Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Inexpensive Indulgences

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

Anand Giridharadas, quoted by David Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

and Cecil the Lion

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


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

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

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

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

and Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Thursday’s Republican debate

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

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

but I was thinking about religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and white denial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and seeing candidates for myself

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

and you may also be interested in …

Steve Hogarty tweeted:

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

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


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


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

 

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

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

Stretching the Possible

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

— Hillary Rodham, Wellesley commencement speech (1969)

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

This week everybody was talking about Sandra Bland

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

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

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

Salon‘s Brittney Cooper writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Clinton’s emails

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

a Louisiana shooting and new details in the Chattanooga shooting

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

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

and Medicare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Planned Parenthood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Trump vs. McCain

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Kevin Drum draws the lesson:

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Short Supply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

and the Greek crisis

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

and another shooting

This one in Chattanooga.

and (believe it or not) still the Confederate flag

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


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

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

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


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

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

but I was thinking about the revolving door

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

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

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

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

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

and Bernie Sanders

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

Read Eclectablog’s account:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

you also might be interested in …

The real news: Bloom County is back.


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

and let’s close with a prank

What’s in a single letter, anyway?

Divine Intentions

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The Today Show, 6-29-2015

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

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

This week everybody was still reacting to marriage equality

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

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


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

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

and talking about Greece

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

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


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

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

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

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

Here’s what happened:

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

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

Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz comments:

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

University of Maryland economist Peter Morici agrees:

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

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

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

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

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

and still the Confederate flag and racism

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


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


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

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

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


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

and the unending tide of Republican presidential candidates

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

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

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

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

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

and Bernie Sanders

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

and religion

Interesting article on ISIS and Islam:

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

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


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

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

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

and let’s close with a visual pun

Crumbling Shackles

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

— David Graeber, The Democracy Project (2013)

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

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

This week everybody was talking about the Supreme Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and symbols of the Confederacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

Perhaps Mentally Ill

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

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

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

President Barack Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the Pope’s global-warming encyclical

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

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

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

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

and still more presidential candidates

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

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


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

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

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


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

and Rachel Dolezal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something cute

It’s been a tough week. We need this.

Serving the Poor

The “trickle-down” theory: the principle that the poor, who must subsist on table scraps dropped by the rich, can best be served by giving the rich bigger meals.

William Blum

This week’s featured post is “The 2016 Stump Speeches: Rick Santorum“.

This week everybody was talking about the trade-deal failure

What happened is a little complicated. The House narrowly voted in favor of giving President Obama the fast-track negotiating authority that the administration says is essential to getting the TransPacific Partnership treaty done. But it rejected the Trade Adjustment Assistance to American workers adversely affected by the treaty, with a large number of Democrats voting against it.

On the surface, it looks like House Democrats got the worst of both votes: the TPP goes forward without help for American workers. But (due to the way Congress works) that throws the issue back to the Senate, which passed the two provisions together. So it’s kind of a poison-pill thing: House Democrats are betting that Senate Democrats will find the fast-track authorization alone too bitter to swallow. If so, the whole deal is dead.

President Obama has made the issue a test of loyalty, but Democrats mostly haven’t bought it. (Republicans want the TPP for the benefits it offers their corporate masters, so they’re totally on board.) Robert Reich explains why:

[I]n recent years the biggest gains from trade have gone to investors and executives, while the burdens have fallen disproportionately on those in the middle and below who have lost good-paying jobs.

So even though everyone gains from trade, the biggest winners are at the top. And as the top keeps moving higher compared to most of the rest of us, the vast majority feels relatively worse off.

and Iraq

For nearly a year, we’ve been trying to fight ISIS while keeping our hands clean: providing air support, training Iraqi troops, “advising”, and so on. There was a brief flurry of optimism after the Iraqi government recaptured Tikrit, but that all evaporated when ISIS took Ramadi in May.

Judging from a great distance, the problem seems to be that Iraqis, particularly Sunnis, see no reason to risk their lives for the Shia-dominated government. The Obama-administration narrative that Iraqi units just need “training” isn’t credible. We’ve been training Iraqi troops since the Bush administration, and the current army shows what we have accomplished.

The various sectarian or ethnic militias are viable fighting forces: the Kurdish Peshmerga, for example. But if the struggle becomes primarily sectarian/ethnic, the vision of a united Iraqi government goes out the window, and ISIS’ claim to be the true defender of the Sunnis is bolstered.

Other than Iranian troops we don’t want for other reasons, non-American foreign intervention — say, Jordanians, Saudis, and Egyptians — also doesn’t appear to be in the cards, for reasons I don’t fully understand. And that creates a dilemma for American politicians. “Defeat ISIS” is a great applause line, but “another Iraq war” isn’t. What if the two mean the same thing?

This week the administration announced a further expansion of our footprint in Iraq, still short of fielding combat units to fight ISIS. But as our troops and our bases get closer to the front lines, I have to wonder: What happens if some Beirut-style surprise attack kills a few hundred Americans? What if dozens of our troops get captured and beheaded on YouTube? How are we not going to deploy combat units then?

I stand by the position I stated in my 2005 post “Cut and Run“: We need to abandon the illusion that our presence in Iraq is fixing something, and that if we just try harder and longer, we’ll fix Iraq well enough to stand on its own. On the contrary, our intervention has been a big part of the chaos-making process that has created ISIS and raised it to its current level. Another American occupation may keep a lid on things temporarily, but in the long term it just makes things worse.

And that raises another question, which Stephen Walt discussed in Foreign Policy: What if the Islamic State wins? In other words, what if the Caliphate remains in control of some piece of territory for the long term? “Live with it,” he says. In current American discourse, that scenario is unthinkable. But we need to start thinking about it, because none of the other options being discussed look realistic.

and that Texas pool party

The best what-happened account I’ve found is at BuzzFeed. The full 7-minute video shot by one of the kids at the party — you’ve seen 20 seconds of it over and over on the news — is here.

At TPM, a former cop analyzed the police response — the majority of officers who were talking to people and trying to keep things calm, and that one maniac who was running around, yelling, barrel-rolling, waving his gun, and generally (in the words of the father of a girl he mishandled) “doing his Paul Blart impersonation”.

What should officers do in similar situations? For starters, they must realize that the public—even a group of non-compliant teenagers—are not an enemy to be vanquished, but civilians to be protected, to the extent possible, from indignity and harm. A Guardian mindset encourages officers to be “procedurally just,” to ensure that their encounters with civilians are empowering, fair, respectful and considerate. Research of police and military encounters strongly suggests that officers are most effective at fostering goodwill and reducing antagonism when they approach each encounter with the goal of building civilian trust.

Atlantic had some background on McKinney itself, from a writer who went to high school there a few years ago. She references a Money article proclaiming McKinney one of the best places to live in America. (In boom years, my town of Nashua, NH has made the same list. In a nutshell, Money is picking out places where it’s relatively easy to find a job that pays you enough to buy a house in a low-crime neighborhood.)

“Underlying McKinney’s homey Southern charm is a thoroughly modern city,” the Money story gushed.

Southern charm is charming, of course, until it isn’t.

As always, Larry Wilmore provides the best comedic commentary on racial incidents. He discussed the original incident here, and the victim-blaming media response here.

And for balance, here are the worst responses. I think the booby prize should go to CNN “legal analyst” Paul Callan:

From the cop’s standpoint, he’s looking at this big kid, who he thinks is about to jump him. He then unholsters his weapon and the kid backs off. The cop then reholsters his weapon and continues to subdue. Of all of the things that he did, that’s probably the one thing that most police officers would say was within training and procedure.

He’s totally ignoring the question of who is raising the temperature of the situation. (Answer: the cop, not the kids.) And suppose one kid doesn’t back off fast enough and the cop shoots him dead. Would that be within training and procedure too?

and the bail system

The way Jon Stewart transformed himself from a mere comedian to America’s Most Trusted Journalist is that he started doing the kind of stuff journalists so seldom do any more, like putting statements of public figures right next to the contradictory statements they made six months ago.

Well, since John Oliver stopped being Jon’s substitute host and started Last Week Tonight on HBO, he has been taking the comedian/journalist thing to the next level. Rather than just providing an irreverent view of events in the current news cycle, Oliver has been actively muckraking: drawing attention to the normal things in American society that are seriously screwed up.

Several of the things Oliver has been shining his light on are related: they’re poverty traps. In other words, the rest of us either don’t notice them or consider them nuisances, but if you’re poor they can doom your attempt to climb out of poverty. For example, minor municipal violations — the kinds of things nearly everybody does at one time or another — can lead to debtors’ prison if you can’t immediately pay the fine. And if you have an unexpected expense — say, your car breaks down and you can’t get to work without it — most of us either have some savings, a close friend or relative with some savings, or a credit card whose interest rate isn’t ruinous. The poor, however, have to deal with payday lenders, completely legal businesses who charge annualized interest rates in the hundreds of percents. So if something prevents a poor person from paying off the loan in a week or two (and not rolling it over into a new loan), he or she is probably never going to get out of debt.

On the May 31 show, Oliver took on the bail system, pointing out some horrifying facts, (corroborated by an NYT article Wednesday):

  • Lots and lots of people (about half a million at any given moment, according the National Institute of Corrections) are in jail simply because they can’t raise the money to bail out.
  • Bail bondsmen will front you the money for a 10% payment, but (unlike bail itself) you don’t get that money back when you show up for trial. So $250,000 in bail can leave an innocent person who follows all the rules with a $25,000 debt. Even without interest, that’s about 20 months of full-time minimum-wage work, assuming you can get somebody else to pay all your living expenses during that time.
  • If you can’t bail out, you might spend weeks or even months in jail. Probably you will lose your job and possibly your home and/or custody of your children as well — even though you haven’t been convicted of anything and may well be innocent.
  • As a result, some people who face bail beyond their means for relatively minor offenses will plead guilty to something they didn’t do. (Rather than spend months in jail waiting to prove your innocence in court, you can plead guilty, get a suspended sentence, and go home.) That creates a criminal record that will follow them for the rest of their lives, but it keeps life from falling apart immediately.

Now add in the way our legal system arrests and charges non-whites in situations where whites could walk away — something Oliver had previously covered in his segment on prisons — and the much larger percentage of the non-white population in poverty, and you have a serious racial issue as well.

and you also might be interested in …

The Iowa Republican Party cancelled its famous presidential straw poll. The poll had long been criticized as a media circus with little-to-no predictive value, but I guess Michele Bachmann’s 2011 victory was the last straw.


TPM’s Josh Marshall says pretty much what I’ve been thinking about Rachel Dolezal and the whole passing-as-black thing.


After two months of “conversations” with voters, Hillary Clinton had the first real rally of her campaign Saturday in New York. The huge number of candidates has left me with a backlog of speeches to analyze, but I’ll get to this one soon.


The fiscal debacle in Kansas is moving towards its inevitable conclusion. In 2012, Governor Brownback went all-in on tax cuts for the wealthy, claiming it would produce economic growth and ultimately increased revenue through the magic of supply-side economics.

Because magic is usually not a major factor in economics, none of that happened. Kansas’ economy has benefited somewhat from the Obama recovery, but not so much as neighboring states that didn’t massively cut taxes. Instead, revenues dropped sharply — as common sense says they would — and Brownback hasn’t been able to cut spending on education and highways fast enough to make up the difference.

So Friday the legislature did what it had to do: raised taxes. But it didn’t restore the pre-Brownback status quo on income or business taxes. Instead, it raised the sales tax.

Imagine if Brownback had been honest from the beginning and said to working-class Kansans: “I want rich people to pay less tax, and I’ll make up the lost revenue by raising the sales tax you pay and cutting corners on your children’s education.” That would have been enormously unpopular and he could never have been elected. But by doing it in steps and promising different outcomes at different times, that’s the policy he has implemented.


When it comes to the news media, one of the most insightful people around is NYU Professor Jay Rosen, who writes the blog PressThink. Unfortunately, Rosen only blogs occasionally, which means I only read his blog occasionally; so it can take a month or so for me to notice something.

Back in May, he wrote “Campaign reporters: you are granted no ‘role in the process.’ It is your powers against theirs.” He discussed a common political problem, but with a new slant. The problem is that political campaigns are increasingly self-contained. The candidate stays insulated from reporters and even from unfiltered questions from voters. So campaigns stay “on message”. In other words, “I’ll tell you what I want you to know, not what you want to know.”

That’s an imperial posture, and it bodes ill for democracy. But Rosen pointed out that the solution isn’t for reporters to claim “their place in the process”, which candidates have imperiously denied them.

Political reporters: You have no guaranteed “role.” That’s a fiction you and your colleagues created to keep the game the same every four years so you don’t have to go to school on how to be useful and powerful in the election system as it evolves. The fiction works if you can get the right people to believe it, but when they clearly don’t care about your “role in the process” how are you going to make ’em care? Got a plan for that?

Rosen does: Reporters should represent the voters.

Candidates will only care about reporters if the voters do, and the voters will only care if they see the reporters working for them. In other words, if The Washington Post is consistently asking candidates the questions I want answers to — like, say, what the minimum wage should be or whether bankers who break the law should go to jail — then a candidate who snubs them snubs me. But if reporters mainly ask inside-baseball questions that only the political class cares about (like why Jeb Bush changed campaign managers), then why should I object if candidates avoid them?

So yes, voters feel cut off from imperial candidates. But which side of the cut-off are reporters on? If the press is also saying “I’ll tell you what I want you to know, not what you want to know”, then they’re just another branch of the Imperium.



The room doubles as the prison cell that holds all the pastors arrested for preaching Christianity or refusing to perform same-sex weddings.


Top-flight state universities may be on the way out, at least in red states. Governor Walker is trying to eliminate the tenure system in the Wisconsin state universities. And while that might work in the lesser schools, it’s hard to see how a major research university like the University of Wisconsin will maintain itself. Josh Marshall comments:

[W]hat Walker is doing is basically like lighting your own house on fire. States can get into financial jams and need to cut spending, either because of budgetary mismanagement or rough economic times. But if you look closely at what Walker is doing there’s no real budgetary imperative behind it. It’s just a desire to destroy a great public institution for the sake of doing it, driven in part by right-wing ideology and in part by the palpable animus Walker himself holds to people who managed to get an education.

And The Nation‘s Zoe Carpenter outlines the ways North Carolina’s state government has been trying to “put what was once one of the great and affordable university systems out of reach for many of the state’s aspiring students”, as well as stifle any academic work on poverty or race.

and let’s close with something awesome

A photo of twin tornadoes dropping out of a giant superstorm cloud formation.

Keeping it Real

In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

— Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This week’s featured article is “What’s So Scary About Caitlyn Jenner?

This week everybody was talking about Caitlyn Jenner

My article on Jenner focuses on where I think my own discomfort and the social-conservative vitriol come from. But there’s a whole other argument going on among liberals about whether transsexualism conflicts with feminism. Elinor Burkett argues in the NYT that it often does:

By defining womanhood the way he did to Ms. Sawyer, Mr. Jenner and the many advocates for transgender rights who take a similar tack … undermine almost a century of hard-fought arguments that the very definition of female is a social construct that has subordinated us.

But Slate‘s Amanda Marcotte isn’t having it.

Unfortunately, writer Elinor Burkett (last seen crashing the stage at the Oscars) brought along for the ride one of the worst tendencies of academia: highly intellectualized arguments made in bad faith. … Here’s an idea: Why don’t we call a truce and let ordinary people express themselves without lighting their asses on fire for not sounding like they’re reading out of a doctoral thesis?

As I understand it, the gist of the dispute is whether the transsexual experience undermines the notion that femininity is socially constructed rather than inborn. (Jenner, after all, has been treated like a male for a lifetime. Why didn’t that take?) And I guess I agree with Marcotte: that’s a topic for a research paper, not an op-ed. The apparent disjunction strikes me as an anomaly that some wise person should carefully explain, not a contradiction to fight over.

and the USA Freedom Act

The Electronic Frontier Foundation says it wanted more restrictions on the NSA, but

Even so, we’re celebrating. We’re celebrating because, however small, this bill marks a day that some said could never happen—a day when the NSA saw its surveillance power reduced by Congress. And we’re hoping that this could be a turning point in the fight to rein in the NSA.

The article outlines the steps that still need to be taken: More legislative provisions sunset in 2017 and shouldn’t be re-authorized, there’s an executive order they’d like rescinded, and there’s the problem of “overbroad classification” that keeps the public from knowing what its government does.

Another rising cause is the movement to drop the charges and let Edward Snowden come home. Courts have ruled that he was right: the program he exposed was illegal. The New Yorker‘s John Cassidy thinks we should be “thanking Snowden for his public service” rather than trying to lock him up.

and (still) the Duggars

The parents were interviewed by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who gave them a pretty soft ride. At least, that’s what people tell me; I haven’t watched more than a few seconds of it.

Amanda Marcotte focuses on the Duggars’ use of the Christian-persecution myth:

Nursing the grievances of [Fox News’] right-wing audience is big business. Its audience wants to hear all about how the meanie liberals are picking on this cute little Christian family for an itty-bitty multimonth rampage of child molesting.

Caryn Riswald explains how the opposite is true: The Duggars’ career in general and this issue in particular make good examples not Christian persecution, but of Christian privilege.

Like white and male privileges, Christian privilege affords members of a status-group the ability to do and get away with things that those who are not members of that group could not. It is unearned and unseen, affording advantages that holders of it can actively deny existing, yet count on every day. Examples of things a Christian can assume because of this privilege: Adherence to my religion will be seen as an asset; I can wear symbols of my religion without being accused of terrorism; I know that my workplace calendar respects my religious holidays and Sabbath. We can add to that list: My religious identity will help me escape punishment for criminal activity.

and getting ready for the Supreme Court to rule on marriage

Tom Delay says “all Hell is going to break loose” if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality. He pledges “to stand for marriage even if it takes civil disobedience.”

I’m having trouble picturing which laws he’s planning to disobey. If you google “civil disobedience against gay marriage” you can get all kinds of pledges and petitions and whatnot. But they’re all a little vague about how the campaign would work. Your neighbor’s marriage doesn’t really need your cooperation, so refusing to cooperate with it doesn’t accomplish much.

Here’s Glenn Beck interviewing the organizer of “The Future Conference: what you thought was coming … is here now“. Beck says he believes 10,000 pastors “are willing to lay it all down on the table and willing to go to jail or go to death because they serve God and not man.”

I’m not sure who these 10,000 pastors expect to kill them. What I fear is that having gotten all revved up and then discovering there actually are no jack-booted troops coming, the Right is going to create violent incidents of its own.


Another possible response to the Court: Secede from the Union. Joseph Farah, editor-in-chief of World Net Daily, explains what a bonanza secession could be for any state that could pull it off:

I know there are millions of Christians, Jews and others who would pull up stakes and move to another country that honored the institution of marriage as it was designed by God – a union between one man and one woman. … Is there one state in 50 that would not only defy the coming abomination, but secede in response? The rewards could be great. I would certainly consider relocating. How about you? … We need a Promised Land. We need an Exodus strategy.

He’s ignoring, of course, all the people who would immediately leave his theocratic utopia. (I would expect the net population flow to be out rather than in.) But I think the interesting question is: Should the rest of care?

I mean, suppose one of the redder states — maybe Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi, or some combination thereof — decides to become the New Israel for people who can’t stand the idea of continuing to be Americans after marriage equality becomes the law of the land. Suppose the seceding state(s) even agree to reasonable conditions: (1) a period of time for people to move in and out freely before either side closes the border; (2) assuming a fair share of the national debt; (3) letting the U.S. military remove any WMDs before turning over its bases; and maybe some others I haven’t thought of yet — nothing punitive, just making sure they’re not taking advantage of the rest of us.

In that scenario, I’m not seeing a reason to go all Abe Lincoln on them and force them back into the Union. What do the rest of you think?

and you also might be interested in …

Last week I neglected to cover all the new presidential candidates, and it will be a while before my 2016 Stump Speech Series can catch up. The new announcements include Democrats Martin O’Malley, and Lincoln Chafee; and Republicans Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum. The total number of candidates is up to ten Republicans and four Democrats. The NYT projects the ultimate numbers will be five Democrats and 15 Republicans — and they don’t count Donald Trump, who will announce something June 16.

Part of the difference is that Jeb Bush is not as popular among Republicans as Hillary Clinton is among Democrats, so his candidacy hasn’t intimidated anybody out of running. But another reason is that liberals don’t have the lucrative celebrity culture conservatives do. Running for president is a good career move on the Right, even if you don’t win. There’s a lecture circuit waiting for the Michele Bachmanns and Herman Cains. You can make a lot of money even if hardly anybody voted for you. Sarah Palin had such opportunities for wealth that remaining governor of Alaska just seemed stupid.

Once you get past the Clintons, though, it’s hard to find anybody making big money as a Democratic celebrity. The lecture circuit will probably open up for President Obama after he leaves office, if that’s what he wants to do. But it will continue to be a small circle. Dennis Kucinich’s 2004 campaign should have established his brand as an authentic liberal, but nobody bought his book and I haven’t been invited to hear him give a sponsored lecture anywhere. Elizabeth Warren got a decent book deal, but nothing on the Palin scale. Howard Dean shows up fairly often as a guest on MSNBC, but he didn’t get his own show like Mike Huckabee did on Fox.

In short, I can easily imagine a failed presidential campaign turning into a financial bonanza for Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina. Not so for Martin O’Malley or Jim Webb.


One of the more embarrassing campaign moments so far — at least it’s embarrassing to me as an American — came when Rick Santorum urged the Pope not to make an issue out of climate change.

The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science. We probably are better off leaving science to the scientists, and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.

It’s parody worthy of The Onion, but it’s what Santorum really said. I mean, who is ignoring the scientists here? It’s Santorum and his fellow climate-change deniers, not the Pope.


84% of Americans agree that money has too much influence in politics. Why doesn’t that lead to change? Because money has too much influence on politics.

This would be an interesting experiment: Redo that poll, but weight the responses according to the respondents’ net worth. The lower half of the country, i.e., households with net worth zero or negative, wouldn’t count at all. A billion-dollar household would count as much as a thousand million-dollar households, and so on.

That poll would be a more accurate reflection of the public as Congress sees it. And it might well turn out that a net-worth-weighted majority thinks money’s influence is perfectly fine. Sure people think that money has too much influence; but money probably thinks that people have too much influence.


College Humor presents: Diet Racism.


Gun Owners of America President Larry Pratt makes it clear why people like him shouldn’t be armed.

The Second Amendment was designed for people just like the president and his administration. … Yes, our guns are in our hands for people like those in our government right now that think they wanna go tyrannical on us. We’ve got something for ‘em. That’s what it’s all about.

Remember the Conservative-to-English Lexicon‘s definition of tyranny:

When a Marxist gets elected and then tries to carry out the platform the people voted for.

Marxist, in turn, is defined as “one who regrets the increasing concentration of wealth”.


538 does a good, even-handed discussion of the job market, the unemployment rate, and all those related statistics people often grind an ax about.

and let’s close with a duel

Chipotle’s “Scarecrow” video can be read as a full-force assault on the food industry.

But Funny or Die reads it as an attempt to subvert the revolution, and does an “honest version

.

So which is it: Are the capitalists selling us the rope to hang the capitalists? Or is seeing-through-the-illusion the new illusion?

Homage to Virtue

Maxim 218: Hypocrisy is an homage that vice pays to virtue.

François de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

This week’s featured post is “Rich Lowry’s False Choice“.

This week everybody was talking about Denny Hastert

I’ll let Orin Kerr summarize:

If I understand the history correctly, in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair, who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair, which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.

That last guy is Dennis Hastert. The only reason he became Speaker to begin with was that he had the squeaky-clean image the GOP needed to continue its witch-hunt against Bill Clinton.

and the Houston floods

Texans have decided to delay seceding from the Union until their federal disaster-relief checks clear. Two years ago, when Congress was voting on disaster relief in the Northeast after Hurricane Sandy, Ted Cruz said:

This bill is symptomatic of a larger problem in Washington—an addiction to spending money we do not have. The United States Senate should not be in the business of exploiting victims of natural disasters to fund pork projects that further expand our debt.

The Sandy funding bill wasn’t passed until a full three months after the storm. When disaster strikes Texas, though, Cruz stands strong

in support of the federal government fulfilling its statutory obligations and stepping in to respond to this natural disaster.

No concern about whether this might be “money we do not have”. You also gotta love Cruz’ reaction to the question of whether climate change had something to do with this:

At a time of tragedy, I think it’s wrong to try to politicize a natural disaster.

Pointing to causes and seeking solutions is “politicizing”. Of course, folks on the Right are fine with pointing to a cause like, say, God’s judgment against witchcraft and sodomy.

In addition to climate change, another real factor in the flooding is Houston’s lack of zoning and uncontrolled sprawl, i.e., the “Texas tradition of strong personal property and land use rights that mean fewer regulations.” A Texas A&M professor of urban planning says:

Think about every time you put in a road, a mall and you add concrete, you’ve lost the ability of rain to get into the soil and you’ve lost that permeability. It’s now impermeable. And therefore you get more runoff.

Anyway, I hope the congressional delegations of New York and New Jersey make merciless fun of Cruz … and then vote promptly for the disaster relief. Americans taking care of each other in hard times is part of our long socialist tradition.


but I was listening to talks

Bernie

A full room makes a happy candidate.

Wednesday evening I saw Bernie Sanders in Portsmouth, NH. (I shot both pictures in this segment.) The crowd — maybe 700 by my back-of-the-envelope estimate — packed South Church, and people were standing in the back. It was an enthusiastic, jump-up-and-cheer group. And Sanders did not tiptoe around at all, using the taboo word oligarchy and making frequent references to “the billionaire class” that is buying our government and organizing the economy to suit itself.

This was a day after his 5000-person rally in his home city of Burlington, Vermont, which I suspect is the largest rally by any 2016 candidate so far. And this weekend, a crowd of more than a thousand greeted him in Iowa City.

Sanders is absolutely going to get outspent by the Clinton campaign, but in a small state like New Hampshire that might not matter. Enthusiasm means a lot in a primary, and Bernie has it working for him. I predict that Hillary isn’t going to be able to coast on her name recognition and money. And going negative — the chief thing money is good for — isn’t an attractive option, because she’ll want Sanders’ supporters to join her for the general election. If Clinton is going to win here, she’s going to have to raise enthusiasm of her own.

Maybe she will. I’m currently in the middle of a Hillary Reading Project, which you’ll hear about eventually. I’m reading her books in order, from It Takes a Village to Living History (which I’m reading now) to Hard Choices. Like a lot of writers, I read a lot into an author’s voice, and I’m finding Hillary surprisingly personable and likeable. The question I’m trying to answer is whether she has a set of core values we can count on, or if the Clintons only stand for political expediency. Conclusions are still pending.


The bizarre way the Sanders campaign is being covered is starting to draw attention. Jon Stewart ran a series of clips of pundits referring to Sanders as a “long shot” and a “loon” and then said: “Give me a taste of this crazy whacko cuckoo bird”, followed by clips of Sanders denouncing too-big-to-fail banks, calling for pay equity for women, endorsing campaign finance reform, and proposing that Social Security be expanded rather than cut. He comments:

What a rational, slightly left-of-center, mainstream politician.

And WaPo’s “The Fix” points out that Sanders has more supporters than many Republican candidates who are not instantly dismissed as long shots.

What’s going on here? It’s another example of the model I discussed in 2011 in “Liberal Media, Conservative Manipulation“. Journalists are relegating Sanders’ candidacy to the “Sphere of Deviance”, where it can be dismissed without considering any of the points it raises.


McKibben

Under the banner of the Earth.

Sunday, my church (First Parish in Bedford, Massachusetts) took advantage of Bill McKibben being in town for his mother’s 85th birthday, and invited him in to speak. He gave a more-or-less sermon-length talk during the regular worship service, and then stuck around to answer questions a bit later. (The picture is from the Q&A session.)

I’ll probably discuss his argument more in a future week, but here’s the gist of it: He focused on the importance of time. The shift away from fossil fuels and towards sustainable energy is happening, but the question is whether it will happen fast enough to avoid climate cataclysm. “If we had 30 years,” he said, “I’d be sanguine.”

The point of activism like protesting the Keystone Pipeline and pushing public institutions to divest from fossil fuel stocks is to accelerate the shift. He sees this era as the last gasp of large-scale fossil-fuel-industry projects like the pipeline. If we can delay them long enough, they will die and no one will revive them.

and I finally had to think about the Duggars

I avoided the topic all last week, because the Josh-molesting-his-younger-sisters story followed the usual energy-wasting pattern:

  • Liberals get their buttons pushed by sanctimonious religious hypocrisy.
  • They react with outrage.
  • That outrage makes religious conservatives circle their wagons around the offender.
  • The conservative defenses are, to put it mildly, ridiculous, which sets off more liberal outrage.
  • Eventually it all burns itself out and nobody on either side is better for it.

This week, the flood of links on my Facebook news feed continued, and I finally gave in. I will now try my best to pull something edifying out of the cesspool.

First is just the depth of that cesspool. The Duggars are part of the Quiverfull movement, which shows how far wrong fundamentalist Christianity can go. (You think you know, but you probably don’t. I didn’t.) Before marriage, a woman’s purpose in life is to serve her parents; after, it’s to give her husband as many children as possible. Sex within marriage is a duty, and if a wife isn’t in the mood after spending her day being pawed at by the dozen kids she’s already had, that reluctance is a manifestation of her sinful nature. If she gives in to that sinful nature and refuses sex, she needs to be disciplined. (The next time someone says they support “Biblical marriage“, ask them if this is what they mean. The Quiverfull people can chapter-and-verse you if it’s not.)

The deeper thing I noticed from reading the back-and-forth about the Duggar molestations is that two very different frames for morality are being applied. In one, morality is all about how humans relate to each other, and the reason certain actions are bad is that they damage people. In the other, morality revolves around an individual’s relationship to authority, and actions are bad because they break the rules that someone in authority — God, a religious leader, a parent — has laid down.

For very young children, you often have to rely on the second framing, because the cause-and-effect chain that connects their actions to someone else’s distress is too long and tenuous for them to grasp. The desire to pick the pretty flower fills the child’s whole mind, and the thought that some stranger planted it, cares for it, and will be sad to see it gone is too abstract. So parents substitute their own relationship with the child for the relationship-with-the-world that the child is not able to grasp yet: Not picking other people’s flowers is just a rule, and Mommy and Daddy will be disappointed in you if you break it.

That’s fine as far as it goes. But I believe that if you make it to adulthood and that’s still your frame for morality, with God taking the place of Mommy and Daddy, something has gone seriously wrong. That’s just not a mature basis for living a moral life.

And that’s what I see in the defenses of Josh Duggar. (I’m not alone. Even an orthodox Christian blogger like Joel Miller seems to be pointing to the same thing.) Duggar’s public statement (which Miller finds “galling”) contains one quick reference to hurting others, but otherwise it’s all about himself and authority figures. “I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.” And the ultimate authority — Christ — has forgiven him, so that’s that and we should all just move on.

I found it enlightening to look at a case study from the Advanced Training Institute, whose fundamentalist family-training system the Duggars followed. The case the lesson discusses is earlier than Josh, but remarkably similar. The problem is framed as a conflict between the teen-age boy’s impure desires (to molest younger siblings) and God’s rules. Compassion for the siblings and appreciation of the long-term psychological damage they might suffer just doesn’t figure. So instead of focusing on causes (a lack of empathy and compassion), the case study focuses on triggers (the events that evoke the desires). For me, the lesson turns out to be a case study on how you end up blaming the victims and changing their behavior instead of the perpetrator’s. Because while a victim’s behavior may be blameless (i.e., young children running around naked after a shower), it does indeed trigger the forbidden desires.

Morality, as I conceive it, is about how we’re all going to live together on the Earth without making each other miserable. If you picture it instead as a private interaction between yourself and the Divine Lawmaker, I think you’ve still got some growing up to do.

and the Fox Effect hits close to home

I live in New Hampshire, but my church is across the border in Bedford, Massachusetts. This week Fox Boston decided to create a reverse-racism controversy at Bedford High, where I know several students, a bunch of parents, and some faculty.

Background: There’s a meme of “Shit White People Say”. Put that phrase into YouTube and you’ll get a bunch of hits. It’s about the clueless things whites say to non-whites, not out of any conscious hate or hostility, but just because the majority race doesn’t have to think too hard about minority life and so makes stereotypic assumptions. (I’ve done stuff that could show up in such a video. One morning at a hotel in D.C., I saw a well-dressed black man standing by the door and asked him about taxis, thinking he must be a hotel employee. He was an African diplomat.)

The most popular one is probably “Shit White Girls Say … to Black Girls“, in which a black woman in a blond wig says a lot of clueless white-girl things. It has gotten over 11 million hits on YouTube, so I suspect a lot of Bedford High students have seen it.

Some BHS students made a video “Sh*t White People Say: BHS Edition“. In it, a black student in a blond wig goes up to other blacks and says the kinds of clueless things that I suspect the makers of the video have heard themselves. Like asking a black teacher if he’s a janitor, or assuming that a black student must be from the METCO program that brings students in from inner-city Boston, or that a METCO student must want to talk about whatever grisly inner-city crime was on the news. I thought it was a pretty good piece of work.

It got shown on the student-run closed-circuit TV show BHS Live, apparently without needing the approval of anybody in the administration. As a high-school-newspaper editor from the 1970s, my first thought was: “Cool. Students talking directly to other students.” (My faculty adviser occasionally saved me from doing something stupid, but also kept me from covering the school the way it actually was, rather than the way the administration wanted the community to see it. High-school papers in the 70s were all basically Pravda.)

But Fox Boston (Channel 25) heard about the video and reacted differently. They found one offended white parent to interview. The concerns that caused the students to make the video aren’t discussed, because the only kind of racism Fox can see is reverse-racism that offends whites. The interviewed parent thinks “somebody needs to lose their job” over the video.

The BHS administration is actually handling this reasonably well, all things considered. A letter to parents from the Superintendent says:

We believe that there is an important difference between hate speech or the accumulated racial slights that many of our students of color have unfortunately experienced on the one hand, and an attempt to educate others about racism that used stereotypes to make its point on the other.

In other words, they’re rejecting the whole reverse-racism frame, even as they try to placate the handful of whites who took offense.

But, predictably, it sounds like BHS Live is going to get more faculty oversight. I mean, we can’t have student journalists out there rocking the boat. They might turn into adult journalists who rock the boat.

and you also might be interested in …

So let’s trace the trajectory of events: A Muhammad cartoon contest was held in Texas specifically to enrage American Muslims. Two particularly unhinged young men went there with guns and got themselves killed, wounding a security guard but harming none of provocateurs. In response to that attempted attack — which had no apparent connection to Phoenix250 protesters, some armed, showed up outside a Muslim community center in Phoenix during Friday prayers, carrying signs like “FUCK ISLAM”. [Correction: The Texas attackers reportedly had attended the Phoenix mosque.]

Imagine if large numbers of armed Muslims showed up outside a Christian church with offensive signs, because some Christian attacked some event in another state specifically designed to incite Christian violence. Where’s this kind of provocation heading?


The week’s most surprising political news was that Nebraska eliminated capital punishment, with its Republican legislature overriding the veto of its Republican governor. What’s interesting is that there is now a conservative case against capital punishment: It leads to a long appeals process that ends up costing the state more than life in prison; a true small-government conservative shouldn’t want the government to have the power to kill people; and a right-to-life view is more consistent without the death penalty.

This raises the question of whether there are other issues where liberals and conservatives can unite on a result, even if they justify it differently. Lawrence Lessig has proposed campaign finance reform as such an issue. And when I asked Bill McKibben about such overlaps (see above) he pointed out that building the Keystone Pipeline involves letting a foreign company (TransCanada) use the eminent domain process to seize land from American owners. When you put it that way, conservatives don’t like it.


The biggest hobgoblin raised against same-sex marriage is the idea that conservative Christian ministers will be forced to perform them or arrested for speaking out against them. Well, the issue is leading to ministers being arrested, but not the ones you think.


Yesterday’s NYT discusses Hillary Clinton’s efforts to find the kind of big-money donors Republican candidates have. If I were her, I’d be trying to do the same thing, but at the same time it’s sad. In an era when “money is speech”, one $20 million donor speaks as loud as a million $20 donors. And if you’re just one $20 donor — and you’re not sure another 999,999 are going to back you up — maybe you start thinking you should leave politics to the oligarchs.


The next time some young woman tells you she’s not a feminist, send her this Katy Goodman song:


This comic from New Zealand is a good illustration of how privilege works little-by-little over an entire lifetime.

and let’s close with a look behind the scenes

You thought puppies just did all that stuff by instinct, didn’t you? Actually their moms teach them. Here a hidden camera captures the how-to-be-a-puppy-lessons a Siberian husky teaches her seven offspring.

Buying and Owning

Remember, ladies and gentlemen, there is no background check if you want to buy a senator.

David Letterman

I don’t believe that the men and women who defended American democracy fought to create a situation where American billionaires own the political process.

Bernie Sanders

This week’s featured posts are “Turning the Theocracy Against Itself” and “The 2016 Stump Speeches: Bernie Sanders“.

This week everybody was talking about Ireland

Friday, the Irish voted to legalize same-sex marriage by a whopping 62%-38% margin. Turnout was impressive: 61% of the electorate. This is the first time a country has legalized same-sex marriage by a national referendum, and points out just how fast public opinion has been changing: Homosexual acts were illegal in Ireland just 22 years ago.

From The Guardian:

All but one of the republic’s 43 parliamentary constituencies voted Yes to same-sex marriage. And fears of an urban-rural, Yes/No split were not realised either. Constituencies such as Donegal South West, which in the past voted against divorce and abortion reform, backed the Yes side.

There’s some debate about whether a referendum is proper when we’re talking about a basic right. (I’ve seen a t-shirt that says “How about we vote on your marriage?”) But when the result comes in clear and strong like this, it’s the most satisfying way to establish marriage equality. Nobody can argue that out-of-touch elitists forced this change on a silent majority.

And so the Archbishop of Dublin reacted like this:

I ask myself, most of these young people who voted yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years. I’m saying there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the church.


Here’s what I don’t understand about the Catholic Church and all the other religious groups who are dead-set against marriage equality: Compare to divorce. A web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says:

The Church does not recognize a civil divorce because the State cannot dissolve what is indissoluble.

Or, as Catholics sometimes put it, the couple is still married “in the eyes of God”. If a person who gets a civil divorce then marries someone else, those marriages aren’t valid “in the eyes of God”, who sees the sex in those second marriages as adulterous and sinful.

And yet, Catholic politicians like Rick Santorum aren’t campaigning to make second marriages illegal. Bakers and caterers aren’t asserting their “religious freedom” to deny service to the receptions after second marriages — which, just like same-sex marriages, are public announcements of the couple’s intention to sin.

In short, American Catholics long ago made peace with the notion that civil marriage and sacramental marriage are different things. Why isn’t a similar outcome sufficient here, for all the conservative religious groups? Why not accept that same-sex couples can be married under the law, with all the legal rights and privileges civil marriage offers, but go on teaching that they aren’t married in the eyes of the Deity? Like taxes and currency, the civil code is a thing of Caesar, not of God.

and the coverage of the Waco shoot-out

A week ago yesterday, nine people died in a shoot-out between biker gangs at a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas. A large number of liberal pundits have noticed how this has been covered compared to, say, the violence in Baltimore or Ferguson.

The apparent difference is the number of white people involved. Violence among whites is covered as some bizarre exception — crazy people do crazy things — while black violence is presented as an indictment of the whole community. Charles Blow comments:

Does the violence in Waco say something universal about white culture or Hispanic culture? Even the question sounds ridiculous — and yet we don’t hesitate to ask such questions around black violence, and to answer it, in the affirmative. And invariably, the single-mother, absent-father trope is dragged out.

But a father in the home is no guarantor against violence. By the way, is anyone asking about the family makeup of the bikers in Waco?

No? Exactly.


The shooting also drew attention to Twin Peaks, a racier version of Hooters that was the fastest-growing restaurant chain of 2013. Some of that attention has exposed TP’s demeaning image of its customers. “Men are simple creatures,” TP’s director of marketing (a woman) told Huffington Post in January. A leaked internal memo says the restaurant targets men who “love to have their ego stroked by beautiful girls.” Especially beautiful girls who are paid, I guess. Simple creatures crave simple relationships.

and the Santa Barbara oil spill

A pipe owned by Plains All-American Pipeline broke Tuesday, spilling oil into the waters near Santa Barbara and sludging about nine miles of previously beautiful beach. The exact whys and wherefores are still under investigation, but The LA Times reports that Plains has had a “long record of problems“.


For me, the oil spill has a personal angle: To what extent am I responsible for it?

You see, when my Dad died, I inherited half his shares in Plains. I still have them. So while the rest of you look at Plains spokemen on TV and think “those evil bastards”, I’m thinking “they believe they represent me”.

And that raises an issue that I seldom write about, but think about quite a bit: I’ve never come up with a theory of socially responsible investing I like. Occasionally I make a decision to avoid companies out of sheer moral repugnance — tobacco companies, for example. After the 2008 crash, I sold my Citicorp shares at a huge loss without waiting to see if the bank could cash in on this government-bailout thing. But this is always an emotional response rather than a thought-out principle. I’m trying to soothe my conscience, not improve the world.

Other times, I invest in something socially responsible because I believe the world will eventually see its potential the way I do. (Sometimes it does. A year or so ago I mentioned Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure, which provides capital for sustainable-energy projects. Its shares were around 14 then and are near 20 now.)

But divestment movements in general leave me scratching my head. Me selling a stock drives the price down (by a miniscule amount, given the quantities I trade in) and makes it a better deal for somebody else. (Thursday, when I asked my broker what he knew about the oil spill, he opined that this price dip might be a good time to buy more of Plains. That’s how the investment community thinks.) No matter what socially responsible investors do with their money, we’re still going to live in a fossil fuel economy. There are still going to be oil wells and pipelines — partly to service customers like me, who drive cars.

So anyway, I’m feeling an emotional repugnance towards Plains right now — not because they’re a pipeline company, but because it looks like they’re a bad pipeline company (rather than a decent company that had the kind of accident that could happen to anybody). I’m watching the news to see if their/our actions have really been as negligent/corrupt as I suspect.

But I’m still no closer to a principle. If you have one you’re happy with, please talk about it in the comments.

and you also might be interested in …

Republicans and 14 Democrats in the Senate voted to give President Obama and the next president “trade promotion authority” to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The bill requires an up-or-down vote on the treaty as the president signs it, with no amendments of filibusters. The bill goes to the House now, where the vote should be close. Few Democrats currently support it, while far-right Republicans are balking. Rush Limbaugh has announced his opposition, on the general principle that Obama should not be given more authority to do anything.


David Letterman signed off. The tributes were so glowing that he admonished well-wishers to “save a little for my funeral“.


An Atlanta TV station shines a light on the secretive ALEC meetings.


Robert Reich points to an interesting political fault line that someday — but probably no time soon — will cause an earthquake: the uneasy juncture between small business owners and giant corporations. Currently it’s having a tiny rumble over the push to lower the corporate tax rate. Small business associations aren’t supporting that push, because the majority of small businesspeople don’t pay the corporate tax rate. (Their profits show up on Schedule C or some other part of their individual 1040s.) So lowering the corporate rate while leaving individual rates fixed would shift the balance in favor of big business and against small business.

In general, small businesses provide political cover for big businesses and get little in return. Whenever some proposal would hurt Citicorp or Walmart, their PR flacks want you to focus instead on your favorite chef-owned restaurant or your cousin’s hardware store. And they want the chef and your cousin to identify with them and support their full political agenda, even as that agenda favors the banks who won’t loan small businesses money or the big chains that are squeezing individual proprietors out of the market. They want the 600-acre farmer to blame government regulations for his problems, and not the monopolistic power of the Monsantos who supply him or the Cargills he has to sell to.

There’s room for a psychological study here, and a polemic along the lines of What’s the Matter With Kansas?. What’s the matter with small businesspeople? When the mega-corps completely take over, they’ll be peons just like the rest of us. Why can’t they see that their best allies are below them on the economic scale, not above?


It took a while, but Prime Minister Netanyahu has put together a new government following the recent Israeli elections. He himself is the acting foreign minister, so the deputy foreign minister is the country’s top full-time diplomat.

That would be Tzipi Hotovely, who gave a speech Thursday re-orienting Israel’s diplomatic rhetoric. Those who speak for Israel abroad, she said, need to start talking about the morality of Israel’s domination of the occupied territories, not just Israel’s practical need for security.

It’s important to say [that] this land is ours. All of it is ours. We didn’t come here to apologize for that.

She referenced a great medieval Jewish scholar:

Rashi says the Torah opens with the story of the creation of the world so that if the nations of the world come and tell you that you are occupiers, you must respond that all of the land belonged to the creator of world and when he wanted to, he took from them and gave to us.

In short, the religious fanatics in the Middle East aren’t all on one side.

and this week, let’s do a double closing

I mean, I’ve already blown away my weekly word limit, so why not?

First, this cartoon is supposed to encourage people to travel in groups, but I find a political message here too.

and then there’s Coldplay’s idea to do a Game of Thrones musical with the original cast. What could go wrong?

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