. In the past I’ve noticed that effect from seeing John McCain and Wesley Clark, so I thought it was my weakness for military types. But since Tuesday I’ve been noticing the same thing with regard to Clinton. I have no explanation.

While we’re talking about Hillary, Vox‘s Jonathan Allen dissected the NYT’s botched scandal story:

This episode is a particularly illustrative example of how an unspoken set of “Clinton rules” govern the media’s treatment of Clinton and how that ends up distorting the public view of her.

The Clinton campaign wrote a scathing letter to the Times, which it refused to print. Josh Marshall writes:

The Times has a problem covering the Clintons. There’s no getting around that conclusion. It’s a longstanding problem. It’s institutional. I am really baffled as to why they can’t simply come clean on this one.

At this stage in the campaign, candidates are mostly rallying their supporters or likely supporters, so it’s a little tricky to figure out where they’re going to be. (I found Tuesday’s meeting by walking into Clinton headquarters on Main Street in Nashua and asking.) This week I bit the bullet and signed up for the Trump campaign’s email updates. I’m waiting to see if I start getting junk mail about buying gold or joining the NRA.

and you may also be interested in …

Steve Hogarty tweeted:

Another embarrassing u-turn for climate “scientists”. First they said June was the hottest month ever recorded. Now they’re saying it’s July.

I believe this is satire, but it’s so hard to tell these days.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the Facebook meme claiming that Congress made Confederate veterans into U.S. veterans in 1958. But surprise! The notion comes from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and they were lying, just like they lie about most history relating to the Civil War.

Kayaking Greenpeace protestors in Portland delayed a Shell Oil ship headed to the arctic.  Others rappelled off a bridge to get in the way.


and let’s close with a view from an alternate universe

Key and Peele show us a world where teachers are followed like sports stars.

Stretching the Possible

For too long our leaders have used politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible.

— Hillary Rodham, Wellesley commencement speech (1969)

This week’s featured post is: “The 2016 Stump Speeches: Hillary Clinton“.

This week everybody was talking about Sandra Bland

Unsurprisingly, Larry Wilmore has it right: We don’t know why Bland wound up dead — so far the evidence seems to back the original story of suicide, which raises the next question of what happened to her in jail — but we have the dashcam video of the arrest, and it’s messed up.

The video validates a lot of what the black community has believed about the recent series of high-profile black deaths at-the-hands-of or in-the-custody-of police: While Sandra isn’t as meek and mild as she might be, it is the officer who consistently escalates the situation, until he is waving a taser in the face of a woman who is doing nothing more threatening than sitting in her car, smoking a cigarette, and asking why she’s being detained. As Wilmore points out: It is the officer who is supposed to be the professional. He is the one who sees this situation every day, and whose behavior should be judged by a higher standard.

The question everyone ought to be asking is: How typical is this behavior among police in general, and particularly among police dealing with black people?

Salon‘s Brittney Cooper writes:

On three occasions I have given “attitude” to police, asked questions about unfair harassment and citations, and let the officers know that I didn’t agree with how they were doing their jobs. I have never threatened an officer or refused an order. But I have vigorously exercised my right to ask questions and to challenge improper shows of force.

I have had the police threaten to billyclub me, write unfair tickets, and otherwise make public spaces less safe, rather than more safe, for me to inhabit, all out of a clear lust for power. On the wrong day, I could have been Sandra Bland.

… Black people, of every station, live everyday just one police encounter from the grave. Looking back over my encounters with police, it’s truly a wonder that I’m still in the land of the living.

Am I supposed to be grateful for that? Are we supposed to be grateful each and every time the police don’t kill us?

There is a way that white people in particular treat Black people, as though we should be grateful to them — grateful for jobs in their institutions, grateful to live in their neighborhoods, grateful that they aren’t as racist as their parents and grandparents, grateful that they pay us any attention, grateful that they acknowledge our humanity (on the rare occasions when they do), grateful that they don’t use their formidable power to take our lives.

Everyone melted at the quick forgiveness that relatives of his victims offered to Dylan Roof. But Sandra’s mom reacted with the kind of anger I think most of us would feel: “Once I put this baby in the ground, I’m ready. This means war.”

When violence broke out in Ferguson and Baltimore, many whites were mystified. They could get a clue from the season opener of AMC’s Hell on Wheels, particularly the scene where ex-slave-owner Cullen Bohannon warns his bosses on the railroad that the abuse of the Chinese workers will lead to trouble. “Sooner or later,” he says, “a beat dog’s gonna bite.”

and Clinton’s emails

What initially looked like a smoking gun now looks gross journalistic incompetence on the part of The New York Times. This is kind of typical. For decades, opposition research has generated a continual haze of mistrust around Hillary, but when you look back at the accusations after they’ve been investigated, there’s nothing there.

a Louisiana shooting and new details in the Chattanooga shooting

These days you can’t tell the mass shootings without a scorecard. The Chattanooga shooting is confusing the media, because the shooter is a Muslim, but he fits the disturbed-young-man frame more than the ISIS-inspired-terrorist frame.

Thursday we had another theater shooting, this one in Lafayette, Louisiana. Governor Jindal said that “now is not the time” to discuss gun control, and Donald Trump assured the public that “this has nothing to do with guns”.

and Medicare

Jeb Bush has his brother’s knack for mis-turning a phrase, so he drew a lot of attention when he called for “phasing out” Medicare. He walked that back a little, but Paul Waldman pulls the context together on WaPo’s Plum Line blog.

Bush’s choice of words made headlines, but his likely position is in the Republican mainstream: Medicare’s costs are going out of control, so it will eventually be bankrupt. So it needs to be replaced with a cost-controlled voucher plan like the one Paul Ryan proposed a few years ago.

Waldman makes two important points: First, that while Republicans use cost as an argument to do away with Medicare as we know it, they oppose any attempt to control costs within Medicare.

For instance, they’re adamantly opposed to comparative effectiveness research, which involves looking at competing treatments and seeing which ones actually work better.

Also, private insurance has far higher overhead costs than Medicare, so privatization would push costs up, not down. Government could save money for itself by limiting the size of the voucher, but that would just shift the higher costs to the individual.

Kevin Drum points out that under the most recent projections, it wouldn’t really be that hard to maintain both Social Security and Medicare as they currently exist.

So this is what Jeb is saying: Right now the federal government spends about 20 percent of GDP. We can’t afford to increase that to 23 percent of GDP over the next 30 years. That would—what? I don’t even know what the story is here. Turn us into Greece? Require us to tax millionaires so highly they all give up and go Galt? Deprive Wall Street of lots of pension income they can use to blow up the world again?

Beats me. This whole thing is ridiculous. Over the next 30 years, we need to increase spending by 1 percent of GDP per decade. That’s it.

Jeb is absolutely right that liberals won’t “join the conversation” about gutting Medicare. Because it’s just not necessary.

and Planned Parenthood

You may have missed this if you restrict your attention to legitimate news sources, but it’s been echoing all over Fox News and the rest of the conservative bubble: Not just one, but two (!) highly-edited hidden-camera videos supposedly show Planned Parenthood officials haggling to sell organs from aborted fetuses. In response, Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail are calling for investigations and cutting off any federal funds that go to Planned Parenthood. (It’s already true that none of those funds pay for abortions. Vox details where the money goes.)

In short, it’s the James O’Keefe ACORN sting all over again. In those more innocent days, O’Keefe’s video steamrolled Congress into defunding the community-organizing group ACORN, effectively destroying it. Only later did anybody ask “What are we really seeing here?”, examine the unedited footage, and figure out that it was all a con. (O’Keefe wound up paying a $100K settlement to an ACORN employee he smeared.)

Observing the effectiveness of the tactic, Rachel Maddow wondered: “Who do you think is next on their list?” Well, now we know: Planned Parenthood.

Background: A woman who has an abortion can decide to donate the fetus to science, and the scientific groups that study those fetuses can reimburse the costs involved in preserving and delivering the fetuses to their labs. That’s all legal and well understood in the medical research community.

So anti-choice activists created a front group, the Center for Medical Progress, which registered with the IRS as something they aren’t: a “biomedicine charity”. In that guise, they talked to Planned Parenthood about obtaining tissue from aborted fetuses. The conversations were secretly video-taped — which also appears to be illegal — and the CMP actor manipulated the conversation into areas that could be re-edited to look like the Planned Parenthood officials were trying to make a profit by selling body parts. (One part that got edited out was the Planned Parenthood official saying, “nobody should be ‘selling’ tissue. That’s just not the goal here.”)

Meanwhile, the reason Republicans in Congress were able to jump on the video so quickly is that some of them had seen it weeks in advance. But none of them alerted the appropriate authorities or called for an investigation until the first video was made public. In other words, their behavior was consistent with people participating in a propaganda exercise, not an investigation of any actual law-breaking. When questioned, Rep. Tim Murphy responded like this:

Asked afterward why he and others waited until this week to take action, Murphy struggled for an answer before abruptly ending the interview with CQ Roll Call, saying he should not be quoted and remarking, “This interview didn’t happen.”

and Trump vs. McCain

It’s very tacky to disparage somebody’s military service, particularly when it involved physical suffering and loss. But let’s put this in context.

The NYT’s Timothy Egan has the GOP’s overall hypocrisy nailed:

Trump is a byproduct of all the toxic elements Republicans have thrown into their brew over the last decade or so — from birtherism to race-based hatred of immigrants, from nihilists who shut down government to elected officials who shout “You lie!” at their commander in chief. It was fine when all this crossing-of-the-line was directed at President Obama or other Democrats. But now that the ugliness is intramural, Trump has forced party leaders to decry something they have not only tolerated, but encouraged.

Trump is not some aberration, he represents the current moral state of the Republican Party. They have no cause for complaint.

and you also might be interested in …

You’ll never guess what’s happening as the EPA’s new rules to reduce the carbon emissions of power plants get closer to implementation: The disaster predicted by Republicans is nowhere on the horizon, not even in Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky. The WaPo reports:

But despite dire warnings and harsh political rhetoric, many states are already on track to meet their targets, even before the EPA formally announces them, interviews and independent studies show.

And Kevin Drum draws the lesson:

Whenever a new environmental regulation gets proposed, there’s one thing you can count on: the affected industry will start cranking out research showing that the cost of compliance is so astronomical that it will put them out of business. It happens every time. Then, when the new regs take effect anyway, guess what? It turns out they aren’t really all that expensive after all. The country gets cleaner and the economy keeps humming along normally. Hard to believe, no?

The point of regulation is to reduce what economists call externalities: real costs that the market economy ignores because they aren’t borne by either the buyer or the seller. Carbon emissions are a classic example: If burning coal in Kentucky causes a hurricane in New Jersey, the market doesn’t care. So the apparent “cheapness” of that coal-fired electricity doesn’t reflect reality; it’s an illusion of the market economy.

That’s why talk about the “cost” of regulation is usually off-base. When you look at the whole picture, good regulations don’t cost money, they save money.

It turns out there’s a downside to the computerization of cars. In Wired, Andy Greenberg reports on an experiment “Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway — With Me in It“.

John Kasich and Jeb Bush represent the “moderate” Republican view of climate change: It’s happening, but we shouldn’t do anything about it. The rhetoric softens, but the plan remains the same.

and let’s close with something I wish I’d thought of

Under the right circumstances, even a little white ball can play classical music.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,673 other followers