Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Prosperity Rises

There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.

– William Jennings Bryan, “Cross of Gold” (1896)

This week’s featured post is “Liberal Islam: Is it real? Is it Islam?

This week everybody was talking about the State of the Union

This was the first SOTU of what I’ve been calling the Aw-Fukkit Phase of the Obama presidency, when he might as well say what he thinks because there are no more elections to position himself for.

If you  haven’t seen the speech, the best place to watch is on the White House web site, where you get supporting slides like the one on the right. Also, for the first time in history the White House openly leaked the text of their own speech, so you could read along with the President if you wanted.

“Tonight we turn the page” was a polite way of saying: “I’ve finally cleaned up enough of Bush’s mess that there’s room for me to have my own vision.” Obama supported that view by telling the story of his administration’s mess-cleaning-up accomplishments: unemployment is finally lower than before the 2008 financial crisis; troop levels in Iraq/Afghanistan are down from 180K to 15K; high-school graduation rates are up; oil imports and the price of gas are down (a wrinkle there: gas prices are down from their pre-crisis levels; during the crisis the price got down to $1.61 because nobody was buying); and deficits are down.

State of the Union addresses always have an element of symbolism. This time, Obama framed his speech around a letter he got from a woman in Minnesota, whose family went through hard times during the Great Recession, but stuck together, worked hard, studied hard, and bounced back. Opponents like to imply that Obama only represents unemployed inner-city black single mothers or irresponsible sluts who need abortions so that they can stay promiscuous and child-free, so it was artful to frame the speech around a Midwestern white couple working two jobs and raising kids born in wedlock.

We are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times. America, Rebekah and Ben’s story is our story. They represent the millions who have worked hard, and scrimped, and sacrificed, and retooled.

He referred to his policies as “middle-class economics”, implying a contrast with Republican trickle-down economics, which he did not name.

At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in fifty years. So the verdict is clear. Middle-class economics works.

The speech alluded to specific proposals but deferred the details, which started rolling out later in the week. They include proposals to promote and subsidize child care for working parents, to make two years of community college free, to give new tax breaks to middle-class families, and to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling.

Probably Congress will ignore all these proposals. But they will put Republicans on the spot, at a time when some of them seemed to expect Obama to ask, “How high do you want me to jump?”

and “no-go zones”

Inside the conservative news bubble, lots of nonsense goes unchallenged, like ObamaCare’s “death panels”, or the “stand down order” that supposedly prevented a rescue mission to Benghazi. So I was not particularly shocked when I heard that Fox News was helping spread the bizarre dystopian fantasy that there were “no-go zones” in Europe that non-Muslims have to stay out of, including the entire city of Birmingham, England, and certain well-delineated neighborhoods of Paris.

There is, of course, nothing to support any of this. British Prime Minister David Cameron treated the claims with the disdain they deserve:

I thought it must be April Fools Day. This guy is clearly a complete idiot.

and the Mayor of Paris is threatening to sue. But that didn’t prevent Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal repeating those claims at a speech in London:

It is startling to think that any country would allow, even unofficially, for a so-called ‘no-go zone.’ The idea that a free country would allow for specific areas of its country to operate in an autonomous way that is not free and is in direct opposition to its laws is hard to fathom.

and then blamed “the liberal media” for pointing out that he was just making stuff up.

For once, Fox News apologized for its “error”. (Personally, I don’t think Fox actually tries to get the news right, so wouldn’t call it an “error”, though I believe they do feel bad about getting caught.) The apology (and not the original claim) shocked Jon Stewart, who asked:

What did they say that was so much wronger than usual?


The tiny kernel of truth behind the Shariah-in-the-UK claim is outlined in this BBC article. If all parties agree, civil cases can be tried before Sharia councils. Similar to binding mediation in this country, the system is voluntary and does not apply to criminal cases.

and abortion

This abortion-and-rape thing, it’s a constant problem for the GOP. The pro-life base believes that a newly fertilized ovum has a soul (which isn’t Biblical, and on its Protestant side is a purely political doctrine that has no theological history at all), so a fetus conceived by rape has as much right to life as anybody else. But in front of the general public, passing a law that makes rape a viable male reproductive strategy is political suicide. So anti-abortion laws need some kind of rape exception.

But that raises the question: What kind of rape? And what kind of evidence should a woman claiming the exception need to present? If just saying you were raped is good enough, then we’re back to abortion on demand, because, you know, bitches be lyin’ about stuff like that. Ask Bill Cosby.

So this week the new Republican Congress was all set to pass a nationwide ban on abortions after 20 weeks (on the pseudo-scientific theory that 20 weeks is the threshold for a fetus feeling pain). But the supporting coalition ruptured on the exact wording of the rape exception: To claim it, a woman would have to have previously reported the rape to the police. Congresswoman Renee Ellmers objected to that requirement enough to remove herself as a sponsor. Reportedly, other Republican congresswomen also objected, and the House leadership was not willing to pass the bill without sufficient female cover.

The pro-life crowd then went apeshit, abusing Ellmers (previously a far-right-winger in good standing, one of Sarah Palin’s “Momma grizzlies“) in such misogynistic terms that even a liberal like Joan Walsh felt obligated to defend her.

Senator Lindsey Graham then told the Family Research Council that “I’m going to need your help to find a way out of this definitional problem of rape.” But the whole point of “defining” rape is so that anti-abortion bureaucrats can tell a woman that she’s wrong about having been raped. I don’t see any nice way to do that.

but I wish more people were talking about addiction

Johann Hari has a fascinating article up at Huffington Post, “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think.” Most theories of addiction blame either the addictive nature of the drugs themselves, biological propensities in the addicts, or moral weakness.

Some early experiments put a rat in a cage with two choices of water, a pure source and one laced with an addictive drug like cocaine. Most of the tested rats became addicts, and some killed themselves with overdoses. Eventually, though, researcher Bruce Alexander wondered whether the problem wasn’t the drug so much as being alone in a cage. So he created Rat Park, as utopian a rat community as he could imagine, except for the fact that it also has one pure and one drug-tainted water source.

The happy rats of Rat Park consumed about 1/4th as much of the drug as the bored and lonely rats, and none of them OD’d. What’s more, moving addicted rats from isolation to Rat Park often enabled them to kick the habit.

Hari compares this experiment to the real-life experience of American G.I.s, many of whom were heroin addicts in Vietnam, but didn’t bring their addiction home. Professor Alexander argues: “It’s not you, it’s your cage.”

and you also might be interested in …

If you’re wondering why the price of gas is suddenly so low, Daniel Yergin’s analysis is as convincing as any.


The only people who should be talking about 2016 this early are the comedians who make fun of people talking about 2016 this early. Andy Borowitz posted to Facebook:

Mental Health Professionals Report Alarming Increase in People Who Believe They Could Be President

And Jon Stewart commented on Mitt Romney’s hints that he might run again.

Quit being a nomination hog, Mitt. There’s a lot of people who deserve the chance to lose a presidential race.


Gun rights for black people continue to be mostly theoretical. Tuesday, a 62-year-old black man with a concealed-carry permit was tackled as he entered a WalMart by a white man yelling “He’s got a gun!” Afterward, a police spokesman cautioned vigilantes to “make sure there’s a good reason” before tackling gun owners. Just seeing an armed black man turns out not to be a good enough reason.


A few weeks ago I used torture as an example of how conservatives will intentionally break a word they don’t like through intentional misuse. Well, now they’re working on breaking theocracy. How else to interpret this exchange between Mike Huckabee and televangelist James Robison?

HUCKABEE: Now I’m not saying that a person should run [for president] and say, “Let’s have a theocracy”, because I don’t think we should.

ROBISON: It’s ridiculous.

HUCKABEE: No, that’s not what even our [garbled] want.

ROBISON: We have a theocracy right now. It’s a secular theocracy.

HUCKABEE: That’s it. It’s a humanistic, secular, atheistic [theocracy], even antagonistic toward Christian faith.

Yep, secular theocracy is the new liberal fascism. If the common usage of theocracy can be stretched to include “humanistic, secular, atheistic” versions, then for all practical purposes the word will stop meaning anything at all. And that would suit Robison and Huckabee just fine.

and let’s close with something amusing

It’s another year’s worth of Bad Lip Reading the NFL.

Unreasonable Debts

St. Peter don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go.
I owe my soul to the company store.

– “16 Tons“, usually attributed to Merle Travis

This week’s featured post is “Can We Overthrow the Creditocracy?

Thanks to the Diary of Mindless Minions number 2703 blog, who named Maria Popova and me as “Two People Who Make the Internet Better“.

If trends hold, “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party” will get its 200,000th page view this week.

This week everybody was talking about terrorist plots in Europe

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France, Belgian police launched a series of raids on suspected terrorists, including one at Verviers that resulted in a firefight with men described as “extremely well armed”.

What seems to be different in the current European terrorist threat is that it’s a mixture of foreign-based and home-grown. Belgium turns out to have a comparatively large number of residents who either are fighting in Syria or have fought and come home. They’re Belgians, but their Syrian war connections give them access to heavy weapons and training in how to use them. Across Europe, we’re talking about maybe 5,000 people, 300 or so from Belgium.

and here, sort of

Twenty-year-old Christopher Lee Cornell from Ohio was arrested Wednesday for planning to kill people at the U.S. Capitol. Allegedly, his plan was to set off pipe bombs in or near the Capitol, and then shoot people as they evacuated.

Cornell apparently came to the attention of the FBI months ago for making pro-ISIS statements through social media. He devised his plan in discussions with an FBI informant, and was arrested when he bought two assault rifles. That was the first physical manifestation of his plan. He hadn’t yet bought any materials to make the pipe bombs, and was thinking he might hit the Capitol next December. According to the L. A. Times:

He was charged with the attempted killing of a U.S. government officer and possession of a firearm in furtherance of an attempted crime of violence.

I have mixed feelings about this news. On the one hand, it’s great that Cornell was stopped before he could kill anybody. On the other, it points out the unsettling vagueness of our anti-terrorism laws. Think about it: What did Cornell do, exactly? He had a violent fantasy, “plotted” (i.e., talked big to somebody he thought would be impressed) with an FBI informant, and bought two legal firearms.

For this, he gets national TV coverage and is known far and wide as a dangerous terrorist. Having been a young man myself once, I’m not sure this example is going to discourage would-be imitators.

These kinds of crimes carry very real sentences. Rezwan Ferdaus of Massachusetts is serving 17 years for a 2011 plan to attack the Capitol with radio-controlled airplanes. Again, he conspired only with the FBI. He was arrested when he took delivery of “grenades, six machine guns and what he believed was 24 pounds of C-4 explosive” from his FBI “partners”. Not only was no actual high explosive involved, it’s not clear he would have known how to get any without the FBI’s help.

I wonder how many people we could send to prison if we treated other kinds of “plots” this way. Imagine you have a bad week at work, and while you’re out drinking Friday night, you blather about how you’d like to go into the office some day and shoot all the people who bug you. (I’ll bet bartenders hear a lot of “plans” like this.) Suppose the guy on the next stool is a police informant, and starts asking exactly how you’d do it. A week or two later, you think it might be therapeutic to buy a gun, go to a shooting range, and imagine the target is your boss’ head. As you leave the gun store, police arrest you for starting to carry out your “mass murder plot”. “Police Avert Deadly Rampage” say the next morning’s headlines.


In an unrelated case, an Illinois teen-ager was arrested at O’Hare Airport before boarding a plane to Turkey, where he hoped to join ISIS.


Vox reports:

Writers at Vox have indeed been bombarded with threats for our Charlie Hebdo coverage. But not one of those threats has come from a Muslim or in response to publishing anti-Islam cartoons. Revealingly, they have rather all come from non-Muslims furious at our articles criticizing Islamophobia.

and still talking about Charlie Hebdo

One of my long-term wishes (that started to come true in 2014) has been for The Weekly Sift to develop a commenting community that consistently adds value to my articles. A good example of what I have in mind is last week’s “Am I Charlie? Should I Be?” While many commenters agreed with my main points, several had thoughtful disagreements concerning French language and culture, and provided links that are well worth reading.

A few French-speaking commenters — I’m a puzzle-out-with-a-dictionary reader of French, and can’t say much more than oui — discussed the correct interpretation of cons, which Vox translated as “idiots”, but seemed closer to “cunts” to me and the Saturn’s Repository blog. The truth seems to be that cons is more vulgar than “idiots” but not nearly so offensive as “cunts”. eganvarley and FrancoFile defended “idiots” as a translation, while SamChevre compared cons’ level of vulgarity to “assholes”, and Chum Joely interpreted it as “dumbasses”.

The interpretation of the images in Charlie Hebdo cartoons was another point of contention. eganvarley linked to Adam Gopnik’s article on Charlie. Jeremos linked to a discussion of the Boko-Haram-sex-slaves cover, velvinette to a collection of cartoons establishing Charlie‘s left-wing anti-racist bona fides, and orionblair to an explanation of the French context of some of the cartoons that seem most objectionable to an outsider. Several other commenters also disputed my criticism of Charlie. I apologize for not listing everyone.

Some of the articles made an analogy to this famously controversial New Yorker cover published shortly after Barack Obama had sewed up the Democratic nomination.

People who didn’t know the political context — including a lot of fairly well-informed Americans — interpreted it as a viciously anti-Obama cover: He’s dressed as a Muslim and his wife as a terrorist, while they burn an American flag in the Oval Office fireplace. But hipper viewers saw a parody of over-the-top anti-Obama rhetoric. “This is what you want us to believe? Really?” Several of the apparently racist Charlie covers similarly would be seen by in-the-know French readers as ironic critiques of their surface meanings.

While appreciating their main points, I have two quibbles with the links. First, there’s a tendency to equate bigotry with the Right, and to assume that once we establish that Charlie was on the Left, we’ve proved it wasn’t bigoted. (Talk to Alec Baldwin about that.) Similarly, being anti-racist in general doesn’t inoculate you against all specific forms of bigotry. To me, the appropriate American comparison isn’t the KKK, it’s Bill Maher. Bill is liberal on most issues and denounces bigotry wherever he sees it; but when it comes to his own bigotry against Muslims, he just can’t see it.

Second, privileged people tend to assume that when someone takes offense at what they say or do, all that really matters is their own intent. (If people think I insulted them, that’s only because they’re too stupid to realize I didn’t. Les cons!) This is one of the defining traits of privilege: the belief that your own point of view is paramount; if other people have a different interpretation of what I say or do, they’re just wrong.

But that easily assumed right-to-self-interpretation is only a dream for members of a marginalized group like French Muslims. Jamie Utt asks the right question on Everyday Feminism:

[I]n the end, what does the intent of our action really matter if our actions have the impact of furthering the marginalization or oppression of those around us? … [M]aking the conversation about intent is inherently a privileged action. The reason? It ensures that you and your identity (and intent) stay at the center of any conversation and action while the impact of your action or words on those around you is marginalized.

Reportedly, one of the reasons Dave Chappelle gave up his TV show in the middle of taping the third season (and walked away from a pile of money) was his realization that his intent didn’t always define his humor. Skits that he intended to satirize racial stereotypes might reinforce them to some of his less enlightened viewers.

Now, the fact that out-of-touch foreigners like me don’t appreciate the full implications of a French cartoon is no fair criticism of the cartoon. However, French Muslims did feel insulted, and brushing that off with a “They don’t get it” isn’t an adequate response.

But I don’t want any of that criticism to cause readers to lose sight of the first point of “Am I Charlie? Should I Be?“: Nothing that people say or write or draw should get them killed. Whether or not I have undermined that point also came up in the comment stream, as Dan wondered how my criticism of Charlie differed from the victim-blamers who say that a raped woman “used bad judgment”. I replied:

The difference between the woman and the cartoonists is that the cartoonists knew exactly the risks they were running. The “bad judgment” comment implies the woman was foolish, while I think the Charlie cartoonists were courageous.

A better analogy would be to a soldier who volunteers to fight in what I believe is an unworthy war — but he obviously thinks it is worthy — and dies in that war. I honor his personal courage and respect his sacrifice. But if you ask me to identify with him, to say in effect “I am G. I. Joe”, then I have to ask if that means I have to support the war now. If it does, I can’t say it.

Thanks, everybody. I learned from you even when you didn’t completely persuade me.

and I should be careful what I wish for

because another commenter, Lady Mockingbird, nailed me for overstating my case in last week’s summary. I was summarizing James Fallows’ “The Tragedy of the American Military” which makes the case (and supports it well) that in the age of a volunteer military whose members make multiple deployments to war zones, comparatively few Americans have a personal connection to our troops under fire. I overstated that point like this:

Increasingly, wars are fought either by the underclass (who need a place to start their careers and have few other options) or by men and women from families with a military tradition. Outside that small caste of military families, middle-class and upper-class voters — the people whose opinions count most in our semi-oligarchic system — can have opinions about war with no consequences, or can ignore the military altogether.

Lady M pointed out that I had no support for  that “underclass” point, and she’s right. So I went looking and got surprised.

The Heritage Foundation is not one of my trusted sources, but I don’t have any reason to doubt that their Center for Data Analysis can do arithmetic. Their 2008 report noted that the U.S. military doesn’t keep data on the economic background of recruits, but you can make inferences from their home census tracts, which are reported. Using median census-tract income as a substitute for household income, Heritage-CDA computed that the richest 20% of the country contributes 25% of recruits while the poorest quintile contributes 11%.

Now, I don’t trust Heritage not to manipulate statistics, and quintiles are often used to hide the very wealthy among the upper middle class. So I still doubt that many children of the 1% are getting shot at. But even so, what I said last week is not right.


A friend pointed out in private email that my quick summary of where French police were in their pursuit of the Charlie Hebdo suspects was also muddled. Rather than list my mistakes, I’ll just recommend that you go to the Wikipedia article and get the story straight.

What can I say? My final editing pass last week may have been affected by a slowly rising fever as I developed the flu. I’m fine now, so any mistakes this week are inexcusable.

and you also might be interested in …

MLK Day: The perfect time to link back to “MLK: Sanitized for Their Protection“. King was much more radical than today’s media lets on.


It’s official: Globally, 2014 was the hottest year on record.


Friday, it got easier to visit Cuba.


Here’s a general rule about funerals that you’d think everybody would know: If you’re not in the casket, the service is not about you.

We’ve seen that rule violated in national news stories twice recently: December 27 when police turned their backs on Mayor de Blasio’s eulogy for murdered officer Raphael Ramos, and January 13, when Pastor Ray Chavez of Lakewood, Colorado’s New Hope Ministries interrupted the funeral of Vanessa Collier when he found out she was a lesbian. According to The Denver Post:

The memorial could not continue, Pastor Ray Chavez said, as long as pictures of Collier with the love of her life, the spouse she shared two children with, were to be displayed.

Chavez said there could be no images of Collier with her wife, Christina. There could be no indication that Collier was gay.

Mourners picked up everything and moved the service to the funeral home’s chapel. It was cramped, but there were no further interruptions.

In general, if something at a funeral offends your politics, sit quietly and bitch about it later. Or if you absolutely can’t endure it, slip away discretely. Nobody came here to be your audience.


chescaleigh explains how to be an ally to a marginalized group.


Chattanooga came to my attention in a good way and a bad way this week. The good way is in this graphic of internet speeds in various cities:

Chattanooga, Kansas City, and Lafayette also have surprisingly affordable internet, compared to the relatively slow internet in the rest of America. How come? Matt Yglesias explains what these cities did right:

The American cities that are delivering best-in-the-world speeds at bargain prices are precisely the cities that aren’t relying on Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time-Warner, etc. to run their infrastructure. In Kansas City, Google built a state-of-the-art fiber optic network largely just to prove a point. In Chattanooga and Lafayette, the government did it.

Your city could do the same, and the federal government could help by providing low-interest loans (the way it did for rural electrification in the 1930s). But Matt notes that Verizon et al. pay big bucks to lobbyists to make those policy choices impossible.


But the bad news about Chattanooga was in the talk “The State of Black Chattanooga” given recently by Tennessee State Professor Ken Chilton. If you define “college ready” as reaching the college-readiness benchmarks on all four parts of the ACT, last year zero students from two predominantly black Chattanooga high schools were college ready.

My sister, who taught in the Chattanooga public schools (and brought this article to my attention), comments that the Tennessee statewide average of 19% college-ready is nothing to brag about either. But zero — that should make people sit up and take notice. Will they do anything?


This week I discovered Slate’s “Ask a Homo” video blog. Current question: Do gay men like cat-calling? Unsurprisingly, the answer is: “It depends.” But the factors that come into play are interesting.

Naturally, the question is a response to the viral video “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” that documented all the un-asked-for comments a conservatively dressed young woman hears just by walking silently down public sidewalks. (It has gotten over 37 million views on YouTube so far.) A lot of men responded to that video by saying they’d be happy if female strangers were constantly complimenting them and trying to strike up conversations — which ignores the whole power-imbalance you-exist-for-my-entertainment angle.

Asking how gay men react is a different way to approach the issue. Here’s another: Suppose you’re a straight man and gay strangers are constantly telling you what a nice butt you have. Is your main reaction to be flattered by the compliments? What if the uninvited commenters outnumber you and are much bigger than you are?

and let’s close with something awe-inspiring

From Red River, New Mexico.

True Blasphemy

No blasphemy could be more heinous than this crime, no matter what the magazine published or whom it offended. Judgment belongs to God. Those who claim to defend Islam with violence and horror are essentially asserting that God is incapable of carrying out His will and so they must act in His stead: that’s blasphemy.

Mir Tamim Ansary, Afghan-American novelist (2015)

This week’s featured post is “Am I Charlie? Should I Be?

This week everybody was talking about Charlie Hebdo

It’s hard to believe that this has all played out since the last Sift. On Wednesday gunmen killed 12 cartoonists and other staffers at the satirical French publication Charlie Hebdo. One suspect soon gave himself up, while three others have been killed by police. One is still at large.

The attack has been linked to the killing of a French policewoman. The suspect in that case barricaded himself with hostages in a kosher supermarket. He was killed by police, and four of the hostages died.

We don’t usually think of Wikipedia as a source for current events, but it is usually a good way to follow events like this, where details trickle out in no particular order and sometimes change from one day to the next. Wikipedia’s continuously re-edited article on the shooting is keeping track of what we know so far.


The many reactions to the shooting are a story in themselves. The shootings appear to have been carried out by French Muslims offended by Charlie Hebdo‘s lampooning of Islam and Muhammad, so the news set off a lot of pre-existing opinions people have about Islam, religion in general, free speech, terrorism, how the West has been trying to fight terrorism, and so on. My own reaction is in “Am I Charlie? Should I Be?


Well over a million people rallied for unity in Paris Sunday, and millions more across France. The BBC article on the rallies included this picture from Reims.


Adam Gopnik wrote a very thoughtful piece for BBC News, making personal connections both to one of the murdered cartoonists and to a Muslim couple he knows in Paris. This is a point frequently forgotten: When you lash out at groups (whatever the justification), you lash out at individual people, the great majority of whom don’t deserve it.


Of course there are conspiracy theories attributing the killings to everyone from the CIA to Mossad. But so far they seem to be coming mainly from people who attribute everything to the CIA or Mossad. These false-flag theories claim that the purpose is to justify a new round of the War on Terror or to scuttle recent Palestinian diplomatic initiatives to Europe.

If it’s a frame-up, the framers did a good job. One of the alleged killers trained with Al Qaeda in Yemen, and AP says someone in that group claims responsibility. The supermarket hostage-taker left a jihadi video.


Two theories about why this happened seem credible to me. The first is the most publicized one: This is revenge for dishonoring Muhammad. Almost certainly this is what the men doing the shooting believed.

People higher up the chain, though, may have had a more strategic motive: to further isolate European Muslims from the non-Muslim population. Juan Cole explains:

The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. … But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.

If that really is the point, it might be working.


Coverage of the avenge-the-Prophet motive may be somewhat off-base. Vox claims the issue may have more to do with community identity than with any theological dogma.

[A]lthough religious identity may be the source of anger over the cartoons, that does not mean that the objections are necessarily theological. In fact, despite widespread belief to the contrary, there may be no such theological restriction at all.

The Koran does not specifically prohibit insulting the Prophet, Aslan said. Mogahed noted that there was no agreement within mainstream Islam over what constitutes blasphemy, what the response to it should be, or how it should fit within the context of freedom of speech. It would therefore be a mistake to reduce an entire cultural identity to a narrow question of religious law.

If you frame the shooters’ motive as punishment of blasphemy, most Americans feel distant from it. But community identity hits closer to home. In that context, ridicule of the Prophet looks more like flag-burning. As far as I know, nobody has been killed for burning an American flag. But we have seen repeated efforts in Congress to remove freedom-of-speech protection from flag-burning, and in discussions of flag-burning, it is not unusual to hear threats of violence against the burners.


But how can I possibly compare what Muslims do to what “real Americans” do? They’re completely different. Or, at least a lot of Americans seem to think so. The Public Religion Research Institute published this graphic:


One typical response to events like this massacre is: Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism? Usually this comes from outlets like Fox News, which rarely let a moderate Muslim on their airwaves anyway. (It’s similar to the why-don’t-black-leaders-talk-about-black-on-black-violence canard. When they do no one covers it, so you can get away with saying they don’t.)

That point is completely untenable in this case, because denunciations of the killings have been coming in from Muslims around the world. Of course all the groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (which Fox’s Bob Beckel said “keep their mouths shut when things happen”) condemned the Charlie Hebdo massacre. But even Hamas condemned it, saying:

[D]ifferences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder.

Supporters of Al Qaeda and ISIS seem to be the only people celebrating the attack.


That didn’t stop Bill Maher from claiming — based on more-or-less nothing — that

I know most Muslim people would not have carried out an attack like this. But here’s the important point. Hundreds of millions of them support an attack like this. They applaud an attack like this.


A related story that is getting much less coverage concerns the situation of French Jews, who have seen attacks on them — like the killing of hostages in the kosher supermarket — increase substantially in recent years.

I don’t feel like I really understand this situation, but I believe it isn’t a re-awakening of traditional Dreyfus-Affair-style French anti-Semitism. It seems more like immigrant Arabs and other Muslims are taking out their anti-Israel anger on French Jews.

But if you’re under attack, the exact identity and motive of your attacker may seem less important than getting to safety. The Jewish Agency reports that

Last year, 7,000 emigrated to Israel as anti-Semitism spiked across France, … double the previous year, making France, for the first time, the No. 1 source of immigration to Israel.

So yes, hostility to Israel motivates attacks on French Jews, whose emigration not only makes Israel stronger, but emphasizes the reason Israel exists. Strategically, this is totally backwards. If French Israel-haters really want to hurt Israel, they should do their best to make France the destination-of-choice for persecuted Jews.

but I wish more people were talking about Boko Haram

This week Boko Haram killed hundreds, maybe as many as two thousand civilians in Baga, a border town between Nigerian and Chad. It isn’t drawing even a fraction of the coverage of the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris.

There’s an old quote that I can’t put my finger on this morning. It sounds like H. L. Mencken, but probably isn’t. The gist is that the number of deaths necessary to make a headline is inversely proportional to distance. (If you know the exact quote, leave a comment.)

I would amend that to say “perceived distance”. I’m thousands of miles from Paris, but I’ve been there and I think of Parisians as being more or less like me. By comparison, the back country of Nigeria seems infinitely far away. Hundreds or thousands of innocent people dead? Why should Americans care about that?

and the problems with our armed forces and how we use them

James Fallows has been writing about military issues in The Atlantic for decades. I’ve consistently found him to be reasonable and thoughtful. This month’s cover article “The Tragedy of the American Military” is well worth your time.

It centers on the problems of being a “chickenhawk nation”: Unlike previous generations of Americans (most of whom either fought in America’s wars or had parents, siblings, or children who did) today’s Americans are largely insulated from the military. Increasingly, wars are fought either by the underclass (who need a place to start their careers and have few other options) or by men and women from families with a military tradition. Outside that small caste of military families, middle-class and upper-class voters — the people whose opinions count most in our semi-oligarchic system — can have opinions about war with no consequences, or can ignore the military altogether.

The result is that the military and its issues play mostly a symbolic role in our politics. We “support our troops” with bumper stickers and in football halftime shows, but we don’t really think that hard about where we’re sending them, how we’re equipping them, or what we expect them to accomplish.

One result is that we end up losing wars. Few people say this so bluntly, but Fallows thinks that if you compare our recent military operations to the objectives we had going in, the only ones that count as successes are the 1991 Gulf War and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

I just started reading Why We Lost by retired Army General Daniel Bolger, who seems to take a similar view. That book begins like this:

I am a United States Army General, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism. It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous. Step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers.

You can get a taste of Bolger’s viewpoint from his NPR interview in November.

Another problem Fallows identifies is that military procurement has taken on a life of its own, one centered on politics and money rather than what the Pentagon needs to carry out the mission we assign it (whatever that should be). Raising or cutting the military budget is a symbolic issue in our politics, and does not lead to a discussion of ends and means. Politically, it is easier to fund expensive Swiss-army-knife weapons that promise to harness cutting-edge technology to do everything for everybody rather than cheaper, more reliable ones designed for specific purposes using components that we know work. Fallows illustrates with the F-35 fighter:

[A] plane designed to do many contradictory things—to be strong enough to survive Navy aircraft-carrier landings, yet light and maneuverable enough to excel as an Air Force dogfighter, and meanwhile able to take off and land straight up and down, like a helicopter, to reach marines in tight combat circumstances—has unsurprisingly done none of them as well as promised.

Fallows believes that if we weren’t a chickenhawk nation — if our politically powerful classes knew that their children would be operating these systems or depending on them for battlefield support — we would be having a different conversation with a different outcome.

and you also might be interested in …

I continue to believe that Elizabeth Warren isn’t running for president. But if she were, she would have to write a stump speech about what’s wrong with America and what she wants to do about it. She gave that speech Wednesday to the AFL-CIO.


As I’ve pointed out before, gun rights work very differently for whites and non-whites. Vice has a fascinating article on the black version of Open Carry Texas: the Huey P. Newton Gun Club established in Dallas by the New Black Panther Party. (Also mentioned: the Indigenous People’s Liberation Party, described as “young, Latino Communists”.)

Predictably, Conservative Tribune, which supports gun rights in other situations, finds this group “alarming” and emphasizes that “this is neither a joke nor a ‘Chappelle’s Show’ sketch.” Presumably, that reference to black comedian Dave Chappelle is supposed to emphasize the inherent absurdity of non-whites claiming equal Second Amendment rights.

To the extent that CT recognizes the presence of contradictions, it projects the problem onto its enemies:

while the gun rights of average Americans are under assault from the Obama administration, these guys don’t even get the slightest bit of attention.

Naturally, their article provides no facts to support the idea that the administration is treating white and black gun-owners differently in any way. CT itself is doing that, not Obama.


Ezra Klein asks an excellent question: “What would Republicans say if Mitt Romney were president and the economy was this strong?


The 2nd Annual New Hampshire Rebellion winter walk against money in politics has started in Dixville Notch.

and let’s close with an illustration of your airliner seating options

 

Different Races, Different Rules

I know that I cannot carry a gun in public and neither can my sons, even if it is a toy. If I lay prone on an open highway and point an assault rifle at a federal agent, my next stop would be federal custody or the nearest county morgue. Open carry laws are not meant for me. The rules are different. It’s what it means to be black in this country.

– Goldie Taylor “What Would Happen if I Got in a White Cop’s Face?

This week’s featured post: “Will Republicans Ever Have a Sister Souljah Moment?

This week everybody was still talking about the NYPD

The NYPD’s “slowdown” or “virtual work stoppage” (or whatever you want to call it) has become one of the weirder stories in some while. The New York Post says:

NYPD traffic tickets and summonses for minor offenses have dropped off by a staggering 94 percent following the execution of two cops — as officers feel betrayed by the mayor and fear for their safety. … The Post obtained the numbers hours after revealing that cops were turning a blind eye to some minor crimes and making arrests only “when they have to” since the execution-style shootings of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.

Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi points out the implication: NYPD has been arresting a lot of people it didn’t really have to.

So this police protest, unwittingly, is leading to the exposure of the very policies that anger so many different constituencies about modern law-enforcement tactics.

In New York, as in Ferguson and many other municipalities, police citations are a revenue source, with a sizable amount of that revenue coming from the neighborhoods that get the most policing — poor neighborhoods. The slow-down brings that hidden regressive tax into focus.

Also, the slowdown tests the controversial “broken windows” theory of policing — that you arrest people for minor offenses to establish public order, which in the long run prevents major crimes. If the slowdown doesn’t lead to a major crime wave, then what were all those minor-offense arrests about? The Atlantic‘s Matt Ford:

If the NYPD can safely cut arrests by two-thirds, why haven’t they done it before?

The human implications of this question are immense. Fewer arrests for minor crimes logically means fewer people behind bars for minor crimes. Poorer would-be defendants benefit the most; three-quarters of those sitting in New York jails are only there because they can’t afford bail. Fewer New Yorkers will also be sent to Rikers Island, where endemic brutality against inmates has led to resignations, arrests, and an imminent federal civil-rights intervention over the past six months. A brush with the American criminal-justice system can be toxic for someone’s socioeconomic and physical health.

I don’t think NYPD intended their slow-down as a challenge to the way American police function, but it’s turning out that way.


In general, the police-and-race issue isn’t going away, no matter how much CNN would prefer to cover another lost airliner. Protests continued in various cities (including New York) on New Years Eve.

One aspect of this story is getting new attention: all the times when police confront armed and disorderly white people and somehow manage to hold their fire long enough to resolve the situation peacefully. This white woman, for example, drove around Chattanooga the day after Christmas, wearing body armor and firing a gun out the window.

Eventually, officers stopped and arrested Shields at Cloverdale Drive and Koblan Drive, near the spot where the shootings occurred and just blocks from her house. She pointed her firearm at an officer, but was taken into custody without incident or injury.

The same day in Post Falls, Idaho, two white guys in a Walmart took BB guns off the shelf and started shooting in the store. “The two suspects were taken into custody without incident.”

Contrast what happened to black males John Crawford (who was killed by police because he was casually carrying a BB gun around a Walmart, threatening no one) and Tamir Rice (a 12-year-old killed by police because they thought he was older and believed his toy gun was real). In each of those cases, video shows police firing fatal shots within seconds of sighting what they thought was a gun.

The all-time champion be-understanding-to-armed-whites police incident happened in Kalamazoo back in May.

Police reports and recordings of a sometimes tense 40-minute encounter with a belligerent, rifle-toting man offers insight into how officers tried to defuse a volatile situation without infringing on his right to openly carry the gun on a city street.

If police had spent 40 minutes — or 40 seconds — talking to Crawford or Rice or worrying about their rights, the situations could have been easily defused.


A essay making a related point appeared Tuesday in The Daily Beast. Goldie Taylor, a black woman, looks at the photo below (from a New York protest) and muses on the question: “What Would Happen If I Got In a White Cop’s Face?

The truth is while I don’t know what she was saying, I do know this: Similar actions by a person of color, specifically a black woman like me, would likely end up with us in jail, in a hospital or who knows—like Eric Garner, on a medical examiner’s table.

I know that I cannot carry a gun in public and neither can my sons, even if it is a toy. If I lay prone on an open highway and point an assault rifle at a federal agent, my next stop would be federal custody or the nearest county morgue. Open carry laws are not meant for me. The rules are different. It’s what it means to be black in this country.


Business as usual at Fox: A local Fox station edited video of a protest so that a chant against “killer cops” became “kill a cop”. When caught, the station apologized for the “error”.

and the relationship between Republicans and racists

New House Majority Whip Steve Scalise has been under fire since a blogger discovered he spoke to a white supremacist group in 2002. In “Will Republicans Ever Have a Sister Souljah Moment?” I center the conversation where I think it belongs: not on whether Scalise or Republicans in general are racists, but whether racists are too big a part of the Republican base for an aspiring politician to offend.

In particular, will Republican candidates ever face the same pressure Democrats do to distance themselves from the more extreme parts of their base? (Digby calls this hippie punching, defined as “how Democrats like to debase the left in order to appeal to so-called Real Americans”.) It seems unimaginable that someday a Scalise might go to a white-supremacist conference and intentionally piss them off (by, say, defending the civil rights of non-whites) in order to establish his centrist cred.


Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar made an excellent point on Meet the Press Sunday. Republicans are rightfully worried that the Scalise flap reinforces the stereotype that Republicans have a racial problem. But the right response isn’t to just denounce racism or David Duke, it’s to use their congressional majority to move on civil rights issues that they claim to support (like fixing the Voting Rights Act), or to just do their jobs (like confirming Loretta Lynch as the new attorney general).

But what I’m more interested in, when always this kind of thing happens, people disown it, they say, “This was wrong,” but what do we do about it?

What are the actions? I’ll give you a few. The Republicans can move along on Loretta Lynch fast. She’s a U.S. attorney. The nominee for attorney general. She’s been vetted before. Get it done in a month. The Justice Department runs the civil rights enforcement in this country. Get the voting rights bill done.

Don’ t just claim you’re for civil rights. Prove it.

and recalling the best of 2014

“TPM is pleased to announce the winners of the Eighth Annual Golden Dukes recognizing the year’s best purveyors of public corruption, outlandish behavior, The Crazy and betrayals of the public trust. The awards are named in honor of former Rep. Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham, who epitomizes the iconic modern scandal.”


Salon re-published its 10 Best Personal Essays 2014: a woman waiting to have an abortion, an American who doesn’t tell anyone about being Muslim, a college guy experimenting with homosexuality, a woman saving sex for marriage, a man remembering his pederast, an ex-addict who fell in love with a death-row inmate and watched him die, a self-described “fat girl” reflecting on romance, a bomb-squad widow meeting the bomber, a card-playing foursome too poor for pop culture, and a mother who briefly left her son alone in the car.


Media Matters’ “Misinformer of the Year” is George Will, who worked hard all year to deserve this honor.


Daily Kos’ John Perr learned 14 things in 2014.


Time‘s 10 most influential photos of the year. I’ll go with this one from Ferguson:


IMDB does its best-of-movies lists. Rolling Stone picks its favorite albums.


You can watch the whole year go by in 4 minutes.


Some stuff that didn’t happen in 2014: crashing stock market, collapsing economy, unemployment stuck at 8%, gas at $5.45 a gallon. That’s what America was supposed to look like by now if we re-elected the horrible President Obama. The same people are still out there predicting things, and being taken seriously.

but I wish more people were talking about …

The new Republican majority in Congress is about to change the rules of the budgeting game. It’s technical and sounds boring, but “dynamic scoring” is actually something ordinary people should care about.

Here’s what it means. When a tax cut is proposed, the Congressional Budget Office “scores” it, to determine how much revenue the government would forgo. Naively, you might think that cutting a tax 10% would cut the revenue it generates by 10%, but actually the revenue drop is usually somewhat less, because fewer people avoid the tax. (Think about cutting the toll on a bridge. You’d collect less per car, but the number of cars crossing the bridge might go up.)

Current CBO techniques allow for that effect. But they don’t allow for an article of faith within conservative circles: that a big tax cut will increase revenue by stimulating the economy. The CBO doesn’t score that way, because there’s little evidence that such an effect really exists, and no reliable model at all about how big it might be. The CBO is trying to make accurate predictions, not affirm conservative ideology.

That’s what Republicans want to change. If they succeed, future CBO projections will show tax cuts making a much smaller hit on the deficit than will actually turn out to be the case. Worse, the change is one-sided: It would model the stimulative effect of tax cuts, but not of increased government spending. As Edward Kleinbard wrote in the NYT:

The Republicans’ interest in dynamic scoring is not the result of a million-economist march on Washington; it comes from political factions convinced that tax cuts are the panacea for all economic ills. They will use dynamic scoring to justify a tax cut that, under conventional scorekeeping, loses revenue.

When revenues do in fact decline and deficits rise, those same proponents will push for steep cuts in government insurance or investment programs, because they will claim that the models demand it. That is what lies inside the Trojan horse of dynamic scoring.


While we’re on economics, Joseph Stiglitz has been talking about inequality in interviews, as well as his book The Price of Inequality (which I haven’t read). He makes a distinction similar to one I’ve sifted before: You can get rich by producing new products that create new jobs, or you can get rich by owning fixed assets whose price goes up. One way grows the economy for everyone, while the other just gets you a bigger slice of the pie.

What’s destructive in the recent bonanza for the 1% is that it’s largely the unproductive kind of wealth creation, which is why the rising tide isn’t lifting all boats. Stiglitz refers to this as “increased exploitation”.

Maybe the least productive way to get rich is to increase your power over some part of the market, which will raise the price of your stock at the expense of your customers, workers, and the general public. Stiglitz notes that “when you look at the top [of the wealth distribution], it’s monopoly power.”

and you also might be interested in …

The New Hampshire Rebellion is doing another winter walk against money in politics from January 11 to January 21, when groups coming from three directions are supposed to converge on Concord. I’m giving serious thought to doing the Nashua-to-Merrimack segment on January 18.


Vox reminds us of the minority-rule provision built into the Constitution: Because big states and small states get the same number of senators, it turns out that the 46 Democratic senators got 20 million more votes than the 54 Republican senators.


After trouncing Jameis Winston’s Florida State Seminoles 59-20 in the Rose Bowl, thus ending FSU’s winning streak and putting the defending champions out of the running for a second consecutive national championship, some Oregon players taunted FSU and Winston in a unique way: They imitated FSU’s native-American-inspired chant, but chanted “No means no”, a reference to the sexual assault charges that Winston wriggled out of. Watch:

Bad sportsmanship? Absolutely; you don’t taunt somebody you’ve just beaten. But this also looks like some kind of tipping point on the public perception of sexual assault.


And while we’re talking about women’s rights:


First Jeb Bush put a toe into the 2016 water, now Mike Huckabee. Huck was the candidate I was most afraid of in the 2012 cycle, because of his ability to sound reasonable while saying outrageous things. But I wonder if he’s missed his window. Now we’ve got years and years of video of him taking far-out-of-the-mainstream positions. They may not hurt him in GOP primaries, but I don’t think they’ll play well in a general election.


Andy Borowitz is brilliant: “Jeb Bush resigns as George W. Bush’s brother.”


Grist points out why anti-abortion folks should love Obamacare: When the larger up-front cost is covered, more women choose less error-prone methods of contraception, and have fewer unwanted pregnancies, hence fewer abortions. That’s all showing up in the statistics: The abortion rate is down, but the birth rate is not up. Fewer women are getting pregnant.

I don’t expect those facts to convince anyone on the Religious Right, for a simple reason: I believe their opposition to abortion isn’t fundamentally about “baby-killing” at all; it’s rooted in opposition to female promiscuity. Doctrines about zygotes having souls are constructed post hoc to justify a position already held; what’s really wrong with abortion is that it stops pregnancy from controlling promiscuity. So for them a plan that reduces abortions but enables female sexuality is a non-starter.

and let’s close with some animal acrobatics

as conjured up by Channel 3 of France.

The Yearly Sift: 2014

Hindsight is always 50-50.

– NFL quarterback Cam Newton

review all the Sift quotes of 2014

look at “The Yearly Sift: 2013

This week everybody was still talking about …

last week’s murder of the NYPD’s Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

Conservatives like Rudy Giuliani blamed the murders on — who else? — President Obama.

We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police.

Since nobody can find any record of Obama saying anything about hating the police, WaPo’s fact checker awarded this claim four Pinocchios. In fact, no one can come up with any record of the leaders of the black-lives-matter protests calling for violence against police — there is no H. Rap Brown “Burn, baby, burn” quote — but somehow it’s their fault. (There was one group at one protest that chanted for “dead cops”, but no one knows who started the chant, no one endorsed it afterwards, and most protesters never even heard it. This incident has been covered in the right-wing media as if it encapsulated the whole anti-police-brutality movement.)

Media Matters collected the various times when right-wing crazies have killed cops, including the time when they draped the Gadsden flag over the bodies. Oddly, Fox and other right-wing media outlets did not hold conservative leaders responsible for this.

If fingers are going to be pointed anywhere other than at the actual shooter this time, I’d point one at the prosecutors who manipulated the grand juries into not indicting policemen for killing Michael Brown and Eric Garner. As any regular Gotham watcher knows, vigilantes rise when the people lose hope of getting justice through the system.

The worst reaction of all was Bill O’Reilly’s: that Mayor Bill de Blasio is the “true villain” of this story, and should “resign today” because he has “lost the respect” of the NYPD. This call was discussed by other Fox News hosts on their own shows as if it were a sane and reasonable proposal.

It’s not. Treating the police as if they were an equal-or-superior branch of government, rather than employees of the city, flies in the face of American principles that go back to the Founders. In third-world countries that are trying to achieve democracy, you worry about whether the elected government can get along with the army. But such notions should never come up in America.

Nobody elected the NYPD. If public employees don’t feel that they can submit in good conscience to the duly elected officials, they should resign. Remember when Scott Walker was having so much trouble with Wisconsin’s teachers? I don’t recall O’Reilly — or anyone — calling on Walker to resign. The teachers who wanted to be rid of Walker had to work through the democratic system by petitioning for his recall. If NYC police want de Blasio out, they also should have to proceed democratically.

Charles Pierce makes a similar point, and connects it to the CIA torture scandal:

It is very simple. If the CIA is insubordinate to the president, whom the country elected, then it is insubordinate to all of us. If the NYPD runs a slow-motion coup against the freely elected mayor of New York, then it is running a slow-motion coup against all the people of New York. … If we render our torturers superior to the political institutions of the government, and if we render the police superior to the civil power of elected officials, then we essentially have empowered independent standing armies to conduct our wars and enforce our laws, and self-government descends into bloody farce.

But let’s get on with reviewing 2014’s Weekly Sifts.

Themes of the Year

Every year I begin the Yearly Sift with the same caveat: I write the Sift week-to-week, without any larger plan to illustrate themes. But inevitably, I see themes when I look back at the end of the year.

Roots of conservatism. Like a lot of liberals, when I listen to conservative speakers, I often feel like I’m hearing something in code. The leaps of logic, the connections they see between events that look unrelated to me, the refusal to see connections that I consider obvious — there’s something behind it all, some frame, some vision, some unconscious attitude, some set of unstated prior assumptions — true or false — that make sense of it all.

This year I spent a lot of time trying to decrypt conservative thought, looking for its historical roots and hidden assumptions. I didn’t set out to be ungenerous, but I doubt many conservatives approved of the ways I described those roots and assumptions.

In the year’s most popular post, “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“, I traced contemporary conservative ideas back to the Confederacy, arguing that the Tea Party is using the tropes and tactics that won Reconstruction for the South and reversed the apparent outcome of the Civil War. That article became necessary because previous articles “Cliven Bundy and the Klan Komplex” and “Rights Are For People Like Us” were too speculative and needed more supporting research.

After the election, I tried to abstract a the worldview from the Republican messages I had been hearing about immigration, Ebola, moral decline, and the general “otherness” of President Obama. In “Republicans have a story to tell. We’re stuck with facts.” I described that story as: America is a city on a hill with barbarians at the gates. I groped towards a liberal equivalent mythology in “Can We Share the World?

A more light-hearted — at least I thought it was light-hearted — look at the conservative worldview was “A Conservative Lexicon With English Translation“, which resulted in so many good suggestions from commenters that I put out a second edition. Commenters on that post said that I should have combined the two into one post, which I have finally done in a page that I hope to update from time to time.

Privilege — the way life works differently for blacks and whites, men and women, rich and poor — has turned into a continuing background theme of the Sift since 2012’s “The Distress of the Privileged“. This May, Time published a privilege-justifying essay by a Princeton freshman, and I responded to him with “Privilege and the Bubble of Flattery“.

Specific varieties of privilege also got my attention. “Not a Tea Party” was the culmination of a race-and-history thread going back to 2012’s “A Short History of White Racism in the Two-Party System“, “Slavery Lasted Until Pearl Harbor“, “Ta-Nehisi Coates Goes There: Reparations“, and “Are You Sure You’re White?“. The most popular post from the first half of the year was “What Should ‘Racism’ Mean?“, a discussion of implicit and unconscious racism, using reactions to the Obamas occupying the White House as examples.

Ferguson and its related issues of race, police violence, and the biases in our legal system became an event-driven theme of its own. The best post in this series was “What Your Fox-Watching Uncle Doesn’t Get About Ferguson“. But (in addition to being discussed in many weekly summaries) Ferguson also figured in “The Ferguson Test“, “Infrastructure, Suburbs, and the Long Descent to Ferguson“, “Five Lessons to Remember as Ferguson Fades into History“, and “This Time Will the Outrage Matter?“.

The Donald Sterling incident brought up just about any kind of privilege you can think of. So of course the conservative media decided he was the victim, which I addressed head-on in “No, Donald Sterling Isn’t the Victim“.

Male privilege also came up, most often in the context of violence against women. After the Isla Vista murders I wrote “#YesAllWomen and the Continuum of Aggression” to explain why men and women viewed the events so differently:

Men look at Elliot Rodger and say, “I would never do something like that.” Women look at his victims and say, “That could totally happen to me.”

That piece later got picked up by UU World magazine. Male entitlement was the focus of my review of Angry White Men. Domestic violence was the subject of “Is Ray Rice’s Video a Game-Changer?

Law. Making sense of important court rulings is a continuing focus of the Sift. Those legal-analysis posts never get really big readership, but I still believe they’re a public service, since the mainstream media does that job so badly.

This year I explained the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, the Schuette decision about affirmative action, and the McCutcheon decision on campaign finance, plus lower-court decisions involving net neutrality and a series of same-sex marriage decisions that I covered throughout the year, and then collected in October’s “Is the Battle for Same-Sex Marriage Nearly Over?” (Not yet; the Supreme Court is going to have to take the case.)

The Books

This year the Sift had fewer book reviews, but more posts that were the result of long reading projects.

“Not a Tea Party” could have used a bibliography, as it rested on Jefferson Davis: American by William J. Cooper, Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery By Another Name (which had gotten its own review in March), Thomas Dixon’s novel The Clansman: a historical romance of the Ku Klux Klan, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, the two Douglas Egerton histories Year of Meteors and The Wars of Reconstruction, W.E.B. DuBois’ Black Reconstruction, and Eric Foner’s Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, and a few other books not specifically named, like Away Down South by James Cobb and John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union by John Niven.

If I rewrote the article today, it would have to include some quotes from R. L. Dabny’s A Defense of Virginia and the South from 1867; I’ll be looking for opportunities to tell you more about that, as I see Dabny’s book as the best existing first-person account of the Confederate worldview. (A teaser: The mistake at the root of the North’s misbegotten abolitionism is social contract theory. Once you start thinking that government depends on the consent of the governed, you’ll end up not just freeing the slaves, but giving them the vote. And women too, God forbid!)

One book review that did get a lot of attention this year was of Michael Kimmel’s Angry White Men.Republicans have a story to tell. We’re stuck with facts.” was at least partially a review of Narrative Politics by Frederick Mayer. Justice John Paul Stevens Six Amendments got reviewed in “Restoring the Constitution is Now a Liberal Issue“.

Two reviews that fit in with the year’s deep-history theme were Aviva Chomsky’s Undocumented: how immigration became illegal, and Daniel Sharfstein’s The Invisible Line, a marvelous biography of three mixed-race American families that (over generations), migrated from black to white.

A mini-review of Meline Toumani’s There Was and Was Not made it into a weekly summary.

The Mosts

Most prescient comment. You may remember that January opened with a polar vortex, provoking the usual round of I’m-cold-so-global-warming-is-a-myth articles. I’m proud of this response on January 13:

Even when 2014 was just a few days old and wind chills were below zero for most of the country, there was a bet you could make that was almost a sure thing. No matter how it started, by its end 2014 will be yet another warm year. And by warm I mean: The global average temperature will wind up well above the 50-year average and the 20-year average.

Final returns aren’t in yet, but 2014 may well be the hottest year on record. If any of your friends believe global warming is a myth, you should offer them the bet that 2015 will be a warm year too — maybe not another record, but clearly above the 20-year average. If instead it’s a cool year (it won’t be) I promise not to sweep that fact under the rug, because belief in global warming is evidence-based, not ideology-based like global-warming denial.

I also feel pretty good about taking a wait-and-see attitude towards the Bridgegate Scandal, which hasn’t delivered Governor Christie the knock-out blow many liberals were hoping for. On February 24, I criticized MSNBC’s saturation coverage, and said:

If you are similarly ignoring MSNBC and/or Bridgegate these days, I’ll let you know when something important happens.

Least prescient comment. As in 2010, I stayed hopeful about Democrats’ prospects in the mid-term elections far longer than I should have. A lot of comments could illustrate this, but I feel worst about something I didn’t say: In June, when I was giving advice about the best Senate candidates to support and where your support would have the most impact, I left out Mark Udall in Colorado, thinking he wasn’t really in that much trouble.

Sorry, Mark. You will be missed.

The best post nobody read. In March, I gave an unfortunate title to “Does Paul Ryan Care About Poverty Now?” I suspect a lot of my regular readers looked at that question, decided the answer was obviously No, and figured they’d already spent enough of their lives reading about Paul Ryan.

I have an excuse: Ryan’s committee had just put out its report, The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later, and it looked like he was laying down a marker that would turn into policy down the road. (I covered the second step down that road in August in “Can Conservatives Solve Poverty?“, which a few more people read. We haven’t heard the last of this.)

But the March article is worth reading because of the way it frames the whole national discussion of poverty, independent of Paul Ryan. Conservatives like to claim that liberals want to give people hand-outs while conservatives want to get them jobs, when in fact everyone would rather see the poor supporting themselves in good jobs. But the get-out-of-poverty-by-working plan might fail for four different reasons — ranging from “there are no jobs” to “I’m too lazy to work” — which I list.

And here’s where it gets interesting: The vast majority of Americans agree about what the government should do for people in each of those four situations. The liberal/conservative debate about poverty in fact revolves around which of those four situations is most common and most deserves our attention.

The numbers

By all measures, the Sift’s readership increased this year, with a significant bump in both occasional and regular readers following August’s “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“.

Last year this section was tricky to write, because I felt like the regular readership was growing, but the most obvious number to measure readers — page views — was down from 240K in 2012 to 215K in 2013. I had to explain that page views are tricky measure of a blog, because so much depends on the irregular timing of a few viral posts. (A little more than half of the blog’s 1 million views since moving to the new format in June, 2011 are for two posts: 342K for “The Distress of the Privileged” from 2012 and 183K for this year’s “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party”.)

So I focused more on stats like these: subscriptions tracked by WordPress went up from 504 to 908, and likes for the Sift’s Facebook page went from 183 to 256.

Well, this year had a viral post, so the numbers require much less explaining. Everything is up: Page views ballooned to 412K (with a few days to go), subscriptions to 2,281 (though I’m not completely sure that number measures the same thing as last year’s number), and Facebook likes to 382. Followers of the Sift’s Twitter feed went from 203 to 342.

I also started getting my wish for a commenting community; in the second half of the year it was a rare post that didn’t draw at least a couple non-spam comments. (In the short term I can be thin-skinned — that’s one reason I sometimes don’t respond promptly — but in the longer view I love comments. Even in cases when I feel a commenter completely misunderstands me, the comment helps me see how I’m being misunderstood.)

Obviously, “Not a Tea Party” was the most-viewed post of the year, followed by “Distress”, which garnered another 36,000 views in its third year. Then came “What Should Racism Mean?” with 32K, followed by 2012’s “A Short History of White Racism in the Two-Party System” (which had a renaissance because of its connection to “Not a Tea Party”) at 12K, “What Your Fox-Watching Uncle Doesn’t Get About Ferguson” at 9K, and “#YesAllWomen and the Continuum of Aggression” and “The Sifted Bookshelf: Angry White Men” at 5.4K each.

A typical weekly summary now gets around 300 views on the blog, plus another 250 or so from subscribers. (I’m not sure how WordPress comes up with that number, but I think it knows whether subscribers open the email it sends them.) A year ago those numbers were more like 200 and 100. A featured post that doesn’t catch a viral wave gets 300-600, plus 250.

Unspeakable Acts

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. … This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever.

– George Orwell “The Principles of Newspeak” (1949)

This week’s featured post is “Newspeaking About Torture“.

Thursday, the Sift had its one millionth page view since I redesigned it and moved it to WordPress in June, 2011. (I have no way of figuring out who the millionth viewer was. If you looked at the blog on Thursday, maybe it was you. Thanks.) More than 400K of those views were this year. More about the numbers next week when I do the retrospective Yearly Sift.

This week everybody was talking about Cuba

After the midterm elections, President Obama entered what I’ve started calling the Aw-Fukkit Phase of his presidency, where he’s going to do things that make sense without worrying about polls or politics: first immigration, then smog.

That trend continued Wednesday, when he went as far to normalize relations with Cuba as he can without an act of Congress. He announced restoration of diplomatic relations, which will lead to the opening of a U.S. embassy in Cuba. Removing Cuba from the official State Department list of countries that sponsor terrorism should follow soon. Talks leading to this agreement apparently were brokered by Pope Francis, who seems to have decided to take “blessed are the peacemakers” seriously.

The economic embargo against Cuba is a law that Congress probably won’t repeal. (But administrative decisions might hollow it out a little.) So no Miami/Havana flights and no Cuban cigars in the Mall of America any time soon. Personally, I’d like to see Major League Baseball create a Latin Division with teams in Havana, San Juan, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Houston, and Miami, but I’m a dreamer.

Embargoes like this can sometimes make sense as an attempt to push a shaky new regime off a cliff. But if that’s going to work at all, it usually works in six months or so, not after half a century.

We have normal relations with nearly all our other Cold War adversaries: Russia, China, Vietnam … basically everybody but North Korea, which (see below) is in a league of its own. The only thing special about Cuba is that a Cuban-refuge lobby has extraordinary political influence. The Cuban embargo is to Florida’s presidential politics what ethanol is to Iowa’s.

A few other things make Cuba special, but they push the other way: Cuba used to be an American colony. It’s only 90 miles away. A lot of Americans have relatives they’d like to visit in Cuba, or would vacation on its sunny beaches if they had the chance.

The arguments against Obama’s move all revolve around what I think is a misguided notion: that the U.S. is the world’s Heather #1, so we’re doing less-cool countries a favor when we talk to them. That view is implicit in Ted Cruz’ characterization of the new relationship as “a very, very bad deal”. We agreed to talk to Cuba and didn’t get enough in return for that “concession”.

In view of the fact that the 1962 Missile Crisis threat never came to fruition, Cuba has never actually done anything to us, except in fantasy movies like Red Dawn. They have more reason to be angry at us than vice versa — not just because of other ancient history like the Bay of Pigs invasion, colonialism, and mucking about in their pre-Castro politics, but the present-day fact that we keep a military base on their territory, where we do dirty work that we don’t want to happen on the mainland.

The Castro government is harsh, but its dismal Freedom House score (6.5 out of 7) is the same as China’s, and still better than ten other countries, including U.S. ally Saudi Arabia and several other places where we have embassies.

If they’re willing to talk to us and trade with us, we should be willing to talk to them and trade with them — unless you think the 55th year of an embargo is likely to accomplish something the previous 54 didn’t.

and Sony/North Korea

Sony’s decision not to release “The Interview”, a Seth Rogan comedy about an attempt to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, is still a mystery to me. Reportedly this costs Sony $100 million, and the threats to attack U.S. theaters that show the movie are the kind of impotent bluster North Korea is famous for.

Officially, the North Korean government is not behind this — the threats come from a hacker group calling itself “Guardians of Peace” — but the FBI says they are. (Other experts disagree.)

If this is a North Korean operation, it’s hard to know how to respond. The country is already subject to so many sanctions that it’s virtually cut off from the rest of the world, and its repressive government might be happy about that. It is plagued by famines, but its hungry people seem unable to revolt. The government constantly raises fear about a U.S. invasion — only the cosmic power of the Great Leader keeps the evil Yankees at bay — so an actual attack on something might also play right into the government’s hands.

A Hollywood insider’s view of this story and how it unfolded comes from George Clooney, who circulated a petition supporting Sony and got little support.

This was a dumb comedy that was about to come out. With the First Amendment, you’re never protecting Jefferson; it’s usually protecting some guy who’s burning a flag or doing something stupid. This is a silly comedy, but the truth is, what it now says about us is a whole lot. We have a responsibility to stand up against this.

No one in Hollywood would stand with Sony, Deadline Hollywood says, because they were “fearful to place themselves in the cross hairs of hackers”. And by releasing embarrassing emails before threatening terrorism, the hackers gave an excuse to those who wanted to chicken out rather than make a united front. Clooney says:

Here’s the brilliant thing they did. You embarrass them first, so that no one gets on [their] side. After the Obama joke, no one was going to get on the side of [Sony Pictures executive] Amy [Pascal], and so suddenly, everyone ran for the hills.

and murdered policemen

Saturday, two Brooklyn policemen were murdered in their patrol car, apparently by an African-American man who came to New York from Baltimore specifically to take revenge on the NYPD for the killing of Eric Garner. The man reportedly had a history of mental illness, and killed himself after killing the officers.

There are two opposite ways to react to horrible events like this. If you identify with the victims, you may react tribally: People like you are threatened by people like him, and your tribe needs to protect itself by lashing out at the other tribe. That was the response of NYPD union chief Patrick Lynch, who blamed the attack not on a lone lunatic, but on the anti-police-brutality demonstrations that started after Garner was choked to death by police while saying “I can’t breathe.”

There’s blood on many hands tonight. Those that incited violence on this street under the guise of protest, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did everyday. We tried to warn it must not go on, it cannot be tolerated. That blood on the hands starts on the steps of city hall in the office of the mayor.

A memo that appeared to come from Lynch (but was later denied) said that NYPD had become a “wartime police department”, and “will act accordingly”.

But it’s also possible to have a universalist response: Having experienced how bad it feels when people like you are killed for no good reason, you want to prevent this experience from happening to anyone else. The murdered cops’ friends and family, Eric Garner’s friends and family, Michael Brown’s friends and family … you don’t have to pick a side. None of them should be going through what they’re going through.


You know how these killings are different that Garner and Brown? So far, the media has shown no interest in combing through the lives of the murdered cops to see whether they “had it coming”. I doubt it would be hard; surely somebody sometime had an unpleasant interaction with one of the cops and would be willing to help the media make a headline out of it. But so far nobody is going for that cheap shot.

Wouldn’t it be great if all victims got this kind of respect?


Before the attack on the policemen, these clueless guys wore “I Can Breathe” shirts, thinking they were making a pro-police statement.

In fact they’re just underlining the point made by the “I Can’t Breathe” shirt (worn here by Lebron James): Of course you can breathe, because you’re white and so police treat you with courtesy. That’s what white privilege means.

You know what would be a powerful demonstration against racism? Pair up white people wearing “I Can Breathe” shirts and black people wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts. Let them march together two-by-two.

and still torture

The neocon line from Bill Kristol and others is that what the CIA did wasn’t “real torture” because “you recover” with “no lasting effects at all”.  This sounds remarkably similar to the way some men minimize rape.

There’s good reason why, in interrogator slang, getting a prisoner to talk is called “breaking” him. A decade after he was seized and tortured by mistake, German citizen Khalid al Masri is still described as “a broken man”.

He’s abandoned his home. He no longer is part of the lives of his wife or children. Friends can’t find him. His attorneys can’t find him. German foreign intelligence will say only that he’s “somewhere in a western-leaning Arab nation.” When his Ulm attorney and confidant Manfred Gnjidic last saw him, he was broke, unkempt, paranoid and completely alone. He’d been arrested twice and sent once to a psychiatric ward, once to jail.

Al-Masri has not even gotten an apology from the CIA, and his lawsuit for damages was thrown out of court because a judge ruled that a trial would necessarily reveal state secrets.

But that’s all no skin off Bill Kristol’s nose. All the trauma in his privileged existence has healed without a scar, so he thinks that’s how life works.


I discussed the larger conservative reaction to the torture report in “Newspeaking About Torture“.

and Jeb Bush

Tuesday, the former Florida governor tweeted:

I am excited to announce I will actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States

He followed up by saying that in January he would establish a leadership PAC to “help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation.”

One of my friends is a self-described “ink-stained wretch” from the Newspaper Era, which happened sometime after the Jurassic. One of his early editors refused to publish articles about press conferences where somebody merely announced he was going to do something, like file a lawsuit, because announcements aren’t news. When the lawsuit actually got filed, that would be news.

Would that politics and political journalism still worked that way. These days, Bush’s announcement that he was going to do something next month to help him actively explore a possible presidential run … he might as well have gone to Concord and filed papers to put his name on the New Hampshire primary ballot. He’s running.

Together with Chris Christie, Jeb is the best hope of the establishment wing of the Republican Party (which still fantasizes about Mitt Romney, because that worked so well last time) to keep the nomination away from the Tea Party. Over the last few cycles, I’ve done better predicting Republican presidential politics than Democratic (maybe because I have more perspective). So I’ll venture this: It won’t work.

Bush will annoy the base more than he’ll inspire the establishment. He’s not anti-Hispanic enough. He’s not distant enough from his brother, who the base worshiped at the time, but now blame for deficits and bail-outs and all the other bad 2008 stuff they don’t want to think about. He supported the common core curriculum reform, one of those black-helicopter issues the base goes crazy over. He’s in no-man’s-land regarding the theocrats: He’s not really one of them like Santorum or Huckabee, but to anti-theocratic libertarians he’s stained by the Terry Schiavo case; don’t think you’ve heard the last of that. And purely on a surface level, he looks too wonkish. He’s the expert who knows what’s good for you, not the voice rising up from the soul of Real America. Nobody would ever look at Jeb Bush and repeat Barry Goldwater’s slogan: “In your heart, you know he’s right.”

Ultimately, I predict, the Tea Party will unite around Ted Cruz — after a Ben Carson boom-and-bust similar to those of Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain in the 2012 cycle — and he’ll just barely lose to a stop-Ted-Cruz candidate not specifically identified with either wing. I’m not sure who that will be, but it won’t be Bush, Romney, or Christie.

The eventual nominee will embody contradictions, the way “compassionate conservative” George W. Bush did in 2000. He’ll be a tough-love candidate — firm but not mean, unbending but not brittle, devout but not a crusader, a man of both the past and future. Like Ronald Reagan, he’ll put a charming face on heartless policies. A folksier Paul Ryan, a sharper Rick Perry, a less belligerent Scott Walker … several contenders could fill that role if they successfully recast their images, like the “New Nixon” of 1968.

and you also might be interested in …

During the invasion of Crimea, the Republican party line was that Putin had completely outmaneuvered Obama. Putin was the kind of swaggering leader conservatives admire. Rudy Giuliani laid it out:

[Putin] makes a decision and he executes it quickly. Then everybody reacts. That is what you call a leader. President Obama, got to think about it, he’s got to go over it again, he’s got to talk to more people about it.

Well, as the ruble collapses and the Russian central bank raises interest rates from 10.5% to 17% in one day, President Putin may wish he had talked to more people before executing his decisions. Paul Krugman outlines exactly what kind of hole Russia has dug for itself, and Rachel Maddow enjoys replaying clips of the Republican man-crush on “what you call a leader”.


Gordon Klingenschmitt is a Colorado state representative who used to be a Navy chaplain. He knows what we should replace ObamaCare with: prayer.

Father in Heaven, we turn away from the idolatry that so many have in their hearts, that they think government is a better healer than Jesus.

Because no true Christian ever gets sick. Everybody knows that.


So police conduct a no-knock nighttime raid on somebody’s house looking for drugs. The people inside only know that someone is breaking in — and there are no drugs in the house, so they have no reason to suspect why — so they shoot and kill one of the officers. What happens?

Well, if you’re white you can take advantage of the Castle Doctrine, which says you have a right to defend your home against what a reasonable person would interpret as an attack. But if you’re black, that may not work.

and let’s close with some Christmas music … sort of

On Black Friday afternoon I was wandering through the central square of Santa Fe. Musicians were scattered about, warming up for performances connected to that evening’s tree lighting. A lone guitarist played a familiar Christmas tune, but not until I got closer could I make out the lyrics he was singing:

Police got my car.
Police got my car.

I suspect that’s not what he sang in the evening, but a YouTube search traced his song back to Cheech and Chong.

Now, whenever the ambient Christmas music starts to become overwhelming, I sing “Police Got My Car” to myself, and I feel better. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always “I Found the Brains of Santa Claus” or Grist’s climate-apocalypse carols.

Legal Bother

If the moral calculation is simply, “Did the ends justify the means?” it’s hard to see why we even bother with laws in the first place.

Chris Hayes (Wednesday)

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

The United Nations Convention Against Torture (1984)

Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner] … I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require … for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.

George Washington (1775)

This week’s featured post is “5 Things to Understand About the Torture Report“. A couple of Sift milestones: I moved the Sift to WordPress and started trying to upgrade it in June, 2011. The WordPress stats inform me that the blog is one recent-average-week away from its 1 millionth page view. Also, the 4,000th comment happened last week.

This week everybody was talking about torture

My comments on the Senate’s torture report are in “5 Things to Understand About the Torture Report“.

But the public debate about the report was also illuminating. By coincidence, the report came out in the middle of a cycle of protests against police violence, emphasizing how quickly conservatives can flip-flop on government power. It’s tyranny to do a background check on gun-buyers. It’s tyranny to make people buy health insurance — a step towards the ultimate tyranny of making them eat broccoli. (My Mom was just like Hitler that way.) But when the agents of government power shoot unarmed black men on the street or torture someone in a secret off-shore prison, that’s just dandy.

One of my Facebook friends brought the proper descriptive term to my attention: herrenvolk democracy. Herrenvolk is the German term that usually gets translated “master race”. So herrenvolk democracy is the belief that democratic principles are wonderful as long as you restrict them to the right people. As in: I have the right to carry a gun in public, but it’s fine if police shoot down John Walker. I have habeas corpus and due process rights, but it’s OK to drive Jose Padilla insane by holding him in sensory deprivation for three years without filing charges.

The ultimate American herrenvolk democracy was the Confederacy, whose flag tea partiers love to wave. It zealously defended the democratic rights of white people, including their right to own black people. In today’s vision of herrenvolk democracy, the “right people” aren’t always so clearly defined as white vs. black. But whenever someone starts talking about “real Americans“, that’s what they mean — not everybody who is technically a citizen, but the much smaller group of Americans who ought to have freedom and a voice in government: the Herrenvolk.

and avoiding another government shutdown — for a price

True to their word, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner didn’t shut down the government again. But they did extract some ransom on behalf of their clients on Wall Street.

The budget deal that passed Saturday night contained a number of what are called “policy riders” — changes in the law that have nothing to do with the spending and taxing a budget is supposed to be about. This is a prime way for Congress to give special interests unpopular favors, by attaching them at the last minute to a bill that has to pass.

Maybe the worst special-interest rider repeals Section 716 of the Dodd-Frank financial reform package that was passed to keep the 2008 financial catastrophe from happening again. The blog Next New Deal has the details:

Section 716 of Dodd-Frank says that institutions that receive federal insurance through FDIC and the Federal Reserve can’t be dealers in the specialized derivatives market. Banks must instead “push out” these dealers into separate subsidiaries with their own capital that don’t benefit from the government backstop.

In other words, Dodd-Frank used to say that banks couldn’t make big, risky bets, keep the profits if they win, and stick taxpayers with the bill if they lose. Congress just repealed that.

Who would draft such a law? Citicorp.

and the University of Virginia rape story

I’m sure Rolling Stone and Sabrina Rubin Erdely meant well. Campus rape is a problem in need of a poster girl, so they provided one: “Jackie” from the University of Virginia, a September freshman who is lured into an upstairs bedroom by her date “Drew”, and then gang-raped in some sort of frat initiation ritual. Her friends discourage her from reporting it. (“She’s gonna be the girl who cried ‘rape,’ and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.”) And when she does get around to telling her story to UVA officials at the end of the year, they seem more interested in protecting the school’s image than in seeing justice done. (“Nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school.”)

That story is the horrifying scaffolding on which Erdely hangs many true and important facts and statistics about campus rape — numbers that by themselves are too lifeless to publish in a glossy magazine, and wouldn’t go viral online like Erdely’s article did. That’s what good stories do: pull dry facts together into something that has emotional punch and demands action.

The problem? The writer and editors didn’t do basic fact-checking on Jackie’s story. When The Washington Post did, a bunch of details didn’t hang together. That started a backlash, in which one slimeball released what he says is Jackie’s real name.

Personally, I still believe the core of Jackie’s story. But Erdely should have known that this is exactly the kind of situation where memories drift: Jackie bottled up her traumatic story for an entire academic year, then got involved with a rape-survivor group that caused her to retell it many times. In such settings, people have a tendency to remember previous tellings of their stories rather than the actual experiences. (My childhood memories aren’t all that traumatic, but I can tell they’ve drifted. Occasionally I remember some event with HD clarity, then realize the room I’m picturing it in wasn’t built yet.)

So in the end, Erdely succeeded in making Jackie a poster girl, but for the bitches-be-lying chorus. Years from now, women who go public with a campus rape will be confronted with “that Virginia girl who made the whole thing up”.

Thanks, Rolling Stone. Journalism in the wrong hands can do a lot of damage.

but let’s talk about books

I just finished reading a new book that could be a good basis for discussion about race and prejudice and privilege: There Was and There Was Not by Meline Toumani.

Toumani is an Armenian-American who was born in Iran. Growing up, her identity as an Armenian is shaped around the genocide of 1915, and Turks are villains of near-mythological status. But as a young adult, she begins to wonder whether this focus on Armenians’ historical victimhood is doing them any good. Eventually she hatches a plan: She will go to Turkey, learn Turkish, and see if there isn’t some way everybody can live together in peace. This leads to one of the best opening lines I’ve ever read:

I had never, not for a moment, imagined Turkey as a physical place.

Her two years in Turkey are a lesson in the complexity of ethnic conflict, which is both more and less tractable than she had imagined. The Turks are not monolithic, and she easily relates to the other ethnic minorities: Kurds, Jews, and even the few remaining Armenians. Among the ethnic Turks, some are nationalistic and anti-Armenian, some are open-minded and egalitarian, and most are basically decent people who have never thought very hard about the slanted history they were taught in school (where Armenians are the villains of 1915 and Turks the victims) or the unfair advantages Turkish society gives them over Kurds, Jews, and Armenians.

The countryside is beautiful, Istanbul is exciting, and the culture has many charms. And yet … Toumani is always a second-class resident. Her Armenian-ness hangs in the background of every social interaction as something to be confessed and explained. (She looks more Turkish than American, but speaks with a foreign accent. Where is she from really?) The Turkish attempt at color-blindness (“We are all Turks”) is more obliterating than accepting. And even when the government preserves bits of Armenian history and culture (Armenia was a regional power from antiquity until around 1000 AD) the ethnic adjective Armenian is replaced by the geographical adjective Anatolian, as if some nameless people had occupied this land before the Seljuk conquest.

She sees another side of prejudice when she attends the pan-Armenian games in Yerevan. When the competitive juices get flowing, the anti-Turkish slurs Armenians have repeated since birth are easily brought out and used against the team from Istanbul, even though they belong to the Armenian diaspora as much as the Parisians and Argentinians do.

Toumani realizes it is time to come home to America when she recognizes her own case of Stockholm Syndrome: She has begun to internalize her second-class status. Immersion in Turk-dominated society is making her yearn for the approval of the ethnic Turks and treat them as the masters.

I can’t read this book through Armenian or Turkish eyes, but as a white American I find it worthwhile precisely because I have no dog in this fight. Issues of bias and historic victimhood and systemic privilege are fraught with guilt, anger and other emotional baggage when Americans try to think about them in our own historic context of black and white. Toumani has given us a rare opportunity to watch similar conflicts play out in a context where we can be more objective.


Daniel Sillman interviews Matthew Avery Sutton, author of the new book American Apocalypse. Sutton re-interprets Evangelical Christianity for us outsiders, and claims we’ve grossly underestimated the importance of believing Jesus is coming back any day now. Oversimplifying just a little: Mainstream Christians are liberals because they’re trying to build the Kingdom of God on Earth. Evangelicals are conservatives because they think the Antichrist is about to take over.

[T]he apocalyptic theology that developed in the 1880s and 1890s led radical evangelicals to the conclusion that all nations are going to concede their power in the End Times to a totalitarian political leader who is going to be the Antichrist. If you believe you’re living in the last days and you believe you’re moving towards that event, you’re going to be very suspicious and skeptical of anything that seems to undermine individual rights and individual liberties, and anything that is going to give more power to the state.

Well, except giving government the power to control reproduction. Maybe the full book explains that.

and you also might be interested in …

The Democrats’ problems with the white working class may make more sense that What’s the Matter With Kansas? would have us believe. Thomas Edsell lays out a simple narrative, which I’ll summarize: A generation ago, the unspoken social contract of the white working class was that they would acquiesce to class oppression if they at least got the benefit of racial oppression. By fighting for racial equality while letting class inequality get worse, Democrats broke that agreement. Now the white worker has to compete with non-whites at home and abroad, but is also under his boss’ thumb even more than in the past.

That sense of victimization comes out as resentment of non-whites, which on the surface makes no sense, because whites still have unfair advantages. But the real root isn’t “Those people have it better!”, it’s “We had a deal!”. The terms of that deal are indefensible (because racism is indefensible), so it can’t be argued in public or even consciously acknowledged. But the resentment is still there.


While I’ve been working on a big mythic vision for liberalism, Mark Bittman is taking more of a bottom-up approach: Can we link together all the movements that are getting people into to the streets? How do we see raising the minimum wage, unionizing Walmart, controlling the police, taking the country back from Wall Street, and fighting climate change as one big movement?


Think Progress published a list of 21 non-white or mentally ill people who have been killed by police under questionable circumstances in 2014.

It’s worthwhile to remember that police don’t have to shoot down even people who are armed and uncooperative … if they’re white.


Whenever there’s an unusual weather-related event, people start asking whether climate change “caused” it. Slate‘s Eric Holthaus explains why that’s a dumb question, with the California drought an example.

I’m a sports fan, so I make sports analogies. In 2001, when he was turning 37 and should have been just about over the hill, Barry Bonds hit a record 73 home runs, having never hit more than 46 homers in a season during his prime. The common explanation is steroids. But still: It makes no sense to look at any one of those 73 homers and ask whether steroids caused it. Barry was a power hitter before the steroid era. Maybe this particular home run is one he would have hit anyway.

Ditto with droughts, hurricanes, and the like. Climate change juices up bad weather events. Without it we’d still have some, but not as many and not as bad. Is this particular event one of the extra ones? Until we establish communication with parallel universes, there’s no way to know.

I only know one exception to that rule: If climate change raises sea level by a foot, then it makes any storm surge a foot higher. If you live near a coast, that may determine whether you get flooded or not.


Chris Mooney explains why the price of oil is crashing: Not so much an increase in supply as a slow build-up of supply followed by an expected decrease in demand. Kevin Drum thinks this is very good news for the economy.

and let’s close with something silly

Insufficient Evidence

There’s never enough evidence to convict a white man of a crime against a Negro.

– Aaron Henry, a black businessman
interviewed in the CBS News report “The Search in Mississippi” (1964)

We have caused a thorough search to be made by the most competent authority in Richmond; and while many indictments are found against black men for rape of white women, none exist, in the history of our jurisprudence, against white men for rape of black women. And this, not because there would have been any difficulty in making the indictment lie: but because, as the most experienced lawyers testify, the crime is unheard of on the part of white men amongst us.

– R. L. Dabny, A Defense of Virginia and the South (1867)

This week’s featured post is “Can We Share the World?

This week everybody was still talking about police killing black people

because it keeps happening with no one called to account. On the heels of the Michael Brown non-indictment, we have the Eric Garner non-indictment and the killings of Tamir Rice and Rumain Brisbon. Unlike the Brown killing, the choke-hold strangling of Garner and the roll-up-with-guns-blazing shooting of Rice were caught on video.

I’m reminded of the effect of television on the Civil Rights movement in the Sixties. The cops and white mobs in Mississippi and Alabama and Arkansas were just doing what they’d been doing for decades. But now the whole country watching from their living rooms. When you watch those video clips today, it’s clear the abusive whites didn’t understand what the TV cameras meant.

Now we’re in the era of ubiquitous video, and cops don’t seem to understand what that means either. You can look at any one case and imagine that there might be some mitigating explanation, some off-camera circumstances you can’t see. But the sheer number of these cases wears a person down. This isn’t just a Lemony-Snicket-style series of unfortunate events. Something is systemically wrong.


The grand jury in the Garner case hasn’t released voluminous records like the Ferguson grand jury did, but the same kind of rigged process I talked about last week seemed to be at work. Grand juries misfire when the prosecutor wants to defend the suspect rather than prosecute, as often happens when police are involved. The biggest flaw in the Garner grand jury process was that the prosecutor didn’t tell the jury about the lightest charge they could have brought: reckless endangerment. So when they gave Officer Pantaleo the benefit of the doubt on various forms of murder, their only remaining option was to let him walk.

President Obama has proposed putting body cameras on police, but clearly that’s only part of the solution. Unlike in Ferguson, we have video in this case, and the cop still doesn’t have to face a trial. In addition to cameras, we also need changes in process: an independent investigation and a special prosecutor when police are suspects. A recent Wisconsin law — passed after police killed the son of a white retired Air Force officer — is a step in the right direction.


Digby underlined a point that unites most of these cases: Police escalated the conflict when they didn’t have to. Michael Brown wasn’t going to flee to Costa Rica. Eric Garner was surrounded by six cops and not endangering any of them. There was no risk in giving Garner a few minutes to grasp that he was going to be arrested one way or the other.

Or check out this video of a traffic stop New Mexico, where luckily no one was killed. The driver obviously handles the situation badly, but at some point the police forget that they’re dealing with a woman and her kids, not Murder Incorporated. By the 12:30 mark the family has barricaded itself inside their van. Two back-up units arrive, guns drawn, and an officer bashes in a passenger window. The panicked Mom then starts driving away — the three police cars having neglected to block that possibility — and the police start shooting.

By contrast, in 2011 German police shot exactly 85 bullets in the line of duty. That’s all year, in the whole country. Seventy years ago, who could have imagined that someday we’d be envying Germany for its police?


Albert Burneko offers the interpretation that “The American Justice System is Not Broken“. Police are supposed to kill young black men from time to time, and they’re supposed to get away with it. That’s how the system functions, not how it malfunctions.


Wonkette wonders tongue-in-cheek why gun-rights advocates aren’t demanding justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford, both of whom were killed by police who mistook their toy guns for real ones. If merely appearing to carry a gun justifies your summary execution, doesn’t that invalidate our Second Amendment rights? If Randy Weaver and David Koresh can be martyrs for the cause, why not Rice and Crawford?

The obvious implication, the dots whose connection Wonkette leaves to the reader, is that the gun-rights movement is for white people. When have you ever heard the NRA respond to a public tragedy by suggesting that black people arm themselves? I mean, wouldn’t Trayvon still be alive if he’d been packing heat?

Maybe, though, there’s another explanation: Gun-rights people could just be applying the color-blind constitutional doctrine of originalism. When the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791, who could have imagined that someday blacks would be citizens and seek to defend themselves with guns? Only through the liberal notion of an evolving Constitution does the black-people-with-guns conundrum arise at all.


While I was researching that point about coverage of the Civil Rights movement, I ran across “The Search in Mississippi” — an hour-long CBS News Special Report hosted by Walter Cronkite and aired on June 25, 1964 about the then-current Mississippi Burning case and Freedom Summer movement. It’s even more fascinating than the movies and documentaries that have been made since.

and jobs

The November jobs report came out, and it was the best one we’ve seen in a long time, fueling hope that the steady-but-uninspiring recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 might finally be picking up steam. It was hardly a Happy-Days-Are-Here-Again report, but it pointed in that direction.

A jobs report is a mass of numbers justified by a lot of statistic wizardry, so it’s always open to interpretation. (If you need to put a downward spin on it, CNBC has one for you. Almost everybody else was more upbeat.) But basically you look for four things:

  • total number of jobs. In November, that number went up by 321,000, the most in a month since January, 2012. A rule of thumb is that 100K new jobs per month just keeps pace with the increase in population. Beyond that, you’re starting to make some headway in employing the unemployed. This number bounces around a lot from month to month, so you want to look at the longer-term trend. USA Today comments on the chart below: “Labor market gains have been consistently strong this year despite a mixed economy, averaging almost 241,000 additional jobs a month, up from 194,000 in 2013. Employers have added at least 200,000 jobs for 10 straight months, the best stretch since the mid-1990s.”
  • unemployment rate. This held steady at 5.8%, a number well below the 10% we saw in 2009 or 7% early last year, but not nearly as good as the 3% at the end of the Clinton administration. At first glance, this lack of improvement contradicts what I just said about employing the unemployed, but one of the first things an improving job market does is inspire discouraged workers to start looking for work again. The official unemployment rate is always well below the number of workers who wish they had jobs; the “extra” 221K jobs took up some of that slack.
  • hours worked. Up slightly, from an average of 34.5 per week per worker to 34.6. Employers don’t like to hire and fire, so when business is bad they’ll cut back hours before they start letting workers go. On the upside, they’ll work their current staff harder before they start hiring new people. So an increase in hours worked is a good sign in two ways: Directly, it puts more money in workers’ pockets. Indirectly, it points to more hiring in the future.
  • wages. Up slightly, from an average of $24.57 per hour to $24.66. Employers don’t raise wages out of the goodness of their hearts, they do it because finding new workers or hanging on to the ones they have is becoming a problem. So an increase in the average wage isn’t just good in itself, it’s a good sign for the job market.

None of those individual numbers really knock your socks off. But we’ve gotten used to ambiguous job reports, where the four big indicators point in different directions, suggesting that whichever one impressed you was just a statistical blip that will even out next month. Not so this month.

and Hillary

I was traveling this week, and as I sat by the gate in airports, I kept hearing CNN speculate about when Hillary Clinton would announce her candidacy. Now that the midterm elections are over, the pundits figure, what’s the hold up?

The logic here is really simple, even if it doesn’t make for exciting TV discussions: The shorter the campaign, the better for Hillary. Why would she want to get the campaign started if nobody is out there campaigning against her?

Think about it: If we all woke up tomorrow morning to discover that there was a national Democratic presidential primary happening, Hillary would win easily, because at the moment nobody else has the name recognition or the organized support to challenge her. Even if it turned out that most Democrats didn’t want her to be the candidate, she’d get maybe 40% and there’d be a bunch of 5% and 10% people. Elizabeth Warren might get 20-25%, but nobody’s sure she even wants the job.

The longer everybody waits to start the campaign, the closer we get to that surprise-election scenario, and the better for Hillary. In general, if you’re the front-runner, only bad things can happen during a campaign: You can screw up, or somebody else can catch fire. Why would you stretch that process out and run a longer gauntlet than you absolutely had to?

So if another Democrat starts actively campaigning against her, Hillary will announce a week or two later. Or if Republican candidates make her the focus of their rhetoric and start driving up her negatives, she may need to get out there to make her own headlines. (On the other hand, if Republicans are out-doing each other in competing for the right-wing-crazy vote, why take the spotlight off them?) Otherwise, she’d be smart to wait until late summer, then do a coronation tour of the early primary states just to show she’s not taking them for granted.


OTOH, I was talking to my favorite 20-something, who verified what Bonnie Kristian was saying in The Week: Young voters are not excited about a 90s-re-run Clinton presidency. Imagining a 1992-ish Clinton/Bush match-up, Kristian says: “If the kids don’t want broccoli, show ‘em how good it looks compared to Brussels sprouts.”

No, I don’t think Clinton would lose the youth vote to Bush or Cruz or Paul — MF20S would vote for her — but turn-out might be a problem.

and religious freedom

The next time you hear someone claim that Christians are persecuted because a baker has to sell a wedding cake to two men, give them some perspective on what oppression really looks like and who the oppressors are. Here’s Pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona:

Turn to Leviticus 20:13, because I actually discovered the cure for AIDS: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.” And that, my friend, is the cure for AIDS. It was right there in the Bible all along — and they’re out spending billions of dollars in research and testing. It’s curable — right there. Because if you executed the homos like God recommends, you wouldn’t have all this AIDS running rampant.

As far as I know, no gay-rights activists are demanding that Christian fundamentalists be put to death. And no, refusing to let Christians carry out Leviticus 20:13 is not a violation of their religious freedom.

With that in mind, though, I read the text of the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, recently passed by the Michigan House and on its way to the Senate. The purpose of the act is “to provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by government.” It defines an “exercise of religion” as “an act or refusal to act, that is substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious belief.”

So refusing to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple is an “expression of religion” rather than an indulgence of bigotry with Biblical cover. But so is stoning gays (or loose women; see Deuteronomy 22:20-21). Fortunately, the law still allows government to restrict such acts if it can prove it has a “compelling interest”. We can only hope judges will decide the Michigan government has a compelling interest in keeping gays and loose women alive.


BTW, some Sunday Pastor Anderson might have his flock turn to David’s lament after the death of Jonathan, in II Samuel 1:26:

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.

If we’re going to read the Bible literally, let’s read it literally. The whole thing.


Atheists also face non-imaginary religious discrimination. An article in yesterday’s NYT discusses the effort to get bans on atheists holding office out of state constitutions. Those provisions have been unenforceable since a 1961 Supreme Court decision, but Todd Stiefel of Openly Secular comments:

If it was on the books that Jews couldn’t hold public office, or that African-Americans or women couldn’t vote, that would be a no-brainer. You’d have politicians falling all over themselves to try to get it repealed. Even if it was still unenforceable, it would still be disgraceful and be removed. So why are we different?


And Muslims face real religious freedom issues: The Kennesaw, Georgia city council refused a Muslim congregation’s request to rent worship space in a strip mall, breaking precedents established for Christian groups. An anti-Muslim protester said: “To me [the mosque] is a threat to my freedom, my liberties, and everything I own.”

and you also might be interested in …

It’s time for that annual assault on my self-image as a cultured, well-read person: The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2014. I’ve read exactly one of the novels (The Magician’s Land) and about a quarter of one of the non-fiction books (The Invisible Bridge). A somewhat less intimidating list is “The 10 Best Books of 2014“, of which I have read none.


Chris Rock has a movie coming out, so he’s been doing interviews, notably in Rolling Stone and with Frank Rich at Vulture. Here’s the money quote from the Rich interview:

When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before. … If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t.

The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

It’s been a heavy week, so let’s close with something cute

like a toddler in a snow suit discovering ice.

Odd Processes

Neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.

Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia

This week’s featured post is “This Time, Will the Outrage Matter?

This week everybody was talking about Ferguson

The grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, provoking protests in several cities. My comment on the situation is in “This Time, Will the Outrage Matter?

Five St. Louis Rams players staged their own protest before Sunday’s game with the Oakland Raiders, raising their hands in the “don’t shoot” position. A St. Louis police group is demanding the team punish the players and issue and apology, which I suspect will not happen.

and oil

OPEC had a meeting to discuss the falling price of oil, and came up with no effective strategy. That led to a further sharp drop to around $70 a barrel. The price had been consistently over $100 for most of the previous three years.

Consumers should benefit from lower gas prices. A number of troublesome oil-exporting countries — Russia and Iran, for example — will lose influence.

and new smog regulations

The day before Thanksgiving, the EPA announced tighter regulations on smog. The old rules limited ozone to 75 parts per billion; the proposed new limit is between 65 and 70.

The main thing you need to know about this is that it’s long overdue. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review this standard every five years. During the Bush administration, EPA scientists determined that the limit should fall from 84 ppb to around 60 or 70. But the Bush political appointees over-ruled the scientists and set the bar at 75, for no obvious reason.

The Obama administration has been balking at change ever since it took office, but the new post-election what-the-hell Obama is finally pulling the trigger.

To understand why it was balking, just look at the news coverage of the announcement, as Dave Roberts does. It focuses almost entirely on industry claims about the cost of implementing the new regulations, and not at all on the benefits, such as lives saved.

But even economically, good regulations don’t cost money, they save money. The EPA estimates that the health effects alone will save in the neighborhood of $10 billion a year for a 70 ppb standard, and $25 billion or so for a 65 ppb standard.

As for the fossil-fuel industry’s claims that the regulations will wreck the economy, they’ve cried wolf before. Roberts provides this graph:

As for the media coverage, Roberts comments:

In the odd world of political media, these two kinds of groups — one advocating for the profits of a particular business sector, one advocating for public health — are considered equivalent, mirror images. If anything, “business groups” are treated as champions of the economy, and thus all Americans, while public health groups are treated as a “special interest.”

It’s that weird inversion that makes it seem perfectly normal to begin a story about a new advance in public health with accusations from the regulated industry (and its congressional champions) about how much it’s going to cost.

and you also might be interested in …

At Thanksgiving dinner, your conservative uncle may have related Rush Limbaugh’s account of the First Thanksgiving: that it celebrated the Pilgrims’ new surplus from abandoning collective farming and embracing free enterprise. If you suspected this story was not really true, you were right.


I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that police in Pontiac, Michigan are on the job: In this video, a policeman confronts a black man who has been frightening local residents by walking with his hands in his pockets — in Michigan in November. To his credit, the policeman is polite while he carries out this ridiculous assignment and meets with considerable exasperation from the chilly walker.


Ray Rice, last seen decking his wife in an elevator, has been re-instated to play in the NFL. It’s still unknown whether any team will sign him, though ESPN reports that four teams are interested.


An exercise intended to teach grade school students about privilege went viral on BuzzFeed, getting 4.5 million hits. But Quartz’ Jeff Yang thinks the lesson may have missed a few things.

and let’s close with a new Christmas song

The a cappella group Straight No Chaser has been a good source of new Christmas music for several years now. Here, they combine with actress Kristen Bell (a.k.a. Veronica Mars) in “Text Me Merry Christmas“.

Strangers

You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:34

This week’s featured post is “One-and-a-Half Cheers for Executive Action”.

This week everybody was talking about President Obama’s immigration move

The weirdest immigration conversation you’re going to hear was on Kris Kobach’s radio show. A caller suggested that when Hispanics become the majority in parts of America, they might do an ethnic cleansing on the whites. And Kobach took it seriously:

What protects us in America from any kind of ethnic cleansing is the rule of law, of course. And the rule of law used to be unassailable, used to be taken for granted in America. And now, of course, we have a president who disregards the law when it suits his interests. So, while I normally would answer that by saying, ‘Steve, of course we have the rule of law, that could never happen in America,’ I wonder what could happen. I still don’t think it’s going to happen in America, but I have to admit, things are strange and they are happening.

I wonder when Kobach thought the rule of law in America was “unassailable”. For non-whites, the rule of law has always been shaky and still is, as the families of Michael Brown and John Crawford can tell you.

Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post for some reason thinks that portraying Obama as the Statue of Liberty is an attack.

Senator Tom Coburn warned, “you could see instances of anarchy. … You could see violence.” It’s funny: When right-wingers don’t get what they want, any subsequent violence is the fault of the people who didn’t give them what they want. The same principle does not apply in, say, Ferguson.

Here’s what’s most dangerous about the Republicans’ over-the-top wolf-crying about “disregarding the law” and so forth: What if the next president actually does disregard the law and start making decrees? If rhetoric has already been turned up to 11 over something like this, any objections then will just sound like more rhetoric.


TPM elaborates on a point I’ve been making here: “No, Your Ancestors Didn’t Come Here Legally“.

Prior to 1875’s Page Act and 1882’s Chinese Exclusion Act, there were no national immigration laws. None.

My ancestors came to America anarchically, or pre-legally. But no, they didn’t follow the law, because there was no law.

and Bill Cosby

I’ve mostly ignored the Bill Cosby controversy, because fundamentally it’s a celebrity story. Rape is wrong; rapists should be punished; and the fact that the accusations are about Bill Cosby doesn’t interest me that much. AlterNet’s Amanda Marcotte, though, raised a question that does interest me: Similar accusations from a number of women have been out there for years, so why is the story only getting traction now?

Her theory, which I would like to believe, is that society is losing its acceptance of the kind of rape Cosby is accused of: acquaintance rape via drugs rather than violence.

A major obstacle in changing attitudes about rape is there are literally decades of cultural endorsement of the idea that sex is a matter of a man getting one over on a woman, and therefore it’s okay to have sex with unwilling women using trickery, bullying or intoxicants. … But now another conversation is happening: People are beginning to key into the fact that it’s not normal to want sex with someone who is laying there like a dead fish, crying, or otherwise giving in because she fears she isn’t getting out of this situation safely otherwise. In fact, that behavior is not funny or cool, but sad at best, and usually downright violent and predatory. A man who bullies an unwilling woman into bed isn’t “scoring” but a real creep.

There’s more to her argument, and it’s well worth your time.

Another Cosby story I found worthwhile was Ta-Nehisi Coates’ account of why he, as a journalist, wrote a story about Cosby years ago without mentioning the rape accusations, even though he believed them.

I don’t have many writing regrets. But this is one of them. I regret not saying what I thought of the accusations, and then pursuing those thoughts. I regret it because the lack of pursuit puts me in league with people who either looked away, or did not look hard enough. I take it as a personal admonition to always go there, to never flinch, to never look away.

and snow

The southern edge of Buffalo got an incredible six feet of snow in one storm. This time-lapse video taken from a downtown office building shows the amazing quality of lake-effect snow: There is a wall of snow on one side of an apparently arbitrary line, and little-to-no snow on the other side.

The photos are ridiculous, like this one:

Don’t go out there.

and you also might be interested in …

Another Benghazi report clears the administration of wrong-doing. This one comes from the House Intelligence Committee, which has a Republican majority. Will this finally be the end of it? Lindsey Graham says no.


A meaty article from 2012 that a friend pointed out to me this week. Thinking of social class in America as a ladder creates some illusions, because not everybody is climbing the same ladder. Michael O. Church describes three separate social ladders, and the relationships between them.


Australian TV-morning-news anchor Karl Stefanovic got sick of all the criticism his female co-anchor got for her appearance, so he ran an experiment: Every day for a year, he did the show wearing the same suit, changing only his shirt and tie. No viewers complained or even appeared to notice. He says:

I’m judged on my interviews, my appalling sense of humor — on how I do my job, basically. Whereas women are quite often judged on what they’re wearing or how their hair is.


I’ll bet a Kindle wouldn’t do this: After Thursday’s shooting incident at Florida State, a student found a bullet in his backpack, in the middle of some books he’d just checked out of the library.


Sunday Cleveland police shot dead a 12-year-old who had an air gun. Needless to say, the kid was black.

and let’s close with something cute

As video cameras got smaller, at some point a squirrel was bound to steal one and run up a tree with it.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,451 other followers