Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Changing Colors

All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.

— George Orwell, “Notes on Nationalism” (1945)

This week’s featured post is “In times of hysteria“, which gives six suggestions for restoring national sanity.

This week everybody was talking about refugees

I’ve already said just about everything I wanted to say in “In times of hysteria“. But here are some odds and ends that didn’t fit.

An NRA-backed Texas legislator argues that Syrian refugees shouldn’t be allowed to come to Texas because what if one “purchases a weapon and executes an attack“? Oh now you see the problem with making it so easy to buy guns. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we already have homegrown Americans shooting up movie theaters and executing people in churches. The FBI just arrested three white supremacist Virginians for plotting a terrorist campaign against black churches and Jewish synagogues. Maybe we shouldn’t let any more white people come to America. That seems to be the real terrorist threat in this country.

Some idiot vandalized Isis Books and Gifts in Denver, which for 35 years has carried the name of an ancient goddess, and has nothing to do with a certain would-be caliphate. Possible reprisals worry me, because I live a couple blocks from the CIA (Corriveau Insurance Agency).

In the Dallas suburb of Irving, Texas, armed protesters gathered outside a mosque to “Stop the Islamization of America”.

Incidents like this are why the idea that we need guns to protect ourselves from tyranny have everything exactly backwards. How tyranny typically happens is that civilians from a politically powerful group use force against less powerful groups in ways that the government couldn’t. That’s how the death squads worked all over Latin America, and what the Brownshirts did while Hitler was rising.

In American history, well-armed KKK members didn’t oppose tyranny in the Jim Crow South, they established it. Knowing that sympathetic sheriffs and other local officials wouldn’t stand up to them, they were free to terrorize any blacks who tried to claim their constitutional rights.

Same thing here on a smaller scale: The tiny Muslim community in Irving has exactly zero chance of taking the city over by force, or of conspiring with a liberal government to force Islamic tyranny on the Christian majority. But if government looks the other way, well-armed Christians could terrorize and tyrannize the Muslim minority, together with anybody else who sympathizes with them. That’s the real threat, and a well-armed populace just makes it worse.

but I wish more people were talking about Margaret Thatcher

I keep thinking about Thatcher when conservatives try to make President Obama say “radical Islam”.

The biggest terrorist threat Thatcher faced came from the Irish Republican Army, and she responded to it harshly. So, should she have declared war on radical Catholicism? The answer is obviously no, and if you think it through you’ll see that the same logic applies to radical Islam today.

If Thatcher had made radical Catholicism the enemy, she would have legitimized Irish Catholics supporting the IRA. Rather than portraying the IRA as violent outliers in the Catholic community, she would have been validating their claim to be the true defenders of the faith. What’s more, she would have been taking the radical Catholic label away from people who might use it in a non-violent way, like Mother Theresa.

and you might also be interested in

I thought the funniest line of the week was a response to Anonymous declaring war on ISIS:

The prophecy is coming true … They are going to be screwed by 72 virgins.

But it turns out that Anonymous might actually have an important role to play, as they disrupt the online infrastructure that ISIS depends on to spread its propaganda and lure recruits. CBS News quotes David Gewirtz, who they describe as a cyberwarfare expert (whatever that means):

Cyberattacks can have a tremendous impact. Of course, they can’t be used to arrest people or take terrorists off the field, but they can certainly be used to compromise structural components of terrorist operations. More to the point, they can go after both the money that terrorists have and their funding sources. Damaging the money flow can certainly have an impact on the terrorists’ operations.

There are also more subtle effects. If you’re a Muslim teen in Dearborn, and you go to an ISIS web site and find it offline or hacked, maybe that changes your impression of how strong and professional these guys are. Following their instructions to go to Syria or carry out some attack in the US starts to seem more speculative.

Interesting political reaction to the Paris attacks (or at least that’s how I’m reading it): Carson’s support is moving to Trump and Cruz. According to the Real Clear Politics polling average, the two front-runners were virtually tied on November 13. (Trump 24.8%, Carson 24.4%.) But their graph lines suddenly take off in opposite directions. Yesterday, Trump was at 27.5% and Carson at 19.8%. Cruz also has seen an uptick, from 9.6% to 11.3%. Summing up the support of all three, you don’t see much movement: 58.8% on November 13 and 58.6% yesterday.

The New Yorker has a fascinating article about Megan Phelps-Roper, a grand-daughter of Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church. For years, WBC used Megan the way a lot of groups use their young people, to give them a presence on social media. But a funny thing happened: As she tried to humanize the image of her cult to others, she began to see the humanity in them as well. Eventually she had to leave the church.

The article is a marvelous illustration of how people convert from cults: It wasn’t just that she learned new ideas (because Satan is is clever, and can make any kind of wickedness sound good), nor that she started to like the people she was interacting with (because nice people can be deluded). It took a combination of the two: thoughtful discussion with people she couldn’t see as evil, plus the dysfunctional internal politics of WBC.

So Politico thinks it needs to make an “unconventional hire” to bring in a more conservative viewpoint. When is any “centrist” media outlet going to do some similar affirmative action on the left? Why can’t there be voices in mainstream media that are unabashedly socialist?

Derrick Lemos puts words around something a lot of us have been thinking:

I’ve been really angry and depressed for the last few months. I’ve finally pieced together why.

I’m afraid.

I’m not afraid of teenagers building clocks. I’m not afraid of women having economic empowerment or sexual freedom. I’m not afraid of weddings with two grooms/brides, trans folks using bathrooms, Latinos making a living or Black people wearing hoodies and playing music.

I’m afraid of an angry white dude with a gun who’s been told repeatedly that HIS country is dying and HE needs to take it back.

and let’s close with something upbeat

Because I think we need a lift about now. Every era and subculture has its own style, but there’s something universal about dancing, as you see in this mash-up of “Uptown Funk” with classic movie dance numbers.

Joining the Dance

Without knowing exactly why ISIS undertook these attacks, we risk dancing to their tune.

Will McCants

This week’s featured post is “A Meditation on Terrorism“.

This week everybody was talking about the Paris attacks

As I’ve said many times, a one-man blog is poorly equipped to cover breaking news. If you want to keep track of what is known, but avoid the TV networks’ often-baseless speculations and obsessive focus on the most recently revealed detail (which may turns out to be false two days later), I recommend rechecking the Wikipedia article from time to time. As new facts are established and old ones debunked, the article is updated to retell the story as currently understood.

The larger question, though, is how we should respond to attacks like this. My basic take on terrorism hasn’t changed since 2004, when I wrote one of my first popular blog posts “Terrorist Strategy 101: a quiz“, which I updated on its 10th anniversary with “Terrorist Strategy 101: a review“. I believe you shouldn’t view a terrorist attack through the same lens as military attacks, because the intention of the attacker is completely different.

The point of a military attack is to degrade a country’s ability to defend itself; by destroying something of military value, the attack is an end in itself. But the point of a terrorist attack is to provoke a response. So responding out of either fear or anger might be exactly what the enemy wants.

One advantage neo-cons have had since 9-11 is that they always have their frame well prepared: Every enemy is Hitler in 1938, and every response other than all-out war is Chamberlain betraying Czechoslovakia at Munich. The whole frame is already sitting in everybody’s head, and it leaps to mind the instant a neo-con uses one of its code words, like appeasement. The instant the frame is invoked, the favored response is obvious: Do whatever it takes to stop the Hitler-analog now, before he gets more powerful later.

That’s a really bad frame for thinking about ISIS. A few thousand jihadis in the Syrian desert don’t bear much resemblance to the nation of Germany, and less than a dozen guys in Paris with AK-47s and grenades are not General Guderian’s panzer corps. But a bad frame will win out against no frame, so we need to present a better way of thinking about this. That’s what I try to lay out in the extended analogy of “A Mediation on Terrorism“.

People always ask, “If Muslims don’t approve of terrorist attacks, why aren’t they saying so?” They are. Here are a bunch and here are a bunch more. It’s hard to miss them, if you want to see them. If you don’t want to see them, though, they’re invisible.

I haven’t vetted CaspianReport to any depth. It seems to be the work of one very dedicated guy, which makes me identify with him. But I’m not sure who he is or how he views his mission, so I’m not giving my full endorsement yet. But these two videos — one on the origins of ISIS and the other on terrorism in general seem very insightful.

And man, do I envy that logo.


and red coffee cups

Segueing from the serious to the ridiculous, I spent a chunk of Thursday morning trying to figure out whether the Christian outrage over Starbucks’ seasonal red coffee cups is a real thing. I don’t believe it is.

I mean, the red cups are real, and they are kind of minimalistic as holiday decorations go: just red with a green logo, rather than including a bunch of secular seasonal images of candy canes and snowmen and such, as Starbucks holiday cups usually do. But I kept feeling like I was being punked: I heard a lot more from people outraged at the ridiculous triviality of the Christian outrage than I heard from actual outraged Christians.

I think that was the point. It all started with an online rant posted by Joshua Feuerstein, a guy whose sole claim to fame is that he posts evangelistic rants. He’s not the leader of any face-to-face religious group. He has an online following, but it’s not clear how many of them are Christians who agree with him, as opposed to secularists who watch his stuff because his antics amuse them, aggravate them, or bolster their sense of superiority. So if he made you look, he won, and the joke was on you. (Correction: us.)

In my opinion, an even bigger joke was on the people who got counter-trolled: the Christians so upset to see people criticizing other Christians that they felt obligated to join in the original complaint, even though they never would have noticed or felt offended by the cups on their own. And then there were the people trying to pander to such people, like Donald Trump. (Loser!)

And the big winner? Starbucks, who dominated the national discussion for a day or two with no advertising expense. CNBC predicts they’ll wait a decent interval, release a cup with more traditional winter themes, and benefit from another huge wave of free publicity. (See the closing for another suggestion.)

and campus protests

By drawing the football team (and implicitly, its coach — not to mention the support of nine deans) into their protests, black activists at the University of Missouri managed to get the resignations of the university president and chancellor.

It’s kind of amazing how negatively this — and similar protests at Yale and elsewhere — have been covered. The gist of the complaint is that the university has tolerated a hostile environment for black students and faculty, in which they’re subject to racial insults and symbolic terrorism (like a swastika being drawn in human feces on a residence hall wall). No one is claiming that the administration has been actively against blacks, but it has showed no sign of regarding the hostile atmosphere as a big deal. Low points were when the president refused to talk to protesters that blocked his car during the homecoming parade, and when he defined systemic oppression by referring to what black students believe rather than anything real.

The black students have been widely characterized as whiny opponents of free speech, and yes, it’s true that Jackie Robinson and other civil-rights trailblazers endured far worse. But is that really the right standard? In 2015, should an African American need to be a Jackie Robinson to make it through a state university?

I’m also not buying the threat to free speech, or that our campuses are places where “political correctness” has run amok. (I stand by my definition of political correctness: “The bizarre liberal belief that whites, men, straights, Christians, the rich, and other Americans in positions of privilege should treat less privileged people with respect, even though such people have no power to force them to.”) As Sally Kohn wrote in The Atlantic:

“Political correctness” only acquired a name when, relatively recently in American history, the idea of treating others respectfully was finally extended to include how white people treat black people, how men treat women, and so on.

The last time Jonathan Chait went off on political correctness, I responded sarcastically:

it’s up to white men (like me and Chait) to decide whether your concerns deserve attention, or if you’re just being too sensitive. We’ll let you know what we decide, but until then try to keep the noise down so that you don’t disturb the neighbors.

I don’t see any reason to reconsider. In reality, campuses are not free speech zones and never have been. They’re more like bars. No bar would post a list of things you can’t talk about. But a good bartender tries to maintain a space where a diverse set of customers feels comfortable, and will not be afraid to tell one customer to tone it down if he’s chasing away some of the others. The University of Missouri — like a lot of American universities — has been doing a bad job of running its bar, when it comes to maintaining a good learning environment for black students. Hopefully it will improve under new management.

and another Republican debate

Until the Paris attack, the quote I was planning to lead with was Trevor Noah‘s:

One thing most pundits agreed on about last night’s Republican debate is that it was it was much better than previous debates, partly due to the fact that it had more substance — which is true, because bullshit is a substance.

I don’t want to repeat myself, so I’ll just say that what I outlined in “Three Hours in Bizarro World” still applies: Listening to a Republican presidential debate is like traveling to an alternate universe, one with its own history and facts and arithmetic. For example, it continues to be a place where you can drastically lower taxes, spend more money on the military, not cut any spending that people will notice or miss, and still balance the budget. Similar policies may have led to the greatest economic disaster since the Great Depression, but the Bush administration was a long time ago and no one remembers it any more.

If anything, Bizarro World has only gotten more bizarre since the candidates revolted against the third debate’s CNBC moderators. So the Fox Business Channel moderators of the fourth debate on Tuesday were careful not to notice when candidates dodged questions or said anything obviously false. They also phrased their questions in conservative NewSpeak, as when Gerard Baker opened a question on inequality with “Many are concerned that the new wealth seems to be going only to innovators and investors” rather than using, say, the equivalent phrase preferred by both Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, malefactors of great wealth, or the more pedestrian rich greedy bastards.

But I will point out a few things that are either new or I neglected to mention in previous debate-response posts.

Syria. On Ben Carson’s statement that the Chinese are in Syria, Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice says: “unless you’re talking about having a diplomatic presence, I’m not sure what he’s referring to”. I doubt he knows either, though Carson spokesman Armstrong Williams insists Carson’s claim is backed up by “our own intelligence and what Dr. Carson’s been told by people who are on the ground”. So I guess there’s a Carson Intelligence Agency now. Maybe they’re the ones who convinced him the pyramids weren’t built by aliens.

BTW, if the name Armstrong Williams rings a bell, it’s because of his role in the No Child Left Behind payola scandal.

The tax postcard. Ted Cruz managed to work in the two biggest applause lines from his stump speech: simplifying taxes so that you can fill out your return on a postcard, and abolishing the IRS. I’m waiting for a moderator to ask the obvious question: Who do you mail the post card to? Whoever that is, you may not call them the IRS any more, but they are the IRS. And unless they’re going to take your word for how much tax you owe, they’re going to have to behave a lot like the IRS does now.

Cruz’ postcard is worth looking at, because as soon as you picture filling it out, you realize he hasn’t made taxes that much simpler at all.

On line 1, you need to know your investment income, which means you’ll need to know the basis price of any investment you sold. And if you got dividends or interest payments, you’ll need to know what part represented a return of capital, and so on. Unless you expect the government to take your word about all this, you’ll have to be able to show your calculations if challenged. I’d suggest you retain the old Schedules B and D and fill them out just for your own records. And if part of your income is from self-employment, that’s going to be a whole different form with its own complexities.

Line 4 asks about your itemized deductions, which means you’ll have to understand how those are defined. Line 6 lets you deduct for a “savings plan”, so you’ll need to know which plans qualify and how much you’re allowed to deduct. Line 10 retains a tax credit for earned income and child care, so you’ll have to know whether you qualify for those and how to claim them.

In other words, if you have only the wage income reported on your W-2, and you take the standard deduction and don’t mess with the savings program or claim any tax credits, your taxes will be simple. But in that case, they’re simple now: the 1040-EZ form isn’t much bigger than Cruz’ postcard.

Line 9 is the only place where the flatness of Cruz’ tax makes a difference: you figure your tax by multiplying your taxable income (line 8) times 10%. But if he kept the progressive tax rates we have now, Line 9 could say “Look up your tax on the tax tables.” So the flat tax saves you maybe thirty seconds or so, at the cost of blowing a multi-trillion-dollar hole in the ten-year federal budget.

The three-page tax code. Related to Cruz’ postcard is Carly Fiorina’s “three-page tax code”. Fiorina is endorsing what is known as a Hall-Rabushka flat tax, named after the two economists who wrote a book describing it. CNN Money notes that the Hall-Rabushka tax code is kept short by using vague terms that would require “hundreds of pages of regulations” to define rigorously.

For instance, there might need to be more clarity around notoriously confusing areas of income and expenses, such as that for the self-employed. Where’s the dividing line between personal expenses and business expenses?

“Taxpayers want to claim all sorts of costs as deductible business expenses, and a lot of [today’s] rules are aimed at limiting such abuse. When is use of a car business or personal? What about meals? Can you hire your kid and pay her $100,000 for services rendered?” Burman said.

The complexity of the current tax code isn’t due to the perversity of the IRS, but to the ingenious justifications people dream up for not paying taxes. If taxes are going to be anything more than a voluntary pass-the-hat system, we’ll continue needing rules to disallow those schemes, even during a Fiorina administration.

The Fed. Rand Paul blamed the Federal Reserve for income inequality:

By artificially keeping interest rates below the market rate, average ordinary citizens have a tough time earning interest.

Yep, if only the people who are falling out of the middle class could get a higher interest rate on all that money they have in the bank, we’d have our inequality problem whipped. Paul also blamed the Fed for high inflation — which is only happening in his imagination — and claimed that  people making $20,000 a year are hurt worst by it. In the real world, the lowest inequality in American history was in the 1970s, when the annual inflation rate sometimes topped 10%.

Ads for Hillary. After Donald Trump called for a “deportation force” to track down and remove the 11 million undocumented immigrants, and cited Eisenhower’s Operation Wetback as a precedent that proves it can be done, Jeb Bush observed “they’re doing high-fives in the Clinton campaign right now” — which the Clinton campaign verified via Twitter.

Another Clinton high-five moment came when Trump and Carson both opposed raising the minimum wage. Trump cited “wages too high” as a factor making the U.S. non-competitive. (In addition to his general insensitivity, Trump is ignoring all those minimum-wage jobs that aren’t subject to foreign competition. I mean, I’m not going to Cambodia for an Egg McMuffin, even if they’re cheaper there. And no matter how little Honduran janitors earn, nobody’s going to ship a building to Tegucigalpa for cleaning.) And Carson echoed that black teen-agers are unemployed “because of those high wages”.

So if you’re making the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, the Republican front-runners think your wage is high.

and you also might be interested in …

There was a Democratic debate in Iowa Saturday night. I haven’t had time to watch it yet myself. (One debate a week is about my limit.) According to most reports, both Sanders and O’Malley were more aggressive in attacking Clinton, though no one is reporting a serious knockdown moment.

If you thought O’Malley was angling for a VP slot with Clinton, he pretty well eliminated that possibility. If he were Clinton’s VP,  his assessment of the Obama/Clinton foreign policy would be in every Republican attack ad: “Libya is a mess. Syria is a mess. Iraq is a mess. Afghanistan is a mess.”

If you want to understand why it’s important to affirm that black lives matter, consider these two articles: Liam O’Ceallaigh looks at the bloody career of Belgium’s King Leopold II in “When You Kill Ten Million Africans, You Aren’t Called ‘Hitler’.” Nobody gets out of high school without hearing about the Holocaust, and you probably have at least some vague knowledge of the killing fields of Cambodia or the Armenian genocide. But Leopold’s genocide against the Congolese goes pretty much unnoticed. He is seldom mentioned among the great monsters of history, because, well, he just killed black people, and they don’t really count.

Now check out the Wikipedia article on the terrorist attack in Kenya in April. In terms of the number of deaths, it was similar to this week’s attacks in Paris. But even I have a reaction of “Oh yeah. I sort of remember that.” We can tell ourselves that all lives matter, but they don’t. Not really, not even among people like me. We’ve all got work to do.

I’ve given up on the fantasy of reading the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty and making up my own mind. 3000 pages makes it a very boring equivalent of the entire Harry Potter series. So mostly I’m going to be relying on sources I trust on the various issues TPP affects.

So far that’s not looking good for the TPP. Here’s Grist‘s take on the environmental section.

and let’s close with something subtle

Flashing back to the most virulent-but-trivial controversy on the internet this year, here’s the cleverest response I’ve seen to the Starbucks-Christmas-cup flap: “Starbucks releases new White and Gold cups in hopes of offending less people.

Products of Fear

Beware of the tiny gods frightened men create.

Hafiz (13th century)

This week’s featured posts are “I’d rather have Trump” and “Why are middle-aged whites dying?“.

This week everybody was talking about the off-year elections

In Houston, we saw that fear is still a winning tactic. A LGBT-rights ordinance decisively lost because it got characterized as a “bathroom ordinance” that sexual predators could take advantage of. Of course, similar ordinances exist elsewhere, and no one has assembled evidence that sexual predation is rising there. But how can you not want to protect that little girl in the commercial?

In Kentucky, it was the 2010 phenomenon all over again: When turnout is low, radical conservatives win. All those demographic projections that show the Republican electorate dying out mean nothing if Democratic constituencies don’t vote.

The one really encouraging result came from Ohio, where voters passed a measure that attempts to eliminate gerrymandering of state legislature districts. It has no effect on congressional districts, but it’s a step in the right direction.

and why white Americans are dying

I try to personalize the statistics in one of the featured posts.

and police vs. Tarantino

Movie director Quentin Tarantino has been called a “cop-hater” and accused of calling for “violence against police officers”. Police unions in New York and Los Angeles have announced boycotts of his new movie.

So what exactly did he say to incite all this? He spoke at a rally against police brutality and said:

What am I doing here? I’m doing here because I am a human being with a conscience. And when I see murder, I cannot stand by and I have to call the murdered the murdered. And I have to call the murderers the murderers.

Here’s the weird thing about this controversy: Cops are killing innocent unarmed people, or harmless people who have committed minor infractions. That’s not disputable; we have the video. Lots of video. Case after case, all over the country.

Everyone agrees that the vast majority of cops are not doing this. But for some reason they are choosing to identify with the ones who are. And by doing so, they are the ones who are slandering cops, not Tarantino. Tarantino is denouncing cops who murder people. If you then decide this is an offense to all cops, then you are the one saying that all cops are murderers. Not Tarantino.

Meanwhile, there was a weird turn in one of the stories that fed the war-on-cops meme. When a Houston deputy and an Illinois lieutenant were shot within a few days of each other last summer, suddenly the media — especially conservative media — were full of law enforcement officials blaming President Obama and Black Lives Matter for creating the hostile environment that had made it “open season on cops”.

Now that the case of Fox Lake, Illinois Lt. Joe Gliniewicz has been investigated, though, we get a different result: Gliniewicz’ death was “a carefully staged suicide … [that] was the end result of extensive criminal acts that Gliniewicz had been committing.” He had been stealing money from a program intended to mentor young people, and he staged his suicide to look like murder, hoping he would not be exposed.

Fortunately, the massive manhunt looking for the one black and two white men Gliniewicz had mentioned on the radio before his death didn’t turn up anyone fitting the description.

Trevor Noah captured the absurdity of some of the defenses of police:

The police are just trying to make a basic point: People are treating them unfairly just because of who they are and how they look. People keep following them around with cameras, watching everything they do, suspicious that they’re always about to break the law, leaving police afraid to even get out of their cars for fear that someone might whip out a phone and brutally film them. Who can imagine how that must feel? And if you listen carefully, all the police are saying is “phones down, don’t shoot.”

and Ben Carson

Carson is neck-and-neck with Donald Trump for leadership in the national polls of Republican voters. This week he faced a bunch of bad publicity, as I discuss in one of the featured posts. Whether this will puncture his bubble or give him increased cred for being “persecuted” by the “liberal media”, I can’t predict.

and you also might be interested in …

The Keystone Pipeline is dead. The process was agonizingly slow, but in the end President Obama seems to have played it right. He stalled until circumstances swung against the pipeline, and his decision seems more like a final nail in the coffin than a deathblow.

I stand by pretty much everything I wrote in “A Hotter Planet is in the Pipeline“. The big thing I learned in researching that article was that if we’re going to avoid a climate disaster, most of the fossil fuels we’ve already discovered will have to stay in the ground. That’s a fact that’s hard to wrap your mind around, and I think most Americans still don’t grasp it.

This week’s guns-make-us-safer story comes from a Cracker Barrel in Sanford, Florida, where a man’s gun fell out of his holster and went off. According to The Palm Beach Post, the bullet hit a kettle and split into fragments, wounding three people, including the gun-owner’s fiance. (Dump that loser, girlfriend.)

As somebody — I wish I could remember who — was saying on Facebook, incidents like this are treated as accidents, but they’re really not; they’re negligence. WFXT’s legal analyst says, “.” But if so, that law needs to be changed. Carrying a gun is serious business. If you don’t know how to keep it from going off, then you are endangering the public every time you go out armed.

Politically, that’s a gun-control battle I’d like to see. Make the NRA defend these bumbling fools, rather than spin fantasies about the John-Wayne-like good guy with a gun.

I didn’t post a guns-make-us-safer story last week, but I missed this one:

When Naomi Bettis called 911 on Halloween morning to report a gunman going on a shooting rampage in the streets of Colorado Springs, Colorado, it was her second call for help. Bettis had earlier called 911 to report a suspicious man brandishing a rifle, only to be told by the emergency operator that no help was coming because Colorado is an open-carry state.

That delay contributed to three people winding up dead.

The rationale for banning open carry is similar to that for banning drunk driving: Neither the drunk driver nor the guy walking down the street with a rifle has hurt anybody yet. And maybe they won’t. (Every night, I’ll bet thousands of drunks drive home without incident.) But it might be a good idea for police to notice them sooner rather than later.

Juan Cole begins his discussion of Ahmad Chalabi’s death with a Clarence Darrow quote: “I’ve never killed anyone, but I frequently get satisfaction reading the obituary notices.” Hoping to be set up as a pro-American ruler, Chalabi led the Iraqi exile group that fed the Bush administration the false intelligence it needed to justify invading Iraq. Cole concludes:

Chalabi was an accessory to one of the great crimes of the twenty-first century, the launching of an aggressive war with no casus belli and the ruination through incompetence and sectarianism of a great country.

and draws this lesson:

Persons full of overweening ambition and dedicated to the pursuit of narrow self-interest can often destroy the very prize that they so eagerly sought, crushing it to death in a satanic embrace.

The October jobs report was encouraging, with unemployment ticking down to 5% and the underlying numbers also looking good. For a little perspective, one of Mitt Romney’s promises was that his administration would create so many jobs that unemployment would go down to 6% by the end of his first term in 2017.

A statistic frequently quoted by people who don’t want to give the Obama administration credit for anything is the number of Americans not in the labor force. The Wall Street Journal took a look at who these people are and wasn’t particularly alarmed. Most of them are retired or in school.

None of this is to say that the American economy is unbelievably great or unusually rosy. By almost any conventional labor market measurement the economy has yet to recover from a recession that started almost eight years ago. But the notion that 92 million Americans are unaccounted for, that there’s a conspiracy in these statistics, or that we have no idea what 20 million prime-age Americans are up to, just isn’t right.

and let’s close with something both smart and amusing

Thames Valley Police explain the issue of sexual consent with a very British analogy.

Losing to Idiots

[Chess Grandmaster Aron] Nimzowitsch … once missed first prize in a tournament in Berlin by losing to Sämisch, and when it became clear he was going to lose the game, Nimzowitsch stood up on the table and shouted, “Gegen diesen Idioten muss ich verlieren!” (‘That I should lose to this idiot!”)

Chess Review (1950), quoted by Wikipedia

I’ve about had it with these people. … We’ve got one candidate that says that we ought to abolish Medicaid and Medicare. Have you ever heard of anything as crazy as that? … We’ve got one person saying we ought to have a 10% flat tax that’ll drive up the deficit in this country by trillions of dollars. … We’ve got one guy that says we ought to take 10 or 11 million people … and pick them up and take them to the border and scream at them to get out of our country. That’s just crazy! … We’ve got people proposing health care reform that’s going to leave, I believe, millions of people without adequate health insurance. What has happened to our party? What has happened to the conservative movement?

— John Kasich, 10-27-2015

Ben Carson 26%, Donald Trump 22% … John Kasich 4%

— CBS/NYT poll, 10-27-2015

This week’s featured article is my attempt to explain Black Lives Matter to conservative Christians. It’s called “Samaritan Lives Matter“.

For months, July’s post “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to be a Bigot” has been asymptotically approaching 100,000 views. (Every week I’ve thought, “Two more weeks at this rate and it’ll get there.”) Well, it finally made it this morning. It’s the Sift’s third 100K post.

This week everybody was talking about Obama sending troops to Syria

So far he’s not talking big numbers: less than 50, with a mission to “assist” groups fighting against ISIS and call in air strikes. I have four problems with this.

First, I haven’t heard any explanation of exactly what the 50 are supposed to accomplish and why 50 is the right number to achieve that purpose. And that makes me wonder if in a month or two we’ll need 100 or 500 troops to do something equally vague. DefenseOne describes

the beginning of this new strategy in the war against [ISIS], which will focus in Iraq on helping security forces retake Ramadi and Bayji and then eventually Mosul. In Syria, the immediate objective is to take and ultimately hold ISIS’s self-declared capital of Raqqa.

But what the final we-can-leave-now objective is, I have no idea.

Second, you know ISIS will put a high priority on capturing a few of those Americans and beheading them on YouTube. And you know what will happen then: Americans back home will start clamoring to “get the bastards”, and it will be hard to resist mounting a full-scale invasion. Weirdly, that’s what ISIS wants: It has an apocalyptic vision, and the apocalypse won’t be complete until an American army arrives.

Third, I’m not sure who or what we’re fighting for. I know ISIS is bad. The Assad regime is also bad, but maybe not as threatening to us or our regional allies as ISIS. Iran and Russia and Hezbollah are helping Assad, and we’re happy about that when they attack ISIS, but not so happy when they attack other Syrian rebels. But even calling them “other Syrian rebels” makes the situation sound less chaotic than it is. Another DefenseOne article claims:

By one count from 2013, 13 “major” rebel groups were operating in Syria; counting smaller ones, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency puts the number of groups at 1,200.

Finally, Congress needs to authorize this. I know the Republican leadership doesn’t want any responsibility for either endorsing or stopping Obama’s moves against ISIS. But they’re Congress, damn it. They do have responsibility, whether they want it or not. The country needs the kind of intelligent debate that we had before the Gulf War in 1991.

and the budget deal

John Boehner kept his promise: He got Paul Ryan elected Speaker, and “cleaned the barn” before Ryan picked up the gavel. The debt limit is suspended until March, 2017, and a new budget deal circumvents the sequester agreement of 2011 to increase both military and domestic spending. Rather than Boehner’s barn-cleaning phrase, I would call it “releasing the hostages”. I’m sure Tea Partiers will try to find something else they can shut down the government over, but for now it looks like we will avoid such artificial crises for a while.

Paul Ryan has promised to re-impose the Hastert Rule, which says that the Speaker won’t bring a bill to the floor unless a majority of the Republican caucus supports it. Since there are 247 Republicans in the 435-member House, that means that 124 Republicans — less than 30% of the total House — can block any legislation. If Speaker Boehner had stuck to the Hastert Rule, the United States would be hitting its debt ceiling on Thursday, unleashing chaos in the global economy.

Here’s what the Hastert Rule should mean to American voters: If you don’t like the positions taken by most Republican congressmen, you should vote against the Republican in your district even if your local Republican candidate sounds reasonable. If your representative isn’t in “the majority of the majority”, his or her vote isn’t going to count for much, other than to empower the more conservative Republicans who dominate the caucus.

and the third Republican debate

The thing to know about the third Republican debate [held Wednesday; here’s the video and transcript] was that the candidates didn’t debate each other, they debated the moderators and rebelled against the whole concept of facts or accountability. As in the second debate, the biggest applause came whenever a candidate clearly and boldly stated something that isn’t true. (NowThis News made a video collecting some of the biggest lies.)

Slate’s Jamelle Bouie:

The problem isn’t that CNBC engaged in “gotcha” questions meant to “embarrass” the Republican candidates. It’s that any serious look is a fatal blow to GOP plans and proposals, which don’t deliver on promised substance. Trump can’t deport millions of immigrants; Carson can’t raise enough revenue to fund the federal government; and the “middle-class” tax plans of Bush, Rubio, and others shower most of their benefits on the rich. And as long as this is true, GOP candidates will have a hard time with all but the most friendly moderators.

and William Saletan:

What happened in this debate wasn’t an attack by the press on the candidates. It was an attack by the candidates on the press. Harwood, Quick, and the other CNBC panelists were no harsher to the Republicans on Wednesday than CNN’s Anderson Cooper was to Clinton and other Democrats in their debate two weeks ago. What was different this time was the reaction. Presented with facts and figures that didn’t fit their story, the leading Republican candidates accused the moderators of malice and deceit.

and Ezra Klein:

the problem for Republicans is that substantive questions about their policy proposals end up sounding like hostile attacks — but that’s because the policy proposals are ridiculous, not because the questions are actually unfair.

Here’s the strangest thing about the objections to the “liberal media” in this debate: If you’ve ever watched CNBC, you know that it isn’t liberal. Its target audience is the investing class, and it panders to them the same way that the Food Channel panders to foodies. In fact, the event usually cited as the beginning of the Tea Party was a Rick Santelli rant on CNBC in 2009. Santelli was one of the questioners Wednesday night. Not even Ann Coulter was buying that CNBC asked more hostile questions than Fox News did in the first debate.

What about Ted Cruz’ claim that the Democrats got softball questions in their debate? Nope.

A few of the other falsehoods in the debate deserve special attention. Chris Christie’s claims about Social Security were outrageous. First:

The government has lied to you and they have stolen from you. They told you that your Social Security money is in a trust fund. All that’s in that trust fund is a pile of IOUs for money they spent on something else a long time ago.

What he means by “a pile of IOUs” is that the Social Security Trust Fund has invested its money in Treasury bonds. If a private pension fund did that, the only complaint auditors might make is that it is too conservative an investment strategy. If your IRA contains government bonds, or mutual funds that own government bonds, you also are basing your retirement plans on “a pile of IOUs”.

And then he said:

Social Security is going to be insolvent in seven to eight years.

That claim is entirely baseless. The WaPo fact-checker: “Christie loves to say this but that doesn’t make it true.” The Social Security Trustees Report says:

Interest income and redemption of trust fund assets from the General Fund of the Treasury will provide the resources needed to offset Social Security’s annual aggregate cash-flow deficits until 2034.

Candidates should be talking about what happens after 2034, but that’s no excuse for Christie’s scaremongering.

Ben Carson was asked about his involvement with the shady nutritional-supplement company Mannatech, which has claimed its products can cure autism and cancer. He said

I didn’t have an involvement with them. That is total propaganda.

Jim Geraghty of National Review — usually considered a key part of the conservative media — recounted the Carson’s history with Mannatech and commented:

Carson’s lack of due diligence before working with the company is forgivable. His blatant lying about it now is much harder to forgive.

The only “lie” the candidates wanted to discuss, though, was what Hillary Clinton said about Benghazi in 2012. Marco Rubio launched this attack:

Democrats have the ultimate SuperPac. It’s called the mainstream media. … Last week, Hillary Clinton went before a committee. She admitted she had sent e-mails to her family saying, “Hey, this attack at Benghazi was caused by Al Qaida-like elements.” She spent over a week telling the families of those victims and the American people that it was because of a video. And yet the mainstream media is going around saying it was the greatest week in Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It was the week she got exposed as a liar.

The truth, which is well known, is that while Clinton did offer different explanations of the Benghazi attack during that first week, she was also getting a changing story from intelligence sources. If you dislike her, you can decide to interpret those facts as her lying, but her “fog of war” explanation also fits the facts.

I’m puzzled by why Republicans see the possibility that Clinton might have lied as a moral disqualification, while Carson’s Mannatech lie, or Christie’s Social Security lie, or Carly Fiorina’s claim to have watched a non-existent Planned Parenthood video (among other liberties she takes with the truth) aren’t.

The root problem here is discussed in Mike Lofgren’s “GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowledge“.

Thanks to these overlapping and mutually reinforcing segments of the right-wing media-entertainment-“educational” complex, it is now possible for the true believer to sail on an ocean of political, historical, and scientific disinformation without ever sighting the dry land of empirical fact.

Ted Cruz solution to the debate “problem” is to take Republican debates entirely into the conservative news bubble. He’d like to see Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin moderate.

and meat

I had a hard time finding a good article about the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s classification of processed meat as a “definite” cause of cancer and red meat as a “probable” cause. Lots of news sources sensationalized the story, like The Guardian‘s headline: Processed meats pose same cancer risk as smoking and asbestos, reports say.

Well, not exactly. The Cancer Research UK blog did much better.

As Professor Phillips explains, “IARC does ‘hazard identification’, not ‘risk assessment’. That sounds quite technical, but what it means is that IARC isn’t in the business of telling us how potent something is in causing cancer – only whether it does so or not.”

So, yes, bacon and sausage are now in the same definite-cause category as tobacco, but that doesn’t mean that Egg McMuffins are as dangerous as cigarettes. Cancer Research UK quantifies using a 2011 study from the World Cancer Research Fund:

We know that, out of every 1000 people in the UK, about 61 will develop bowel cancer at some point in their lives. Those who eat the lowest amount of processed meat are likely to have a lower lifetime risk than the rest of the population (about 56 cases per 1000 low meat-eaters).

If this is correct, the WCRF’s analysis suggests that, among 1000 people who eat the most processed meat, you’d expect 66 to develop bowel cancer at some point in their lives – 10 more than the group who eat the least processed meat.

If nobody smoked, the article estimates, there would be 64,500 fewer cancers per year in the United Kingdom. If nobody ate processed meat, 8,800 fewer cancers.

The upshot isn’t that you should swear off hot dogs forever, but that if you eat a lot of them, you’d probably be healthier if you cut down. But you knew that already.

For balance, I have to link to this: “World Health Organization Warns that Consumption of Kale Leads to Arrogance“.

A spokesperson for the WHO told The (un)Australian: “These findings though alarming are not surprising, I mean we’ve all been at a dinner party and had to endure the whining of a vegetarian or worse a vegan, talking about how superior they are to us carnivores. Until recently they merely whined, now with the introduction of kale and to a lesser extent quinoa their whining is now more boastful and confrontational.

and more police abuse

You’ve probably already seen the video: A police officer assigned to a South Carolina high school was called into a classroom to address what sounds like a fairly ordinary discipline problem. The teacher had asked a 15-year-old black girl to leave the class, and she wasn’t going. When she also refused to cooperate with the cop, he flipped her desk over and threw her across the room. The student seems not to have posed any danger to the cop, the teacher, or any of the students.

The incident opened a larger debate on the role of “resource officers” assigned to schools. Originally, the idea was to humanize students’ image of cops, but more and more they are being used to criminalize problems schools used to deal with in less confrontational ways.

South Carolina — often a trail-blazer in bizarre laws — has a law against “disturbing school”. The first time I read it, I thought it was outlawing adults coming onto school property and making problems, which I guess it does. But apparently it applies to students too, who can be arrested for such vague things as “to act in an obnoxious manner” at school. (As I remember high school, I think we all could have been arrested for that at one time or another.)

As we saw in the recent it’s-a-clock-not-a-bomb case, vague laws create openings for the unconscious prejudices of authorities, especially racial prejudices. One student carrying a baseball bat through the halls might look like he’s taking a short cut to the playing field, while another — doing exactly the same thing — might look like a threat. One kid caught somewhere he shouldn’t be looks lost, while another is interpreted as a criminal trespasser.

In other police-brutality news, NBA player Thebo Sefolosha had his leg broken by New York police in April, just as his Atlanta Hawks were about to enter the playoffs. The incident was caught on video, and the police don’t look good. They charged Sefolosha with three misdemeanors, and apparently prosecutors thought they were being generous when they offered to let Sefolosha off with one day of community service.

He decided to go to trial, and was acquitted after less than an hour of jury deliberation. Now he’s filing suit against the NYPD.

The NYPD had another athlete-related incident in September, when an officer misidentified retired tennis pro James Blake as a member of a fake credit-card ring and arrested him. Blake offered no resistance, but was violently wrestled to the ground anyway. Again, it was caught on video.

I think Stephen Judkins is on to something:

It’s crazy that once personal video recorders became ubiquitous UFOs stopped visiting Earth and cops started brutalizing people all the time.

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There are two kinds of states in America: states that expanded Medicaid, and states that have a lot of uninsured people.

Here’s why we need stronger anti-discrimination laws: A Michigan pediatrician refused to treat a six-day-old infant because she had two moms. He apologized in a note, saying: “I felt that I would not be able to develop the personal patient doctor relationship that I normally do with my patients.”

I’m sure that back in the Jim Crow era, a lot of white doctors felt that way about black patients. Some probably still do, but today the law tells them “Get over it.” It should say the same thing to homophobic doctors.

A few weeks ago, Donald Trump committed a Republican heresy when he challenged Jeb Bush’s claim that his brother “kept us safe”. (How safe were the three thousand people in the World Trade Center?) Last Monday, The Atlantic‘s Kathy Gilsinan took it a step further in “Is It Really Better That Saddam’s Gone?“, a question I’ve raised on this blog before.

Bad as he was, Saddam was a secular ruler who kept a lid on the Sunni/Shia conflict and religious extremists like the ones who eventually founded ISIS. His Iraq was a strong regional counterweight to Iran. Nobody wants to claim he was a good guy, but in certain ways he was useful. It should go without saying that replacing his repressive order with the current chaos wasn’t worth losing over a trillion dollars, four thousand American soldiers, and countless Iraqis.

Here’s how the Benghazi hearings are being spun now. In criticizing House Republicans’ move Tuesday to impeach the IRS commissioner, Fox News’ Charles Krauthammer said:

This is not going to end well. … Republicans in Congress have shown that they have no ability to conduct successful investigations of this administration.

Implicit in this statement is that the Obama administration can never be cleared of a charge. If no wrongdoing is found, the investigation is just “unsuccessful”. Maybe the next investigation will do better.

and let’s close with some uncommon sense

The Right Men for the Job

Leo, we need to be investigated by someone who wants to kill us just to watch us die. We need someone perceived by the American people to be irresponsible, untrustworthy, partisan, ambitious, and thirsty for the limelight. Am I crazy, or is this not a job for the U. S. House of Representatives?

— C. J. Cregg, The West Wing (2001)

This week’s featured post is “Notes From Hillary’s Benghazi Showdown“.

This week everybody was talking about Hillary and the Benghazi Committee

By the time the hearings started Thursday morning, everybody not inside the conservative news bubble was expecting a complete disaster for the House Republicans. But they just couldn’t stop themselves from charging in like the Light Brigade. Full coverage of the fallout is in this week’s featured post.

and Joe Biden

I was glad to see Vice President Biden decide not to run. Like Greg Sargent, I just don’t see what Biden would add to the race. If you believe Hillary’s about to crash and burn, then the Democratic establishment needs a back-up candidate. But if not, then what’s the point?

Somebody should total up the amount of air time that pundits who had no real information to share wasted speculating about Biden’s candidacy. None of their viewers or listeners or readers are ever going to get that time back. Nate Silver distills the moral of the story:

As is often the case, sketchily sourced “inside information” proved no more reliable than other types of gossip.

and Canada

After ten years of the conservative government of Stephen Harper, Canadian voters gave the Liberal Party 55% of the seats in Parliament. Another 13% went to the New Democrats, who are to the Liberal Party’s left. Between them, the two left-of-center parties got 60% of the vote.

Harper’s government was strongly anti-Muslim. Trudeau campaigned on raising the budget deficit to stimulate the economy.

and Congress

It looks like Paul Ryan will be speaker, though the Freedom Caucus didn’t formally endorse him or support the rule changes he wants. I still believe that Tea Partiers wants a confrontation with Obama over the debt ceiling in early November and/or a government shutdown in December, and I don’t think Ryan will give it to them. We’ll see what happens then.

Reihan Salam thinks Ryan’s rep as a true conservative will placate the Far Right.

Members of the Freedom Caucus might believe that they’re doing the White House a favor by agreeing to increase the debt limit, but almost no one else in the country sees it that way. Another drawn-out debt limit fight can only end in tears for the GOP.

Why does Ryan have a better shot at selling Republicans on pragmatism than Boehner or Kevin McCarthy? It’s simple. While it’s never been clear exactly what Boehner or McCarthy stand for, most conservatives, including diehard Freedom Caucus Republicans, recognize that Ryan is a conservative true believer and that every pragmatic accommodation he makes is with an eye toward moving government in a more conservative direction. Ryan’s critics might not agree with him on every tactical decision, but they recognize his sincerity and his commitment.

I don’t think the Freedom Caucus — or the Republican base voters they represent — care a fig about “sincerity and commitment”. I think they want to stand over a beaten-down Obama and watch him beg for mercy. The base voters believe — because Tea Party politicians have been telling them — that Boehner has been losing to Obama because he hasn’t had the will to push the confrontation all the way. They’re not going to accept compromise from Ryan either.

The Weekly Sift has covered Paul Ryan in some detail over the years. My 2012 Ryan-as-VP-candidate triology is: “I Read Everything About Paul Ryan So You Don’t Have To“, “Paul Ryan: Veteran of the War on Women“, and “Ayn, Paul, and Me“. More recently, I discussed his attempt to redesign the War on Poverty in “Does Paul Ryan Care About Poverty Now?” and “Can Conservatives Solve Poverty?“.

Probably the best of that group is “Ayn, Paul, and Me“.

and Obama’s veto

The first shot of the next round of budget wars was fired when President Obama vetoed the $612-billion National Defense Authorization Bill.

Here’s what that’s about: The 2011 debt-ceiling crisis resulted in the Budget Control Act. The BCA set up something that was never supposed to happen: automatic budget cuts known as “the sequester”. The idea was that the sequester was such a ridiculous way to cut spending that of course Congress would work out something else before it went into effect.

I know, that sounds so naive today. The sequester actually did take effect. In order to make it sting on both sides, the agreement stipulated that defense and non-defense spending would both face limitations.

Well, Republicans want to undo the defense-spending limits, but leave the domestic-spending limits in place. So they put $38 billion of ordinary defense spending into a war-fighting account that’s exempt from the sequester. Obama thinks this is an accounting gimmick, and he’s right. If the sequester was a bad idea — and it was — Congress should undo it, not finesse around it.

and Jerusalem

A longer article about the current wave of Israel/Palestine violence is sitting in my perfectionist Limbo, while I decide how to summarize the recent book The Two-State Delusion by Padraig O’Malley.

In the meantime, you should definitely read Vox’s account of a recent speech by Danny Seidemann, executive director of the Israeli organization Terrestrial Jerusalem.

while Republican candidates advocated violating the Constitution

A Fox Business interviewer asked Donald Trump about a British anti-terrorism proposal to “close some mosques”. Trump replied “I would do that. Absolutely. I think it’s great.”

Ben Carson’s soft-spokenness doesn’t make him any less scary. Listen to this rapid-fire yes-or-no Q&A with Glenn Beck.

This sequence is near the end of that clip.

BECK: Shut down the Department of Education?

CARSON: I actually have something I would use the Department of Education to do.

BECK: Would it be … pack boxes for the State Department? [LAUGHTER] IRS?

CARSON: No, it would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and deny federal funding if it exists.

In other words, colleges should have political commissars to tell them when they’re getting too liberal for the Carson administration’s taste.

Carson followed up on this idea in an interview with conservative talk-radio host Dana Loesch, justifying the need for his commissars by telling about a student whose professor instructed him to write “Jesus” on a piece and then stomp on it as part of a classroom exercise. (The source of this story is Fox Radio’s Todd Starnes, a frequent fabricator of Christian “persecution” stories. The author of the exercise describes it very differently.)

Loesch then asked the question any sensible conservative would ask: Couldn’t the next liberal administration use this machinery against conservatives? Of course not, Carson assures her, because only liberal professors demonstrate “extreme” political bias.

I think we would have to put in very strict guidelines for the way that that was done. And that’s why I used the word “extreme”. I didn’t just say “political bias”, I said “extreme political biases”. For instance, the example that I gave.

In reality, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a college as bent on liberal “indoctrination” (which is what Carson says he’s trying to prevent) as, say, Liberty University is on conservative Christian indoctrination. (Liberty’s motto is “Training Champions for Christ”.) And that should make obvious the biggest problem with Carson’s plan: It’s an attack on student freedom. Students go to Liberty because they want to be indoctrinated in an extreme conservative Christian worldview. And that should be their choice, not the government’s. Ditto for students who seek an education rooted in progressive values.

So this is what we can expect from Carson: On the basis of horror stories invented by the right-wing media, he will implement policies that restrict the freedom of people who disagree with him.

BTW: According to one poll, Carson has moved into the lead in Iowa. His 28%-20% margin over Trump comes from Tea Partiers (32%-20%), born-again Christians (36%-17%), women (33%-13%), and the 50-64 age bracket (34%-17%).

Here’s what bothers me most about those Trump and Carson interviews: It’s not that some candidates are willing to violate the Constitution or borrow tactics from totalitarian states — when you have political amateurs in the race, sometimes they’re going to say outrageous things. It’s that none of the other candidates jump up and protest. Where are the supposed “mainstream” candidates like Bush, Rubio, and Kasich?

Why aren’t any of them making the point that even Dana Loesch can see: A government with the power to close mosques has the power to close Christian churches too. If it can target liberal colleges, it can target conservative colleges.

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This week’s guns-make-us-safer story comes from an outpatient clinic in Beaumont, Texas on Monday.

A witness told KCEN’s sister station 12News that a woman was in the waiting room of a medical office. When she reached into her purse to pull out some paperwork, a gun fell out of her purse causing it to discharge. The round went through a wall and hit another patient in the hip.

I guess if you have to be shot, it’s good to already be in a doctor’s office.

The pendulum may finally be turning on high-stakes standardized tests.

Politics That Work is a data-driven web site. Here, they take apart Mitt Romney’s famous “47%“. It’s worth noting that even that orange sliver of able-bodied working-age people not working and not looking for work isn’t all lazy moochers: Some of them intentionally saved money while they were working so that they can do whatever they’re doing now: traveling the world, writing a novel, working on an idea for a new business, or producing a weekly news-and-politics blog.

The IRS pseudo-scandal ends with a whimper, not a bang.

“We found no evidence that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt, or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution,” Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik said in a letter to Congress on Friday.

“Based on the evidence developed in this investigation and the recommendation of experienced career prosecutors and supervising attorneys at the Department, we are closing our investigation and will not seek any criminal charges,” he continued.

Kadzik said the investigation found “substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment, and institutional inertia, leading to the belief by many tax-exempt applicants that the IRS targeted them based on their political viewpoints” but concluded that “poor management is not a crime.”

Matt Yglesias points out the resemblance between the Ben Carson campaign, a Ponzi scheme, and a multi-level marketing scam.

Carson is currently in second place in national polls and leading in Iowa. His campaign is raising tons of money from small donors and is spending most of that money on fundraising. People are giving Carson money so that he’ll have the money to ask more people for money. It’s a form of pyramid scheme. There’s no real field operation, policy staff, or any other manifestation of the kind of campaign apparatus that could plausibly result in victory.

It’s an example of the larger phenomenon Rick Perlstein laid out three years ago in “The Long Con” and I covered in “Keeping the Con in Conservatism“. Chris Hayes summed it up in a tweet:

much of movement conservatism is a con and the base are the marks.

Conservatives are annoyed by the new Captain America comics, because Cap is a liberal now. But as Amanda Marcotte points out, anybody who has kept track of the character through the years knows that Captain America has been a liberal since his Depression-era childhood in New York City.

Some people are anti-abortion, while others are more generally anti-sex. Here, an angry mob invades a discussion of Omaha’s sex-education program.

MTV’s Decoded educates us on the racist origins of six common words and phrases: the peanut gallery, no can do, long time no see, sold down the river, and gypped.

That’s only five, you say. I left out hip-hip horray, where MTV’s story didn’t convince me.

Tell me you’re not really going to wear that Indian costume for Halloween. Here’s how actual Native Americans view them.

and let’s close with something amusing


No Responsibility

If your brother and his administration bear no responsibility at all [for 9/11], how do you then make the jump that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are responsible for what happened at Benghazi?”

— CNN reporter Jake Tapper,
interviewing Jeb Bush on Sunday’s State of the Union

This week’s featured post is a book review: “How Propaganda Works by Jason Stanley”.

BTW, I noticed this cartoon just a little too late include it in the propaganda article:

This week everybody was talking about the Democratic debate

I agree with the media consensus on Tuesday night’s debate (transcript, video — you can skip the first 5 minutes): Sanders and Clinton both did well, while the other three candidates’ performances didn’t launch them into contention. (O’Malley looked wooden and at times seemed to be struggling to recall a memorized line. Webb has too many positions that are out of the Democratic mainstream. Chafee didn’t seem ready for prime time.)

In general, focus groups and online polls said Sanders won while pundits thought Hillary did. I think it comes down to the different goals of a front-runner and a challenger: Sanders produced the most memorable moments and put forward Democratic ideals with the most passion. But strategically, Clinton did what she needed to do. (Similarly in the 2012 cycle, Mitt Romney’s debates never wowwed anybody, but he consistently stayed on track to win the nomination.) However they reacted to Sanders, I think most Democratic viewers came out of the debate with fewer doubts about Clinton as a candidate.

(Better designed polls have just started coming out. In CNN’s, most people say Hillary won, and her support remains stable at 45%.)

I also agree with the upbeat response liberal pundits had to the debate as a whole: It contrasted well with the two Republican clown shows. The candidates were thoughtful and made substantive responses; they talked about issues — affordable college, an increased minimum wage, family leave, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, shifting the country away from fossil fuels — that mean something in voters’ lives, rather than manufactured issues like Planned Parenthood; nobody had to pretend to take seriously ridiculous proposals like Trump’s Great Wall of Mexico or the long-debunked theory that vaccines cause autism; Democrats treated each other with respect, while Republicans insulted each other and then argued about whose insults went over the line.

The highlight, which you’ve probably seen by now, was Bernie Sanders’ backhanding of Anderson Cooper’s question on the Clinton emails. The question was directed to Clinton, and after her answer the discussion went like this:

SANDERS: Let me say something that may not be great politics, but I think the Secretary is right. And that is, that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.

CLINTON: Thank you. Me too. Me too.

SANDERS: The middle class — Anderson, and let me say something about the media as well. I go around the country, talk to a whole lot of people — the middle class of this country is collapsing. We have 27 million people living in poverty. We have massive wealth and income inequality. Our trade policies have cost us millions of decent jobs. The American people want to know whether we’re going to have a democracy or an oligarchy as a result of Citizens United. Enough of the emails. Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.

CLINTON (offering a handshake which Sanders accepts): Thank you, Bernie. Thank you.

I think that exchange helped them both, and helped the Party. Sanders established that he cares more about his message than just gaining advantage wherever he can find it. Clinton accepted his support graciously and didn’t look for a sinister underside. And Sanders’ list of “the real issues facing America” was a good summary of what Democrats around the country hope to run on.

Saturday afternoon, Martin O’Malley was speaking at an Irish bar a few blocks from my apartment. He’s much better in front of small groups. In the Q&A he displayed a kind of joyful wonkiness that is hard to imagine in a Republican candidate. The more technical the questions got — FISA courts, sustainable building design, the nitty-gritty of gun control proposals — the happier he seemed. In response to a question on software patents, he said: “You have played ‘Stump the Presidential Candidate’, and you have won.” (O’Malley won all the other rounds.)

I think if you put him alone in a room with Hillary Clinton, they would have the most fascinating conversation and come away totally charmed with each other.

Speaking of “the real issues facing America”, the NYT’s Patrick Healy made a great point: The two parties aren’t proposing different solutions to our country’s problems, they disagree about what the problems are.

Climate change, racism, gun violence, student debt, the concentration of wealth, and the domination of our political process by super-rich donors — Republicans just don’t consider those to be problems, and instead worry that we’re being invaded by Mexicans, Planned Parenthood is selling baby organs, the government is on the verge of bankruptcy, rich job-creators are hogtied by taxes and regulations, and welfare is sapping the will of poor people to make it on their own.

The only problem both recognize is the instability in the Middle East. But even there, Republicans are afraid ISIS will take over the world, while Democrats dread being sucked into another military quagmire.

I find Healy’s observation discouraging. People who care about the same problem can usually find a little common ground and build a compromise around it. But it’s hard to work out anything with people who don’t recognize the problem you want to solve.

One consistent Republican criticism of the debate has been that the Democratic candidates object to the status quo (inequality, etc.) as if their party hadn’t been in power these last seven years. Two answers:

  • To a large extent, Republicans own the status quo. Other than ObamaCare, President Obama hasn’t been able to get his programs through Congress. Most of the big battles have been about Republican attempts to roll back New Deal and Great Society programs like Social Security and Food Stamps.
  • Democratic complaints about income inequality and the destruction of the middle class aren’t protests against Obama’s policies, they’re protests against the wealth-favoring consensus that has dominated American politics since Reagan. That’s when the middle class began shrinking.

Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump proposed their own theory about why the Democrats had a civil debate: It was a conspiracy orchestrated by CNN and the Democratic National Committee. “CNN did not hit them like they hit us,” Trump complained. “They didn’t make them fight.”

I’m bemused by the idea that somebody “makes” Trump fight. People with self-control issues often put forward such now-look-what-you-made-me-do excuses. Personal responsibility comes up a lot in conservative rhetoric. But actually taking responsibility for your actions … that’s even tougher than running for president.

It’s crazy that Chafee and Webb were in the debate and Lawrence Lessig wasn’t. One reason Lessig didn’t get over the poll threshold is that many polls didn’t list him as an option. Lessig is the leading voice addressing a serious issue — campaign finance — and he should be on the stage next time.

I had the same thought as the 538 round table: Hillary’s debate performance lowers the likelihood that Biden gets into the race. As Farai Chideya put it:

It’s awfully hard to ride in to save the day when the day doesn’t seem to need saving.

And Nate Silver added this thought:

the debate did real damage to another bullshit meme, which is linking the Democratic and Republican races together under the same narrative umbrella. The Democrats are quite … arrayed right now. The Republicans aren’t.

and new attacks on Bernie Sanders

You’ll know that Bernie has a real chance to win when Fox News gives him his own Benghazi. I don’t watch a lot of Fox, but I do channel-scan through it regularly. It has looked to me like Fox has been rooting for Sanders because his success undermines Clinton, who they expect to be the nominee. Tearing down Clinton has been Priority #1 on Fox, and still is.

But Republicans might be starting to hedge their bets. Until recently, in my limited sampling, Fox has been giving Sanders credit for being authentic and honest, and hasn’t been ridiculing him the way they would if they took him seriously. But Wednesday night I saw Bill O’Reilly talking to frequent Fox contributor Bernie Goldberg about Sanders’ socialism. O’Reilly offered that if Sanders thinks socialism is so great, he should take a look at Venezuela. (In the debate, Sanders offered Denmark as an example the U.S. could learn from. The difference between Denmark and Venezuela seems lost on O’Reilly.) Goldberg wondered “if his middle name is Che”.

In a radio interview, Rand Paul couldn’t tell the difference between Denmark and the Soviet Union. “Most of the times when socialism has been tried that, uh, attendant with that has been mass genocide of people or any of those who object to it. Stalin killed tens of millions of people. Mao killed tens of millions of people. Pol Pot killed tens of millions of people.”

AFAIK, neither Bernie nor the Danes have killed anybody for their policy objections … yet. But the thought of Danish gulags reminds me of Eddie Izzard’s cake-or-death routine about militant Anglicans.

In the middle of his how-can-you-be-elected question to Sanders, Anderson Cooper said: “You honeymooned in the Soviet Union.” (At home, I said “Whaaaa?”) Turns out, it’s not like it sounds.

In 1956, that noted Communist sympathizer Dwight Eisenhower tried to cool down the Cold War by negotiating an American/Soviet sister-cities program. In 1988, when Sanders was mayor of Burlington, a 12-person trip to its sister (Yaroslavl) was scheduled right after Sanders’ wedding.

So the real story is that Sanders took his wife along on a mayoral business trip in lieu of an actual honeymoon. Not very romantic, maybe, but not scandalous either.

I love Bill Maher’s bit on what Republicans hear when Bernie says something.

This kind of nonsense begins to test what worries me most about Sanders: his prickly temperament. I’m not sure how he will react if/when he faces relentless unfair criticism like the pseudo-scandals Hillary has been dealing with since 1992. Just because Sanders doesn’t have a Benghazi yet doesn’t mean Fox can’t manufacture one any time it wants. (When Lincoln Chafee bragged that he has never had a scandal in his long political career, I thought: “The Far Right must never have felt threatened by you.”) How he responds will tell us if he has what it takes to win a general election.

and Benghazi

While we’re talking about Hillary’s emails, the House Benghazi Committee continues to lose whatever credibility it may once have had. What House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had previously implied, New York Republican Congressman Richard Hanna admitted directly:

I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton.

And a former committee staff member has blown the whistle:

Maj. Bradley Podliska, an intelligence officer in the Air Force Reserve who describes himself as a conservative Republican, told CNN that the committee trained its sights almost exclusively on Clinton after the revelation last March that she used a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. … Podliska, who as fired after nearly ten months as an investigator for the Republican majority, is now preparing to file a lawsuit against the select committee next month, alleging that he lost his job in part because he resisted pressure to focus his investigative efforts solely on the State Department and Clinton’s role surrounding the Benghazi attack.

In all the attempted defenses of the committee, I have yet to hear a clear statement of what the previous seven Benghazi investigations failed to cover, and what this investigation is doing differently to get to the bottom of whatever-it-is.

Hillary testifies before the Benghazi committee Thursday. I suspect the event will resemble the recent testimony of Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards to a different committee: Republicans will browbeat her in order to look tough for their base, but Clinton will maintain her composure and look like the winner to most of the country.

and Russian intervention in Syria

An article in Thursday’s NYT portrays Russia’s air base in Latakia and its cruise-missile strikes from the Caspian Sea as testing and showcasing Russia’s recently upgraded military hardware. In other words, it makes Putin in Syria sound like Hitler in Spain.

and Congress

Still no apparent progress towards choosing a speaker. The idea that Paul Ryan would satisfy the right-wingers is falling apart. I’m standing by my analysis from last week.

Mopshell on Daily Kos provides a complete census of the various overlapping far-right groups in the House.

Rumor has it that John Boehner will get the debt ceiling raised before he rides into the sunset. But now CNN says Mitch McConnell is making ransom demands:

McConnell is seeking a reduction in cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security recipients and new restrictions on Medicare, including limiting benefits to the rich and raising the eligibility age, several sources said. In addition, the Kentucky Republican is eager to see new policy riders enacted, including reining in the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean water regulations.

This has to be a bluff. I mean, seriously: Crashing into the debt ceiling is unpopular. Cutting Social Security and Medicare is unpopular. Water pollution is unpopular. Pulling them all together isn’t a political proposal, it’s a Bond supervillain plot.

And the justification is that the deficit is out of control? Keep reading.

but nobody was talking about the incredible shrinking federal deficit

Fiscal Year 2015 ended on September 30, so we can total up. The annual deficit is back where it was before the financial collapse that began at the very end of FY 2008 when Lehman Brothers went broke.

Steve Benen comments:

I don’t necessarily consider this sharp reduction in the deficit to be good news. If it were up to me, federal officials would be borrowing more, not less, taking advantage of low interest rates, investing heavily in infrastructure and economic development, creating millions of jobs, and leaving deficit reduction for another day.

That said, if we’re going to have a fiscal debate, it should at least be rooted in reality, not silly misconceptions. And the reality is, we’re witnessing deficit reduction at a truly remarkable clip. Every conservative complaint about fiscal recklessness and irresponsibility in the Obama era is quantifiably ridiculous.

BTW: Republicans who want to enlarge Obama’s deficit total usually charge him with the record FY 2009 deficit, which rightfully belongs more to President Bush. (That’s why it’s in red in the graph.) Bush wrote the original FY 2009 budget; his early projections were of a $400 billion deficit, but due to the financial collapse, CBO estimates had risen to $1.2 trillion by the time Obama was inaugurated in January, 2009, eventually finishing over $1.4 trillion. So at worst you can blame Obama for that last $200 billion.

and you also might be interested in …

Yet another good-guy-with-a-gun opened fire on escaping shoplifters in a store parking lot. This time in Indiana. (Last week’s parking-lot shooting was in Michigan.) One more example of guns making us all safer.

One thing Trump brings to the Republican race is an occasional voice from outside the bubble. For example, his common-sense observation that Jeb Bush’s claim that his brother “kept us safe” is ridiculous.

When you talk about George Bush, I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time. He was president, O.K.?

Not OK, if you’re inside the Republican bubble. Jeb tweeted his response:

How pathetic for to criticize the president for 9/11. We were attacked & my brother kept us safe.

Which is what you do inside the bubble: If challenged, you just repeat the challenged claim and insult the challenger.

ThinkProgress then posted a wonderful satire “Was George W. Bush President On 9/11? An Investigation Into The Controversy Tearing The GOP Apart“. They review and refute the evidence against: Yes, Bush did get fewer votes in 2000 than Al Gore, but we have pictures of him taking the oath of office on January 20, 2001. A calendar proves that January 20 is before September 11. And even though Bush spent the entire month of August on vacation, memoranda — like the “Bin Laden determined to strike in US” presidential brief presented to him — indicate he did continue to be president.

Weighing it all together, TP concludes:

It seems more likely than not that George W. Bush was president on September 11, 2001.

When Trump started running for president in July, claiming he would finance everything out of his own pocket, I was unconvinced about his willingness to spend money on the scale that a competitive campaign requires:

The kind of money Trump has spent so far — and foregone as business partners run away from him — is a recoverable investment. He’s building the Trump brand, which will net him future earnings in book sales and TV ratings. The campaign — at least the way he’s run it so far — will keep his act fresh for years to come.

By November, though, a serious candidate will have to start putting serious money into Iowa and New Hampshire. Not thousands, millions. TV time on the Boston stations that cover southern New Hampshire is not cheap. The idiosyncratic process of the Iowa caucuses requires a ground game. And if you survive the Iowa/NH/South Carolina winnowing in January and February, you just need more money to compete nationwide in March.

As November approaches, I’m still unconvinced. Politico reports that in the July-September quarter, the Trump campaign had spent just $4 million nationwide, most of it not self-financed by Trump, and much of it spent within the Trump empire.

By contrast Jeb Bush has made a $4.8 ad buy in New Hampshire. (Believe me, if you watch TV here, you can’t escape him.) It’s not gaining him any ground in the polls, but his outlay marks the start of the big-spending period of the campaign. We’ll soon know whether Trump is serious or just running as a publicity stunt.

When conservatives make up a charge that liberals are doing something sinister, probably the claim will eventually justify conservatives doing that very thing. Here’s an example from Ben Carson: Based on the bogus charge that under Obama “the IRS has systematically targeted conservative nonprofit groups for politically motivated audits and harassment,” Carson calls for revoking the tax exemption of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has criticized his anti-Muslim rhetoric.

My friend Abby Hafer did a wonderful half-hour explanation of why intelligent design doesn’t explain the human body, but evolution does. (Quick summary: The body is kludgy the way evolved things are, not optimized like designed things.) She has a book on the same subject coming out soon, The Not-So-Intelligent Designer.

All the people worrying about Sharia in America might do better to worry about the Christians who want to impose Old Testament law. You’ve probably heard about the folks who want to stone gays to death. But did you know about the ones who want to bring back slavery? On a radio show in Iowa, the host proposed to Mike Huckabee the Old Testament solution for theft:

It says [in Exodus], if a person steals, they have to pay it back two-fold, four-fold. If they don’t have anything, we’re supposed to take them down and sell them. … We indenture them and they have to spend their time not sitting on their stump in a jail cell, they’re supposed to be working off the debt. Wouldn’t that be a better choice?

To his credit, Huckabee’s first reaction was to chuckle at that suggestion. But people on the Right never say “That’s just effing crazy” to each other, so Huckabee answered: “Well, it really would be. … Sometimes the best way to deal with a nonviolent criminal behavior is what you just suggested.”

Offering non-violent offenders a chance to make restitution rather than be punished is actually a progressive idea, known as restorative justice. But forcing convicts to work in jobs mandated by the state has a long, sad history in the United States, as told by Douglas Blackmon in Slavery By Another Name.

and let’s close with a comment on the season(s)

Maybe it’s a little too soon to start seeing Christmas stuff in the stores.

Concessions to Reality

The GOP’s increasing preference for callow, reckless candidates represents a culmination of the anti-government, anti-politics, anti-intellectual direction of the conservative movement. Although it overlaps with the GOP’s rightward shift, it presents a unique threat to American democracy because it espouses not mere preference for smaller government, but a visceral hatred of functioning government and the practice of politics. This mindset abhors concessions to objective reality, expertise, or political adversaries domestic and foreign.

Ben Adler

Half the republicans in congress want to continue using their position to benefit the wealthy, while the other half of the republicans in congress just want to burn the country down out of spite. Together they have a majority in the House, so they get to pick the Speaker.

Bill Palmer

This week’s featured post is “What the Speakership Battle is About“.

This week everybody was talking about the chaos in the House Republican caucus

Most of what I think is covered in “What the Speakership Battle is About“. But there is one more angle to consider: Who does this help in the Republican presidential race?

I think there’s a clear answer: Ted Cruz. Ultimately what’s going to come out of this is a Speaker who is still committed to keeping the government open and not breaching the debt ceiling. This result will aggravate the Republican base’s sense of persecution and alienation from the party establishment, which is Ted Cruz’ issue.

In general, I agree with Steve Benen at Maddowblog: Cruz is right where he wants to be.

and the Trans-Pacific Partnership

I’ve been avoiding making much comment on the TPP, because I’m neither for or against trade deals on principle. Some deals might be good, some might be bad. We need to see the details.

So far, we can’t. For a long time the agreement hadn’t been finalized and the text wasn’t available, so everybody was just speculating based on leaks. Well, the agreement is set now, but it will still be 30 days or so before the text is public. So rather than give a definitive up-or-down opinion on it, I’ll outline the different points of view from which the agreement should be judged.

The foreign-policy perspective. This comes through if you read Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices, which covers her Secretary of State years, when the TPP negotiations got going. From this perspective, the point is to keep China from controlling Pacific trade.

Other than the United States and maybe Japan, none of the other countries in the TPP is big enough to negotiate evenly with China. So China was trying to put in place one-on-one agreements with each country that more or less let it define the terms of trade. By pulling many Pacific countries (other than China) into a trade union with the U.S. and Japan, we create international standards — for intellectual property, the rule of law, environmental and labor protection, as well as market openness — that we can then ask China to live up to if it wants to join.

The labor perspective. Relaxing trade barriers has two contradictory effects: It opens our economy to more imports, which could cost jobs. But it also opens up markets for our exports, which could create jobs. In general, I believe past deals have worked against the American worker, but you have to wonder whether all the exportable jobs are gone already.

Another issue is labor standards. If the other countries in the TPP have to treat their workers better, that’s both good in itself and removes an unfair advantage foreign manufacturers have over American manufacturers.

The environmental perspective. Again, it’s potentially two-sided. The treaty will presumably include some environmental standards that, again, should be both good in themselves and will remove a source of unfair competition. But a country’s environmental standards can also portrayed as unfairly favoring local industries over foreign ones, and the treaty will give foreign corporations standing to challenge them in court. I suspect the balance will turn out to be negative, but, again, we need to see details.

and still talking about guns

I’m coming to think that the value of continuing to talk about gun control is that it draws gun-rights cockroaches into the light, where the sheer ugliness of their worldview can repel the general public. Like Erick Erickson: denouncing “beta male gun control policies”:

Instead of mimicking Australia and Great Britain with their gun confiscation programs, our leaders should think differently. The best gun control in this country is an armed, honest citizenry who can shoot straight. Instead of gun free zones, we should allow law abiding, concealed carry permit holders to go where they wish with their guns.

Like, say, the law-abiding permit-holding woman who started shooting in a Home Depot parking lot Tuesday because a shoplifter was getting away. I feel safer already, just knowing that people like her are out there defending law and order. But I think I won’t dawdle in Home Depot parking lots.

Here’s what Ted Nugent says to the “losers” who “get cut down by murderous maniacs like blind sheep to slaughter”:

Here’s the answer. Quit acting like helpless sheep afraid of a simple tool. Get a damn handgun. Practice with it. Train with it. Learn to carry it hidden and discreetly. And when attacked by a bear or cougar, don’t “try to look big” – just shoot the damn thing.

If someone is approaching you with the intent to do grave bodily harm, and you will know it when it happens, try to escape to the best of your ability, but if there is no escape, pull out your weapon and aim for center mass and start shooting. Keep on shooting until you believe the threat to be over.

That “you will know it” idea is central to a lot of right-wing fantasies — like Ben Carson’s rush-the-shooter fantasy — where the complexity of real life vanishes. In fact, shooting situations are chaotic, and if you find yourself in one, you’ll probably have no idea what’s going to happen next. In this respect, it’s similar to the ticking-bomb torture fantasy, where you know there’s a bomb, you know this guy knows where it is, and you know he’ll tell you if you torture him. In real life, you never have that kind of certainty.

And if Carson hadn’t made the common NRA talking point (about disarming the public being the first step towards Nazi tyranny), we wouldn’t have the opportunity to point out that it’s completely false. Hitler actually relaxed Germany’s gun laws.

And while Carson was only implying that Germany’s Jews were responsible for their own deaths, Fox News’ Keith Ablow went all the way there:

If Jews in Germany had more actively resisted the Nazi party or the Nazi regime and had diagnosed it as a malignant and deadly cancer from the start, there would, indeed, have been a chance for the people of that country and the world to be moved to action by their bold refusal to be enslaved.

In other words: We didn’t fail Europe’s Jews in the Holocaust, the Jews failed us. Good to know.

So keep talking, gun defenders. You’re impressing the public, but probably not in the way you think.

and you also might be interested in …

Televangelist Jim Bakker — who has managed to stay out of jail these last 20 years — still has a TV show. On this episode, he promoted the idea that Satanic baby-sacrifice rituals are taking place in Planned Parenthood clinics.

Trevor Noah fantasized about pro-life politicians bringing the same level of passion to preventing deaths by gun violence, and then made this amazing comparison: Pro-lifers are “like comic book collectors. Human life only matters until you take it out of the package.”

Kevin McCarthy’s Benghazi gaffe has given Hillary Clinton an opportunity to mount a counter-attack against the efforts to tar her with scandal. You know the jig is up when even Bill O’Reilly won’t play any more. Appearing on Fox News’ afternoon show The Five, O’Reilly laughed at the Benghazi Committee’s claims to be non-partisan:

If you think those guys, those Republicans on that panel, don’t want to bring down Hillary Clinton, you’re six years old. Of course, they do.

Some of the best defenses of Clinton are written by Peter Daou and Tom Watson on the blog Hillary Men. They completely demolished that headline from August claiming that the word voters most often associate with Hillary is liar.

According to Quinnipiac, 178 respondents answered “liar” in a poll that – wait for it – had 666 registered Republicans taking part. Other popular negative answers included “bitch,” “Benghazi,” and “criminal.”

So what the poll showed is not that “voters” think Clinton is a liar, but that Republicans reliably repeat widely distributed Republican talking points.

In case you’ve lost track of what we know and don’t know about Benghazi, Vox has it covered.

but I want to highlight a blast from the past

The Weekly Sift‘s readership has nearly quadrupled in the last two years, so I’m realizing that most of my readers have never seen some of the better posts from years past. If you want to understand how liberal reporters end up producing conservatively slanted coverage, take a look at 2011’s “Liberal Media, Conservative Manipulation“.

and then close with something hilarious

The Danish travel firm Spies Rejser has a solution for Denmark’s low birth rate, targeted at the Danish mothers who are waiting impatiently to be grandmothers: Send your son or daughter on a sunny, active vacation where they’ll be likely to get it on. “Do it for Mom. Do it for Denmark.”

Political Choices

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

President Obama, responding to the Umpqua Community College shooting

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

Anna Marie Cox

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the Pope’s visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and guns

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

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

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

and the Planned Parenthood witch hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and greedy corporate behavior

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

According to the EPA:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

Well, in Alabama it just got harder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something fascinating

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

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

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

Scary and Unscary

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

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

Dr. Paul Offit, on vaccines

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

This week everybody was talking about Ahmed Mohamed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the continuing backlash against Black Lives Matter

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

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

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

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

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


My church yesterday.

and the Republican debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Bernie Sanders at Liberty University

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, not that scary after all.

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

and Republican candidates and Muslims

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

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

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

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

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

but only liberals were talking about Jade Helm 15

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

How climate-change deniers sound to normal people.

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something

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

Invoking 9-11

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

Chris Hayes

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

This week everybody was talking about the Iran deal

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

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

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

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

As I said.

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

and Kim Davis getting out of jail

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there’s this Huckabee gem:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I made a similar point once:

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

or maybe twice:

In the case of same-sex marriage, the main thing that has changed since the Founding era isn’t the Supreme Court, it’s opposite-sex marriage. In 1789, any gay or lesbian couple claiming they had a right to marry would have been laughed out of John Jay’s Supreme Court, and rightfully so. That’s because in a truly “traditional” marriage husband and wife are legally distinct roles that can only be filled by people of the appropriate gender.

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

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

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

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

Olson concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Paris Climate Conference starts in November. Wikipedia says

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

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

Carly Fiorina:

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

Rick Santorum:

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

Marco Rubio:

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

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

Well, guess again. Politico reports:

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

Jonathan Chait asks and answers the obvious question:

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

Today’s Great Moment in Irony:

Jon Chait has turned optimistic on climate change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something sentimental

Namely, a celebration of Dads.


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