Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Normal Behavior

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

Chris Hayes

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

This week everybody was talking about police and black people

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

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


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

and sexual harassment in the Senate

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

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

Politico‘s John Bresnahan tweeted:

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

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

Men behaving badly on Capitol Hill? What a surprise.

and Market Basket

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

We need a word for …

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

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

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

Let’s close with some feminism in an unexpected place

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

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

Unwarranted

Ferguson is a city located in northern St. Louis County with 21,203 residents living in 8,192 households. … Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of $2,635,400. In 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed of 24,532 warrants and 12,018 cases, or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.

– Arch City Defenders, “Municipal Courts White Paper

This week’s featured post is “What Your Fox-Watching Uncle Doesn’t Get About Ferguson“. The featured post from two weeks ago “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party” continued its viral spread last week. It’s now over 100,000 page views, making it the second most popular Sift post ever. But it’s still got a ways to go to catch “The Distress of the Privileged” at 332K. (Those numbers make the 2,000 views of last week’s “The Ferguson Test” seems puny, but it’s actually quite good by normal Weekly Sift standards.)

This week everybody was still talking about Ferguson

Wednesday, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell nailed the NYT for police reporting that reminds me of the reporting Judith Miller did for them in the lead-up to the Iraq War: Leaks from government sources are reported as facts, the official framing of events is accepted uncritically, and contradictory evidence is discounted.


A different angle on Ferguson comes from Arch City Defenders, a group that “strives to provide holistic criminal and civil legal services to the homeless and working poor in the St. Louis Region.”

In a white paper on the St. Louis area municipal courts published before Mike Brown’s death, ACD focused on Ferguson and two other municipalities that it described as “chronic offenders” for abuses of the justice system like

being jailed for the inability to pay fines, losing jobs and housing as result of the incarceration, being refused access to the Courts if they were with their children or other family members, and being mistreated by the bailiffs, prosecutors, clerks and judges in the courts.

… In many municipalities, individuals who are unable to pay whatever fines they are assessed are incarcerated — sometimes repeatedly over many years. One defendant described being incarcerated fifteen or sixteen times over a decade on the same municipal charge.

In short, if you are poor in Ferguson, getting a speeding ticket can wreck your life. But it makes money for the town.

Court costs and fines represent a significant source of income for these towns. According to the St. Louis County two municipalities alone, Ferguson and Florissant, earned a combined net profit of $3.5 million off of their municipal courts in 2013.

ACD’s Thomas Harvey says:

The courts in those municipalities are profit-seeking entities that systematically enforce municipal ordinance violations in a way that disproportionately impacts the indigent and communities of color.

St. Louis County municipal courts typically don’t provide public defenders, so even if the law makes allowance for poverty, the poor may not know how to claim their rights. Those who can afford lawyers often can deal with minor violations without a court appearance, with the result that (as one resident put it) “You go to all of these damn courts, and there’s no white people.”

ACD’s white paper draws an obvious conclusion: “This interaction … shapes public perception of justice and the American legal system.”


St. Louis police released a cellphone video of two of their officers killing a different black man. The video contradicts several parts of the police account of the killing, but nonetheless the shooting is judged by experts to be justified. Watching it gives you some idea of what police are allowed to get away with.


Three of the officers involved in policing the Ferguson protests have been disciplined. The first was Ray Albers of the St. Ann police force, who was videotaped waving a gun at the crowd and yelling, “I will fucking kill you.” He’s been suspended indefinitely.

The second is Glendale officer Matthew Pappert, who was suspended after tweeting: “These protestors should have been put down like a rabid dog the first night.”

But the scariest is Dan Page of the St. Louis force. He’s been relieved of duty after St. Louis Post-Dispatch released a video of an hour-long talk he gave to a meeting of the local Oath Keepers chapter in April. The articles about him pick out the easy sound bites: his hostility to gays, women, the Supreme Court, and President Obama, as well as several statements expressing pride in being “a killer”. But if you watch the whole talk, what’s really frightening is Page’s paranoid thought process, and the fact that the gym-full of people he appears to be talking to seem to approve.

I have listened to certifiably paranoid people before, and this talk is exactly what they sound like. They present “evidence” for their dark fantasies that you look at and think “Huh?” Page wanders through the Constitution, the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, and various other apparently authoritative sources, referencing bits that (if you look them up) have little to do with what he’s saying. (At the 25 minute mark: “In Psalms 83, Russia invades Israel. They are beat back, eight-fifths of their army are killed.”)

At around the 17-minute mark he presents a slide he says came from a talk by the Secretary of the Army. The untitled, unannotated slide is simply a list of ten regions. (“1. America, Canada, Mexico … 10. Remainder of Africa”.) Page finds this slide deeply threatening: “World government, folks. Anybody who resists it is dead.”

The idea that Dan Page is on the street with a gun is scary enough, much less that he has wielded the authority of a police officer for 35 years.


Online arguments about the Brown shooting are so formulaic that The Daily Dot has a taxonomy of the ten kinds of trolls you’ll run into.


As part of a long article that is well worth reading end-to-end, an ex-cop compares Ferguson to the Bundy Ranch showdown.

On the Bundy Ranch, armed protesters were violently obstructing law enforcement from performing their duties.  Sniper rifles were pointed at those law enforcement officers. Then those “snipers” openly gloated about how they had the agents in their sights the entire time. And what was the police response?  All out retreat.  Nobody was arrested. No tear gas deployed. No tanks were called in. No Snipers posted in the neighborhood. No rubber bullets fired. Nothing. Police officers in mortal danger met with heavily armed resistance and no one had to answer for it.

… Just imagine if there were 150 black folks walking around Ferguson with assault rifles right now. Imagine if a couple of them took up sniper positions on the tops of buildings with their rifles pointed at the police officers.  Take a quick guess at how that story ends.

and ISIS

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria beheaded American journalist James Foley — and posted the video on YouTube — after the U.S. government refused a 100 million Euro ransom demand and a rescue attempt failed. This sparked a lot of discussion about widening the U.S. involvement in Iraq beyond the current air strikes.

I don’t doubt that a lot of people in ISIS are bad guys. But it gets old watching the pro-war spin machine work. Once again, we face a group of insane, unstoppable monsters far worse than the last group of insane, unstoppable monsters we were warned about. Rick Perry thinks they’re coming over the Mexican border, and a former CIA deputy director warns us that they could get an AK-47 and shoot up a mall — not because either man has any evidence that such things are in the process of happening, but because we have a new name for the Boogie Man.

The problem with the panic-mongering is that it just raises the pressure to do something. It doesn’t increase the effectiveness of any of the somethings we might do. Couldn’t we someday have a rational discussion of what our options really are, and what good or bad things are likely to result from the various things we might do?

and Ukraine/Russia

The Ukrainian government forces seem to be advancing against the pro-Russian rebels who hold several cities near the Russian border. Russia is moving what it claims is humanitarian aid across the border, but Ukraine says it’s military re-supply for the rebels. It’s hard for American journalists to verify anybody’s story.

and you also might be interested in …

It’s still in the laboratory (at my alma mater, BTW), but wow is this cool: transparent solar cells. Someday, your windows could generate electricity without blocking the view.


The pressure to change the name of the Washington NFL team continues its slow, inexorable build. The editorial board of The Washington Post announced Friday that it will no longer refer to the team as “Redskins” in its editorials. (Presumably, the announcement itself was the last time.) That move was mostly symbolic, since the R-team isn’t mentioned that often on the editorial page, and the news and sports sections of the paper will continue to print “Redskins”. But it’s something.

As of June, The Seattle Times won’t use the name at all. It’ll be interesting to see how they cover the Seattle-Washington Monday Night Football game on October 6. Maybe this article from The Kansas City Star could be a model.

Wednesday it came out that longtime NFL referee Mike Carey had been quietly boycotting Washington games since 2006. When confronted with the fact that he had not refereed a Washington game in many years, Carey owned up:

The league respectfully honored my request not to officiate Washington. … It just became clear to me that to be in the middle of the field, where something disrespectful is happening, was probably not the best thing for me.

Carey has retired from the NFL and now works for CBS’ football coverage team as a rules analyst. He was the first African-American to referee a Super Bowl. A coaches’ poll once named him (tied with another guy) as the league’s best referee.

CBS’ Phil Simms and NBC’s Tony Dungy have said they will try to avoid saying “Redskins” while announcing or commenting on games.

Sooner or later, these little grains of sand will turn into a landslide. For now, not cooperating with the misnamed team requires an explanation. But we’re approaching a tipping point, where those who do cooperate will be expected to explain.

and let’s close with some creative law-breaking

Cracked has compiled a list of “The 7 Most Badass Acts of Vandalism Ever Photographed“. I mean, would you have thought to paint a giant penis on a drawbridge, so that would rise every time the bridge goes up? Or turn a Soviet monument in Bulgaria into colorful American comic-book characters and other mythical beings like Santa Claus and Ronald McDonald? Or let half a million brightly colored plastic balls bounce down the Spanish Steps in Rome? Somebody did.

Conditioning

As a white person in the U.S., I am conditioned from birth to see whiteness as safety — white neighborhoods, white people, white authority figures. My lived experience, my conversations with people of color, and my study of history have shown me over and over that this is a wild and cruel perversion of the truth. But the cultural conditioning is strong. Unless I fight it every day, white superiority seeps into my brain in slow, almost undetectable ways.

– Rev. Meg Riley, “Up to Our Necks

Last week’s “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party” had the hottest first week in Weekly Sift history, with over 62,000 hits so far. It has slowed down a little, but is still getting thousands a day. Already it’s the third most popular Sift post ever.

This week’s featured article is “The Ferguson Test“. Rather than focus on breaking news (something a one-man weekly blog can’t hope to do well) this post asks you to take a step back and examine your own reactions to Ferguson. How is race influencing the way you perceive the facts?

This week everybody was talking about the Ferguson protests

Very short version, for people who have been cut off from civilization all week: A young black man was shot by police under suspicious circumstances in a mostly-black suburb of St. Louis. The police stonewalled (but the family has released its own autopsy), the community protested (mostly peacefully, but with violent incidents), and the local police responded with military weapons and tactics until Governor Jay Nixon put the state police in charge, which temporarily calmed things down. Over the weekend, things heated up again and now the National Guard has been called in.

To get a handle on this, the continuously updated Vox card stack “Everything you need to know about the Ferguson, MO protests for Michael Brown” is a good place to start. The NYT has a day-by-day timeline. But maybe nobody does a better job of pulling it all together than John Oliver.

Here’s the thing the [Ferguson] mayor doesn’t understand. As a general rule, no one should ever be allowed to say, “There is no history of racial tension here.” Because that sentence has never been true anywhere on Earth.

And he responds to Governor Nixon’s scolding of the community (with the “profoundly patronizing” tone of “a pissed-off vice principal trying to restore order at an assembly”) by turning it around.

That should go both ways. I know the police love their ridiculous unnecessary military equipment. So here’s another patronizing test: Let’s take it all away from them. And if they can make it through a whole month without killing a single unarmed black man, then (and only then) can they get their fucking toys back.

Articles about Ferguson have explored several inter-related issues.

The specifics of the Brown shooting. See the above-mentioned Vox card stack. And an editorial in The St. Louis American gives some important political and economic background. In an era where downtowns are gentrifying, the poor are increasingly ending up in the first ring of suburbs, in places like Ferguson. But as whites flee to the more distant suburbs or return to the city, the white-dominated political power structure is often the last thing to go.

Racism in policing and the justice system. Ezra Klein’s article puts this together well.

Officer Friendly has changed.

The militarization of police in American cities. Due to a program that distributes unneeded military equipment to local police forces, towns as small as Franklin, Indiana now have the kind of mine-resistant personnel carriers that even the Army didn’t have in the early days of the Iraq occupation. And John Oliver’s rant (above) makes fun of Keene, New Hampshire’s suggestion that such a vehicle might be needed if terrorists strike the annual fall Pumpkin Festival (which I’ve been to and survived without incident).

The problem? Clothes make the man. If you see the public out the window of an armored vehicle, they don’t look the way they might if you were walking among them. And they don’t look at you the same, either. Worse, military veterans trained in this kind of hostile crowd control tell us that the Ferguson police are doing it wrong.

Andrew Exum tweeted:

Ferguson is useful in that it separates those who actually worry about the power of the state from those who just hate Obama and want to wave a Gadsden Flag around with their friends.

Michael Bell is a white retired Air Force officer whose article: “What I Did After Police Killed My Son” raises a more general question of police accountability.

In 129 years since police and fire commissions were created in the state of Wisconsin, we could not find a single ruling by a police department, an inquest or a police commission that a shooting was unjustified.  … The problem over many decades, in other words, was a near-total lack of accountability for wrongdoing; and if police on duty believe they can get away with almost anything, they will act accordingly.

and Robin Williams

who apparently committed suicide last Monday. There were three types of articles about him:

  • news articles about his suicide, most of which have been blessedly short on details. Like most of the public, I often compulsively seek out details and then wish I didn’t know them. A late-breaking detail was that he was suffering some early Parkinson’s symptoms.
  • tributes to his career, which had amazing breadth. I saw him live only once, at a benefit in Boston that he did for John Kerry’s Senate campaign. (I think in 1990.) I can’t remember a single word he said, but it was brilliant.
  • discussions of depression, which have ranged from clueless to extremely interesting. I got the most insight out of David Wong’s “Robin Williams and Why Funny People Kill Themselves“.

Lynn Ungar points out that the Ferguson and Williams stories have something in common: They both offer us the choice of whether to try to understand people in distress or stand in judgment over them. Both stories have an element of “if you haven’t been there, you don’t know.”

I have a personal interest in depression. Both of my parents had age-related depression in their later years, and (from the early warning signs) I suspect I will too. Among other things, the brain is an organ that processes neurotransmitters, like a big kidney that also happens to think. Like many people’s kidneys, it may do its job less and less well as it ages.

The biggest thing people don’t get about depression is that when you’re depressed, your brain is broken. (I think the TV show Homeland has done a brilliant job of showing how a person struggles to think when she knows her brain is broken. Carrie suffers from mania, which is a different malfunction, but many of the same principles apply.) Paying attention to your stream of emotions is like listening to a radio mystery during an electrical storm; bursts of static wipe out key details, other programs bleed in, and you struggle to hang on to the story you tuned in for.

In spite of mirror neurons and empathy and all that, you can never really know what’s going on in another person’s brain, even if both of you are icons of mental health. When malfunctions start to cloud the picture, we’re all just guessing. So I find it impossible to stand in judgment of Robin Williams, either to condemn him or grant him absolution. I have no idea what it was like to be in his head.


In any other week, the death of Lauren Bacall would have been the top entertainment-news story. She was not just a great actress in her own right, but because she came of age as the old Hollywood system was ending and lived to be 89, her death marks the passing of a generation.

and Hillary Clinton

In an interview with The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, Clinton began the process of distancing herself from President Obama, apparently in preparation for a 2016 presidential run. The most-quoted parts of that interview criticize Obama’s handling of Syria:

The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled

and his cautious approach to intervention in general:

Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.

As James Fallows points out, most of her interview stayed in harmony with Obama’s policies; but she should have known that the headlines would be about the differences.

If the former interpretation is right, Clinton is rustier at dealing with the press than we assumed. Rustier in taking care with what she says, rustier in taking several days before countering a (presumably) undesired interpretation. I hope she’s just rusty. Because if she intended this, my heart sinks. … Yeah, we should have “done something” in Syria to prevent the rise of ISIS. But the U.S. did a hell of a lot of somethings in Iraq over the past decade, with a lot more leverage that it could possibly have had in Syria. And the result of the somethings in Iraq was … ?

Fahred Zakaria critiques “The Fantasy of Middle Eastern Moderates“.

Asserting that the moderates in Syria could win is not tough foreign policy talk, it is a naive fantasy with dangerous consequences.

I’ve been resisting writing about 2016, because I think it’s a too-easy way to fill space with speculation that sounds a lot more important than it is. But these days a serious presidential campaign is a nationwide, multi-million-dollar enterprise that can’t be thrown together at the last minute. So we’re approaching the first big decision point: Who’s going to run? Clinton is the obvious front-runner, so the question is: If she runs, will any Democrat mount a serious challenge? And should liberals be hoping someone does, or not?

Up until this week, I’ve been focused on the importance of the Democrats hanging on to the White House, so I’ve been OK with Hillary going mostly unchallenged. If you’re focused on winning in November, you want the primaries to be like preseason football: Your team gets to run through its plays in a game-like situation, but faces no consequential threat. And you don’t want what the Republicans are shaping up to have: a big mudfest that someone wins by pandering to the party’s least attractive elements, and saying a lot of things that will come back to haunt him/her in the fall.

But the Goldberg interview reminded me of what I’ve long disliked about both the Clintons: Everything seems so calculated. I’m not sure whether there’s a real worldview in there, or just a political strategy. Bill’s two terms were a mixed bag. By preventing a Bush re-election, he gave us Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court rather than another Clarence Thomas. But after eight years spent constantly trying to find the center, the question, “What is the Democratic Party about?” seemed hopelessly muddled.

Here’s what I fear Hillary is thinking: If liberal votes can be taken for granted, then the best message for convincing swing voters is probably: “I’m tougher than Obama.” Tougher on Muslims, tougher on controlling the border, tougher on violence on our city streets. But if that message wins, where can she go with it?


And what if America is moving left, like Thomas Ricks.

and you also might be interested in …

Rick Perry got indicted for abuse of power, but I’m having a hard time getting excited about it. Steve Kornacki is skeptical and Jonathan Chait thinks it’s “unbelievably ridiculous”. They’re not Perry’s usual defenders.


Google just got a little creepier. Here’s a map of a smartphone user’s wanderings.


Kentucky’s proposed “Ark Encounter” theme park wants to get state subsidies while only hiring fundamentalist Christians.

and let’s close with something America should envy

Copenhagen’s “Cycle Snake”, a beautiful new elevated bikeway.

Overwhelming Threats

The court finds that even those doctors who support abortion, who have training in abortion, and who would be willing to withstand the professional consequences of performing abortion would not agree to perform abortions because the threat of physical violence and harassment is so overwhelming.

Judge Myron Thompson of the U.S. court for the middle district of Alabama (8/4/2014)

terrorism, noun: The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. Oxford Dictionaries

This week’s featured post is “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“. It’s the culmination of nearly two years of reading. A more accurate view of key points in American history can change how you see today’s politics.

This week everybody was talking about Iraq

President Obama authorized the first American air strikes since our combat mission in Iraq ended. Vox explains what’s going on. And on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver nailed Obama’s reluctant tone when he announced the strikes: “The President sounds a lot like a girl who is trying to reassure her friends that she is not getting back together with the ex-boyfriend they all hate.”

and two abortion rulings in the South

In July, a federal appeals court in Mississippi upheld an injunction that prevents a new Mississippi regulation from closing the last abortion clinic in the state. The State had argued that abortions were still available in neighboring states easily reachable by car. But the court held: “Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state.”

Last Monday, a federal district court in Alabama ruled on a similar regulation in that state: Doctors in abortion clinics are required to have admitting privileges with local hospitals. This is expected to close 3 of Alabama’s 5 abortion clinics. Judge Thompson’s ruling (that the regulation puts an undue burden on Alabama women’s right to choose an abortion) does an extraordinary job of laying out the full picture of what may superficially seem like a reasonable regulation.

It boils down to this: The history of violence against abortionists in Alabama, and the continuing harassment and intimidation of doctors and their patients, makes it unsafe for an abortion-clinic doctor to live in large parts of Alabama. In the three clinics likely to close, most doctors have their primary practice and residence elsewhere. (One doctor drives to the clinic from another state, using a diverse series of rentals cars rather than his own car, in hopes that he won’t be spotted by potential assassins.) That lack of local presence makes them ineligible for admitting privileges at local hospitals. The clinics could stay open if they could recruit new doctors who live and practice nearby, but that is impossible because they would not be safe.

The Alabama legislature, of course, knows all this. (So does the Mississippi legislature. And Texas.) The purpose of these regulations isn’t to improve care, but to shut down the clinics. And (if the courts allow it) it will work because the legislature’s strategy fits hand-in-glove with the strategy of violent anti-abortion terrorists.

and Benghazi (sort of)

The House Intelligence Committee has voted to declassify its report on Benghazi. Democrats on the committee claim the report concludes that there was no deliberate wrongdoing by the Obama administration. Rep. Mike Thompson says it “confirms that no one was deliberately misled, no military assets were withheld and no stand-down order (to U.S. forces) was given.” Republicans are saying … well, nothing, really.

But hey, there’s another committee gearing up to re-investigate. Maybe they’ll discover some reason to justify their existence.

and you also might be interested in …

A Florida judge said two Florida congressional districts violate the state constitution. His ruling rests on an anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment Florida voters passed in 2010, so the likelihood of this going beyond the Florida Supreme Court is small.


A commenter on last week’s summary provided a link to the monthly YouTube series “Global Capitalism” by Marxist economics Professor Richard D. Wolff. (It’s relevant to last week because Wolff commented on the Market Basket situation I discussed last week. Wolff gets a few of the background details wrong — the chain has 25,000 employees, not “hundreds” — but has some interesting thoughts about the abstract situation, beginning around the 38 minute mark.)

But here’s a quote from earlier in the program, when he’s talking about inequality, and about U.S.A. Today‘s calculation that only 1 in 8 American families have enough income to afford the American Dream:

It’s really important for Americans to understand that the economic anxieties they feel and the economic difficulties they have are not about them as individuals. … And don’t [go] blaming yourself or agonizing about what you didn’t do when you were a student, or courses you didn’t take, or majors you didn’t choose, or any of those other things. This is not about that. This is a social problem, and an economic problem, and you’re just being victimized by it. And the worst thing to do if you’re victimized by a social problem is to convert it into an individual problem. … Trying to solve the economic problem that I’m describing, which is engulfing this society and others, as if you’re the one who caused it and you’re the one who can fix it is painful to watch. It’s not going to work. It’s going to make you feel terrible. And meanwhile, you’re not helping to build a social movement, which is the only way you solve a social problem.


A bridal shop in Pennsylvania refused to serve a lesbian couple because “providing those two girls dresses for a sanctified marriage would break God’s law.” According to ThinkProgress:

Pennsylvania is currently the only state in which same-sex couples can legally marry, but also legally be refused jobs, housing, and public services just because of their sexual orientation.

To me, this is no different from the black waitress who has to serve the guy in the Confederate-flag t-shirt. In a service economy, sometimes you have to serve people you disapprove of or resent. And the fact that other people from your church might resent the same people in the same way doesn’t turn it into a religious-freedom issue.


Last week I raised the question of when to call attention to outlandish statements and when to write them off. The Alabama Republican Congressman talking about the “war on whites” … tough call. I wish I believed the voters in his district were embarrassed by this kind of nonsense, but I doubt they are.

and let’s close with something thought-provoking

I didn’t realize you could photoshop video, but of course you can. In this French-language video, the singer is “beautified” while we watch.

Pernicious Effects

The only place where [climate change] denial is anything credible any longer is here in Congress, where money from the fossil fuel industry still has such a pernicious effect.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI, last Tuesday in the Senate)

Everybody talks about affordable health care, Syria, Ukraine, or the children at the border. The real issue is our institutions aren’t working. That’s one of the reasons we’re unable to deal with these other questions.

Senator Angus King (I-ME, quoted in Saturday’s NYT)

This week’s featured article is “Can Conservatives Solve Poverty?

This week in New England, everybody was talking about a grocery chain

Seriously. If you live somewhere else, you probably know nothing about this, but the local Market Basket chain is the site of a fascinating struggle over the meaning of capitalism. In particular, is it possible to run a company in a way that benefits all of its stakeholders — customers, workers, managers, stockholders, and the community — or does capitalism necessarily mean managers and stockholders exploiting everyone else? (Except in Germany, I mean.)

For years now, Market Basket has been doing a pretty good job for all the stakeholders — paying good wages, keeping prices low, and still turning a nice profit. But recently the other side of the family got control of this family-run corporation, and all hell broke loose. Now workers are striking (without a union; figure that out), customers (including me) are boycotting, and the former CEO Arthur T. is trying to buy the company away from his cousin Arthur S., who would rather sell out to a mega-corp.

Esquire has a good article laying out the details. I’ll add only that it’s impossible to over-state the amount of buzz this has locally. There are demonstrations outside the supermarkets. In restaurants, I hear people at other tables talking about it. Thursday, I was at a diner I never go to, where no one knows me, and a guy a few stools down the counter had to tell me (at some length) what a greedy bastard Arthur S. is. I have yet to hear anyone take the side of the current management.

and the holes in Siberia

One of the big mysteries about global warming is when the feedback cycles start to take off, so that the problem escapes our control completely. One cycle environmentalists are holding their breathes about involves methane trapped in the Siberian permafrost: As Siberia warms, the permafrost thaws, releasing the methane into the atmosphere, where it is a powerful greenhouse gas and creates more warming.

So the three big holes that have appeared recently in Siberia are causing a lot of anxiety. I found the explanation of Russian geophysicist Vladimir Romanovsky on Scientific American‘s site:

The crater’s formation probably began in a similar way to that of a sinkhole, where water (in this case, melted ice or permafrost) collects in an underground cavity, Romanovsky said. But instead of the roof of the cavity collapsing, something different occurred. Pressure built up, possibly from natural gas (methane), eventually spewing out a slurry of dirt as the ground sunk away. … The development of permafrost sinkholes could be one indication of global warming, [said] Romanovsky. “If so, we will probably see this happen more often now.”

Oh boy.

and Gaza

It deserves attention, but I can’t find much new to say about it: Ceasefires get negotiated and broken. Civilians keep dying. And I’m not sure what any of this has to do with a long-term solution to the underlying problems.

Interesting poll from the Pew Research Center. Asked who was more responsible for the current violence, the over-65 age group said Hamas (53%-15%), while the 18-29 age group said Israel (29%-21%). Whites said Hamas (46%-14%), but blacks were divided (27% Israel, 25% Hamas) and Hispanics said Israel (35%-20%).

and impeachment

Humorously, Republicans are now pretending that all the talk about impeaching President Obama is a “scam” drummed up by the Democrats as a fund-raising ploy. (Suing Obama for abuse of power is on, though. The House voted to authorize that suit Wednesday.) Fact check: The WaPo has a timeline of Republican calls for impeachment, going back to 2009.

It is true that Speaker Boehner says there won’t be an impeachment. The problem: He also said there wouldn’t be a government shutdown. The Republican base (57% in a recent poll) wants impeachment, and Boehner has consistently caved to the base, even when it means reversing whatever he may have said along the way.

In 2006, when Nancy Pelosi said that the new Democratic House majority wouldn’t impeach President Bush, that was the end of it for all practical purposes. Dennis Kucinich might offer a bill of impeachment, but the leadership easily killed it. The difference: Pelosi was actually the leader of the Democratic caucus, and Boehner is only the figurehead of Republicans. Boehner has been repeatedly wrong about what the Republican caucus will and won’t do — as recently as this week, when his border-crisis bill had to be pulled back without a vote, so that the most extreme anti-immigrant yahoos could rewrite it.

Of course, it’s also true that Democrats are fund-raising off the impeachment threat. (Check your Inbox.) When your opponents threaten to do something that silly and unpopular, you capitalize on it. Or, expressing it from the other side: You don’t get to pander to your base on something this important without the rest of the country listening in.

and what else Congress did and didn’t get done before its vacation

VA reform. Congress did indeed pass a bill to reform the Veterans Administration. Shortened time horizons allowed a $44 billion House bill and $55 billion Senate bill became a $16.3 billion compromise. The LA Times summarizes:

The deal includes $10 billion in emergency funds to pay private doctors to treat veterans who can’t get a VA appointment within 14 days or those who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. The remaining funds are allotted to build up the healthcare system’s clinical staff and lease new clinics across the country.

National Journal lists long-term veterans’ issues still to be addressed.

The Highway Trust Fund. Mission accomplished: an accounting gimmick will keep it from running dry for another few months. Gail Collins:

We now make about half as much fiscal effort as Europe does on these matters. You may be tired of hearing people ask why we can’t have day care like Sweden. But it does not seem too much to demand a Spanish level of commitment to infrastructure repair.

Israel. Israel gets $225 million to reload its Iron Dome missile defense.

Refugee children. Republicans in the House spent a lot of time telling reporters that President Obama’s $3.7 billion proposal to handle the refugee children crisis was a “blank check”, but (as so often happens) the House leadership was unable to pass its own bill. John Boehner’s stopgap bill to provide funding until the end of September had to be pulled back without a vote. Then, as Michele Bachmann put it, “We completely gutted the bill,” focusing it almost entirely on border security, and adding a companion bill to deport the so-called “dreamers” — the undocumented high school graduates who were brought to this country as children, whose deportations were delayed by President Obama’s executive order and who would get permanent residency if the DREAM Act ever passed. Fox News summarizes:

The new bill includes $70 million in National Guard money for both the states and federal government. It includes more than $400 million for the Department of Homeland Security to boost border security, and nearly $200 million for housing and “humanitarian assistance.” It would also tighten language tweaking a 2008 immigration law, for the purpose of speeding deportations of illegal immigrant children back to Central American countries.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans blocked a $2.7 billion plan, using a point of order that required 60 votes to overcome. With no bill coming to his desk, President Obama is considering a broader executive action on immigration, which some Republican congressmen have said would lead to impeachment.

and the ObamaCare subsidies

TPM’s Dylan Scott highlights a key point in the legislative history of the Affordable Care Act: The Congressional Budget Office never analyzed a scenario in which costs would be affected by states choosing not to set up their own exchanges.

“It definitely didn’t come up. This possibility never crossed anybody’s mind,” David Auerbach, who was a principal analyst for the CBO’s scoring of the ACA, told TPM on Thursday. “If we started to score it that way, they would have known that, and they would have said, ‘Oh, oh my gosh, no, no no,’ and they probably would have clarified the language. It just wasn’t on anybody’s radar at all.”

The idea that Congress might have intended the apparent meaning of a line in the bill limiting ObamaCare’s insurance subsidies to plans purchased on state-run exchanges was the center of a decision by the D. C. circuit appeals court last week. Simultaneously, the 4th circuit ruled the opposite way.

Law professor Richard Hasan elucidates the legal theory — textualism — which justifies the D. C. court’s ruling (though not its reading of history).

The 4th Circuit judges, and Edwards, were looking at the whole statute to make it coherent and to make the law work. There is a long tradition of reading statutes in this purposeful way, and a few decades ago, the opposing strict textual reading likely would not have been taken seriously. Today, however, arguments that were once considered “off the wall” are now, in Yale law professor Jack Balkin’s terms, “on the wall.”

The counterargument—that courts have an obligation to make laws work—is especially important these days, when Congress is barely working. In this time of political polarization, Congress is much less likely to fix any statutes, much less a statute as controversial as Obamacare. The judges surely know that the courts, rather than Congress, will have the last word on the statute’s meaning.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration appealed the D.C. court’s ruling to the entire court (rather than the three-judge panel that issued the 2-1 ruling). If they succeed there, then there is no conflict between the appeals courts and the Supreme Court need not take the case, unless it wants to. But the ObamaCare critics who lost in the 4th circuit are asking the Supreme Court to intervene.

and you also might be interested in …

This week’s quote comes from a 7-minute speech Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island gave after Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma led a Republican effort to block a resolution saying that climate change is happening. The whole thing is worth watching or reading. Here’s another chunk, responding to Inhofe’s frequently repeated charge that climate change is a hoax:

Let me tell you some of the government agencies who are so-called “colluding” together – who believe that climate change is real and that carbon pollution is causing it. NASA: We trust them to send our astronauts to space, to deliver a rover the size of an SUV to Mars safely, and drive it around, sending data and pictures back from space. You think these people know what they’re talking about? … The idea we should base policy on a petition that imaginary people are on, rather than on what NASA, NOAA, the US Navy and every single scientific society and the entire property casualty insurance/reinsurance industry are telling us is just extraordinary.

[Note: Based on the video, I edited/corrected that quote from the transcript.]


My reading list grows. Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge goes on sale tomorrow. Frank Rich has already reviewed it.


Salon’s Kim Messick re-interprets the Republican Civil War:

The party is now riven into three parts: a donor class that, like the rank-and-file, mainly wants to win elections and to govern the country in a (relatively) responsibly conservative way; a ferocious cell of right-wing fabulists that prefers defeat to the slightest modulation in its hatred of the modern world; and a network of entertainers and “journalists” with an entrepreneurial investment in promoting the second group at the expense of the first. This leaves the latter in an increasingly exposed position.


It’s hard to decide when to call attention to outlandish statements and when to write them off. I’m inclined to write off the blogger on the Times of Israel site who wrote “When Genocide is Permissible”, though he got some attention on Salon and in a few other places. The Times removed the post promptly, issued a statement rejecting its views, and discontinued the author’s blog. It’s easy to tar a site by quoting things that get uploaded without going through an editor. But in this case there’s no reason to believe the blogger represents anyone other than himself.

On the other hand, I think the openly theocratic views of elected representatives like Iowa Congressman Steve King don’t get nearly enough attention. Right Wing Watch posts this audio:

In St. Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill … he says, “And God made all nations on Earth, and He decided when and where each nation would be.” … So I believe in the sovereign nation state. I believe that God gave us this country. He shaped it with the hands of the founding fathers, whom he moved around like men on a chessboard to build this nation. And we need to respect it and revere it and restore this country to its true destiny.

Such mythologizing of a nation’s history and “true destiny” is a prime characteristic of fascism. (It’s easy to have a blind spot for your own country’s myths, but wouldn’t it be a little bit creepy to hear Vladimir Putin expound on the divine founding and true destiny of Russia?) The line sometimes attributed to Sinclair Lewis has it right: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” And you have to wonder who is included in the “us” to whom God gave this country. King then segues into demonizing his chosen scapegoats:

That means we have to secure our borders. We have to restore the rule of law — we can’t be rewarding people for breaking it. That’s all pretty clear and is fundamentally, philosophically and, I think, faithfully sound. … I declare [President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy] to be Deferred Action for Criminal Aliens, because each one of them that came across the border illegally committed the crime of unlawful entry into the United States.

Multiple misrepresentations: You could just as easily read that Bible verse to mean that if people have made it to this country, God intends them to be here. (It is God, and not us, who “appoints the bounds of their habitation.”) That would also be consistent with our history, because, as I’ve observed before, the Founders did not secure the borders against immigrants. (That started much later.) Also, unlawful entry is not a crime. As Charles Garcia put it for CNN:

Migrant workers residing unlawfully in the U.S. are not — and never have been — criminals. They are subject to deportation, through a civil administrative procedure that differs from criminal prosecution, and where judges have wide discretion to allow certain foreign nationals to remain here.

To put it bluntly, King cloaks lies about our history and laws in dubious religious rhetoric. That ought to be a scandal.

and let’s end with some industrial art

This week I discovered Bored Panda, which is a treasure trove of beautiful, surprising, and creative images. This post calls attention to several pieces of railroad art from Portugal by Artur Bordalo. If the environment gives you parallel lines, why not use them?

Goals

No one wakes up in the morning and says “I think I want to be in poverty today” or “I want to apply for food stamps”, [or] wakes up with the enthusiastic goals of sitting in the county assistant’s office or waiting in the pantry line.

Tianna Gaines-Turner

This week’s featured article is “Republican Judges Take Another Shot at ObamaCare“.

This week everybody was talking about the D. C. Appeals Court trying to kill ObamaCare subsidies

In “Republican Judges Take Another Shot at ObamaCare” I explain why I don’t think this crisis is going to take down ObamaCare either.

and Gaza

Every day or two there’s a ceasefire proposal, but so far nothing has lasted.

My article last week drew a lot of comment from both sides, on the blog as well as via private email. I do regret one thing: referring to the Hamas missile attacks as “pinpricks”. That was insensitive. But I stand the larger point I was making: that the risks to Israelis are not remotely on the same scale as the risks faced by Gazans.

I also regret not mentioning the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which is a constant background issue, without which a lot of Palestinian anger seems senseless. AlterNet’s Steven Pizzo put it like this:

One Fatah negotiator said that negotiating with Israel over land is like negotiating with a guy over a pizza while the other guy keeps eating the pizza. Recall that the next time you hear some Israel politician claiming that all Israel was doing was minding its own business when Hamas started shooting missiles at it.

Today’s NYT has an article by Israeli writer David Grossman. He voices a where-does-this-end perspective similar to what I was trying to evoke last week. His metaphor of Israelis and Palestinians alike trudging around a grindstone is very apt. He sees more reason for hope in the current Israeli national conversation, and I can only hope he is better plugged in than I am.

and Paul Ryan’s new approach to poverty

I read Ryan’s new report Expanding Opportunity in America and am writing a review of it, but I ran out of both time and my word limit. So that will post next week. In the mean time I invite you to go back and look at my review of Ryan’s previous report on poverty The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later, which came out in March. Much of what I pointed out there still applies: Americans by-and-large agree on what to do with people who are poor for various reasons. The disagreement is over how many people fall into the various categories (i.e., how many lazy able-bodied people we’re talking about), and how many genuinely needy people we’re willing to cut off in order to stop one moocher.

You might also read these articles for and against Ryan’s ideas.

Another worthwhile thing to look at is what happened when Ryan let an actual poor person testify to his committee. That’s who I’m quoting at the top.


BTW, last week I complained about the misuse of the term “blank check” in Republican rhetoric. A blank check is literally a signed check where the amount has been left blank, so that the recipient can fill in whatever amount is desired. So no proposal that has a specific dollar total attached to it — like President Obama’s $3.7 billion proposal for dealing with the Central American refugee kids — can truthfully be described as a blank check.

However, this week I ran into a new example of the Republican usage of “blank check”, so I was finally able to figure out what they mean by it. Stewart Butler of the Heritage Foundation was talking about Ryan’s poverty plan, which pushes a lot of programs down to the state level and pays for them with block grants: “There have got to be real performance measurements — it’s not just giving the states a blank check.”

Now, this is the same kind of misuse, because a block grant is for a specific amount. But I now get the meaning: a check with no strings attached. (That interpretation works in the refugee kids proposal too.) They could just say that, of course, but wanting to attach strings sounds more sinister than refusing to sign a blank check.

This is how you use language when you don’t want your listeners to think clearly about what you’re saying.

and you also might be interested in …

Friday, Rachel Maddow did a great piece on the general dysfunctionality of Congress. She began with a harmless, but spectacularly embarrassing episode Thursday, when new Florida Congressman Curt Clawson (during his first day on the Asia and Pacific subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee) apparently thought two dark-skinned U. S. government officials were actually representatives of India. “I think your question is to the Indian government,” one replied.

Rachel then proceeded to the Senate’s inability to confirm ambassadors. About 1/4 of ambassador positions are unfilled, including Russia. Also Guatemala (where a lot of those refugee kids are coming from) and Cameroon and Niger (two of the countries trying to control the Boko Haram terrorist group). In response to the Democrats eliminating the filibuster on appointments — a move that figures in the ObamaCare subsidy issue — Republicans have been making every approval take up as much Senate floor time as possible, forcing Harry Reid to prioritize what he wants to spend floor time on. Ambassadors have been falling through the cracks. “Anything Congress is responsible for,” Maddow summarizes, “we apparently just have to get by without.”

Then there are the bills passed (or not passed). The recent low was the 104th Congress of 1995-1996. Newt Gingrich was fighting Bill Clinton, and only 333 bills passed in two years. Then the 112th Congress (2011-2012) got even less done: 284. This Congress is on pace to do even less.

And there is a case to be made that the numbers don’t tell the full story: The quality of what gets done makes it even worse. The 112th Congress, for example, did manage to avoid a government shutdown; the 113th didn’t. Immigration reform apparently is impossible. An emergency bill to do something about the refugee kids is apparently impossible. Keeping the Highway Trust Fund from going dry was so tricky that it required an accounting gimmick. We’ll be lucky if we avoid another government shutdown.

This was all to lead up to Maddow’s main point: Even after all the scandal about the Veterans Administration and about veterans who have died waiting for medical care, Congress may adjourn for their August vacation without doing anything about it. Apparently, that last possibility isn’t going to happen. Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Jeff Miller are supposed to announce a compromise this afternoon.


I finally got around to seeing Frozen, and I note an interesting similarity to Maleficent: The true love that will heal a girl is not romantic love. Finding your handsome prince is not the ticket.


Nothing really new about the Central American refugee kids. It seemed like Congress would have to pass something before its August recess, but now it’s not clear whether they will.

and let’s close with Weird Al again

Do you have First World Problems?

Foreigners in Egypt

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

Exodus 22:21

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

– “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

This week’s featured posts are “Gaza as seen from a distance” and “There’s Something About Todd“.

This week everybody was talking about yet another Malaysian Air flight

This one was shot down over the disputed eastern region of the Ukraine. Apparently, missiles sophisticated enough to take down an airliner at cruising altitude require months of training to operate. That fact doesn’t align with the official Russian story: that pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine are a spontaneous uprising it supports but is not aiding with its own forces.

Vox has a good account of the situation. Presumably the Malaysian Air flight was mistaken for a military transport plane. Pro-Russian rebels have been shooting at Ukrainian planes for a while now, but the early shoot-downs had been planes low enough to be targeted by shoulder-fired rockets requiring relatively little training. More recently, two Ukrainian planes have been shot down from higher altitudes, suggesting a more complicated system. Three possibilities: Russia is shooting down the planes from its own territory (the U.S. doesn’t think so), or Russian military advisers are operating the missiles from the rebel-controlled territories, or Russia started training Ukrainian rebels before the current uprising began.

The wreckage fell onto territory controlled by the rebels, who are not cooperating with outside investigators. Or maybe they are: a rebel leader has promised to turn over the plane’s black box.


Lost in all this is the story of the time we shot down an airliner: Iran Air 655 in 1988.

and Israel invading Gaza

Last week I said I hadn’t made enough sense out of the Gaza conflict to comment, so I felt a responsibility to provide more insight this week in “Gaza as seen from a distance“.

and those refugee kids

Ukraine and Gaza have driven the kids-at-the-border problem off the front pages, but the story is still percolating. At first it appeared the issue was getting so much attention that even this Congress would have to do something. But that is getting less and less likely.

Back on July 9, Kevin Drum predicted that the Republican House would refuse to act on President Obama’s proposal to deal with the child refugee crisis.

Well, of course it won’t happen. The crisis along the border is tailor made for Republicans. It makes their base hopping mad, it juices their campaign fundraising, and anytime the government is unable to address a problem it makes Obama look bad. Why on earth would Republicans want to do anything to change any of this?

As long as Obama is president, chaos is good for Republicans. After all, most voters don’t really know who’s at fault when things go wrong, they just know there’s a crisis and Obama doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. Exploiting that may be cynical and revolting, but hey, politics ain’t beanbag. And in case you haven’t heard, there’s an election coming up.

Friday, Steve Benen came around:

I was skeptical when Kevin wrote this, but his assessment is looking quite prescient now.

Keep in mind, this isn’t a situation in which the Republican-led House wants one solution, the Democratic-led Senate wants another, and a compromise is elusive. Rather, we’re looking at a dynamic in which the GOP House majority simply can’t pass anything … So there is no bill and the Speaker’s office doesn’t seem to think there will be a bill. Once again, met with a real challenge in need of a responsible remedy from lawmakers, Republicans aren’t prepared.

Today’s closing links to Weird Al’s new video “Word Crimes”. Here’s a word crime: Describing Obama’s itemized $3.7 billion proposal as a “blank check”, which seems to be the Republican talking point. The phrase must rile up focus groups or something, but there’s nothing “blank” about $3.7 billion.


Several article have brought some historical perspective: “Child Migrants Have Been Coming to America Alone Since Ellis Island” in Mother Jones and “America’s Long History of Immigrant Scaremongering” in Slate, which recounts all the bogus scares about immigrants and disease through the centuries.

but I couldn’t stop myself from writing about Todd Akin

who is not worth your time or mine. I advise you not to read “There’s Something About Todd“. You have better things to do.

and you also might be interested in …

How long before the Supreme Court has to rule on this? President Obama’s executive order protecting LGBT folks from discrimination by corporations holding government contracts has no religious exemption, something religious leaders had been asking for. In the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Alito denied that his ruling would “provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.” We may find out whether that’s true.

Alito’s statement has some weasel words in it. It may apply only to insincere religious beliefs adopted to “cloak” discrimination. But Alito also said: “It is not for the Court to say that the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs are mistaken or unreasonable.” It will be interesting to see if in the future he will claim the ability to look into people’s souls to see if their beliefs are sincere or motivated by bigotry. And what about people whose bigotry is sincere?


Why don’t these visionary efforts happen in America any more? Helsinki has a plan to integrate all forms of transit — including some that don’t exist yet, like driverless cars — into a single smartphone app. The goal is to make private automobiles pointless in ten years. You’ll just tell your phone where you want to go and it will give you a list of itineraries and prices, then make the arrangements.


Jonathan Chait charts the story of ObamaCare’s success via the retreating claims of disaster from arch-critic Peter Suderman at Reason.

The message of every individual dispatch is a confident prediction of the hated enemy’s demise, yet the terms described in each, taken together, tell the story of retreat. The enemy’s invasion fleet has been destroyed; its huge losses on the field of battle have left it on the brink of surrender; the enemy soldiers will be slaughtered by our brave civilian defenders as they attempt to enter the capital; the resistance will triumph!



The folks at Politifact have started releasing statistics by network. No surprise: Fox News is the least trustworthy, with 60% of tested claims rated Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire.


Researchers are deciding that the “beauty-status exchange” — beautiful women marrying rich men — is less common than they expected. More typically, similarity rules: beautiful people marry beautiful people and rich people marry rich people.


I don’t know who I’m rooting for at the Emmys. Cosmos and Years of Living Dangerously are both nominated in the Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series category. At first I thought “Of course it’s Cosmos“, but this week I started watching YoLD. (Episode 1 and some shorter clips are on YouTube, but to watch the Episodes 2-9 you have to find a friend who subscribes to Showtime.) YoLD is the most comprehensive look at climate change I’ve ever seen, and it pulls off the remarkable trick of having big-name hosts without turning them into attractive-but-phony mouthpieces.

Each of the hosts is pursuing some question s/he had a prior connection to. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, has long wondered why California wildfires got so much worse during his term as governor. Conservation International board member Harrison Ford seems completely engaged in tracking down the connection between deforestation and corruption in the Indonesian government. (His celebrity status works for us rather than on us; it gets him interviews with officials who would probably dodge a journalist. At least one got pissed when the interview turned serious.) Middle-East-focused Thomas Friedman sneaks across the Turkish/Syrian border to interview farmers driven into the revolution by drought. New Yorker Chris Hayes traces the effect of Hurricane Sandy on a climate-change-denying Staten Island congressman. And so on.

The effect is to get completely outside the standard arguments about hockey-stick graphs and Al Gore. You start to see just how ecological climate change is. It affects everything and is affected by everything.

I think there’s something important to learn here about fighting science denialism in general. Remember that John Oliver sketch where he brings out 97 climate scientists to debate three deniers? It’s funny because it can’t possibly work on TV. But it does illustrate the strategy of denial: Like the Greeks against the Persians at Themopylae and Salamis, the smaller force needs to choose a narrow battlefield (like televised debate) where the larger force can’t deploy.

So if climate-change deniers can reduce the argument to something narrow, like the details behind temperature graphs, their position can seem competitive. But climate-change denial isn’t competitive, because to do it consistently you have to deny everything; all fields of Earth science are implicated. Ditto for other forms of denial, like young-Earth creationism: It isn’t just about the fossil record or carbon-14 dating; it’s about everything.


I’d love to hear the backstory of YoLD. I’m sure it’s easy to get people to buy in after you can say that Matt Damon and Jessica Alba are involved, but who did they get first and who convinced who later?

and let’s close with something fun

Weird Al claims every one of his albums is a comeback album. Well, he’s come back with this parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”.

The Other Guys

I’m the guy doing my job. You must be the other guy.

President Obama, referencing a line in The Departed

This week’s featured article is Boehner’s Lawsuit and Palin’s “25 Impeachable Offenses”.

This week everybody was talking about the House suing/impeaching President Obama

Speaker Boehner hopes his lawsuit will mollify the base enough to keep them from demanding impeachment before the fall elections. But Sarah Palin isn’t cooperating, as I describe in Boehner’s Lawsuit and Palin’s “25 Impeachable Offenses”.

and the refugee kids at our southern border

It’s a real problem, so naturally the extreme Right has created a conspiracy theory to explain it: President Obama has deliberately induced Central American families to send their unaccompanied kids on a dangerous journey to America, so that he can pressure Congress to pass immigration reform. It’s just like his Fast & Furious plot to flood the border with guns to promote gun control. And just like Benghazi, Obama gave a stand-down order.

In some universe, maybe, but not this one.

Vox does its usual good job describing the reality of the situation: Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors are fleeing drug and gang violence in Central America and being caught at the U.S. border. (Somehow, these captures prove to Republicans that Obama isn’t securing the border.) The Border Patrol has been overwhelmed trying to provide detention facilities, because of the unexpected consequences of a Bush-administration law.

U.S. policy allows Mexican child migrants to be sent back quickly across the border. However, under a [law] meant to combat child trafficking, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, children from Central America must be given a court hearing before they are deported (or allowed to stay). Given the huge backlog of cases, they may have to wait years for a hearing.

Homeland Security has been trying to relieve the overcrowding by spreading the children out to facilities in other parts of the country, provoking some ugly scenes, like the one in Murrieta, California. Protesters have focused their rhetoric on wildly exaggerated concerns about disease. “We don’t even know what all diseases they have,” Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert said. But Friday, Chris Hayes interviewed Rachel Pearson, who pointed out that Guatemalan kids are more likely to get key vaccinations than Texas kids. (Texas had a measles outbreak last year, while Guatemala and Honduras haven’t had a single case since 1990.) To the extent that the detained kids are unhealthy, the problem is most likely due to the overcrowded conditions DHS is trying to eliminate. So why the disease hysteria? Pearson explains:

What we see historically is that when diseases or conditions occur in people who are social outsiders — immigrants, people of color, women — those diseases are seen by the wider society as markers … that people are impure or lacking in virtue. So whereas lice has one meaning for American kids in a summer camp in Pennsylvania, the meaning becomes totally different if it’s a group of kids that we think of as outsiders.

In other words, irrational fear of disease is one of the screens people use to hide their bigotry.

President Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion to deal with the problem. But given the conservative base’s state of outrage over anything having to do with Hispanic immigrants, it’s questionable whether any money can get through the House without something horrible attached to it.


Here’s the weirdest thing about the claims that the Constitution requires securing the border or the no borders, no country talking point: The Founders didn’t secure the border. The hyperbolic charge “anyone can waltz right in to America” is a pretty accurate summary of how things were from the Founding until after the Civil War.

and Israel/Palestine

I’m having trouble finding an article that explains what the current Gaza conflict is about. I mean, Hamas is firing rockets into Israel and Israel is attacking what they believe to be the sources of those rockets, but that’s same-old-same-old. I have no idea why this is happening now. So I’ll punt this issue to next week.

and you also might be interested in …

Follow-up on the Hobby Lobby decision: In a piece in The Immanent Frame that got picked up by Salon, Winnifred Fallers Sullivan (a professor of religious studies at Indiana University) challenged the whole notion of laws that protect religious freedom. The problem: You can’t protect what you can’t define. When the First Amendment was written, religion meant a handful of churches and doctrines; but now things are much fuzzier.

The notion that religion exists and can be regulated without being defined is a fiction at the heart of religious freedom protection.

Justice Alito’s majority opinion holds that Hobby Lobby’s refusal to participate in the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate is a legally protected exercise of religion, and Justice Ginsberg’s dissent denies it. But neither defines what an “exercise of religion” is or gives a test for recognizing it. Both keep repeating the adjective religious, because that word is a veil they can’t see behind.

Is it really possible to distinguish the religious from the non-religious in these cases? Do we have a shared theory of religion that permits such distinctions to be made? Isn’t the religious always mixed with the political and the cultural and the economic? The constant repetition of the adjective seems necessary only in order to reify a notion about which everyone is, in fact, very uncertain.

The law can’t just protect churches, because

[M]uch—perhaps most—American religion today does not happen in churches. Many American Christians have, for a long time, engaged in a kind of DIY religion free from the regulations of church authorities. Their religion is radically disestablished free religion, defined not by bishops and church councils, but by themselves—ordinary Americans reading their Bibles, picking and choosing from among a wide array of religious practices. Indeed, Americans have always been incredibly varied, creative, and entrepreneurial in living out what they take to be their religious obligations—religious obligations that range far beyond the prescriptions of the mainline churches, which seem staid, contained, and tamed to the many who consider their own religious practices, unapproved by traditional religious authorities, to be alive with the spirit. They find their religious community and their religious fields of action in places other than churches—including the marketplace.

Lacking a definition, and recognizing the impracticality protecting everything people might do from whatever motives they might claim as religious, each side tries to stretch the word to cover the kind of religion they like, but not the kind they don’t like.

There is no neutral place from which to distinguish the religious from the non-religious. … Judges cannot do this work.

Sullivan leaves us not with an answer, but with a challenge: “We need fictions to live,” she writes, meaning social/cultural/legal fictions like corporations and churches and rights — all things that will never be detected in a laboratory. And if the old fictions can no longer work together without becoming lies, we need to get on with “creating new fictions together, political, legal, and religious”.


Has anybody ever seen Glenn Greenwald and Chris McDaniel in the same room? Just asking.


Remember Todd Akin? The guy who blew Missouri Republicans’ excellent chance to unseat Claire McCaskell in 2012 by denying the need for a rape exception to abortion bans, because women almost never get pregnant from a “legitimate rape“? He’s back.

His new book Firing Back: Taking on the Party Bosses and Media Elite to Protect Our Faith (foreword by Mike Huckabee) will come out Tuesday. From pre-publication accounts in the media, it appears Akin is un-apologizing for his rape remarks and blaming the Republican establishment, including Mitt Romney, for not going down the drain with him. He claims he was right: “stress infertility” is a real thing, so “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

The only thing he admits to doing wrong is apologizing. And he shouldn’t be held morally accountable for that lie, because it was coerced out of him by the Republican establishment. But Joan Walsh thinks he might be making up that coercion story:

Poor Todd. He doesn’t want to take responsibility for a decision made in the heat of lust – lust for a Senate seat, in his case – so he’s claiming he was cruelly assaulted by party bosses and coerced into apologizing. It’s too bad his conscience didn’t have a way to shut that whole thing down.

Two thoughts: Akin should have to explain how that stress-infertility thing works when you’ve been drugged unconscious. And if Mike Huckabee runs for president and gets nominated, Democrats should make Todd Akin his unofficial running mate.


Liberals (like Paul Krugman and me) have been noting for a while the increasing evidence that ObamaCare is working as designed. Now that realization is starting to appear in the “centrist” media. Politico hedges as much as it can, but acknowledges:

The evidence is piling up now: Obamacare really does seem to be helping the uninsured.

In the quotes that are supposed to provide “balance”, ObamaCare critics deny they ever said the number of uninsured Americans would go up, but of course they did. False prophesies about ObamaCare vanish down the memory hole as soon as they’re disproved, and the false prophets move on to predict new calamities.

And you have to go to the second page of Politico‘s article to find any mention of the millions of people who would have coverage under ObamaCare if the red states would participate in the law’s Medicaid expansion. It’s in a quote from an “Obama administration official” — as if this were some partisan talking point rather than an objective fact.


One of the stories that never dies is the “welfare queen“: Somebody is getting rich off welfare, driving a Cadillac, and so on. Everybody thinks they’ve seen somebody who was cheating — wearing nice clothes or talking on an iPhone while cashing Food Stamps, etc.

Tuesday, the WaPo published an article looking at such a case from the other side: Darlena Cunha described the fast series of reverses that took her and her husband from being prosperous homeowners with a Mercedes to unemployed parents of medically-needy infants who own an underwater-mortgage house … and a Mercedes. “This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps” is a fascinating human-interest story that exposes a lot of the assumptions we make about people who (temporarily or permanently) need help.

and let’s end with something creative

In general, I love the Worth 1000 site, devoted to imaginative photoshopping. A recent challenge was Celebrity Time Travel, putting today’s celebrities into classic photos. The winner is called “Morgan Freedman“, though I’m also fond of the Obama/Louis Armstrong combo at #12.

 

Belief and Reality

Thinking one’s religious beliefs are substantially burdened—no matter how sincere or genuine that belief may be—does not make it so.

Sonia Sotomayor

This week’s featured article: “How Threatening Is the Hobby Lobby Decision?

This week everybody was talking about the Hobby Lobby decision

The majority opinion claimed to be narrow; the dissent said it was sweeping. I’m coming to look at it as a narrow gate into a vast new realm of judge-bestowed rights for some people and burdens for others.

I tried to cover the legal landscape in “How Threatening Is the Hobby Lobby Decision?“. That already ran so long that I didn’t want to extend it with the many satires of the decision. Here are a few: “Supreme Court Rules JCPenney Allowed to Sacrifice Employees to Appease Cthulhu“, “My Breakup Letter to Hobby Lobby“, and “Supreme Court Upholds Little Caesar’s Right to Feed Christian Employees to Lions“.

A point I didn’t get around to making there is that not everything you don’t want to do is a violation of your religious rights, even if you share your distaste with the members of your church. Compare a conservative-Christian baker who doesn’t want to make a same-sex-wedding cake to a black waitress who doesn’t want to serve a table of guys wearing Confederate-flag t-shirts. One has a religious justification for his distaste and the other doesn’t, but I contend the two situations are more similar than different, and the feelings affronted are more tribal than spiritual. Each feels his/her identity threatened by being required to serve members of an opposing tribe.

and the Fourth of July

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to fly through a fireworks display, this drone did it for you.

If flag-waving and fireworks isn’t your style of patriotism, consider re-affirming your commitment to democracy. Lawrence Lessig has started the Mayday PAC, a SuperPAC to end all SuperPACs. It supports candidates for Congress who are committed to reforming the way we finance political campaigns.

and the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer

In the summer of 1964, about a thousand college students from all over the country descended on Mississippi to help black citizens register to vote, to educate black children about subjects their Jim Crow schools wouldn’t touch, and to challenge the right of an all-white delegation to represent Mississippi at the Democratic National Convention.

It’s worthwhile to be reminded that, back in the day, freedom was a liberal word. It pointed to the desire of traditionally oppressed peoples to be listened to, to vote, to have the equal protection of the laws. Today, by contrast, freedom typically means the right of corporations and wealthy individuals to exercise their power without government restraint or consideration of the public interest.

If you want to educate yourself about that summer, a lot of good stuff is out there.

It’s easy to forget the sheer terrorism that dominated Mississippi in those days. The whole point of sending white students down there wasn’t that they had some special voter-registration magic, it was that if they were beaten or killed, the country would notice; white supremacists had been killing uppity blacks for a long time and Northern whites didn’t care. But as the Neshoba murders showed, the whites weren’t safe either. Not everyone had a headline-grabbing experience, but a lot came home with stories like this:

I was walking along a road. We were told never to leave the place we were staying, by ourselves. They jumped out of the car. They started calling me “Hey, nigger lover! We got you. We finally got you. We ain’t killed ourselves a-a white girl yet. You’re going to be the first.” They get this lynch rope. It really was a noose like you see like I had seen in the pictures of the hangings, right? They put this noose over my head. And this is attached to a long rope. They jump back into the car, and I just saw myself being dragged to death. I’m walking like this. And they’re laughing and calling me all kinds of names. And then they moved along, slowly, a little bit faster. I’m walking faster. And it was like, “Okay, this is it.” And then they dropped the rope. And I just stood there. Because we had to wear skirts. We weren’t allowed to wear pants in those days, so we all had our little shifts on and everything. I peed all over myself. Just stood on the [road], and just peed.

and you also might be interested in …

One thing we’ve learned from the seemingly endless series of mass shootings is that a shooter is most vulnerable while reloading. So if gun magazines hold fewer bullets, maybe fewer people will be killed before shooters are stopped. It seems worth a try.

The New Jersey legislature tried it, and Wednesday Governor Christie vetoed it. I can’t see this pander to the NRA winning him many votes in New Jersey, so I think it means he still sees himself as a presidential contender.

I’ve been ignoring BridgeGate for the last several months. The legislature’s investigation continues, but hasn’t yet turned up a smoking gun with Christie’s fingerprints on it. The U.S. attorney’s investigation seems to be the important one, but it’s also the hardest to keep tabs on. We won’t really know what they have until they start issuing indictments, and no one knows when that might be.

If Christie isn’t indicted, and if none of the people who are indicted hang their defense on blaming him, then he’s probably a viable candidate again. What he lost in bad publicity he can regain by appealing to the far Right’s delusions of persecution.


Interesting article in the NYT Magazine: “Can the G.O.P. Be the Party of Ideas?” In other words, can the Republican Party stop saying “no” to everything and instead come up with localist and free-market plans to help solve the problems ordinary people face? And if they could, would the base of the party go for it?


Salon published an amazing conversation between Thomas Frank (What’s the Matter With Kansas?) and Barry Lynn (Cornered) about the hidden monopolization of our economy, what it has to do with inequality, how it happened, and what can be done about it. Something they agree on is that completely unfettered markets are unstable; they lead to private monopolies that then make the markets unfree.


When the open-carry folks show up in the same shops and restaurants you frequent, what should you do? PQED advises that you just walk out with your food on the table and your bill unpaid. Carte Blanchfield disagrees, arguing that the armed crazies might then shoot you. Both are discussing what philosophers call the problem of other minds: You know that you have good intentions and aren’t threatening anyone else, but they don’t know that. The problem of judging other people’s intentions becomes very important when deadly weapons are involved. Tom the Dancing Bug also addresses that issue:

and let’s end with something cute

Here’s how you know you’ve been letting your dog and turtle watch too much of the World Cup.

Diabolical Persistence

Errare humanum est, sed perseverare diabolicum. (To err is human; to persist is diabolical.)

– Seneca (quoted Friday by Paul Krugman)

This week everybody was talking about the Supreme Court

Like freshmen research papers, the Court’s biggest decisions always get finished on the last day of the term … which is today. So this is when the Hobby Lobby case will be decided, and we’ll find out whether a bizarre reading of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause will allow employers to control their employees’ health care options. There’s no time for me to process the decision, so I’ll put off that commentary until next week.

But other important decisions have been trickling out during finals week.

Police need a warrant to search your cell phone. The Court was unanimous in this ruling, which kind of obvious when you think about it. Police need a warrant to search the photo albums on your shelf, so why not the photo collection on your iPhone? My only regret is that Justice Scalia didn’t write a separate opinion. I would have loved to hear him explain the Founders’ “original intent” regarding cell phones.

The Court severely cut back the President’s power to make recess appointments. Before the Senate changed its filibuster rules, Republicans in the Senate had been using the Senate’s constitutional power to “advise and consent” on presidential appointments to nullify certain laws, by refusing to approve the appointment of anyone to enforce them. In particular, the refusal to approve any appointments to the National Labor Relations Board would have left that Board without a quorum, essentially invalidating all the nation’s labor laws. Continuing a struggle that the Bush administration had with a Democratic Senate in its final two years, President Obama filled the vacancies by making “recess appointments”, using his constitutional power to fill jobs when the Senate is out of session. The Senate then had “pro forma” sessions with virtually no one there to prevent a recess from taking place, which the President refused to recognize.

The Court ruled 9-0 that the Senate is in session whenever it says it is, as long as those present are able to exercise the powers of the Senate. (In theory they could pass something by unanimous consent during a pro forma session, though this almost never happens.) The point matters far less, now that filibusters on presidential appointments are no longer allowed. But it underlines the importance of Democrats retaining control of the Senate in the fall, which is currently rated a toss-up.

They invalidated a Massachusetts law creating a protester-free buffer zone around abortion clinics. Again 9-0, they ruled that the ability to buttonhole strangers on the street and try to change their minds about something is a freedom-of-speech issue. Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick disagrees:

more than anything it seems to reflect a continued pattern of “free speech for me but not for thee” or, at least, “free speech for people who think like me,” that pervades recent First Amendment decisions at the court. More importantly, I don’t know where to locate this ruling in the burgeoning doctrine of “the right to be let alone” that Justices Alito and Thomas and Breyer have espoused, nor do I know how to reconcile it with the court’s persistent second-rate treatment of any speech that threatens to harass the justices themselves. … In a gorgeously un-self-aware way, the same Supreme Court that severely limits speech and protest in a buffer zone all around its own building, extolls the unique and wonderful properties of the American boulevard

But Lawrence Tribe thinks the Court got it right:

Thursday’s opinion in no way restricts the right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, in 1973, and reaffirmed, in 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Nor does recognizing a duty to protect freedom of speech in this setting ask us to deny the genuine anguish suffered even by women who are confronted by quiet protesters rather than noisy agitators on their way to use reproductive health services. But neither empathy for their anguish, nor the need to protect the safety of women seeking such services, nor the clear need to guard against the rising tide of state laws designed to restrict access to abortions, can justify far-reaching measures that restrict peaceful conversation in public spaces.

and the World Cup

Like many Americans, I’m watching the World Cup seriously for the first time — even a few games between non-American teams. I wasn’t aware this was a political issue until Ann Coulter and a handful of other conservatives started getting upset about it. But it is political, sort of. The Atlantic‘s Peter Beinart explains:

The willingness of growing numbers of Americans to embrace soccer bespeaks their willingness to imagine a different relationship with the world. Historically, conservative foreign policy has oscillated between isolationism and imperialism. America must either retreat from the world or master it. It cannot be one among equals, bound by the same rules as everyone else. Exceptionalists view sports the same way. Coulter likes football, baseball, and basketball because America either plays them by itself, or—when other countries play against us—we dominate them.

and the Mississippi Senate primary runoff

Republican Senator Thad Cochran barely hung on against Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel, who had run ahead Cochran in the original primary (but failed to get a majority) and had been leading in polls just a few days before. And he did it in an unusual way: Under Mississippi law, anybody who didn’t already vote in the Democratic primary is eligible to vote in the Republican runoff. So Cochran appealed to Democrats, especially African-American Democrats, to help him beat back the McDaniel challenge.

It’s worth pointing out that Democrats were not monkey-wrenching (voting in the other party’s primary for the candidate who will be easy to beat; probably Cochran is harder to beat in the general election, though few really imagine Mississippi electing a Democratic senator under any circumstances). McDaniel has done just about everything he can to alienate blacks, probably figuring they don’t vote in his primary and aren’t a big enough bloc to defeat him in November. He’s spoken at a Neo-Confederate event, retweeted a white supremacist, and started talking about fraud as soon as Cochran began reaching out to the black community, as if black votes were somehow inherently fraudulent. McDaniel invited True the Vote — a notorious voter suppression group — to send poll watchers. Slate‘s Jamelle Bouie summed up:

If McDaniel resembles anything, it’s not a libertarian—although he swims in the current of right-wing libertarianism—as much as it’s a Southern reactionary whose appeal is built on resentment of assorted others, which in Mississippi, inevitably includes black Americans.

So Mississippi blacks saw a run-of-the-mill conservative — Cochran has an 88% rating from the American Conservative Union and National Journal ranks him as the 41st most conservative senator, just ahead of Lindsey Graham — running against someone who may or may not be racist himself, but certainly courts racists and repeats racist tropes. So some black Democrats, probably enough to sway the outcome, decided to vote for the lesser evil in the Republican runoff.

If you expected McDaniel or his supporters to take their defeat gracefully — to say, “Well played, Republican establishment. You out-maneuvered us fair and square.” — you haven’t been paying attention. Tea Partiers, particularly in the South, have a massive sense of entitlement. They aren’t just entitled to play, they’re entitled to win; if they don’t win, somebody must have cheated. They are the only real Americans, so if they lose, this isn’t America any more. They need to “take it back”, by force of arms if necessary.

So the McDaniel loss has lots of Tea Party voices talking about a third party. Right now it’s just talk meant to whip the Republican establishment into line. (The Tea Party has far more power as a faction within the Republican Party than it would as a third party, something I wish was better understood on the Left.) And it seems to be working. Witness the next note.

and John Boehner’s lawsuit

One popular talking point on the Right is that President Obama is ruling tyrannically, ignoring Congress and issuing his own decrees that circumvent the laws. There’s really no way to make that case consistently without indicting all recent presidents, maybe as far back as FDR, but right-wing talking points are not known for their consistency. (It’s like “czars“, a practice started by FDR, continued by Reagan, and expanded by George W. Bush that suddenly became tyranny when Obama did it. It’s almost like Obama is different from all other presidents in some way. I wonder what that difference could be?)

I haven’t discussed this in the Sift, but in online comments I leave on news sites my position has consistently been: If you think he’s doing something illegal, don’t just talk about it, take him to court. I think it would be amusing to watch Republicans state and defend an actual case, rather than just make vague accusations.

Well, apparently that’s going to happen. Maybe. Speaker Boehner says he is preparing a lawsuit accusing President Obama of failing to “faithfully execute the laws” as the Constitution demands. However, Boehner’s memo does not specify exactly which executive actions he’s talking about, and when asked he said “When I make that decision, I’ll let you know.

Pundits are split over whether the lawsuit is a prelude to impeachment or a way to placate extremists who want impeachment. In any case, specifying the details of the lawsuit will be politically dangerous, because in almost every case — not deporting DREAMers, say, or increasing the minimum wage, or regulating the carbon output of power plants — it’s been Obama representing the popular majority and Boehner’s caucus standing in the way. A list of Obama’s “power grabs” would also be a list of issues where Congress has been dysfunctional.

By all means, Speaker Boehner, raise those issues. Focus everybody’s attention on them as we go into the fall elections. Better yet, shut down the government to defend polluters. That’s a sure winner.

but the continuing good news about ObamaCare still isn’t getting attention

If only there were a liberal media that could call as much attention to ObamaCare’s successes as our actual media focused on the (now clearly false) predictions of its impending doom.

Friday, Paul Krugman listed six doom-saying forecasts that have proved to be totally wrong — all without apparent damage to the reputations of the doom-sayers.

  • Not enough people will sign up. Actually, the program’s sign-up estimates were too low.
  • The apparent sign-ups will turn out to be an illusion when people don’t pay their first premium. Since the actual policies are written by private companies rather than the government (i.e., ObamaCare was never a “government takeover”), the exact numbers are scattered in privately-held databases. But the available numbers suggest the sign-up-but-don’t-pay percentage is about the usual insurance-industry rate.
  • The number of uninsured will go up, because more policies will be cancelled (because they don’t meet ObamaCare’s minimum standards) than new policies written. Gallup tracks the number of uninsured people; it’s going down sharply. And that doesn’t count the number of people who replaced bogus insurance with real insurance. The two big tests will be whether the number of bankruptcies caused by medical bills goes down, as I predict it will; and whether the death rate among the newly insured goes down, as it has in Massachusetts, where RomneyCare might be regarded as an ObamaCare pilot program.
  • ObamaCare’s premiums will be unaffordable. Nope. Not everyone paid less, but the great majority did.
  • Young people won’t sign up. Since young people cost less to insure, not getting enough of them could doom the whole program. But they have been signing up.
  • Health care spending will soar. A short-term increase was planned for, as people who have been doing without insurance start going to the doctor. (In some cases, this saved their lives.) Long-term, the program was supposed to create efficiencies that would cut costs. The recent numbers indicate the the initial surge is ending and costs are rising more slowly, as predicted.

You have to wonder how successful ObamaCare would be if Congress and Republican governors hadn’t tried to sabotage it at every turn.

Krugman added a blog post with supporting links, but he left out a seventh failed prediction of doom: That in the second year insurers would flee the ObamaCare exchanges. In fact, the exact opposite is happening.

Let me head off a comment: Naturally, ObamaCare critics will never admit they were wrong — that’s Seneca’s diabolical persistence — so the American Enterprise Institute’s Chris Conover has a column rebutting Krugman. (A certain amount is just nit-picking, like pointing out that sign-ups just barely beat predictions until the sign-up deadline was extended two weeks, as if the original doom-saying hinged on those two weeks. I don’t recall any ObamaCare critic saying, “Nobody will sign up, unless the deadline is extended two weeks.”) Charles Gaba counters Conover here and here. He also links to Jonathan Cohn’s larger collection of bad ObamaCare predictions.

and you also might be interested in …

Apropos of nothing: Segway Maximus

Thursday, “#YesAllWomen and the Continuum of Aggression“became the 9th Weekly Sift post to go over 5,000 hits.


Rick Perlstein believes the Cliven Bundy showdown marked an ominous “watershed moment”:

When legitimately constituted state authority stands down in the face of armed threats, the very foundation of the republic is in danger.

And while we’re talking guns, Robert Evans at Cracked has an amusing-but-serious “5 Things to Know About the Armed Men in Your Local Chipotle“.


New word: When white people suddenly “discover” something that non-whites have known about for a long time, it’s columbusing. As in: “Columbus columbused America” or “Miley Cyrus columbused twerking.” College Humor illustrates in a hilarious video sketch.


A Republican finally proved voter fraud exists: Scott Walker donor Robert Monroe just got arrested for voting five times in Walker’s recall election. I think I understand what happened.

Hardly anyone gets prosecuted for voter fraud, probably because hardly anyone commits voter fraud. (Election fraud exists, but it’s party bosses and corrupt election officials who cheat, not voters.) Voting expert Richard Hasen explains that stealing votes one-by-one is a lot of work for not much benefit:

It’s no surprise that the numbers are so low, because voter impersonation fraud is an exceedingly dumb way to try to steal an election.

Federal Judge Lynn Adelman has spelled it out:

The potential costs of perpetrating the fraud, which include a $10,000 fine and three years of imprisonment, are extremely high in comparison to the potential benefits, which would be nothing more than one additional vote for a preferred candidate (or one fewer vote for an opposing candidate), a vote which is unlikely to change the election’s outcome.

Still, Republicans often claim voter fraud is rampant, to the point that some even think Obama’s two massive victories are suspect. If you believe that, then you must conclude that not only do lots of people vote multiple times, but that they almost all get away with it. After a while, a true believer might start to feel stupid for just voting once when everyone else must be cheating.

Monroe made the classic mistake of believing his own side’s propaganda. No, Bob, that voter-fraud stuff is for conning other people and justifying crap your side wants to do for other reasons, not for applying in your own life. Like they say on Mythbusters: “Do not try this at home.”


If you’ve been reading about massive voter fraud in North Carolina, it’s a story of the same type I described last year in South Carolina: a computer check yields a large number of “possibly” fraudulent votes — more than 35K in NC — but after an enormous waste of election-official time, all but a handful of cases — 3 in SC — have reasonable explanations and none lead to prosecutions. That’s how the story has played out all over the country, and that’s what will happen here.


The Washington football team continues to take heat for calling itself the Redskins. The federal Patent and Trademark office revoked the Redskin trademark, which will have major financial implications if it takes effect. But the team’s appeal to federal court will at least delay things for years.

The main immediate impact is that it keeps the issue in the headlines, which is the kind of publicity no business wants. For now, polls show that most people either support the team or don’t care about the issue. But I think that changes if the discussion goes on long enough. I think most of us would like to dismiss the whole issue as ridiculous, but if we can’t do that, we’ll eventually have to admit that there’s no justification for keeping the name. That’s the conclusion John Oliver came to.

TPM’s Josh Marshall wrote an insightful article.

I imagine I’m like many my age who at one level just intuitively think about the Redskins and the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves as just part of the natural landscape of American culture. Even now, when I think about the Redskins, part of me is like, ‘We’ve been saying this forever.’

For a football fan, the Redskin name evokes history: Sammy Baugh, Billy Kilmer, Joe Theisman, the Hogs and Smurfs. But Marshall explores a different history, the history of “mascotization”, which didn’t begin until whites stopped seeing Indians as a real threat. (It started in New England, where the threat disappeared first.) He concludes:

The simple fact is we shouldn’t be using whole peoples as mascots for sports teams. Whether or not Indians in America today find it offensive is almost beside the point. The fact that most do is just an extra reason to do away with the practice.

With all I’ve said, there’s a part of me who feels like, ‘We really can’t have the Cleveland Indians anymore?’ It feels like a loss – part of the landscape of American sports I’m attached to. But it’s time.


The New Yorker‘s profile of Ted Cruz (who I think will be the 2016 Republican nominee) contains this quote from former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger:

Ted is able to use erudite constitutional analysis with politically appealing slogans—that’s a rare talent. The only problem is that Ted’s view of the Constitution—based on states’ rights and a narrow scope of federal power—was rejected at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and then was resurrected by John C. Calhoun, and the Confederates during the Civil War, when it failed again. It’s still around now. I think it’s wrong, but Ted does a very sophisticated version of that view.

I’ve been in a year-long reading project about the Confederacy and Reconstruction, and that’s the same conclusion I had come to: When Tea Partiers talk about “the Founders”, they’re really talking about Calhoun’s misrepresentation of the Founders. The key document in this tradition is not the Constitution or The Federalist, but Calhoun’s A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States published posthumously in 1851.


Daily Kos’ Dante Atkins has been forced to give up on the theory of Peak Wingnut — that there is some limit to how crazy the Right can get.

and let’s end with something amazing

OK Go’s new video “The Writing’s on the Wall” presents a series of illusions, not with CGI, but with old-fashioned perspective. And all in one continuous take. (Watch them make it.)

 

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