Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Imperfections

While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

— Justice John Paul Stevens,
dissenting opinion in Citizens United (2010)

This week’s featured post is “Say — you want a revolution?

This week I finally decided to vote for Bernie

You’ve seen me wrestle with this the last two weeks. On most issues, I agree with Bernie more than Hillary. But I also think the difference between the two is tiny compared to the difference between any Democratic candidate and any Republican candidate. (We can, for example, argue about whether Bernie’s ideas for breaking up the big banks are better or worse than Clinton’s plans to strengthen the Dodd-Frank regulations of Wall Street. But Republican candidates want to repeal Dodd-Frank, and go back to the system we had in 2008.) And I believe Clinton is the stronger general-election candidate for a number of reasons.

But for me the decisive factor comes back to what I wrote when I covered Sanders’ announcement statement back in May:

I think it’s way too early to make the unite-behind-a-winner argument. There has to be some point in the electoral process where people express their consciences and vote their ideals. Otherwise, the horse-race mentality becomes self-stoking: People won’t support a candidate they agree with because he can’t win, and he can’t win because the people who agree with him won’t support him.

It’s still too early. I want everyone to know that there is substantial support for more radical solutions than we’ve been offered in past election cycles. I want Clinton to know that if she’s the nominee in the fall. I want the media to know that, so they won’t take seriously Republican claims that Hillary is some kind of left-wing extremist, or that her positions are as far left as public discussion ever needs to go. I want the next set of Democratic presidential candidates to know that, so liberals will be emboldened to run and moderates will take their left flank into account.

My decision was made easier by Hillary’s narrow win in Iowa (which was not decided by coin flips — how do these things get started?). If she had suffered a surprising loss, especially a large loss, then another large loss in New Hampshire (which the polls are predicting) might send her campaign into a death spiral. I wouldn’t want to feel responsible for that.

As for those of you who vote later in the process, I don’t think my decision tells you much. I think pragmatism should be an increasingly important factor as the campaign goes on. Which way that pushes you and how that weighs against your idealism is something we all have to decide for ourselves.

but I wasn’t the only Democrat talking politics this week

The one thing that makes me nostalgic for the days when Hillary was supposed to coast to the nomination is the level of Democrat-on-Democrat belligerence I’m seeing. Given the people I hang with, I’m seeing it mostly as attacks on Hillary by Bernie supporters, but I’m told it goes both ways.

If I had the power to make a rule for the rest of the Democratic nomination process it would be this: Don’t repeat Republican rhetoric.

So Sanders supporters should not be gleefully finishing the character assassination that Richard Mellon Scaife’s right-wing Arkansas Project started against the Clintons in the 1990s. If you don’t trust Hillary, fine. But recognize that the Hillary-can’t-be-trusted meme dates back to a series of crap scandals that fell apart when their details came out, which nonetheless have left a grungy film on her image. (In last week’s episode of the TV show Billions, a lawyer explains the ineffectiveness of refuting a false charge after it makes headlines: “If someone says Charlie fucked a goat, even if the goat denies it, he goes to the grave as Charlie the Goat Fucker.”) If you refer vaguely to that untrustworthy image, rather than to specific Clinton statements you have specific reasons not to believe, you’re making use of Scaife’s propaganda.

The emails, BTW, are just the latest crap scandal. Last week I wondered whether similar security violations would show up in the emails of past secretaries of state, if anybody examined them through the same magnifying glass. Apparently, somebody else wondered that too, and it turns out they do.


Similarly, it’s fine for Clinton supporters to wish for more details about how Sanders would pay for his programs. But the notion that they can’t be paid for buys into the taxes-are-already-as-high-as-they-could-possibly-go message that Republicans have been trying to convince of us for decades.

Likewise, any kind of red-baiting should be off the table: Sanders’ policies are what they are and if  you want to criticize them on their merits, fine. But criticizing them because you have managed to attach a socialist or communist label to them … leave that to the Republicans. And if his defense policies don’t seem muscular enough for you, that’s a legitimate thing to discuss. But don’t imply that Sanders is somehow disloyal or doesn’t want to defend America. That’s Ted Cruz rhetoric.


I’m similarly disturbed by the Hillary-is-a-warmonger charge that gets thrown around. (That’s not Republican rhetoric, but the more it catches on, the harder it’s going to be to unite Democrats in the fall.) Admittedly, there is a policy difference between Hillary and Bernie: Hillary is likely to spend more on defense than Bernie, and to use American power more forcefully. And it’s worth taking into account that Hillary voted to authorize the Iraq War while Bernie opposed it.

But if you listen to the speech she gave in 2002 during the Senate debate on the authorization resolution, it’s not a rah-rah war speech.

This course if fraught with danger. … If we were to attack Iraq now, alone or with few allies, it would set a precedent that would come back to haunt us. In recent days, Russia has talked of an invasion of Georgia to attack Chechen rebels, India has mentioned the possibility of a preemptive strike on Pakistan, and what if China were to perceive a threat from Taiwan?

So, Mr. President, for all its appeal, a unilateral attack (while it cannot be ruled out) on the present facts is not a good option.

She supports the resolution in order to give President Bush all possible tools to pressure Saddam Hussein into compliance with UN inspections. So her 2002 position reflects the same approach to conflict that as Secretary of State she initiated (and Secretary Kerry completed) with regard to Iran: increasing pressure of all sorts to get the desired outcome without fighting. “I take the President at his word,” she says — that word being that Bush would do everything possible to disarm Saddam without war. That was her mistake.

Also, look at her husband’s administration: We didn’t fight a major land war during those eight years. (As The Onion put it after Bush replaced Clinton: “Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over.”) Bombing was part of a ring-of-pressure that ended Serbia’s genocide against Bosnia and Kosovo, and forced the fall (and eventual war-crimes trial) of President Milosevic without a U.S. invasion. Actually, Bill Clinton’s most suspect military decision was the war he didn’t fight: He didn’t try to stop the Rwandan genocide.

So is a vote for Clinton a vote for war? I really don’t think so.

and New Hampshire is inundated with politicians

The Onion reports: “Plows Working Around Clock To Keep New Hampshire Roads Clear Of Campaign Signs”. It’s a joke, but that’s really what it feels like. I’m ready to unplug my phone.

Blogger Chuck Fager reflects on what the great New Hampshire poet Robert Frost might have said about all this.

Polls are predicting a large Sanders win in New Hampshire. But after that things really get interesting. So far, Sanders hasn’t shown much support from non-whites, who aren’t much of a factor in either Iowa or New Hampshire. But Hispanics are a large percentage of the Democrats in Nevada (caucus February 20) and blacks are the majority among Democrats in South Carolina (February 27 primary).

Even though those states currently look good for Clinton, it’s not unreasonable to expect Sanders to start picking up non-white support. Blacks were slow to warm to Barack Obama’s candidacy in 2008, but they did eventually come through for him. Sanders has already been endorsed by a few prominent blacks like Ben Jealous and Cornell West. Bill Clinton’s role in creating the mass-incarceration problem might start working against Hillary, even though her current positions on the issue are pretty good.

For what my opinion is worth — after all, I’m a white guy with a mostly white circle of friends, and so far I’ve refused to put my black and Hispanic acquaintances on the spot to represent their people — I suspect that belonging to an discriminated-against minority tends to make a voter cautious. Feeling like you have the freedom to fall in love with an idealistic-but-impractical candidate might be a symptom of privilege, comparable to a college student majoring in art history rather than business or engineering. If that’s the case, then Bernie can hope for a snowball effect with non-white voters: The more support he gets, the more viable he looks to people who will only support a viable candidate.

Or maybe the snowball will melt in Nevada and South Carolina, as snowballs tend to do.


As for the Republicans, Trump is expected to win, but beyond that things are unpredictable. As I predicted last week, the media decided that Rubio’s third-place finish in Iowa gave him momentum. But he had a truly embarrassing debate Saturday night, suffering mostly at the hands of Chris Christie, who was supposed to be fading. Some polls have John Kasich gaining.


A neurologist takes a whack at explaining why Ted Cruz creeps people out. He has “atypical” facial expressions: “Senator Cruz’s countenance doesn’t shift the way I expect typical faces to move.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s insincere or psychopathic, but if watching him just makes you feel uneasy, that’s probably why. Tech-savvy people have joked that Cruz falls into the “uncanny valley” — that region of animation where human characters are accurate enough to seem like they ought to be human, but instead are just unnerving.

but there are advantages

So many important political people show up in New Hampshire just before the primary that you can have some really interesting encounters. (On election night in 2008, for example, I realized that the guy standing behind me at the bar was Senator Durbin.)

Last weekend, the local get-money-out-of-politics group, NH Rebellion, held a conference in Manchester. Both Hillary and Bernie were there, along with Kasich. (Trump was on the schedule, but I never heard whether he showed up or what he said.)

Somehow, maybe because hardly anybody else who got the email realized what a unique opportunity it was, or were just distracted by all their other opportunities, I wound at a table in a coffee shop with Rep. John Sarbanes, my own congressional representative (Annie Kuster), and half a dozen other people. Sarbanes — if the name rings a bell, you might be remembering his father the senator — is the guy in Congress leading the fight for the Government By the People Act, which is a way to do public financing of campaigns without a constitutional amendment and without running afoul of the Supreme Court. (It reflects a lot of the ideas Lawrence Lessig has been pushing.)

I’ll be talking about the merits of that proposal in future weeks, but for now I just want you to bookmark John Sarbanes, because he looks a lot like a future presidential candidate. He’s handsome, personable, smart, and relates well to small groups. He’s also on the right side of a major issue, and got there early.

One of the things Sarbannes described over coffee was how he’s been getting more congresspeople to talk about campaign finance reform (which the conventional wisdom has said for years that voters don’t care about; it’s an inside-baseball topic). He says he tells his colleagues not to talk about campaign finance instead of their usual issues, but to use it to “caffeinate” their usual issues: Instead of saying “we need to do something about climate change”, say “we need to do something about climate change and what’s stopping us is all the special-interest money lined up on the other side“. [The quotes are approximate; I wasn’t taking notes.]

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A federal grand jury has indicted 16 people in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation. LaVoy Finicum, the only occupier who has died, is being hailed as a martyr by the kind of people who need that to be true. Cartoonist Matt Bohrs points out the difference between Finicum and the various young black men who have been gunned down by the authorities.

and let’s close with some north-of-the-border mischief

The Bank of Canada wants local Star Trek fans to stop Spocking their fives.

Eyes and Feet

Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground.

Theodore Roosevelt (1904)

This week’s featured post is “Undecided With 8 Days To Go“.

This week everybody was talking about the presidential race

The Iowa Caucuses start this evening. Most recent polls show a close race with a small advantage to Clinton. But Iowa has such a weird process that polling often gets it wrong.

On the Republican side, polls show that Cruz peaked about three weeks ago, and that Trump has regained a medium-sized lead, even though his numbers have been falling too for the last week. But since he never developed a ground game, nobody can say how many Trump supporters will get to the caucuses and stay long enough to make their votes count. Cruz is still running second, but fading. Rubio is third and rising, so it’s not impossible that he could finish second, or even first if Trump’s voters don’t show up.

Tomorrow, I expect the media to be saying that Rubio’s showing was the most surprising, and that he has momentum going into New Hampshire. But I don’t think I’ll be buying that interpretation if he doesn’t actually win. I think Obama/Clinton in 2008 showed that there is no “momentum”. Only votes and delegates are real.


Friday morning I tried to see Donald Trump in Nashua, but it turns out that having a ticket and being 45 minutes early wasn’t good enough; I was third in line when they announced that the room had reached its fire-safety capacity. Hundreds of people were still in line behind me, so I’m not sure what the point of having a ticket was.

But most of what I wanted to do was observe the crowd, so I got to do a little of that while standing in line. Everybody I saw was white, which isn’t that big a surprise in New Hampshire. Men outnumbered women, maybe three to one. Nobody was wearing or saying anything overtly racist or anti-Muslim. People didn’t bring signs and I didn’t see any protesters. We didn’t chant slogans or get rowdy. For a group of supposedly angry voters, we were all surprisingly docile as we waited in the sort-of-cold until we were told to go home.

The guys in front of me hadn’t definitely committed to Trump yet, but they thought Cruz had looked bad in the previous night’s debate, the one Trump boycotted. They agreed that Hillary Clinton has “no chance” and speculated about whether she’d be indicted for the email thing. They were sure she deserved to be indicted, but disagreed about whether Obama would allow it.


Speaking of Cruz, I loved Josh Marshall’s take on why he looked bad in the debate. (Josh was in Cruz’ residential college at Princeton, but in 2013 claimed not to recall him until his wife jogged his memory.)

My general sense is that it wasn’t that Cruz got attacked or that the attacks on him did any particular damage. It was that the spotlight was inherently bad for him. … This whole portion of the debate – which lasted for maybe the first 45 minutes or so – had the feeling of walking into a conversation at a party that’s just very awkward and uncomfortable – because it’s Ted Cruz holding court and pontificating. And you want to leave. Again, it’s not that the attacks were particularly biting or damaging. It’s just that you saw Cruz up close. And he’s not pleasant to be around.


I also don’t think Trump’s event competing with the debate did him any good. (I can’t imagine it playing well in Iowa when Trump called another rich New York developer up to the stage with his young trophy wife. I suspect Trump’s own marriage is not something middle-aged Iowa housewives want to dwell on too long.) So Trump and Cruz both looking bad recently is another reason Rubio could do better than expected.


We now have Trump’s plan for replacing ObamaCare: “We’ll work something out” with the doctors and hospitals, he says. I don’t know why no one had thought of that before.


A questioner told Ted Cruz about his brother-in-law, who didn’t have health insurance until ObamaCare, but started seeing a doctor too late and died of cancer. “What are you going to replace [ObamaCare] with?” he asked.

Cruz responded like this:

there are millions who had health insurance, who liked their health insurance and who had it cancelled because of Obamacare … millions are losing their insurance now and if we allow people to purchase across state lines, it will drive down the cost where they can afford it and get it earlier. [Your brother-in-law] would have gotten [health insurance] earlier if he could have afforded it earlier, but because of government regulations he couldn’t.

It’s worth pointing out that the regulation that raises costs the most is the government’s perverse insistence that health insurance actually cover you if you get sick. Policies that include ways for the insurance company to weasel out of covering sick people can be amazingly cheap. And if you never get sick, you never know.

and Flint

Exposé news stories have a stereotypical trajectory: There’s a problem that officials are sweeping under the rug, but journalists or whistleblowers uncover it. And then things get taken care of. The problem is fixed, victims get the help they need (better late than never), and the irresponsible officials are disgraced. Happy ending.

That doesn’t seem to be happening in Flint. The first part — problem, rug, uncovering — follows the script. And while Governor Rick Snyder hasn’t been forced to resign (yet), some lower-level people have, and I think Snyder’s political career is pretty much over. But the problem is a long way from fixed.

Here’s the gist: The emergency manager Snyder appointed to run Flint, supplanting the elected government,  decided to change the city’s water source. Rather than buy Lake Huron water from Detroit, they’d pump it out of the Flint River. Lots of towns use river water and it’s not a big deal, but you need to account for the fact that river water can be more corrosive. If you don’t treat the water somehow, it can leach lead out of pipes and slowly poison the people who drink it. (Flint’s water mains are iron, but many of the pipes that connect houses to the mains are lead.)

So now Flint is back to using Detroit’s water, and the long-term plan to have its own pipeline to Lake Huron is on track for completion in June. But that hasn’t solved the problem, because the lead didn’t come from the river, it came from the pipes. A lot of faucets in a lot of homes still have elevated lead — some many times higher than the recommended filters can handle — and nobody knows how long that will continue.

The sure solution is to find all the lead pipes and replace them, but that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, which nobody is volunteering to pay. But waiting for the lead levels to come down on their own — drinking, cooking, and bathing with bottled water in the meantime — gets old in a hurry.

And then there are the long-term effects of lead exposure on children’s brains. Is the state going to take responsibility for that? How?

In the background of this whole story are issues of race and class. Flint is poor and mostly black. Poverty is why the city was in the financial trouble that got an emergency manager appointed in the first place. And whether the suffering of poor blacks registers with state officials the way wealthier white suffering would, well …

Wednesday, Rachel Maddow devoted her whole show to a townhall meeting in Flint, talking to local residents and various experts on water and plumbing and lead poisoning. That series of videos starts here.

and the arrest of Ammon Bundy

Tuesday night, the authorities finally did something about the militia occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. The leaders of the occupation were arrested on their way to a community meeting set up by supporters in the nearby town of John Day. Unofficial spokesman Lavoy Finicum was killed.

Supporters have tried to make a martyr out of Finicum and claim that the government intentionally murdered him, but the FBI eventually released aerial video of the confrontation: Finicum’s truck stops for several minutes on the highway as police cars flash their lights behind it. Then the truck races forward until it gets to a police roadblock. At that point it tries to drive around the roadblock and gets stuck in the snow. Finicum gets out of the truck with his hands up (his passengers stay inside), but doesn’t appear to be surrendering as he sidles further off the road, away from police. When he reaches into his coat he gets shot. Police claim they found a handgun in his coat.

Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan are among the arrested. They have been charged with a felony that seems designed for this situation (actually it was designed for Confederates seizing federal outposts in the Civil War): conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats.

A handful of holdouts (maybe five) are still occupying the refuge. Like Bundy, they seem to grossly overestimate their negotiating position: They want to leave without charges, or maybe to be guaranteed a pardon. But the FBI is only interested in talking about how they’re going to surrender. The authorities seem to be tightening up a little more all the time; they’ve now cut off internet and cellphone access.

Bundy, meanwhile, has asked the remaining occupiers to go home, possibly because the judge in Portland can’t see offering him bail while there’s an armed camp he could try to run to.

This fight is ours for now in the courts. Please go home. Being in the system, we are going to take this opportunity to answer the questions on Art. 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the United States Constitution regarding rights of statehood and the limits on federal property ownership.

Once again, he’s picturing himself as a sovereign citizen meeting the government on equal terms. But I predict his trial will concern the crimes the government has charged him with, not the crimes he charges the government with. (Regarding “the limits of federal property ownership”, I suspect that the State of Oregon might have standing to pursue this in a different court, but Bundy himself does not, and it certainly isn’t relevant here. Even in the appropriate venue, I think Oregon would lose that case.)

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Once again, headlines indicate that something maybe-sorta might come of the Clinton emails. But Dianne Feinstein still doesn’t think so.

The latest revelations that Secretary Clinton’s emails include classified information lack the same key information as previous reports. First, the 22 emails the State Department has labeled classified are part of seven separate back-and-forth email chains, and none of those emails chains originated with Secretary Clinton.

So: Seven times during her Secretary of State years, somebody sent her an email containing information that wasn’t marked classified at the time, but in hindsight should have been.

Reuters claims the info was “foreign government information”

The U.S. government defines this as any information, written or spoken, provided in confidence to U.S. officials by their foreign counterparts.

I wish we had a control on this experiment: If we looked at all the emails of some other State or Defense secretary chosen at random, how many similar examples would we find?


The best thing since President Bush’s “Is our children learning?


This white giraffe ought to be the center of a cult.
null

and let’s close with something timeless

It’s amazing how well the climactic speech of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” stands up after 75 years.

Expectations

Keep a light, hopeful heart. But ­expect the worst.

— Joyce Carol Oates

This week’s featured post is “Smearing Bernie, a preview“. When the right-wing media starts painting Bernie red, will the charge stick? Will it throw him off his game?

This week everybody was talking about the weather

To me, the remarkable thing about Winter Storm Jonas — other than the fact that New Hampshire was fine place to sit it out — was how far in advance it was forecast, and how closely it matched those forecasts. Days before the storm hit, I knew it was coming and that the worst of it would be just west of Baltimore. I didn’t expect 30 inches of snow at JFK Airport, but otherwise the meteorologists did pretty well.

and the Republican campaign starting to turn nasty

To be fair, if you are Hispanic or Muslim or female or gay, the Republican campaign has been nasty all along. But lately the candidates have started being nasty to each other.

Donald Trump actually used the word nasty to describe his closest rival, Ted Cruz.

He’s a nasty guy. Nobody likes him. Nobody in Congress likes him. Nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him. He’s a very –- he’s got an edge that’s not good. You can’t make deals with people like that and it’s not a good thing.

Former Republican nominee Bob Dole agreed:

I don’t know how he’s going to deal with Congress. Nobody likes him.

That’s an unusual thing to say about a sitting senator. The Senate has clubby aspect to it, and you can always find people in the opposing party to say (of somebody like Joe Biden or Orrin Hatch) “I disagree with him, but he’s a good guy.” In Cruz’ case, it’s a challenge to find a senator in his own party who will tell you he’s a good guy.

And Cruz’ college roommate won’t either:

Ted Cruz is a nightmare of a human being. I have plenty of problems with his politics, but truthfully his personality is so awful that 99 percent of why I hate him is just his personality. If he agreed with me on every issue, I would hate him only one percent less.

So something odd is happening: For months, everyone has been predicting that the GOP establishment would unite against Trump. But if Cruz is the alternative, they’d rather unite against Cruz.


The NYT reform-conservative columnist Ross Douthat explains “The Way to Stop Trump“. Abstract arguments about his personality or his unfaithfulness to conservative orthodoxy or his ignorance of important issues don’t seem to shake Trump’s supporters. But Trump’s business success has left a trail of victims, many of whom are the white working-class “regular guys” Trump appeals to. Put them on camera, Douthat advises, and get people to empathize with them. Joe Sixpack types who cheer when Trump is nasty to Hispanics and Muslims might have second thoughts if they saw him being nasty to people like them. (Who’s the loser now, chump?)

Tell people that he isn’t the incredible self-made genius that he plays on TV. Tell them about all the money he inherited from his daddy. Tell them about the bailouts that saved him from ruin. Tell them about all his cratered companies. Then find people who suffered from those fiascos — workers laid off following his bankruptcies, homeowners who bought through Trump Mortgage, people who ponied up for sham degrees from Trump University.

But Douthat doesn’t seem to realize that there’s a reason Trump’s Republican rivals have been reluctant to go there: Empathy is a liberal emotion. Conservatives see empathy as weakness. (President Obama was ridiculed when he cited empathy as a reason for nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. “President Obama clearly believes that you measure up to his empathy standard,” Senator Grassley said during her confirmation hearing. “That worries me.”)

Conversely, Republicans glorify strong leaders who can “make the tough decisions”. Those decisions are “tough”, not because they require personal risk or sacrifice, but because they require heartlessness: who to fire, whose benefits to cut, who to torture, how many innocent-bystander deaths are acceptable collateral damage, and so on.

One prior assumption of the Fox News Fantasy World is that conservative policies have no victims; anyone who gets hurt had it coming. So it enrages conservatives when you puncture their denial by finding actual victims and putting them on camera: the Sandy Hook parents, refugee kids, families thrown off food stamps, moms of dead soldiers, and so on. They think that’s cheating. Ann Coulter once famously denounced the widows of 9-11 first-responders (“I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s death so much.”) when they criticized the Bush administration. She saw “using their grief to make a political point” as a low blow.

So while I agree with Douthat that his strategy would work, I wonder if Trump’s Republican rivals are willing to break the empathy taboo. Democrats will, though, and that’s one reason Trump is a less formidable general-election candidate than current polls indicate.


Carly Fiorina has no chance of winning the nomination or being president, so I’m not going to cover her in any detail. But her talk in Hudson, NH Saturday morning was only a few minutes down the road, so I went. Maybe 125 people showed up, filling the local American Legion hall. The audience was polite and welcoming, but subdued.

I’m always interested to observe how a female candidate navigates the narrow passage between the Weak Little Girl and Cold Heartless Bitch stereotypes. (There’s no similar dilemma for men, which is one reason male candidates it easier.) In the debates, Fiorina has tried a little too hard to look like a strong leader and ended up sounding strident to me, so I wondered if she’d seem warmer in person. She does.

Unsurprisingly, her talk assumed the Fox News Fantasy World: ObamaCare is failing, our military has been gutted, capital-G Government is strangling the economy, the world doesn’t respect us any more, Christians are persecuted, government spending can be slashed without hurting anybody, Hillary doesn’t care about the four Americans who died at Benghazi, climate change is not worth bringing up, and so on.

Here’s what I found interesting: Carly is running primarily against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (No other candidates were named.) She yoked them together as the two sides of “crony capitalism”: Politicians like Clinton sell favors and businessmen like Trump buy them.


Sarah Palin’s Trump endorsement had that unique Palin touch of incoherence, the kind that left Larry Wilmore asking, “Was she drunk?” (I don’t think so, but I understand why he wonders.) I believe Sarah envies rappers, so she comes out with stuff like this:

We are mad
and we’ve been had.
They need to get used to it.
We’re not gonna chill
In fact, it’s time to drill, baby, drill
down and hold these folks accountable.
And we need to stop the self-sabotage and elect
new, independent, a candidate who represents that
and represents America first — finally.

Pro-constitution.
Common sense solutions
that he brings to the table.
Yes, the status quo
has got to go.
Otherwise we’re just going to get more of the same.
And with their failed agenda
it can’t be salvaged
it must be savaged.
And Donald Trump is the right one to do that.

Where is William Shatner when you need him? Or Vanilla Ice? Huffington Post’s comedy editor published the notes for Sarah’s speech. And Tina Fey brought back her Palin immitation.

and the Democratic race more contentious

The main topic of discussion this week was Bernie Sanders’ single-payer healthcare plan, which the Clinton campaign presented as a threat to every healthcare advance since Medicare. Chelsea Clinton was the most explicit:

Sen. Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the CHIP program, dismantle Medicare, and dismantle private insurance. … I worry if we give Republicans Democratic permission to do that, we’ll go back to an era — before we had the Affordable Care Act — that would strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.

Hillary herself said that Sanders would

take Medicare and Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act health-care insurance and private employer health insurance and he would take that all together and send health insurance to the states, turning over your and my health insurance to governors.

FactCheck.org and Politifact objected. Here’s Politifact’s judgment:

Under Sanders’ plan, Americans would lose their current health insurance. However, his proposal would replace their health insurance and cover the currently uninsured. The program would auto-enroll every citizen and legal resident, all of whom would be entitled to benefits. While the plan would give governors authority to administer health insurance within their states, it includes provisions to allow federal authorities to take over if the governors refuse to implement it.

It’s impossible to predict with certainty how Sanders’ plan would play out in real life. But Clinton’s statement makes it sound like Sanders’ plan would leave many people uninsured, which is antithetical to the goal of Sanders’ proposal: universal healthcare.

But while the Clinton campaign’s charges are indeed misleading and raise too much fear, they do point to some genuine issues:

  • Allowing the states to implement single-payer gives Republican governors too much room to monkey-wrench the program, as we’ve seen them do with ObamaCare. It’s hard to estimate how much damage a Scott Walker or Sam Brownback could do while still implementing enough of the program to keep the feds from taking over.
  • Sanders’ plan still lacks important details. Ezra Klein explored this in “Bernie Sanders’ single-payer plan isn’t a plan at all“, in which he described the proposal as “vague and unrealistic”.
  • Politically, it’s hard to imagine how the Sanders proposal could survive the FUD campaign the health insurance companies would undoubtedly launch. The central idea — that the government is going to take away something that may be working well for you (your healthcare coverage, whether it’s private or government-sponsored) and replace it with something better — requires maintaining an unlikely level of public trust in the face of a money-is-no-object opposition campaign.

That last point deserves some elaboration: ObamaCare squeaked through Congress largely because Obama promised: “If you like your healthcare plan you can keep it.” And even though that promise was kept for the vast majority (I know I kept my plan and my doctor), he paid a large political price for the cases where things turned out differently. Any new proposal that would force everyone to learn a new system and says “Trust me, it will be better” is going to run into trouble.

Making healthcare a human right is a core Democratic principle and should continue to be. But I don’t think we can get there by asking the American people to take a leap of faith-in-government. More likely, progress will be like walking a heavy bookcase across a room: Lift one side and pivot, then rock to the other side and pivot again, always letting the floor bear most of the weight. At each major step towards universal healthcare, the majority should be able to keep what they have while a minority changes; through a series of such steps — each fulfilling the promise that the changing minority betters its lot — we can walk the public over to single payer. I wish we were strong enough to lift the bookcase and carry it to its best location, but we’re not, and I can’t imagine that we will be in my lifetime.

With that in mind, I’d like to see Democrats push to restore the public option that was taken out of ObamaCare, maybe by allowing people of any age to buy into Medicare. Over time, the greater efficiency of the public option might drive private plans out of the market, leaving us with the single-payer system Sanders (and most Democrats) ultimately want. (This is essentially the case Paul Krugman made last Monday.)


Polls were all over the map, and either side could find one to say it was winning. Nate Silver’s model currently gives Clinton an 82% chance of winning Iowa and Sanders a 61% chance of winning New Hampshire. Nationally, the RCP national polling average has Clinton 51%, Sanders 38%.

and the Oregon occupation

They’re still there, and if the federal government has any plans, it isn’t sharing them. Oregon Public Broadcasting continues to be the best place to follow the story.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown seems to be losing patience with the FBI’s inaction. She describes the situation as “intolerable” and says “This spectacle of lawlessness must end.” We’re also starting to hear from the real victims: the federal employees who can’t do their jobs and may feel physically in danger. Also, the people who use the wildlife refuge for its intended purposes, like Oregon resident (and novelist) Ursula Le Guin.

The militia folks have started a “common law grand jury” to decide whether to indict local government officials for “multiple constitutional crimes”. As with everything else they do, they’re taking themselves incredibly seriously, warning reporters that it’s a “felony” to pry into the grand jury’s deliberative process.

OPB also offers a psychological analysis of the possible fault lines between the various leaders of the occupation.

My pure speculation about the federal strategy is that when they finally move, they want the public reaction to be “What took you so long?” Meanwhile, the occupiers keep posting evidence of their crimes online, making a prosecutor’s job pretty easy.

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This week’s guns-make-us-safer story comes from The Seattle Times: Thursday night, a man got drunk and took his (legal) concealed weapon to a showing of the Benghazi movie 13 Hours. He fumbled with it and it fired accidentally, wounding a woman he didn’t know. But of course, think of all the terrorists who were prevented from attacking the theater that night, for fear of meeting such a formidable patriot.

A second story comes from Mississippi, where on Saturday the wife of the owner of a gun store got into an argument (over a $25 fee) with a customer picking up a repaired gun. One thing led to another, and then led to a shootout. The owner and his son are dead. The customer and his son were taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.


Here’s a local view of the Flint water crisis.


The scientists at NOAA and NASA make it official: 2015 broke 2014’s record as the hottest year on record. By a lot.


The LA Times talks to some white Republicans in an Iowa diner: They think immigration’s a problem, but they don’t want to round up and deport the local Hispanic immigrants, even if they’re here illegally.

That rings with my memories of growing up in the rural Midwest: Folks are more extreme when they talk about abstractions than when they talk about people. There’s how you feel about “homosexuality”, and then there’s how you feel about your lesbian niece. I’m not surprised something similar happens with immigrants.


Here’s an insightful video about race, and the difference between being non-racist (easy) and anti-racist (hard).

and let’s close with something cool

The Swincar E-Spider, a different kind of all-terrain vehicle.

Standing Up

Our collective futures depend on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.

— President Barack Obama, the 2016 State of the Union address

This week’s featured posts are “The Positive Republican Message, Annotated” and “There’s a Lot to Know about the Militia Takeover“. As always on MLK Monday, I want to flash back to my attempt to guard the radical career of Martin Luther King against those who would reduce it one over-simplified quote: “MLK: Sanitized for Their Protection“.

This week everybody was talking about the State of the Union

Tuesday, President Obama gave his final State of the Union address. [video, text] I see it as the beginning of his victory lap: No matter what you may hear from the Republican presidential candidates, the United States is much better off than it was when he took office. Other than ObamaCare or the Iran nuclear deal, his accomplishments haven’t been flashy. But he came into office telling his administration “Don’t do stupid stuff” — like invading Iraq, say, or passing another huge tax cut for the rich — and for the most part they haven’t. It’s amazing how well America can do if the president isn’t doing stupid stuff.

No doubt the victory lap will peak with an appearance at the Democratic convention this summer. I expect the delegates to clap for a long, long time.


Another recent Obama broadcast is his “Guns in America” townhall conversation on CNN January 7. [video, transcript]

and Iran

This week President Obama frustrated yet again everyone who wants a war with Iran. Tuesday, Iran seized two American patrol boats and the ten sailors aboard them, claiming they had entered Iranian waters (which seems to be true). The next day the boats and the sailors were released without anyone needing to “unleash the full force and fury of the United States” as Ted Cruz pledged to do at Thursday night’s presidential debate.

At the time the nuclear deal with Iran was being debated in Congress, critics objected that the Obama administration was “leaving behind” several Americans held in Iran, including Christian minister Saeed Abedini and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. The administration argued that those negotiations were better handled separately rather than putting everything together in an omnibus package. Well, Saturday, the United States and Iran completed a prisoner swap that included Abedini and Rezaian. They weren’t left behind.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Saturday also marked the end of economic sanctions against Iran, as the International Atomic Energy Agency verified that Iran had complied with its part of the nuclear deal. The sanctions had frozen Iran’s deposits in the international banking system, which have been estimated anywhere from $50-$150 billion.

Republican candidates try to make this sound like a U.S. payoff to the Iranians. For example, Donald Trump characterized the deal as: “They get $150 billion, plus seven [prisoners] and we get four [prisoners].” But the money was always theirs; we were simply holding it hostage. Obama “gave” the Iranians nothing.

What the end of sanctions will do is let Iran return to the international oil market. The anticipation of Iranian oil coming onto the market is part of why oil prices have been collapsing lately. So yes, President Obama does deserve some credit for gas prices falling below $2 a gallon.

and the continuing Oregon militia stand-off

I cover that in “There’s a Lot to Know about the Militia Takeover“.

and deaths of cultural icons

If you’re my age, chances are David Bowie meant something special to you. It was always hard to separate his life from his art, and now it is hard to separate his death from his art, as in the “Lazarus” video from his final album Blackstar.


Alan Rickman also died this week. For most people he’s Professor Snape, but I’ll always remember him as the Metatron in Dogma. Oh, that voice. Or maybe that voice up a few octaves.


I feel remiss in not having noted the death of Meadowlark Lemon when it happened at the end of 2015. Like all athletes who make it into their 80s, Meadowlark long outlived his glory days. Many young people probably know nothing about him, and possibly nothing about the Harlem Globetrotters in general, who still exist but aren’t the cultural force they once were.

The Globetrotters began in an era when American professional sports leagues were still segregated, and black athleticism was only safe for whites if it came wrapped in comedy. (In baseball, Satchel Paige was a similar package of athletic skill and comedic showmanship.)

In Meadowlark’s lifetime the NBA was open to blacks, but for working-class white boys of my generation it still was chancy to openly imitate black stars like Bill Russell or Oscar Robertson. (I never told anybody that my reverse lay-up was styled after a photo of Elgin Baylor. That’s one reason the “Be Like Mike” series of Gatorade commercials in the 90s — with kids of all races pretending to be Michael Jordan — could sometimes make me tear up.) But imitating a funny stunt by Meadowlark or his wild-dribbling teammate Curly Neal was OK.

and the Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church is one of the oldest religious organizations in America, going back to the Church of England’s extension to the North American colonies. George Washington attended the Church of Virginia, which why a bust of him has been in the crypt of St. Paul’s in London since 1921. (I’ve seen it.)

Thursday, that centuries-old connection frayed, as a convocation of primates from the Anglican churches of 44 countries met in Canterbury, and suspended the Episcopal Church from participation in governance of the Anglican Communion. The primates’ official statement says:

we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.

The “distance” arises from the Episcopalians’ increasing tolerance of homosexuality, which is particularly odious to the African Anglican leaders. An openly gay Episcopal bishop was elected in 2003, and same-sex marriages were officially recognized in July. The role of women is also an issue, though many other Anglican churches ordain women as priests. Katharine Jefferts Schori was presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church from 2006-2014.

Such issues have led to the formation of a rival Anglican Church in North America, which is not officially recognized by the Anglican Communion, but is recognized by numerous African Anglican churches.

It’s hard to see how this issue resolves in three years, or in anything other than a permanent separation, since Episcopalians don’t seem likely to back down. “We’re committed to being a house of prayer for all,” said current Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. The most eloquent expression of that position came from Jim Naughton, the former head of the archdiocese of Washington, D.C.: “We can’t repent what is not sin.”

The Daily Beast‘s Jay Michaelson sees the Anglican/Episcopal rift as

just the surface of a much deeper division, reflecting the polarization of Christian life in the 21st century.

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This week’s guns-make-us-safer story concerns an Ohio man who killed his son. The 14-year-old’s skipping-school plan involved sneaking back into the basement after apparently going out to catch the bus. His father heard a noise downstairs and shot at what he believed to be an intruder.


Sociologist Victor Tan Chen elaborates on the recent study showing declining life expectancy for working-class whites, predominately due to despair-related health problems (like suicide and addiction) in middle age. Chen focuses not just on the declining economic opportunities for less-educated whites (a problem they share with less-educated non-whites, whose life expectancy is still increasing), but the simultaneous decline in sources of community (like church or union membership), and in long-term marriages. When economic disaster strikes, a go-it-alone attitude and an ideal of rugged individualism may leave a person more vulnerable to despair than a better-connected person who is even worse off financially.


Charles Alan Martin tells how his thinking about Black Lives Matter has changed:

Up until this point, I’ve stubbornly held onto the presumption that BLM needed to somehow deliver their message in a way I could find palatable when, in reality, I wasn’t owed a damned thing.

I had a similar realization just before I wrote “Why BLM Protesters Can’t Behave“.


The debate over whether Ted Cruz is a “natural born citizen” of the United States — which the Constitution mentions as a requirement for the presidency — has heated up.

I admit, it’s satisfying to watch Cruz have to deal with this after all the completely baseless noise he and his fellow conservatives (like his Dad, for example) made about President Obama’s citizenship. I think this is a bullshit issue, but Cruz has made a career out of bullshit.

Even so, my position is simple: We have to respect the clear constitutional requirements (like being at least 35 years old), but any ambiguity should be interpreted to maximize voter choice. I will be very sad (and worried) if the American people elect Ted Cruz as our next president. But the place to stop him is at the ballot box; I don’t want to disqualify him on a technicality.

Cruz is also dealing with the revelation that he funded his Senate campaign with loans from Goldman Sachs, where his wife works, and didn’t report it properly. NPR explains the possible ramifications.

And I question how much influence David Brooks has on the Republican electorate, but the conservative NYT columnist wasn’t pulling any punches in “The Brutalism of Ted Cruz“:

Ted Cruz is now running strongly among evangelical voters, especially in Iowa. But in his career and public presentation Cruz is a stranger to most of what would generally be considered the Christian virtues: humility, mercy, compassion and grace. … He sows bitterness, influences his followers to lose all sense of proportion and teaches them to answer hate with hate. This Trump-Cruz conservatism looks more like tribal, blood and soil European conservatism than the pluralistic American kind.

BTW, “tribal, blood and soil European conservatism” sounds to me like a roundabout way of saying “fascism”.


And while I’m on that subject (again), here’s a fascinating historical tidbit from Robert O. Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism:

The term national socialism seems to have been invented by the French nationalist author Maurice Barrès, who described the aristocratic adventurer the Marquis de Morès in 1896 as “the first national socialist.” Morès, after failing as a cattle rancher in North Dakota, returned to Paris in the early 1890s and organized a band of anti-Semitic toughs who attacked Jewish shops and offices. As a cattleman, Morès found his recruits among the slaughterhouse workers in Paris, to whom he appealed with a mixture of anticapitalism and anti-Semitic nationalism. His squads wore the cowboy garb and ten-gallon hats that the marquis had discovered in the American West, which thus predate black and brown shirts (by a modest stretch of the imagination) as the first fascist uniform.

Keep that in mind as you watch Ammon Bundy and his fellow militia yahoos in Oregon.


Some insight into Trump supporters from a Muslim woman who attended a rally in a hijab.


Now that Michael Bay’s Benghazi movie 13 Hours is out, the long-debunked myths about Benghazi are likely to be trotted out again. Fortunately, Media Matters has put together a convenient video debunking yet again the four biggest Benghazi myths. Bookmark it, and use as needed in Facebook arguments.


Sky Palma@DeadStateTweets:

If you vote for a party that’s against government regulation, don’t be surprised if your tap water ends up poisoning you.

and let’s close with something you can start watching tonight

War and Peace, the miniseries.

Breaking Barriers

I am tired of the stranglehold that women have had on the job of presidential spouse.

Bill Clinton

No Sift next week. The next new posts will appear on January 18.

This week’s featured post is “Trump Supporters and Liberals: Why aren’t we on the same side?“.

This week everybody was talking about the old and new years

The New Yorker‘s John Cassidy picked out “Six Bits of Good News from 2015“, starting with how international cooperation stopped the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. And the long-term downward trend in global poverty continued.


I find all those best-books-of-the-year lists intimidating, not to mention depressing: If the list has 100 books on it, I’ve usually read about one, and if it’s just a top-ten list, I probably haven’t read any. That’s why I much prefer lists of what literate people (who aren’t all book critics) actually read and liked this year, even if it wasn’t new. Here are lists from the staff at Vox , The Week, and The Guardian.

My personal best reads of the year: The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist (nonfiction) and Forever by Pete Hamill (fiction). In teen/tween fiction, I’d pick Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi. Graphic novel: I agree with Alex Abad-Santos at Vox: Ms. Marvel. Best continuing comic-book series: Astro City. I also discovered the action/suspense novels of Greg Iles this year, and saw some surprising similarities between his old Southern riverport hometown of Natchez, Mississippi and my old Midwestern riverport hometown of Quincy, Illinois.


I saw so few movies this year that I can’t judge best-movie lists. But Cinema Blend‘s list is an intriguing mix of indie-art-house stuff and blockbusters.


TPM has announced the winners of 2015’s Golden Dukes, the annual awards given to “the year’s best purveyors of public corruption, outlandish behavior, The Crazy and betrayals of the public trust”. The grand prize winner is Dennis Hastert, for the revelation that all the while he was presiding over the House’s impeachment of President Clinton, he was paying hush money to a male student he molested when he was a wrestling coach. Says one contest judge:

But the sheer depravity, the utter lack of a moral compass, and the misuse of moral authority of Hastert’s pre-Congressional illegal acts, coupled with the hypocrisy of his work to end a presidency over consensual sex with an of-age partner and his efforts to deny rights to consensual partners of age who happen to be of the same sex, Hastert’s your guy, apparently.


More pundits should follow Steve Benen’s example: He rounds up his biggest mistakes of the year.


Science picks its top ten science images of 2015, including this shot of a new species of sea slug found on a reef in the Philippines.


Who can imagine, at this point, what wonders and blunders we’ll see in 2016?

and Bill Cosby and the affluenza teen

CNN has been obsessing over these two cases, but you shouldn’t. It’s good that prosecutors are finally listening to women (at least in this one case). It’s sad that a beloved cultural icon was such a sleaze in real life. But the Cosby case has very little impact on your life. The legal issues are kind of interesting, though.

The original affluenza defense was ridiculous; Ethan Couch was stupid to break the probation he was lucky to have in the first place; and what was his mom thinking in helping him run away to Mexico? But there are stories more deserving of your attention, like the next one:

and Tamir Rice

The Cleveland policeman who killed a 12-year-old boy playing with a pellet gun will face no charges. ThinkProgress identifies seven things everyone should know about the case.


Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses how police who kill citizens delegitimize police in general. If calling the police means that someone could wind up dead (with no one held accountable), then calling the police escalates conflict rather than leading to a resolution.

It will not do to note that 99 percent of the time the police mediate conflicts without killing people anymore than it will do for a restaurant to note that 99 percent of the time rats don’t run through the dining room. Nor will it do to point out that most black citizens are killed by other black citizens, not police officers, anymore than it will do to point out that most American citizens are killed by other American citizens, not terrorists. If officers cannot be expected to act any better than ordinary citizens, why call them in the first place? Why invest them with any more power?


I have a hard time apportioning the individual and collective responsibility in the Rice case. Obviously, Tamir Rice should not be dead and probably would not be dead if he were white. The officer who shot him at the very minimum should not be a cop any more, and probably should be convicted of something.

But I don’t want to pin the whole responsibility on the individual cop who pulled the trigger. There is the larger cultural problem of a police department that doesn’t value black lives. And beyond that, there’s the structural racism in our whole society, which casts black males as inherently dangerous. To most American whites, things just look different when blacks do them, a problem I illustrated with a collection of reactions to President Obama and his family in “What Should ‘Racism’ Mean?“.

I don’t doubt that when Officer Loehman looked at Rice, he saw a dangerous thug with a gun, and believed that he had a shoot immediately to defend himself. But why did he see and believe that? Why didn’t the possibility of a 12-year-old with a toy cross his mind? Or even the possibility that the “armed thug” might be talked down without violence?

Independent of what (if anything) happens to Loehman, Cleveland needs to take a hard look at how it trains its cops. All cities need to look at the us-against-them attitude within their police departments. (Why did Loehman’s partner back his story of giving Rice multiple warnings, when the video shows only two seconds between opening the car door and the first shot?) And we all need to examine our perceptual filters, to understand how we see blacks and whites differently.

and the Oregon militia stand-off

The Bundy militia is back in the news. Bundy’s son and some other armed yahoos have seized the headquarters of a national wildlife refuge in rural Oregon to protest something-or-other about land use. They have no hostages, but say they’re willing to use violence if the government tries to evict them by force.

“We are not hurting anybody or damaging any property.,” Ammon Bundy told [Oregon Public Broadcasting]. “We would expect that they understand that we have given them no reason to use lethal force upon us or any other force.”

Yeah, that can work sometimes if you’re white.


That Vox summary article includes the goodbye-to-my-family video of militiaman Jon Ritzheimer, who seems to think he’s going to his death. To me, it resembles the videos that Palestinian suicide bombers record. I’m not the only one who sees the similarities between our homegrown extremists and foreign terrorists: the nickname “Y’all Qaeda” is catching on, though it seems a little unfair to non-terrorist Southerners. #yallqaeda

Ritzheimer waves a pocket edition of the Constitution around as if it were sacred writ, but doesn’t say what it has to do with the issue at hand. I’ve read the Constitution too, and I don’t see the connection. Part of the constitutional system is that we have courts where we resolve such questions. I don’t recall any of the Founders saying that if my interpretation of the Constitution doesn’t win out, I’ll have to start shooting people.


Tempting as it is to imagine the government taking these guys by force, I’m applying the same frame I do to Al Qaeda or ISIS terrorism: The terrorists have a narrative, and we don’t want to play into it. I want them punished in a really boring and bureaucratic way that allows them no moment of glory whatsoever.

and the presidential campaign

Now that Donald Trump is promising to make Bill Clinton’s infidelities an issue in his campaign against Hillary, the next question is: What ever happened to Monica Lewinsky? Well, she’s become an activist against cyber-bullying, using her own experience to identify with young people who are being humiliated online. Here’s a TED talk she gave in March.

A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry. … The more shame, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more advertising dollars.


OK, maybe that’s the second-to-next question. The next question ought to be: How is this a reason to vote against Hillary? That’s what has Paul Waldman scratching his head:

What’s much harder to figure out is why Bill Clinton’s behavior provides a reason to vote against his wife. That’s the substance of the question, which still awaits an explanation.

I’m with Josh Marshall:

At the risk of stating the obvious, this is a tactic that may work great for Trump in a Republican primary – particularly with the people who make up Trump’s core constituency. But in a general election, with an electorate not driven by the things that drive Trump supporters, having a thrice married, philandering blowhard like Trump trying to beat up on a woman over her husband’s philandering, about which she is if anything the victim rather than the perpetrator, is almost comically self-destructive on Trump’s part.


Hillary’s charge that terrorist groups were using Trump’s anti-Muslim statements as recruiting tools apparently was based more on intuition than evidence (unless the testimony of these experts counts). Consequently, it was premature: At that time she said it, no one could find any examples of Trump appearing in terrorist recruiting videos (which isn’t exactly what Clinton charged anyway). But now they can.

It stands to reason. ISIS’ main message to Muslim youth is: There is no place for you in a world dominated by the West. Who makes that point better than Donald Trump?

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This week’s guns-make-us-safer story: Wednesday night, a Florida woman killed her 27-year-old daughter after mistaking her for an intruder. Now apply the guns-everywhere theory and imagine that the daughter had been armed and ready to shoot back when she saw a muzzle-flash in the dark. (She wasn’t.)


The Oregon bakers (the ones who think that discriminating against gays is part of their religious freedom) have finally paid their $135K fine plus interest. It wasn’t hard, because fans have sent them $515K, and the money is still coming in. Fox News’ Todd Starnes calls this “the price the Kleins had to pay for following the teachings of Jesus Christ.” I’m still searching for whatever teaching that is and where in the Bible Jesus taught it. If you know, please comment.


Steve Benen shares my view of the spying-on-Israel flap. Israel had somehow acquired inside information about our nuclear-weapons-development negotiations with Iran, and was feeding them to Republican congressmen to undermine the chances of reaching an agreement. You can say that we shouldn’t spy on our allies, but Israel wasn’t acting as an ally in this situation.

Netanyahu and his team tried and failed to derail the diplomatic efforts, but they still had hopes of sabotaging American foreign policy through Congress. For intelligence agencies, this created a real dilemma. On the one hand, the very idea of U.S. intelligence agencies spying on members of the U.S. Congress is a major problem. On the other hand, U.S. intelligence agencies spying on a foreign government actively trying to subvert American policy is about as common as a sunrise.

The tricky part, obviously, is the challenge facing intelligence officials when it’s American members of Congress who are coordinating – and to a degree, partnering – with a foreign government to undermine the foreign policy of the United States. Such a dynamic has no real precedent in the American tradition, but in the Obama era, radicalized congressional Republicans have made this rather commonplace.


BTW: about that agreement. Monday, Iran took one of the major steps towards implementation when it shipped 25,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Russia. According to Secretary Kerry, the “breakout time” Iran would need to construct a nuclear weapon has already tripled, from 2-3 months to 6-9 months.

As I pointed out at the time, we gave up nothing of ours to get that result. After it jumps through a few more hoops, Iran will get some of its own money back.


Paul Krugman points out that Obama’s re-election had other important consequences: Rich people paid more tax and more people had health insurance.

and let’s close with some New Year’s resolutions

AJ+ offers ten resolutions to actually make America great.

She starts in a good place: If you want to “make America great again”, you should define great and again. Are we talking about when black people couldn’t vote? When women weren’t in the workforce? When?

The Yearly Sift: 2015

The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend you remember.

— Harold Pinter
review all the Sift quotes of 2015

look at “The Yearly Sift: 2014

Ordinarily, The Weekly Sift lives in the moment and comes together week by week. But at the end of every year, I look back to see if there’s any pattern in what I’ve been doing.

The themes

Looking back at the 48 Sifts between this one and the last Yearly Sift, several themes stand out. I’ve pulled three out into their own articles: the presidential race; the religion/morality/law complex that resulted from the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision and continued in the “religious freedom” debate that followed; and the year-long debate over Black Lives Matter.

The books

Over the last few years, the number of book reviews has gone down, in favor of longer posts that pull together a larger reading program (“Not a Tea Party” is the model there.), or short recommendations that don’t stretch into a full article.

The full-fledged reviews this year were Islam Without Extremes by Mustafa Akyol, Creditocracy by Andrew Ross, The Half has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist, and How Propaganda Works by Jason Stanley. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World in Me got reviewed in a segment of a weekly summary; I’m not sure why I didn’t break that out into its own article.

Posts that leaned heavily on particular books include “Small-government Freedom vs. Big-government Rights“, which leaned on After Appomattox by Gregory Downs. “What Just Happened?“, my discussion of Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election in Israel, leaned on two books: My Promised Land by Ari Shavit and Goliath by Max Blumenthal. “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to be a Bigot” leaned on Almighty God Created the Races by Fay Botham

My analysis of Hillary Clinton’s campaign speeches was actually a report on a much larger reading project: Hillary’s It Takes a Village, Living History, and Hard Choices, as well as David Brock’s The Seduction of Hillary Rodham and Blinded By the Right.

Well-worth-reading books that I mentioned in weekly summaries but never worked into a larger article include: The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi, Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutablio and Steven Davis, Why I am a Salafi by Michael Muhammad Knight 12-14, and What is Islam? by Shahab Ahmed 12-14

The mosts

Most popular posts. By far the most popular post, for the second year in a row, was “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“. It had settled down from its original run last year, but then the Charleston shooting and the subsequent controversy over the Confederate flag set it off on an even bigger run. It got 300K hits this year, building its total to 485K. Whenever “Not a Tea Party” goes on a run, it carries along two posts it links to: “A Short History of White Racism in the Two Party System” (17K new hits/ 32K total) and “Slavery Lasted Until Pearl Harbor” (6K/11K). Each is worthwhile on its own.

The most popular new post (second overall) was another deep dive into American history: “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to be a Bigot” got 101K hits. All-time, it moved into third place behind “Not a Tea Party” and “The Distress of the Privileged” (52K new hits/ 394K total). “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody” looks at how religion has been used to justify discrimination all through American history; the “religious freedom” argument currently being used to justify discrimination against gays and same-sex couples is virtually identical to religious arguments that justified discrimination against blacks and against interracial couples; there are also parallels with the religious justifications for slavery.

Two other popular posts this year were “Slurs: Who can say them, when, and why” about the proper usage (and non-usage) of words like nigger and bitch; (13K hits); and “The Political F-word” (10K hits), which compared Donald Trump’s campaign and following to various models of fascism.

Most prescient comments. The most prescient comment actually is from July of 2014, when I predicted not only the result of this year’s ObamaCare decision, but the 6-3 split:

I don’t think they’ll overturn the subsidies. … I can imagine Thomas, Alito, and Scalia going that way, but Roberts and Kennedy will be reluctant.

When Charleston-church-shooter Dylann Roof was characterized as a “lone wolf” despite his online contacts with white supremacist groups and his manifesto being full of standard white-supremacist rhetoric, I speculated:

Make the parallel to Muslim terrorists and ISIS. If a Muslim shooter had been browsing ISIS web sites and wrote a manifesto full of ISIS rhetoric, would we see him as a loner, or think of him as part of ISIS?

Well, we found out the answer to that after the San Bernardino shooting.

I also feel good about refusing to jump on the Jeb-Bush-inevitability bandwagon. I won’t claim to have seen Donald Trump coming, but back in June (when Jeb announced) I was skeptical:

What issues will he run on? His positions on immigration and education are unpopular with the Republican base. I have heard no specific suggestions for how he would fight ISIS or terrorism in general differently than President Obama. I really don’t think his blaming Obama for “the biggest debt ever” will stick, given that Obama has drastically reduced the deficit he inherited from Jeb’s brother.

Just before Hillary’s Benghazi Committee testimony, I predicted:

Republicans will browbeat her in order to look tough for their base, but Clinton will maintain her composure and look like the winner to most of the country.

Least prescient comments. Hands down, the least was my underestimation of the Trump threat. In July I wrote:

He really has no interest in being president, and when the campaign gets serious he won’t be there. So if his candidacy is getting you either excited or riled, don’t waste your energy. … [T]his campaign is a more elaborate bluff than he’s run in previous years, but it’s still a bluff. Look for him to find an exit sometime in December.

In October, I was still waiting for the bluff to unravel. I noted that Bush had started to put major money into New Hampshire, which would force Trump to do the same. “We’ll soon know whether Trump is serious or just running as a publicity stunt.” Well, Trump didn’t put serious money in then and still hasn’t.

Also, I consistently over-estimated how close we’d come to a government shutdown this year. No particular quote stands out, but there’s a general pattern.

I usually pick out a Best Post Nobody Read, but this year the good posts all did pretty well. I may have to change my definition of nobody.

The numbers

Since the last Yearly Sift, I put out 48 weekly sifts (49 if you include this one) and took three weeks off.

2015 continued 2014’s upward trend in the Sift’s readership. The most straightforward measurement of that growth is in the annual page-views:

2013: 215K

2014: 415K

2015: 777K (as of this morning)

As I comment every year, though, page-views is a deceptive measure, because it depends so heavily on the timing of viral posts, which can’t be scheduled or projected into the future. About 300K of 2015’s page-views came from the second run of 2014’s “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“.

But other statistics support the growth story told by the page-views: The hits on the home page, weeklysift.com, come mostly from people who have it bookmarked, and so are at least semi-regular readers. That trend looks like this: 15.5K in 2012; 22.6K in 2013; 44.1K in 2014; and 98.3K in 2015.

WordPress tells me the blog has 3820 followers, up from 2281 last year. The number of comments is also up: 531 in 2013, 879 in 2014, and 1407 in 2015. Qualitatively, I feel like the commenting community is starting to move to another level. In previous years, the comment section was mostly a back-and-forth between me and individual readers. But this year the commenters often had interesting discussions completely on their own, without me needing to say much beyond what was in the original post.

Something really unusual happened in November: The blog got nearly 60K hits, but the home page was the only thing that got 10K or more. Ten different posts got at least a thousand views. That had never happened before.

and let’s close with something amusing

Making It Real

Government, despite its many sins, remains the only institution that can make our freedom real.

— Gregory Downs, After Appomattox

This week’s featured post is “Small-government Freedom vs. Big-government Rights“.

This week everybody was talking about Baltimore

Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on any of the four charges against police officer  William Porter in the death of Freddie Gray.

Porter is one of six officers charged in Gray’s death, and Porter was tried first because prosecutors hoped to use his testimony in the subsequent cases. It’s not clear where the prosecution goes from here.

and Chicago police corruption

The Laquan McDonald story just keeps getting worse. It isn’t just that we have video that shows a police officer blasting away at McDonald for no apparent reason, contradicting all the official reports. It’s that lots of other police officers lied to cover for the killer.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already fired Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and many are calling for Emanuel’s own resignation or for a recall election. But just changing faces won’t solve this. The Mayor — whoever that turns out to be when the dust settles — needs to make it a priority to change the culture of the Chicago Police Department. What Emanuel has said so far, that he takes responsibility “because it happened on my watch” makes him sound like an innocent bystander, and just doesn’t cut it.

Neil Sternberg of the Chicago Sun Times raises the key issue:

The motto on Chicago squad cars, “We Serve and Protect,” is a phrase without an object. “We serve and protect whom?” The implication is the people of the city of Chicago, and to be fair, much serving and protecting goes on, all the time, all day, every day. … But the ooze from the bad apples spatters [the good police officers], big time. The routine competence and occasional excellence of the department is undercut by a general atmosphere that could be emblazoned on their cars as “We serve and protect ourselves.” The attitude is that their job is so dangerous that their first duty is to each other, and it fosters an insular world of corruption and cronyism.

and that the government will stay open

A budget deal got done. Ezra Klein has a good summary. The bill includes money for the medical bills of the 9-11 first responders. There’s no defunding of Planned Parenthood or blocking of Syrian refugees.

and wild over-reactions to Islam

A world-religions teacher in a Virginia high school assigned students to draw the Islamic statement of faith, the shahada, as an exercise in Arabic calligraphy.

Students were not asked to translate the statement or to recite it. The lesson was found to be in line with Virginia Standards of Learning for the study of monotheistic world religions.

It was similar to a previous assignment that involved drawing Chinese characters, and came out of a standard text.

Well, maybe it was predictable that some Christian parents would object, but who could have predicted how far out of control the situation would spiral? Due to “a deluge of ‘profane’ and ‘hateful’ messages from around the country” the school operated under lockdown on Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday evening, extra-curricular activities were cancelled. Friday, following the advice of local law enforcement, all the district’s schools and offices were closed.

Remind me: Which side are the terrorists supposed to be on?


At Wheaton College in Illinois, tenured political-science professor Larycia Hawkins posted on Facebook that part of her Advent worship this year would be to “stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor” by wearing the Muslim headscarf, the hijab. She said that, as a Christian, she saw Muslims as fellow “people of the book”, and quoted Pope Francis saying that “we worship the same God”.

That was too much for the Wheaton administration, who suspended her indefinitely, commenting:

Some recent faculty statements have generated confusion about complex theological matters, and could be interpreted as failing to reflect the distinctively Christian theological identity of Wheaton College.

Yale theologian Miroslav Wolf, whose book Hawkins had referenced, isn’t buying that the motives behind her suspension are “theological”.

Hawkins asserted that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. She did not insist that Christians and Muslims believe the same things about that one God. … There isn’t any theological justification for Hawkins’s forced administrative leave. Her suspension is not about theology and orthodoxy. It is about enmity toward Muslims.

… When Hawkins justified her solidarity with Muslims by noting that as a Christian she worships the same God as Muslims, she committed the unpardonable sin of removing the enemy from the category of “alien” and “purely evil” other.

It seems to me that once you declare that there’s only one God, you lose the option of claiming that other people worship a different God. You can claim that they have crazy beliefs about God and worship God all wrong, but you can’t claim their omnipotent Creator of the Universe is a different being from your omnipotent Creator of the Universe.

BTW: I wonder if the administration’s unwillingness to interpret away their differences with Hawkins has anything to do with the fact she is the only tenured black woman on the Wheaton faculty. One of the ways unconscious racism and sexism plays out is in the presumption that “he must have had a good reason to do or say that”, while women and blacks are likely to be seen as radical or irrational.


No idea whether there’s any connection or not, but a dozen or so girls at Vernon Hills High School in Illinois have also started wearing a hijab in solidarity with Muslims suffering discrimination.


While we’re talking religion: Fontbonne Academy, a Catholic prep school for girls in Milton, Massachusetts, hired a guy to be director of food services. When he filled out his employment form, though, he listed his husband as his emergency contact. The school rescinded the job offer “because his marriage was inconsistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Since being Catholic or having a lifestyle consistent with Catholic teachings had never previously been a requirement for directing food services, the guy sued. The school tried to argue that this wasn’t discrimination against gays. (You can be gay, you just can’t get married.) But courts aren’t that stupid, so they lost.

This pattern shows up a lot among people who think they aren’t prejudiced against anybody: I don’t have anything against you or your people, I just object to your attempt to live a normal life. (Go ahead a be transgendered. Just don’t use public bathrooms.)


Franklin Graham, heir to his father Billy’s evangelistic empire, is calling for an end to Muslim immigration “until the war with Islam is over”.

Graham also said Islam is not compatible with American values and therefore the U.S. might have to shut down mosques.

This is precisely why the Founders wanted to separate church and state: Graham’s version of Christianity may see itself at war with Islam, and think that Islam is incompatible with its values, but that crusade has nothing to do with the United States of America.


And before we leave religion entirely, Vox has a great article about the dilemma of Western imams when they see young people getting radicalized. You don’t want them learning Islam with only radical internet chatter for guidance. But

if they do and try [to help] these young people, and for whatever reason it doesn’t work, then they get in trouble. [Police] come knocking at the door saying, “You were in touch with this person and they went overseas. What did you tell them?”

One of the article’s most important observations comes early:

Mosques are where radicalization is stopped: They provide vulnerable Muslims with a sense of community, thus overcoming the isolation that can allow online extremist propaganda to seep in, and they give imams an opportunity to intervene in troubled lives and counteract extremist ideas.

Unfortunately, that kind of social work isn’t what imams are trained for.


There’s also the story of the New Jersey teacher who claims she was fired mostly for being a Muslim; not in so many words, of course, but because she did things (like show a Malala video) that would have been no problem for a non-Muslim teacher. I’m not making a bigger deal out of this because so far all we have is the teacher’s version of events.

but more people should be talking about Flint

Other than Rachel Maddow, national news media hasn’t shown much interest in the Michigan Emergency Manager Law, which allows the governor to appoint a manager for cities and towns that get into financial trouble. The manager essentially replaces the local government, and has the power to do just about anything but raise taxes. (Because taxation without representation would be tyranny, but having your union contract voided without representation is OK.)

As Rachel points out, though, this is a very radical notion: that democracy gets in the way when you’re trying to pay your debts, so it just makes good sense to install what is essentially a dictator. (In practice, the Michigan cities that get in trouble tend to be overwhelmingly black, so to the extent that this law is in the American tradition at all, it’s the American tradition of disenfranchising black people.)

In Flint, one way the emergency manager tried to save money was to start using water from the Flint River rather than continuing to buy lake water from Detroit. Lots of other cities use river water without any problems, but there is an issue: River water is more corrosive than lake water, so (unless treated) it has a tendency to dissolve lead out of pipes, raising the amount of lead in the water.

Well, Flint didn’t take proper precautions, so the lead level in Flint water has spiked, a fact that is likely to lead to permanent neurological damage in Flint’s children, ranging from lower IQs to mood disorders. Friday night, Rachel devoted most of her show to this story, starting with a very enraged reporting of the facts, and followed by an interview with the doctor who found elevated lead in Flint children’s blood.

and you might also be interested in

ProPublica’s An Unbelievable Story of Rape” is both important and heart-breaking. An 18-year-old woman said she was raped. But when police and her former foster mothers started to doubt her story, she admitted that she made it all up. Then they caught a serial rapist who had her in his notebook, and found the pictures he took.

The reporters do a good job of not demonizing the police involved in the case, most of whom are women. Figuring out what to make of the testimony of someone who has been traumatized is genuinely difficult, and the detectives’ training didn’t adequately prepare them for a case like this.


In the middle of an otherwise serious poll, PPP asked 532 Republican primary voters whether they would favor or oppose bombing Agrabah. 30% said yes and only 13% no. 41% of Trump voters favored bombing Agrabah.

Agrabah is fictional; it appears in the Disney movie Aladdin. You have to wonder what results they’d have gotten if they’d asked about bombing a real city in a Middle Eastern country our government is on good terms with, like say Riyadh or Abu Dhabi. A similar question in a poll of 532 Democratic primary voters found only 19% willing to bomb Agrabah, with 36% opposed.

The Republican responses to reality-based questions were pretty remarkable as well. 34% support Trump. Combined with Ted Cruz’ 18%, that’s a majority. 54% support Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the country. 46% support a national database of Muslims. 36% believe the totally baseless claim that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheered when the Twin Towers fell on 9-11.

Interestingly, 55% of the Republicans support raising the minimum wage to $10 or higher.


Fareed Zakaria debunks the “mystical powers” Republicans assign to the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”. (Read his WaPo column or watch him present it on CNN.) Zakaria has been using the phrase himself since 9-11, so he can testify that “it gives absolutely nothing in the way of an answer or strategy to deal with terrorist attacks.”

The best proof that calling radical Islam by its name provides no solutions is that the Republican candidates had none at Tuesday’s debate. After all the huffing and puffing, the most aggressive among them proposed more bombing, no-fly zones and arming the Kurds.

These are modest additions to Obama’s current strategy, each with its own problems. … judgment calls, not no-brainers.

… Strangely, after the GOP candidates boldly and correctly described the enemy as an ideology — which is much broader than one group — they spoke almost entirely about fighting that one group. Even if the Islamic State were defeated tomorrow, would that stop the next lone-wolf jihadist in New York or Paris or London?

Zakaria calls attention to a great line by Seth Meyers:

So [Obama] used the words ‘radical,’ ‘Islam,’ and ‘terrorism,’ he just didn’t use them in the right order. Which would be a problem if it was a spell and he was Harry Potter, but he’s not, so it isn’t.


I’m way behind in my debate watching. Let me say, though, that I’m pleased to see Clinton and Sanders continue to take the high road. Sanders famously refused to make an issue of Clinton’s emails in the first debate. In Saturday’s, Sanders apologized for the data-theft incident that made such a flap this week; Clinton accepted and said they should move on.

and let’s close with something topical

Bad Lip Reading does Star Wars.

If

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you …

Rudyard Kipling

It is no accident that President Obama’s America has given rise to Donald Trump.

Ben Domenech

This week’s featured posts are “How Republicans Trumped Themselves” and “The Leadership We Need“.

This week everybody was trying to figure out what to do about Donald Trump

In “How Republicans Trumped Themselves” I pull together a chorus of voices that diagnose the Trump phenomenon as a symptom of a larger ill: The GOP has been pandering to bigotry for decades, and conservative media has created a safe zone for every kind of conspiracy theory, no matter how poorly grounded in reality it might be. Now that bigotry and that disregard of facts is being used against them.

In “The Leadership We Need” I take a more abstract look at leadership, and describe how to tell a Leader from a Demagogue.


Meanwhile, this guy knows how he wants to respond.


In “How Republicans Trumped Themselves“, I briefly quoted Heather Hogan’s article “This is How Fox News Brainwashes Its Viewers“. That article examines the complete Fox propaganda cycle and deserves to be read end-to-end.

and the Paris climate agreement

Grist does a good balancing of the good and bad.

The COP21 conference brought every country to the table, they all accepted the science of climate change, and they agreed to work together to do something about it. But some proved more ambitious than others, and the rich countries didn’t come up with enough money to get the best deal possible.

The bottom line is that the agreement gets us far closer to containing climate change than we were two weeks ago, but still far short of where we need to go. In fact, we won’t even know for years what it will accomplish. How much the agreement reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and through that reduces warming, will depend on whether countries meet their targets for curbing emissions and deploying renewable energy and whether they ramp up their ambition in the years ahead.

and the aftermath of mass shootings

Here’s what we now know about the San Bernardino shooting. 14 people were killed and 22 injured by a married couple, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who were killed in a subsequent shootout with police. In the attack they used two semi-automatic rifles, two semi-automatic pistols, and an “explosive device”.

The weapons were acquired legally by Farook and his friend and next-door neighbor, Enrique Marquez. They were illegally modified to accept larger magazines. Farook took out a $28K loan two weeks before the attack, which may have been used to buy guns, ammunition, and other supplies for the attack.

Farook was born in the United States. He was a Sunni Muslim who traveled to Saudi Arabia more than once. In 2014 he met Malik there, and she came to the U.S. under a fiancé visa. While they appear to have had online contact with terrorist groups, so far there’s no indication that they actively belonged to a larger cell, or that anyone (with the possible exception of Marquez) helped them plan or finance their attack.

Apparently, they were both already “radicalized” when they met. Farook attended a mosque, but stopped going there a few weeks before the attack, so it seems unlikely that somebody there whipped him up to do this. There is no evidence that anybody else at the mosque was involved.

In short, San Bernardino does not seem to be an example of the kind of thing we’re being told to fear, and wouldn’t have been prevented by the anti-Muslim proposals we’re hearing: The attackers weren’t infiltrated into the U.S. by ISIS, they weren’t recruited at a mosque, and it’s not even clear that keeping Malik from entering the country would have prevented Farook from launching an attack.

To me, Farook and Malik look a lot like Robert Lewis Dear, the Planned Parenthood shooter, or Dylann Roof, the Charleston church shooter. None of them seem to have been agents of a larger conspiracy, but they are all examples of what can happen when unstable people believe the kind of hateful, irresponsible rhetoric that is so easy to find these days, and then easily acquire deadly weapons.

To me it barely matters which crazy set of beliefs your violence arises from, whether it’s that ISIS is the proper political heir to Muhammad, that the white race is facing a battle for its survival, or that Planned Parenthood is dismembering babies for profit. As responsible people, we should be trying to prevent all crazy ideologies from inspiring violence.

Amanda Marcotte put it well:

Liberals understand that there are theological and political differences between the different kinds of radical fundamentalism that lead to terrorism, but we are keenly aware that people who pick up a gun in the name of God have more in common with each other than they do with the rest of us.


The Daily Show‘s Jordan Klepper discovers that becoming an effective good guy with a gun is harder than it looks.


Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed the first planeload of the 25,000 Syrian refugees he has promised to take in by the end of February. So Canada, a country with a fraction of our population, is taking in 2 1/2 times as many refugees.

But I’m sure that when the Canadian experiment goes smoothly, and none of their refugees gets involved in terrorist attacks, American conservatives will see the err of their ways and happily increase the number of Syrians we’re giving refuge to. Won’t they?

and Islam

For some reason, this year I haven’t gotten around to writing all the book reviews I planned. So as a down payment on a longer post, I’ll leave you with two quotes from recent books about Islam. Both books portray Islam as more diverse and more flexible than is commonly imagined by the American media.

From Michael Muhammad Knight’s Why I Am a Salafi:

A text’s repeatability in part depends on the potential for its old words to produce new results. A verse remains powerful not because it imposes its meaning on the future, but because it accommodates the future’s needs: The verse is not bound to its author or its first audience.

From Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam?:

Some years ago, I attended a dinner at Princeton University where I witnessed a revealing exchange between an eminent European philosopher who was visiting from Cambridge, and a Muslim scholar who was seated next to him. The Muslim colleague was indulging in a glass of wine. Evidently troubled by this, the distinguished don eventually asked his dining companion if he might be so bold as to venture a personal question: “Do you consider yourself a Muslim?” “Yes,” came the reply. “How come, then, you are drinking wine?” The Muslim colleague smiled gently. “My family have been Muslims for a thousand years,” he said, “during which time we have always been drinking wine.” An expression of distress appeared on the learned logician’s pale countenance, prompting the further clarification: “You see, we are Muslim wine drinkers.” The questioner looked bewildered. “I don’t understand,” he said. “Yes, I know,” replied his native informant, “but I do.”

and Peanuts

Marking the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas, how the whole thing came to be, including a certain amount of the spiritual journey of Charles Schulz.


An attempt to enlist the Peanuts characters in the War on Christmas yielded some pushback.


I’m not the only one who’s been making the analogy between guns and security blankets.

and you might also be interested in

On a blog he shares with his son, Sift reader Bill Camarda recently posted a piece he called “My America“, in which he presented a personal, positive vision of what America has been and could become. My point in mentioning it is not so much that this particular post should go viral, as that the idea behind should: What if people all over the country started writing their own “My America” and posting it to whatever blog, Facebook page, or other outlet they had access to? That might be a constructive response to the bigotry and hatefulness that seems to be running so wild these days — more constructive than wringing our hands and saying “Isn’t what Trump just said awful?”

I’m not sure what mine would say, but I’m thinking about it.


We’re not quite at the point of a government shutdown yet, but the agreement to prevent one is proving hard to work out.


Jon Stewart came back to The Daily Show briefly to try to shame Congress into taking care of the 9-11 first responders.


The irony of global interdependence:

Russian production of T-shirts with anti-Turkish slogans has been delayed by disruptions in fabric imports from Turkey, Russian media reports said Wednesday.


President Obama’s reluctance to plunge deeper into the Syrian mess looks a lot better when you compare him to less cautious leaders, like Putin. Knowing when not to act is as big a part of leadership as knowing what to do.

and let’s close with some fascinating possibilities

Up until now, attempts to replace meat with vegetable products have ranged from unsatisfying to downright awful. But here are two attempts to attack the problem on a deeper level. First meat

and then eggs.

In either case, the point isn’t to do away with animal products. But what if the number of situations where doing without them feels like a hardship got much smaller? That could make a huge difference in both public health and the environment.

Thoughts and Prayers

Your “thoughts” should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your “prayers” should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut)

Just another day in the United States of America, another day of gunfire, panic, and fear.

BBC intro to the San Bernardino shootings

This week’s featured posts are “Guns are security blankets, not insurance policies” and “The 2016 Campaign: a mid-course assessment“.

Last week’s post about fascism, “The Political F-word“, had one of the best first weeks in Weekly Sift history: At 7700 hits so far, it’s already the 15th most popular Sift post ever.

This week everybody was talking about mass shootings and terrorism

It’s been fascinating to watch the radically different responses to two terrorist attacks that happened within a few days of each other: San Bernardino and Planned Parenthood. Liberals had just about the same response to each: It’s way too easy in the United States for somebody to get guns and start shooting people.

For conservatives, on the other hand, the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs was just one of those things. It’s the price of living in a free society and there’s really nothing to be done about it. The San Bernardino shooting, though, was something Muslims did, so it is a national emergency that requires carpet bombing or maybe a ground war.

Personally, I don’t care whether the person who shoots me is a Muslim extremist or a Christian extremist. Heck, if there are Zoroastrian extremists, I don’t want them to shoot me either. (Funny how you never hear about somebody gunning people down for atheism.) Mass shootings are the problem we need to solve, not just a particular kind of mass shootings.


President Obama’s speech Sunday night was basically a stay-the-course speech. It was well-reasoned (because what we’re doing to fight ISIS is mostly well-reasoned already), but I suspect it did little to slow down the national panic.

The problem Obama is facing is that most of the dramatic actions he could take — indiscriminate bombing or a ground invasion of Syria, harassing Muslims in the U.S., etc. — would do more harm than good. He’s quite correct that ISIS is hoping for those kinds of responses. It’s worth noting that hardly any of the public figures who criticize Obama for not doing enough have offered any detailed suggestions. They want to “get tough” and take strong action, but exactly what those actions would be is left vague.

Strangling an insurgency without creating a new insurgency is a long, slow process. As sad as that thought is, we’re lucky to have a president who understands it.

Peter Beinart wrote an insightful article about Obama’s thinking on terrorism.

Obama is a kind of Fukuyamian. Like Francis Fukuyama, the author of the famed 1989 essay “The End of History,” he believes that powerful, structural forces will lead liberal democracies to triumph over their foes—so long as these democracies don’t do stupid things like persecuting Muslims at home or invading Muslim lands abroad. His Republican opponents, by contrast, believe that powerful and sinister enemies are overwhelming America, either overseas (the Rubio version) or domestically (the Trump version).

For them, the only thing more terrifying than “radical Islam” is the equanimity with which President Obama meets it. And, to their dismay, that equanimity was very much on display on Sunday night.

and guns

I tried to keep “Guns are security blankets, not insurance policies” focused, so I had to edit out this second point:

Guns don’t protect freedom, they threaten it. One of the what-if fantasies that justifies a well-armed civilian population is: What if the government becomes tyrannical? Won’t we want to have the ability to launch a Red-Dawn-like insurgency?

A bunch of things are wrong with this fantasy, the biggest being that my handgun or hunting rifle wouldn’t be much use against the U.S. Army, if it ever came to that. The historical references people back this point with are also usually dead wrong. (No, Hitler didn’t confiscate the German people’s guns.) The actual examples of tyrants being overthrown in recent history aren’t stories of civilian militias shooting it out with the army. Instead, they involve mass demonstrations by unarmed people, raising the prospect either of the army or powerful foreign protectors turning against the government. (See: Arab Spring, or the overthrow of the Shah of Iran.)

There is, however, one example from American history that fits the civilian-militia scenario perfectly: the Ku Klux Klan’s resistance to the occupation of the South after the Civil War. (I have written about this before; for a more detailed discussion, read the recent book After Appomattox by Gregory Downs or Eric Foner’s Reconstruction.) At the end of the Civil War, the U.S. government recognized that simply freeing the slaves on paper wasn’t enough, because the white-supremacist power structure of the Southern states would quickly re-assert itself and deny any real rights to black citizens. Tens of thousands of Northern troops occupied the South for several years, attempting to establish a social order in which blacks and whites were equal under the law.

To the former rebels, this was tyranny imposed by a distant government in Washington DC. They wanted to restore the pre-war whites-only power structure, in which blacks were subject to separate, harsher laws that they had no voice in either making or enforcing. To that end, the KKK unleashed a campaign of political terror, attacking not Army units, but political gatherings of blacks and pro-government loyalists, and assassinating numerous public officials who attempted to enforce the federally-mandated laws.

Ultimately, the KKK succeeded in throwing off the “tyranny” of Washington, resulting in the Jim Crow era.

In other words, in the historical example that best fits the pro-gun rhetoric, it was the federal government that was fighting for real democracy and freedom, while the armed civilian militias were fighting to take rights away from the new citizens (who we think of as minorities, but who actually constituted a majority in Mississippi and South Carolina).

Something similar is happening today in the recent abortion-clinic violence: The federal government protects the right of women to make their own decisions about their pregnancies, while an armed minority wants to make those decisions as dangerous as possible, and ultimately to intimidate citizens into not using their rights. The point isn’t to fight the Army, it’s to assassinate doctors and terrorize pregnant women.


I hate to admit it, but I understand why Congress doesn’t want to ban people on the no-fly list from buying guns. The no-fly list is already a little constitutionally suspect, because it works a real hardship on people without due process of law. You don’t know whether you’re on the list or why, and you have no recourse for getting your name off. The list is a product of the executive branch without any judicial involvement, so theoretically you could wind up on it just because somebody in the White House doesn’t like you. (I used to bitch about this kind of thing all the time during the Bush administration, so I sort of need to stay consistent.)

We tolerate the no-fly list because we all believe we’ll never be on it. We ought to be figuring out some more acceptable way to replace it, not increasing its influence.

and prayer

The New York Daily News called attention to the cynical use of prayer as a response to a massacre, and Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy offered the tweet at the top of this post.

I’ve updated the Conservative-to-English Lexicon to include a definition of prayer:

A way to appear to take action on issues you don’t actually care about. Example: the prayers routinely offered for the families of victims of mass shootings.

Naturally, conservatives took offense at the aptness of remarks like Senator Murphy’s, or the Daily News cover to the right, charging that they denigrated religion and the power of prayer. Ted Cruz called it “prayer shaming“.

Nothing of the kind is happening. The point is that we can all pray for ourselves, we don’t need to elect representatives to do it for us. We elect representatives to exercise the powers of government, which Republicans refuse to do whenever action would offend the NRA.

I have a suggestion: Whenever Republican candidates are asked about how they plan to combat ISIS or limit government spending, they should offer their prayers and move on to the next question. I think any candidate who tries this will soon discover exactly how much stock the conservative base puts in the power of prayer unsupported by any direct human action.

and the Paris climate talks

The shootings have driven the Paris climate summit off the front pages, but it’s still happening. In the long run, it might be the most important thing that’s happening right now.

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The House has been repealing ObamaCare every month or two for years now. Well, they finally got a repeal through the Senate, using the “reconciliation” procedure that is immune to filibusters. So this is the first ObamaCare repeal that has made it to President Obama’s desk, and he will veto it.

MaddowBlog’s Steve Benen notes that this was a vote to increase the number of uninsured Americans by 22 million, and that it’s a trial run of a repeal procedure that presumably will work in 2017 if Republicans win the White House. However, it’s not clear that Senate Republicans could stick together if they were really taking health insurance away from millions of Americans. (Two Senate Republicans defected on this bill; more might if they couldn’t count on a presidential veto.)

Meanwhile, Paul Ryan promised:

we think this problem is so urgent that, next year, we are going to unveil a plan to replace every word of Obamacare.

Benen observes that it’s only been six years since ObamaCare became law, and that Republicans have been promising to unveil a replacement any minute now for most of that time. Somehow, the “urgent” replacement never comes together.

This point is routinely lost on much of the chattering class, but Republicans don’t actually like health care reform, which is why we’ve waited so many years to see a plan that still doesn’t exist. GOP lawmakers didn’t see the old system – the bankruptcies, the uninsured rates, the deaths, Americans paying more for less – as a problem requiring a solution, which is precisely why they haven’t invested time and energy in writing a detailed reform blueprint.


So coal baron Don Blankenship was convicted of conspiring to violate coal mine safety standards. Those violations played an important role in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 miners in 2010. But assuming Blankenship can’t get his conviction overturned on appeal, at worst he faces one year in prison, and he might get off with a fine.

“The jury’s verdict sends a clear and powerful message,” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said. “It doesn’t matter how rich you are, or how powerful you are — if you gamble with the safety of the people who work for you, you will be held accountable.”

To me the “clear and powerful message” seems a little different: If your gamble results in a deadly disaster that makes the national news, then, years later, you might face some fairly minimal consequences. If my spouse or parent were one of those 29 dead miners, I wouldn’t feel vindicated.


Trump’s bogus claim that Muslims in Jersey City cheered on 9-11 reminded me to recommend a comic book: the current Ms. Marvel is a Muslim high-school girl from Jersey City. The comic is well-written, and the main characters are very believable teen-agers.


It’s the season for politicians to send their supporters cards with heart-warming holiday themes, like the Confederate flag, or the whole family standing in front of the tree with guns.


I believe I’ve previously posted my opinion that Ben Carson is a crackpot. Here, he tells a group of Jewish Republicans a tall tale about how the Star of David (that Carson sees) on the one-dollar bill came to (not) be there.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump made sure Jewish Republicans understand that he sees them in terms of stereotypes.


In Tuesday’s NYT, Thomas Edsall’s column “Donald Trump’s Appeal” didn’t use the word fascism, but otherwise echoed a lot of the themes in last week’s Sift article “The Political F-word“: the need for a social-psychology explanation, a focus on the white working class, and supporting Trump as a response to humiliation.


When I first saw the picture, I assumed Dick Cheney had been put into stasis, like when Han Solo was frozen in carbonite. But no: A bust of the former VP is being displayed at the Capitol.

and let’s close with something you won’t hear at the office

You know the kind of motivational consultants who do presentations at big companies, teaching everybody how to relax and focus? I don’t think they’re going to use this guided meditation.

Runner-up: the Dalek Relaxation Tape.

Immature Forms

If we think that we can only identify the rise of fascism by the arrival of its mature form — the goosestepping brownshirts, the full-fledged use of violence and intimidation tactics, the mass rallies — then it will be far too late. Fascism sprang up in fact as a much more atomized phenomenon, arising at first mostly in rural areas and then spreading to the cities; and if we are to look at those origins, then it’s clear that similar movements can already be seen to exist in America.

— David Neiwert
Rush, Newspeak, and Fascism (2003)

This week’s featured post is “The Political F-word: When and how should we talk about fascism?

This week everybody was talking terrorist attacks in America

but most people haven’t been calling them that. There were two major ones: the gunman who killed three at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, and the shooting of Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Minneapolis.

It took a while for Republican candidates to figure out how to respond to the Planned Parenthood attack, and most seemed to come to the same conclusion: profess ignorance about how something like this could happen. Mike Huckabee called it “absolutely unfathomable” and a John Kasich tweet described it as a “tragedy” and “senseless”.

But the attack is totally fathomable and makes perfect sense: If you believe the outrageous lies Republicans have been promoting about Planned Parenthood, that it encourages abortions so that it can profit from selling fetal organs, and if you believe that the government — even the Republican majority in Congress — is either unwilling or incapable of stopping this horror, then it’s downright logical that individuals will step up and try to stop it themselves. We don’t have a full manifesto from the attacker yet, but somebody in law enforcement quotes him as saying “no more baby parts“.

Mother Jones points out that this is part of a trend of increased violence since the release of the doctored videos at the center of the baby-part-profiteering lie.

In the four months following the release of the videos, there have been at least four suspected arsons that targeted abortion clinics, compared with just one in all of 2014 and none in 2013. There have been at least five cases of vandalism since August. In comparison, there were 12 total cases of clinic vandalism in all of 2014 and just five cases in 2013, according to federation figures.


Last Monday, white supremacists wearing masks and bulletproof vests taunted BLM demonstrators protesting the killing of Jamar Clark by police, and when organizers tried to herd them away, they opened fire.

Again, how do such things happen? They’re not senseless; they make perfect sense inside the alternative reality of the conservative bubble: If BLM really did advocate assassinating policemen, if the racism they protest were imaginary or just an excuse for lawlessness, if they were the real racists themselves, and if the Powers That Be seemed either unable or unwilling to take action against them … well, shouldn’t ordinary citizens be trying to do something about that if they can?

You can’t promote a false image so offensive that it seems to call for a violent response, and then be amazed when someone responds with violence.


Having linked to all that poisonous propaganda, I have to post an antidote. Or two.


Ted Cruz’ response to the Planned Parenthood shooting is off the scale: He is spreading the idea that the shooter is a “transgendered leftist activist” — based on more-or-less nothing.


It’s fascinating to watch anti-abortion activists be outraged that anyone could connect them to the shooter. He’s a lone wolf, they claim, so they shouldn’t have to answer for him. But how many of them will show that kind of consideration to Muslims?

and a Chicago cop charged with murder

A white police officer was charged with murdering a 17-year-old black male, Laquan McDonald, 13 months after the event. A dashcam video shows that the teen-ager had a knife, but made no threatening moves with it. The officer shot him 16 times, including several shots in the back, in full view of several other officers. The arrest was made almost simultaneously with the release of the video, which the police department had kept secret until ordered by a judge to release it. The city had previously paid a $5 million settlement to the family, but had not fired the officer.

The Chicago Police tried to cover up the murder, and would have succeeded if a whistleblower had not tipped off local reporters that the police report did not match the autopsy. No witness statements were taken on the scene, the security footage from a nearby Burger King was erased, and the official report said that McDonald had been shot once in the chest after lunging at the officer. ThinkProgress comments:

Today, even with the official story of McDonald’s death in tatters, city officials appear eager to limit the blame to Van Dyke. “One individual needs to be help accountable,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on a conference call with community leaders Monday.

Once Van Dyke is prosecuted, the mayor said, “we can go as a city and begin the process of healing.” That process seems unlikely to include accountability for Van Dyke’s colleagues who abetted the official story about why and how he killed McDonald.

We can only wonder how many previous murders Chicago police have swept under the rug, murders in which there was no video, or no one told the press about the cover-up.


In late October, the minister at my church preached an amazing sermon. In 1988, while serving in a different town, he witnessed local police killing an unarmed young black man. As white citizens did in those days, he assumed it was justified and put it out of his mind, to the point that until recently he barely remembered at all. When the Black Lives Matter movement started, he began looking back and wondering: What exactly did I see? Who was that young man? Was his death necessary? And why didn’t any of these questions occur to me before? [The YouTube is of the entire service; the sermon begins at the 34 minute mark.]

but hardly anybody was talking about this

Someday we may look back on November 11 as a negative milestone: The last day that the CO2 measurement at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii was below 400 ppm.

Unlike global temperature, global CO2 levels don’t bounce around that much: There’s a yearly cycle, but every year the measurements are higher than the year before. (The cycle bottoms out at the peak of the northern growing season, when plants have absorbed as much CO2 as they’re going to. Mauna Loa, being high and remote, is a good proxy for a global CO2 measure.)

It made news back in 2013 when Mauna Loa’s CO2 measurement went over 400 ppm for the first time, but it only stayed there a few days. Each year the period of 400+ measurements has increased. In the last cycle, it went above 400 ppm in February and stayed there until July.

It crossed 400 ppm again on November 12, maybe for good this time.

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The Washington NFL team didn’t grasp that some people might be offended by this tweet (which appears to have been deleted since people started linking to it).


Interesting side-effect of the well-publicized trend of young people distancing themselves from organized religion: They’re also much more likely to accept the theory of evolution.

and let’s close with something wonderful

If you just want to spend some time staring and being amazed, check out the National Geographic Photo Contest, which includes this image:

 

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