Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

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.

Prepared

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.

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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.


Winner!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Short Supply

By easing tensions with Cuba and now Iran, President Obama is “recklessly squandering America’s precious supply of enemies,” the leader of a conservative think tank said on Tuesday.

— Andy Borowitz “Obama Squandering America’s Precious Supply of Enemies

This week’s featured articles are “Trump is the New Palin” and “So What About Polygamy Anyway?“. The previous featured post “You Don’t Have Hate Anybody to be a Bigot” has sprinted out to become the third most popular post in Sift history, with over 90K views in its first two weeks. It’s been creeping up on 100K in a Zeno-like fashion.

This week everybody was talking about the deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program

The criticisms of the deal are all basically of the form: “I would have dictated harsher terms to Iran.” The problem is that sovereign nations don’t let you dictate terms to them. If you want that kind of power, you’ll have to win it in war. Unless and until you do that, you’ll have to accept outcomes less appealing than the ones you would have dictated.

So the right question isn’t: “Does this agreement give us everything we want?” but “Is there any better alternative?” The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg — in a roundtable with David Frum and Peter Beinart — summarizes:

I put great stock—sorry, David—in the argument that opponents of this deal should be forced to come up with a better alternative. I haven’t come up with anything. I do think, in the absence of a deal, we would be looking at an Iran soon at the threshold, or at a military operation to delay the moment when Iran could cross the threshold. (Delay, not defeat, because three things would happen in the event of an American military strike: Sanctions would crumble; Russia would become Iran’s partner; and the ayatollahs would have their predicate to justify a rush to the bomb. Only more bombing could stop them, and then, of course, we would be talking about a never-ending regional war.)

To me, it looks like the Obama administration has threaded a very difficult needle: The only reason we were able to get any concessions at all from Iran was that the administration — thanks, Secretary Clinton — assembled a global coalition around a tough set of economic sanctions. Russia and China were not excited about joining that coalition, and even our NATO allies are not as gung-ho against Iran as we are. But the sanctions held long enough to get Iran to the negotiating table, where they have agreed to hamstring their own nuclear program for 10-20 years.

Critics of the deal (like David Frum) effortlessly project those sanctions (or possibly harsher ones) indefinitely into the future, and argue that Iran should have paid a higher price to end them. But support for the sanctions could have lapsed in any number of ways, and then we’d be nowhere.


The NYT had a good explanation of which issues the negotiations hung on, and how they were resolved.

and the Greek crisis

Greek banks are open again, sort of. But it’s not over.

and another shooting

This one in Chattanooga.

and (believe it or not) still the Confederate flag

The KKK rallied in front of the South Carolina Capitol Saturday to make the point that “the Confederate flag does not represent hate”. At least that’s what I think the guy making gorilla noises at the black protesters was trying to say. (Don’t ask me; I don’t speak Gorilla.)


The flag issue showed up in a different way in the House of Representatives. Democrats had attached an amendment to the bill funding the Interior Department next year, saying that the Confederate flag would not be flown over federal cemeteries. Republicans were going to try to reverse that amendment, and then John Boehner — realizing that the Confederate flag is not the hill he wants his party to die on —  decided to pull the bill off the floor instead.

This may not sound like a big deal, but it throws a monkey wrench in Republican plans for another government shutdown come October. Now that they control both houses of Congress, they were able to pass a budget that Democrats hate. The plan was to follow with the 10-12 appropriation bills that fund the government, daring President Obama to veto them. They believe this will put them in a stronger position for a shutdown than they were in 2013, when the House and Senate couldn’t agree.

But the Interior bill was one of those appropriations, and if they can’t pass it, the plan starts to come  apart. In particular, it shows a weakness that will probably undo other appropriation bills: Trying to pass bills with no Democratic support only works if the Republicans are united, and so small numbers of Republican congressmen can hold out for concessions like defending the Confederate flag.


Historian Douglas Blackmon explodes all the “heritage” myths about the Confederate flag:

No, the seeming immovability of that symbol over the past half century has been about something very different from an appreciation of actual history.  The modern resurrection and defense of the flag was wholly a product of the civil rights struggles since the 1950s, and the need for a rallying point for defenders of segregation and apologists for white discrimination and white privilege.  The flag wasn’t even flying in most southern states until the 1960s, and then it was hoisted with the explicit intention of telling the rest of the country, finally emerging from its own racial dark ages, to go to hell. And wherever that flag was invoked, it was accompanied in those days by explicit defenses of the most virulent racism and ethnic hate.

but I was thinking about the revolving door

The “revolving door” refers to people who work in industries regulated by the government, leave to take a job as a regulator, then return to the industry at a high pay rate. It’s a time-honored tradition in this country, and it sucks, whether it’s practiced by Republicans or Democrats.

The latest high-profile example of the revolving door is former Attorney General Eric Holder, who returned to his partnership at the law firm Covington and Burling. Matt Taibbi sums up in a Rolling Stone article brilliantly titled “Eric Holder, Wall Street Double Agent, Comes in from the Cold

Here’s a man who just spent six years handing out soft-touch settlements to practically every Too Big to Fail bank in the world. Now he returns to a firm that represents many of those same companies: Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup, to name a few.

Collectively, the decisions he made while in office saved those firms a sum that is impossible to calculate with exactitude. But even going by the massive rises in share price observed after he handed out these deals, his service was certainly worth many billions of dollars to Wall Street.

Even if you give Holder the benefit of the doubt and assume that all of his decisions as Attorney General were made in good faith, by going back to work for Wall Street he has undermined the public’s confidence in the government, and shown all future prosecutors which side their bread is buttered on.

and Bernie Sanders

Here’s the worrisome thing about Sanders as a presidential candidate: When he faces hostility, he gets preachy. He talks louder and talks down to the audience. As quickly as he can, he goes back to his talking points. For example, look at his presentation at the Netroots Nation conference this week.

Read Eclectablog’s account:

At times he plunged on, talking over the protesters as if they weren’t there. While he is largely a supporter of civil rights and is, in general, right on the issues of the Black Lives Matter movement, he came across as a self-important know-it-all who has better things to do than to listen to uppity black kids who are disrupting HIS speech. In the end, he took off his microphone and left the stage without as much as a wave to the audience.

For the record, I disagree with the tactic of trying to shout speakers down, so I don’t support the audience interruptions. I also agree with the talking points Sanders is trying to get back to.

But recall how skillful politicians like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama have handled situations like this. You’re never going to satisfy the kind of people who come prepared to shout you down, but at the same time you want the people who agree with the shouters to feel like you at least heard their concern and want to respond to it.

Sanders doesn’t communicate that. And that lack of skill is especially going to hurt him when he reaches out to the black and Hispanic communities, as he must if he’s going to mount a serious threat to Hillary Clinton. (It will also hurt him in debates, if an opponent can taunt him into exposing his preachy side.) Blacks in particular will be watching how he interacts, not just listening to what he says. It’s not going to be enough to quote proposals from his platform, no matter how good they might be. He’ll need to get across that he respects the non-white communities and is listening to what they say, even when he disagrees.

When I saw him in Portsmouth in May, the room was enthusiastically on Sanders’ side, so his argumentative side didn’t show. But look at this clip from a townhall meeting that went off the rails last summer.

Here’s an issue (Israel/Palestine) where I disagree with Sanders, and I come away feeling that he didn’t hear the audience concerns at all. Their rudeness made him mad, so he talked louder and talked down. (“As some of you may have noticed, there’s a group called ISIS.” Really, Bernie? That had completely gotten past me. Thanks for pointing that out.)

A skillful politician understands that he’s not just arguing with the people who are shouting at him; he’s talking to the whole world, including people who agree with the shouters even if they deplore the rudeness. Sanders doesn’t seem to get that.

So while I agree with Sanders on most issues, and I want somebody to put progressive economics on the 2016 agenda, I question whether he has the skills to run a successful presidential campaign. I’m leaning towards voting for him in the New Hampshire primary, because the early primaries are the time to be idealistic and issue-oriented. But if I were a delegate to the Democratic Convention next summer, I think I’d prefer Clinton, because she’ll run a better general-election campaign. I’m not willing to go down to defeat just to maintain ideological purity. The damage that a Republican president could do in four years — to ObamaCare, to the Iran deal, to immigration reform, to the Supreme Court — is too great.

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The real news: Bloom County is back.


Don’t miss John Metta’s essay “I, Racist“.

White people and Black people are not having a discussion about race. Black people, thinking as a group, are talking about living in a racist system. White people, thinking as individuals, refuse to talk about “I, racist” and instead protect their own individual and personal goodness. In doing so, they reject the existence of racism.

But arguing about personal non-racism is missing the point.

Despite what the Charleston Massacre makes things look like, people are dying not because individuals are racist, but because individuals are helping support a racist system by wanting to protect their own non-racist self beliefs.


Is this the year when ObamaCare rates sky-rocket? A lot of people want to convince you that it is, but probably not. By and large, rates will increase, but by modest amounts.


By a 4-2 vote, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ended an investigation into Scott Walker breaking election laws during his 2012 recall election. TPM explains why this is such a disturbing precedent.

Collectively, those four justices have thus far received just under $6 million from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and about $2 million from Wisconsin Club for Growth – the two groups being investigated for wrongdoing and who, along with the Walker campaign, launched the case against their prosecution.

The groups helped pick the judges. Then one of the groups was allowed to rewrite the state’s rules so those judges could sit on cases where they are a party. Then the groups persuaded those judges to shut down an investigation into whether they broke campaign finance laws by declaring those laws unconstitutional.

and let’s close with a prank

What’s in a single letter, anyway?

Divine Intentions

No Sift next week. The next new Weekly Sift articles will appear July 20.

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

Judge Leon M. Bazile (1965)
denying the motion of Richard and Mildred Loving
to vacate their conviction for miscegenation

If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn the line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.

Rev. Jerry Falwell
“Segregation or Integration: Which?” (1958)

Savannah Guthrie: If a state clerk refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple, would you agree with that too?
Ted Cruz: There’s no religious backing for that.

— The Today Show, 6-29-2015

Today’s featured post “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to be a Bigot” puts those quotes in their proper context.

It’s kind of ridiculous what’s been happening to this blog’s traffic. The Sift had 228K views in June, compared to 13K last June and 215K in all of 2013. Runs like this always end eventually, but usually traffic recedes to a higher plateau than before. I hope some fraction of the new readers become regulars.

This week everybody was still reacting to marriage equality

I discussed this to a certain extent in the featured post. But Mike Huckabee’s op-ed deserves some further attention. This is how the Huckabee administration will respond to the “religious freedom” issues raised by the same-sex marriage decision. (I use the scare quotes because the traditional meaning of religious freedom is very different than what Huckabee has in mind. He’s practicing a kind of Newspeak.)

The whole piece is full of Religious-Right jargon, so I may have to decrypt it in some future Sift.


I have a certain respect for the Tennessee clerks who resigned rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. If your conscience won’t let you do your job, resign in protest. There’s a fine tradition there. Imagine if, say, Colin Powell had resigned as Secretary of State rather than take the Bush administration’s bogus case for invading Iraq to the UN. Resigning in protest makes much more sense to me than the Texas clerks who want to keep their jobs, but not do them.

That said, I hope Decatur County replaces its clerks with people who want to serve the whole public, rather than just the people they approve of.

and talking about Greece

Greece soundly defeated a referendum to accept the new bailout package offered by the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund (collectively known as “the Troika”). Nobody really knows what happens now: Will the Greek banking system collapse? Will some new deal get negotiated? Will Greece end up abandoning the euro? I could speculate, but The Guardian and The Atlantic probably speculate better.

As for how the euro figures in the development of the crisis, this Vox video explains it pretty well.


Remember a few years ago, when some people still didn’t realize that President Obama was shrinking the deficit he inherited, and Tea Partiers were predicting a Greece-like debt crisis for the U.S.? With a few more years of perspective, it’s clear that there is a lesson for the U.S. in the Greek experience, but it’s the exact opposite of the one the Tea Party wanted to teach us: Keynes was right. When you get into a deep recession, the government needs to spend more, not less.

Recessions always balloon the deficit: Tax revenues go down and safety-net payments go up. Governments can react in two ways:

  • austerity: Cut government spending wherever possible to get the deficit back under control.
  • stimulus: Increase government spending to get the economy moving again.

In their responses to the deep 2007-2008 recession, the world’s advanced economies created an accidental macro-economic experiment: In spite of intense Republican opposition, America went for stimulus, while Europe chose austerity. Within Europe, the healthier economies like Germany, France, and the UK had their austerity moderated by democratic opposition. But Italy, Spain, and Portugal had credit problems, so they had to ignore popular opposition and impose the harsher austerity bond markets demanded. Greece was in a class by itself: Needing bailout money from the Troika, it had to take the extremely harsh terms the Troika imposed.

Here’s what happened:

The U.S. came out of the recession fastest, followed by the European countries that practiced moderate austerity, followed by the harsh-austerity countries, with Greece trailing far behind. (The graph would show a more dramatic U.S. advantage if the base point were the start of the recession rather than 2010. Ireland and Germany are only slightly behind the U.S. at the end of the graph, but they were far above us at the beginning of the recession.)

The Troika-imposed austerity was supposed to close the Greek government’s deficit, restore market confidence in Greek debt, and cause a rebound in the Greek economy (through a macro-economic mechanism Paul Krugman calls “the Confidence Fairy“). Instead, it accelerated the deflationary cycle, shrunk the economy further, and increased the deficit — which of course required more budget cuts.

Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz comments:

The disparity between what the Troika thought would happen and what has emerged has been striking — and not because Greece didn’t do what it was supposed to, but because it did, and the models were very, very flawed.

University of Maryland economist Peter Morici agrees:

Already, the Troika, … has imposed five years of budget cuts, higher taxes and labor market adjustments. The Greeks have endured a 25- percent contraction in GDP, 25-percent cut in private-sector wages and 25 percent unemployment.

Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio has soared to 180 percent from 130 percent of GDP, and that is an impossible burden to repay. … Another round of austerity would only further pummel the Greek economy, and impose economic deprivation that European leaders should be ashamed to engineer.

So, has the Tea Party learned anything from this? Don’t be silly; their economics is faith-based, not evidence-based. In his announcement speech, Bobby Jindal promised:

I will grow the private sector economy by shrinking the size, scope, and reach of the federal government

Jindal, in other words, wants to go the way of Greece.

and still the Confederate flag and racism

It’s hard to satirize some people. In an effort to defend the idea that the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern heritage rather than hate, the KKK is having a rally at the South Carolina capitol.


This week I noticed video-journalist AJ+ for the first time. In this piece, she wanders through South Carolina asking people about racism:


Bianca Campbell makes Georgia’s open-carry law real, describing her recent trip to the bookstore.

The idea of openly carrying a gun to protect myself has never been a realistic option—only when I’m imagining myself as Storm from X-Men dismantling oppressive systems with Black feminist thunderstorms and a small silver glock just in case. In reality, if the cops saw me with a gun, a bag of Skittles, or even a loosey cigarette, they would probably shoot me and ask questions about my permit later. [my note: She’s only slightly exaggerating what you can see in this video.] As a Jamaican-American whose parents had to navigate the country’s unjust immigration system, I’ve almost always known that papers and permits don’t save dark-skinned people.

And so now, Georgia’s open carry policy, the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the whole foundation of America’s justice system works as it was always intended: allowing certain people to feel safe at the expense of others existing in fear. I was without arms and face-to-face with a man who may or may not have wanted to kill meand a man who had the freedom to make that decision without repercussions.


Here’s how to show that Negro president that whites are still on top in Tennessee:

and the unending tide of Republican presidential candidates

Chris Christie announced. Donald Trump surged in the polls after describing Mexican immigrants as “rapists”.

President Obama was in La Crosse  this week, and he previewed how an anti-Scott-Walker general-election campaign might go:

We’ve seen what happens when top-down economics meets the real world. We’ve got proof right here in Wisconsin. There was a statewide fair-pay law that was repealed. The right to organize and bargain collectively was attacked. Per-student education funding was cut. Your minimum wage has been stuck in place. Meanwhile, corporations and the most fortunate few have been on the receiving end of hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax cuts over the past four years…

What happens when we try middle-class economics? Just across the river, it’s a pretty interesting experiment. In Minnesota, they asked the top two percent to pay a little bit more. They invested in things that help everybody succeed, like all-day kindergarten and financial aid for college students. They took action to raise their minimum wage and they passed an equal pay law. They protected workers’ rights. They expanded Medicaid to cover more people.

Now, according to Republican theory, all those steps would’ve been bad for the economy, but Minnesota’s unemployment rate is lower than Wisconsin’s. Minnesota’s median income is around $9,000 higher.

and Bernie Sanders

Bernie continues to draw huge crowds and rise in the polls, but 538’s Harry Enten and The Hill‘s Eddie Zipperer do their best to throw cold water on the Sanders surge. They do make a few good points:

  • In national polls, Sanders is still way behind, and most of his recent rise mostly comes from consolidating the left, not making inroads on Clinton supporters. When you take Elizabeth Warren out of a poll — as most have done by now — Sanders’ support increases without hurting Hillary.
  • In New Hampshire polls, the ones that have Sanders within striking distance of Clinton usually list Joe Biden as a candidate, which splits the establishment vote. If you assume Biden isn’t running — which seems likely — Clinton’s lead increases.
  • Sanders has yet to draw much black and Hispanic support. Non-white voters aren’t a big factor in New Hampshire and Iowa, but they are a huge chunk of the Democratic coalition nationally.

That third point is interesting. As a group, minority voters are highly pragmatic. They have a long, sad history with guys they never heard of (especially white guys) saying stuff that sounds good. So they tend to stick with candidates they know and have come to trust.

In hindsight, we think of Obama as naturally being the favorite-son black candidate, and he did eventually get enthusiastic black support. But in the 2008 cycle blacks were slow to get on board. (Obama’s earliest supporters were young whites who resented Clinton’s vote to authorize the Iraq War.) He had to prove himself as a viable candidate with white voters before many blacks would take him seriously. Hispanics got behind him even later.

Sanders has a good record on racial issues, but he represents an overwhelmingly white state and (whether the perception is fair or not) is not the first person you think of when you remember important civil rights battles. The non-white vote is not lost to him, but he will have to work to win it.


That said, I have to shake my head at how much effort pundits devote to discounting Sanders. Networks give serious attention to Republican longshots like Santorum or Perry, but can’t seem to mention Sanders without pointing out that he can’t possibly win. As someone — I thought Andy Borowitz, but now I can’t Google up a reference — put it:

Someone needs to tell the millions of people about to vote for Bernie Sanders that no one is going to vote for him.

And when somebody does notice the Sanders phenomenon, the narrative usually then shifts to “Is Hillary screwing up?” not “What is Sanders saying to raise such enthusiasm?”

and religion

Interesting article on ISIS and Islam:

Dalia Mogahed suggested that the relationship between Islamic texts and ISIS’s brutality is actually the reverse of what both ISIS and many of its enemies claim. It’s not, she said, the group’s interpretation of Islamic texts that drives its brutality—it’s the group’s desired brutality driving its interpretation of the texts. “We start at the violence we want to conduct, and we convince ourselves that this is the correct way to interpret the texts,” she said.

That’s long been my theory about American social conservatives and Christianity. The political positions come first, and they drive the Biblical interpretation. I mean, why take literally some obscure Leviticus text condemning homosexuality but not “Sell your possessions and give to the poor“?


I have ambivalent feelings about Bill Maher, particularly when he talks religion. But when he’s right, he’s right. In this video, he wants to know why the Democratic Party or the “liberal media” get all the credit for heaping scorn on Christianity, when he’s the only one actually doing it.

And here, Maher points to the House vote to let meat companies refuse to tell us what country their meat comes from. Bill combines the two goals of “erasing meat labels and repealing the estate tax” into a single slogan for the Republican Party: “Eat shit and die.”

Here’s a package of underpants. There’s a label on it, tells you where it’s from: Honduras. … Here’s a pound of ground beef (or whatever). Where did it come from? Fuck You is where it came from. … Shouldn’t you be able to know that? Next time you hear Republicans say they want to “protect” you from “burdensome regulations”, this is what they mean. But this isn’t really de-regulation; this is reverse regulation. Regulations are supposed to protect people from corporations, not corporations from people.

and let’s close with a visual pun

Crumbling Shackles

The human imagination stubbornly refuses to die. And the moment any significant number of people simultaneously shake off the shackles that have been placed on that collective imagination, even our most deeply inculcated assumptions about what is and is not politically possible have been known to crumble overnight.

— David Graeber, The Democracy Project (2013)

Both the country and the Sift had an amazing week. What was amazing for the country is outlined below. As for the Sift, it had the most page views of any week ever — more than 150K — led by a surge of interest in last August’s post “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“. (Being extensively quoted at FireDogLake may have had something to do with that.) That article got more than 120K views this week, rocketing past “The Distress of the Privileged” to become the most popular post in Weekly Sift history. (Between them, those two posts account for slightly over half of the traffic since the Sift moved to WordPress in 2011.)

This week’s featured posts are “Two Cheers for Justice Kennedy” and “Slurs: Who Can Say Them, When, and Why“.

This week everybody was talking about the Supreme Court

Thursday, the Court refused to gut ObamaCare, and Friday it legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. I broke off one piece of my Court analysis into its own article: “Two Cheers for Justice Kennedy“. Gay-rights advocates loved the rhetoric in Kennedy’s majority opinion, but his reasoning was mushy and convoluted. He provided justification for the criticism that he was redefining marriage according to his own values, and he didn’t establish a more general gay-rights precedent that was there for the taking in some of the lower-court rulings.

Roberts and polygamy. I was a little surprised that Chief Justice Roberts went for the polygamy cheap shot.

One immediate question invited by the majority’s position is whether States may retain the definition of marriage as a union of two people. Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective “two” in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world. If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one.

If you’ve lived anywhere that allows same-sex marriage, you’ve seen that it’s barely a leap at all. All the legal structure remains exactly the same, you just allow more people to access it. Polygamy OTOH opens up all kinds of complications, like: How does family health insurance work if you can add as many people to your family as you want? They may not be insuperable difficulties, but there’s some thinking to be done.

But what really amazed me was that Roberts learned nothing from Justice Scalia’s dissent in Lawrence, the case that threw out laws criminalizing sodomy in 2003. Scalia made a reduction-to-absurdity argument, claiming that the Court’s reasoning would lead to same-sex marriage; since that would clearly be absurd, the Lawrence ruling must be absurd also. But instead, his dissent has been quoted again and again in subsequent years, making Scalia the inadvertent prophet of marriage equality.I don’t expect to see legal polygamy anytime soon. But if it does happen, Roberts will be its inadvertent prophet.

Obamacare. For the second time — the first was three years ago — the Supreme Court refused to kill ObamaCare, with Chief Justice Roberts writing the opinion once again. This time he had Justice Kennedy with him, adding to the four liberals (Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor) to make a 6-3 decision. The far-right faction of the Court (Thomas, Alito, Scalia) united around a dissent written by Scalia in his trademark everyone-who-disagrees-with-me-is-an-idiot style (maybe best rendered as an emo song).

[BTW: I’ll take some credit for being right about the outcome. When I examined this case last summer, I wrote: “I don’t think they’ll overturn the subsidies. The Roberts Court practices conservative activism, but prefers to do it by stealth. … I can imagine Thomas, Alito, and Scalia going that way, but Roberts and Kennedy will be reluctant.”]

Like the previous legal attack on ObamaCare, this one was basically absurd. (In the 2012 case, a new legal theory was invented precisely for the purpose of killing ObamaCare, and got four justices to endorse it. Salon‘s Andrew Koppelman wrote: “The constitutional limits that the bill supposedly disregarded could not have been anticipated because they did not exist while the bill was being written.” In fact, it got five justices: Roberts endorsed the theory, but re-interpreted the Affordable Care Act to avoid applying it.)

This challenge was more of a legal “gotcha” attack, claiming that the way one sentence was worded, the law didn’t mean what everyone involved in the legislative process thought it meant and intended it to mean. As I explained last summer, the sentence establishing the subsidies to help people pay for health insurance refers to “exchanges established by the State”, while 33 states let the federal government set up a healthcare exchange for them. So the plaintiffs in King v Burwell argued that the subsidies weren’t valid in those states. As Roberts observed in his opinion, this would likely have started a “death spiral” of health insurance in the federal-exchange states: Without the subsidies, the individual mandate wouldn’t apply to a large number of people, who then would wait until they got sick to get insurance. Insurance companies would raise their rates to compensate, pushing even more people out of the market, and so on.

According to former Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, who was lobbied heavily by the administration but ultimately voted against the ACA, the interpretation pushed by the plaintiffs was “never part of our conversations at any point”. She attributed the disputed sentence to “inadvertent language”.

Back when we had white presidents, Congress handled this kind of thing without getting the courts involved. It’s not at all unusual to discover after a law is passed that some part of it isn’t worded quite right. But these drafting errors are just fixed by new legislation, which usually passes without noticeable opposition. (No one has come up with an example of a major pre-Obama law that got skewered because of inadvertent language.) Similarly, it’s typical for a complicated piece of legislation to need minor fixes to its procedures, and Congress used to simply recognize that the fixes made the law better, rather than seeing this as a chance to refight the original battle and scuttle everything.

But in Obama Era, Republicans in Congress practice an unprecedented scorched-earth opposition, and have abandoned all previous standards of fair play. So there is no chance of getting amending legislation passed. (This is also why Obama has had to do so much through executive order. No matter how sensible a procedural change is, Congress will not pass it. Obamacare delenda est!) So the law Congress originally passed is the one the Court has to work with. Like Obama, the Court had to decide whether to take on a larger role to compensate for Congressional dysfunction.

Fortunately, Roberts and Kennedy did the sensible thing. Looking at the option of canceling the subsidies in 33 states and throwing their insurance markets into chaos, Roberts wrote: “It is implausible that Congress meant the Act to operate in this manner.”

And it is. No one who voted for the law has come forward saying s/he thought it meant what the plaintiffs claimed. And when the state legislatures were deciding whether or not to create healthcare exchanges, nobody argued that they were risking their citizens’ subsidies.

Roberts’ interpretation has an added bonus: One way the case could have come out (the way one of the appeals courts ruled) is that the sentence in question is “ambiguous”, and so the Court would defer to the IRS’ interpretation. But that would allow the next president to order the IRS to interpret the law differently. By finding on his own authority that the sentence means what the Obama administration has been saying, Roberts avoided that scenario.

So maybe now we can just let the law operate as intended. It seems to be doing pretty well.

and symbols of the Confederacy

When I wrote “Please Take Down Your Confederate Flag” last week, I had no idea how suddenly the ground would shift. I expected South Carolina’s Republican majority to rally around that flag, leading to further protests like flag-burnings.

Well, within hours after I expressed that expectation, not only did Governor Haley ask the legislature to remove the flag from the capitol grounds, but a groundswell began to remove Confederate symbols across the South. Alabama Governor Bentley removed Confederate flags from a memorial on his state capitol’s grounds. Tennessee started talking about removing the bust of KKK Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest from its capitol. Mitch McConnell called for moving the statue of Jefferson Davis in Kentucky’s capitol to a museum. Several governors said they’d eliminate the option of putting a Confederate flag emblem on state license plates. Statues people had been walking past obliviously for decades suddenly became issues in places like St. Louis and Kansas City.

On Facebook and various other forums, I’ve been amazed how quickly Confederate defenders jump to charges of “banning” Confederate symbols, which I don’t think anybody is asking for, and which would violate the Constitution anyway. What we’re asking is that governments stop endorsing the Confederacy, and that individuals and private institutions that endorse the Confederacy face criticism. It’s your First Amendment right to fly any flag or put up any statue you want, but it’s my First Amendment right to point out that you’re promoting and celebrating racism.

The encouraging thing is how quickly the country seems to have lost patience with the mythology of the Confederacy’s noble Lost Cause. President Obama summed it up in his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney

Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers.  It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong — (applause) — the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.  (Applause.) It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.

The Confederacy fought to keep millions of African-Americans in slavery. There was no nobility to that cause. It was immoral and does not deserve to be remembered kindly or proudly. For decades, American leaders have tip-toed around those truths for fear of offending white Southerners — that’s the real political correctness in this issue. Maybe that’s over.

As for what to replace those Confederate monuments with: There’s a real shortage of monuments to the hundreds of thousands of slaves who escaped their masters and joined the army of the United States. No doubt every Confederate State has such a black hero. You can impugn the motives of many of the Northerners who fought, but these Southern blacks were the real freedom fighters of the Civil War.

Let’s not overestimate the importance of these symbolic moves. But they seemed impossible just a few weeks ago. As David Graeber has said (see quote above), political common sense can change very suddenly. It gives me hope for issues that seem hopelessly jammed today, like serious action on climate change.

and you also might be interested in …

I mentioned Obama’s Charleston eulogy above. If you haven’t seen the whole thing [transcript, video] you should.

It’s really hard to imagine how Obama could have picked up all that Christian theology at his madrassa in Indonesia. But seriously, I think people who assume authentic Christianity belongs to conservatives will be stunned.

I’ll be interested to see if we hear more of this change: Where presidents have been ending their speeches with “God bless America”, Obama ended this one with: “May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.” It is a more humble usage, less amenable to American exceptionalism.


Ted Cruz is calling for Texas clerks to express their “religious freedom” by not processing marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Hmmm. Would he support a clerk expressing his religious freedom by refusing to process gun-owner licenses?


Now that they’re not allowed to discriminate against gays, at least two Alabama counties have stopped issuing marriage licenses entirely. Good luck with that. I’m sure this principled civil disobedience will bring gay rights advocates to their knees. Personally, I am quivering at the thought that opposite-sex Alabama couples who can’t get married will blame me rather than their local officials.


I have already expressed my sympathy with the Bernie Sanders campaign. But if you are tempted to forward some of those anti-Hillary social media messages, you might want to explore where they come from. You might be carrying water for some right-wing group that is trying to turn Democrats against each other.

and let’s close with a inter-species musical jam

Who knew elephants could boogie? Actually, elephant intelligence is remarkable, and ought to be studied further. For example, elephants are one of the few species that can recognize their own reflections in a mirror. Unfortunately, elephant labs tend to be rather expensive, so for the foreseeable future we’ll understand white rats a whole lot better.

Here’s a question somebody ought to know the answer to: If elephants have a sense of rhythm, does that mean they’ll get in step with each other on long migrations?

Perhaps Mentally Ill

A black shooter is a thug, a Muslim is a terrorist, and a white attacker is perhaps mentally ill.

— an unidentified interviewer for RT network’s “In the Now

Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let’s be clear. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.

President Barack Obama

This week’s featured post is “Please Take Down Your Confederate Flag“. But last August’s “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party” is also topical again; it had picked up more than 20K new hits between the Charleston shooting and 9:30 this morning, making it the second Weekly Sift post to go over a quarter million page views.

This week everybody was talking about the terrorist attack in South Carolina

But not everybody was calling it that. Since the shooter was a white supremacist and his victims were not whites, the incident was usually referred to as a tragedy, i.e., one of those bad things that happens now and then that nobody can do anything about. Rick Perry even called it an “accident“. (I discussed this phenomenon after the 2012 Sikh Temple shooting in “White Right-Wing Christian Terrorist“.) An interviewer at RT put it like this:

A black shooter is a thug, a Muslim is a terrorist and a white attacker is perhaps mentally ill.

If the subject weren’t so serious, it would have been comical to watch Republicans and their right-wing media allies struggle against the notion — obvious from the beginning to anybody without ideological blinders — that this was a racial attack. Multiple talking heads on Fox News tried to spin the shooting as an attack on Christians, because the imaginary persecution of American Christians fits within the boundaries the Fox fantasy world, while the very real persecution of blacks doesn’t. (Larry Wilmore collected the clips and added appropriately amazed commentary. Media Matters gives the chronology, showing that witness accounts of the shooter’s racist statements were already public before Fox’ Christian-persecution spin.)

Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum played along with that farce. (Jeb Bush merely professed ignorance: “I don’t know what was on the mind or the heart of the man who committed these atrocious crimes.” — as if he shooter hadn’t announced what was on his mind.) Fox trotted out a black minister, Bishop E. W. Jackson, to make the Christian-persecution case, not bothering to mention that he is also a Republican politician. Wilmore was not impressed: “Black don’t distract,” he said. He also ridiculed Jackson’s statement that the shooter “didn’t choose a bar, he didn’t choose a basketball court, he chose a church”, suggesting that Jackson could also have listed “a chitlin farm” or “a watermelon stand” as stereotypic places where blacks congregate.

In a particularly Orwellian editorial, The Wall Street Journal saw the shooting as a chance to congratulate America on its racial progress: Unlike after the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, authorities in Charleston are not conspiring to help the perpetrator get away.

The universal condemnation of the murders at the Emanuel AME Church and Dylann Roof’s quick capture by the combined efforts of local, state and federal police is a world away from what President Obama recalled as “a dark part of our history.” Today the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism identified by Dr. King no longer exists.

In a different context, Wilmore recently introduced The Nightly Show’sExtremely Low Bar Award“. This looks like another strong candidate: Our law enforcement system is no longer conspiring with white-supremacist terrorists, so we must have this racism thing just about knocked. It makes me proud to be an American.

The New Republic‘s Jeet Heer also looked back to the Birmingham bombing, but pointed out that the conservative media’s response then was very similar to the denial of white racism we’re seeing today. He quotes a National Review editorial from 1963:

The fiend who set off the bomb does not have the sympathy of the white population in the South; in fact, he set back the cause of the white people there so dramatically as to raise the question whether in fact the explosion was the act of a provocateur—of a Communist, or of a crazed Negro.

And the significance of this particular church to a white supremacist couldn’t be clearer: One of the oldest black churches in America, Emanuel AME was founded by (among others) Denmark Vesey, who was hanged for leading a failed slave revolt in 1822.

Discussion of the Confederate flag that still flies in front of the South Carolina state capitol, and can’t even be lowered to half-mast without an act of the legislature, is a topic I pushed into its own article. My main point there is that a symbol like the Confederate flag is so powerful that your personal intentions in displaying it don’t matter: It means what it means. Maybe you associate it with country music and good barbeque and The Dukes of Hazzard, but that just doesn’t matter. It is the flag of slavery and Jim Crow and the KKK and lynchings and Dylann Roof. You can’t make that stuff go away.

Finally, there’s the frequent statement — based on more-or-less nothing — that Dylann Roof was a “loner” or a “lone wolf”. We now have what appears to be his manifesto, and it’s filled with standard white-supremacist rhetoric and references. We still don’t know whether he met other white supremacists face-to-face or had any help planning his attack. But he clearly was plugged in to that network, through the internet at the very least.

Make the parallel to Muslim terrorists and ISIS. If a Muslim shooter had been browsing ISIS web sites and wrote a manifesto full of ISIS rhetoric, would we see him as a loner, or think of him as part of ISIS? Those same Republican politicians — Lindsey Graham, for example — who cast Roof as a disturbed loner would be demanding that a similar Muslim be grilled hard (and maybe even tortured) to identify his contacts in the movement.

and the Pope’s global-warming encyclical

Charleston dominated my attention this week, so I still haven’t finished reading Laudato Si or given its message the attention it deserves. Next week.

I do want to make two strategic observations that explain why I think this is a big deal:

  • Climate-change denial is geared towards confusing people about science; it’s not well set up to oppose a religious movement that defends God’s creation. Scientists are well-known evolution-pushing liberals who are easy to cast as part of a global socialist conspiracy. A diverse consortium of religious leaders is harder to tar with that charge, and fossil-fuel conservatives look ridiculous when they try.
  • What we’ve seen in regard to both women-in-the-clergy and gay rights is that no Christian denomination wants to be the most liberal group to defend a benighted conservative position. When the Congregationalists turn, that puts pressure on the Episcopalians, and when they turn the onus shifts to the Methodists, and then the Presbyterians, and so on. The Catholic Church has been the only denomination big enough to resist that kind of pressure, and now that it has taken a strong position calling for action against climate change, there’s no telling where the dominoes stop falling. American Christianity might wind up speaking with a fairly united voice on this issue.

BTW: NOAA’s May statistics still have 2015 on its way towards being the hottest year on record, replacing last year.

and still more presidential candidates

Jeb Bush’s announcement was an anti-climax, because he’s so clearly been running for months now. And I’m left with the question: What issues will he run on? His positions on immigration and education are unpopular with the Republican base. I have heard no specific suggestions for how he would fight ISIS or terrorism in general differently than President Obama. I really don’t think his blaming Obama for “the biggest debt ever” will stick, given that Obama has drastically reduced the deficit he inherited from Jeb’s brother.

I’ll get to his speech eventually in my 2016 series, probably after I do Hillary’s, but my immediate reaction is surprise at how little is in there. There are hints of a tax plan, hints of increased defense spending, but the only number in the speech is his goal of 4% annual GDP growth. Increased growth would be good — I wonder why nobody ever thought of that before.


Jeb didn’t stay in the news very long, though, because the next day Donald Trump announced his candidacy with a rambling speech that sounded like the kind of thing you’d hear from the guy on the next stool at your favorite bar. Digby warns us that we have to take the Donald seriously. But the comedians had a different reaction: Jon Stewart looked to Heaven and said “Thank you.” Larry Wilmore unwrapped Trump’s candidacy as a gift from the Comedy Gods.

Here’s what’s going to be amazing once the debates start in August: All the minor candidates are going to be looking to make headlines by saying something outrageous, but how are they going to compete with Trump? What will they have to say?

In the 2012 cycle, the crowd reactions were bad publicity for the GOP as a whole: They booed a soldier calling in from Iraq because he was gay. They cheered the idea of letting somebody without health insurance die. What is the audience going to do when Trump says that Mexican immigrants are rapists? Or voices one of his other incredible opinions? The general public may get a chance to see just how far around the bend the Republican base really is, and how every single one of the candidates panders to that insanity.


I loved Jamelle Bouie’s take on Hillary Clinton: She was a nerd before it was cool, and her public-image ambiguity stems from trying not to look like the geeky policy wonk she really is. He thinks she should “go full nerd” and be herself.

and Rachel Dolezal

I am still trying to fathom the depth of the public reaction to Rachel Dolezal, the woman who was born to white parents and raised as a white girl, but at some point in adulthood began presenting herself as black, and eventually became president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP.

In part, the story attracts attention because of its man-bites-dog character. Light-skinned blacks have been passing as white in America since colonial times, as I discussed last year in a review of Daniel Sharfstein’s The Invisible Line. (One member of a black-turned-white family Sharfstein researched was a Confederate officer during the Civil War and a Louisiana senator afterward.) But passing in the other direction is not something you hear about very often.

But even that doesn’t explain the urgency with which writers of all racial and political identities have been addressing this topic, as if Dolezal’s situation demanded our immediate action. I suppose if I were connected to the Spokane NAACP, I’d have a responsibility to form an opinion about Dolezal. And I can imagine that I might feel conned if I belonged to the constituency of the Spokane NAACP, and counted on it to represent my interests. I might believe that I had at least deserved the chance to know the details of Dolezal’s claim to a black identity before she was hired, so that I could decide for myself how confident I felt in her ability to represent me.

But that doesn’t make it a national issue either.

A lot of the ink spilled about Dolezal concerned what her kind of “transracialism” says about transgenderism, which was still on everybody’s mind after the Caitlyn Jenner story broke a few weeks ago. But the parallel between Dolezal and Jenner escapes me. Jenner broke the story herself, and all she asks of us is that we let her live her life (and maybe watch her TV show). What if Dolezal had done likewise? She might have said, “Hey, everybody, for a long time now I’ve been thinking of myself as black. So I’m going to darken my skin and frizz my hair and try to live in the black community as a black.” And then everybody could do what they wish with that information.

I don’t see anything to object to in that scenario.

The transgender community is already discussing how they feel about Jenner’s celebrity, which will likely offer her a de facto spokesperson role, if she wants one. But to make the case similar to Dolezal, Jenner would have to be angling for a role not just as spokesperson for transgender people, but for women. I see no sign of that at all.

If you do feel compelled to form an opinion about Dolezal, here’s an interesting thought experiment: What if one of her parents had crossed the racial line in the other direction? Then Dolezal would be reclaiming some forgotten black grandparent, but her life might have been almost exactly the same. She might have been raised as a white girl by parents everyone believed to be white, and have had all the same experiences, giving her no additional insight into the black experience in America. Intuitively, it seems like the grandparent would make her claim to blackness more authentic. But why? Is it really just genes?


In the section above, I was using a couple of abstract principles that someday I’ll have to flesh out on my philosophical/religious blog, where I post far less frequently. First, judgment is not an end in itself. Judgment is a tool for guiding action. If you can’t foresee playing a role in some relevant decision-making process, then you don’t really need to have an opinion, and there’s no inherent virtue in forming one. Sometimes thinking a case through is a worthwhile exercise that sharpens your mind. But it can also be a way to avoid other topics that really do demand your judgment. (On my Facebook news feed, I found it instructive how fast discussion of Dolezal dried up as soon as the Charleston shooting gave us a serious racial issue to think about.)

Second, the standards of judgment should serve the purposes of judgment. Just as judgment is not an end in itself, high standards are not ends in themselves either. So the answer to the question: “Do I believe Dolezal is really black?” depends on why I need to know. If it’s up to me to decide whether she gets some kind of affirmative action benefit, then I’d set a fairly high standard, and would probably say no. But if I’m her neighbor, and the question is whether I’m going to accept her for what she aspires to be, then I’d apply a lower standard and probably say yes.


And finally, if you go full Zen on the topic, all our identities are false. We talk about “true” and “false” identities, as if we were dealing with a binary category. But authenticity is a continuum like anything else. (That was the philosophical theme of my Jenner article.) Anybody’s identity is only authentic up to a point.

All of which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience:

The first thing the intellect does with an object is to class it along with something else. But any object that is infinitely important to us and awakens our devotion feels to us also as if it must be sui generis and unique. Probably a crab would be filled with a sense of personal outrage if it could hear us class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and thus dispose of it. “I am no such thing,” it would say; “I am MYSELF, MYSELF alone.”

I can’t help wondering what James’ crab voice sounded like when he gave the original lecture in Edinburgh in 1901.

and let’s close with something cute

It’s been a tough week. We need this.

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