Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Foreigners in Egypt

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

Exodus 22:21

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

– “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

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

This week everybody was talking about yet another Malaysian Air flight

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

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

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

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

and Israel invading Gaza

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

and those refugee kids

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

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

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

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

Friday, Steve Benen came around:

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something fun

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

The Other Guys

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

President Obama, referencing a line in The Departed

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

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

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

and the refugee kids at our southern border

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

In some universe, maybe, but not this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Israel/Palestine

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

The law can’t just protect churches, because

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s end with something creative

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


Belief and Reality

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

Sonia Sotomayor

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

This week everybody was talking about the Hobby Lobby decision

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

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

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

and the Fourth of July

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

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

and the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s end with something cute

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

Diabolical Persistence

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

– Seneca (quoted Friday by Paul Krugman)

This week everybody was talking about the Supreme Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Lawrence Tribe thinks the Court got it right:

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

and the World Cup

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

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

and the Mississippi Senate primary runoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

and John Boehner’s lawsuit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

Apropos of nothing: Segway Maximus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Judge Lynn Adelman has spelled it out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

TPM’s Josh Marshall wrote an insightful article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s end with something amazing

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


Ignorance and Nostalgia

Anyone who was there [in Iraq] can tell you we had the conflict won. John McCain on Friday

You know nothing, John McCain. – paraphrase of Ygritte, from Game of Thrones

There will be no Sift next week. The next articles will appear on June 30. This week’s featured articles are “Iraq is Still Broken, We Still Can’t Fix It” and “Actually, David IS Goliath“.

This week everybody was talking about Iraq

I covered this in “Iraq is Still Broken, We Still Can’t Fix It“.

and Eric Cantor’s primary defeat

The media is portraying Dave Brat’s victory as a David vs. Goliath story, but that ignores all the powerful forces on Brat’s side. I try to right the balance in “Actually, David IS Goliath“.

Politico points out an interesting angle on the Cantor loss: Cantor is currently the only Jew in the House Republican Caucus.

It’s easy to overstate the significance of Cantor’s ethnicity/religion to his loss: Dave Brat’s stump speech contains no overt anti-semitism or even a clear dog-whistle. And while Brat does call attention to his divinity degree (prior to his Ph.D. in economics), he doesn’t style himself as the Christian candidate. But Cantor’s Jewishness shadows him the same way Obama’s blackness does: Stereotypes lurk in the background and make the overt case against him more effective.

Beyond the immigration issue, Brat’s case against Cantor was that he’s out of touch, he doesn’t really represent the American people, he’s in bed with the Wall Street bankers, and that he’s a backroom deal-maker who sells out his principles. All that is much easier to believe if the back of your mind contains some timeworn stereotypes: the Jew as an outsider in America, a corrupt money-changer, and a duplicitous conspirator.

and polarization

Pew Research released the first of a series of reports on political polarization in the United States. The top-level takeaway is one of those “Scientists Prove Sex Causes Babies” results: Americans are far more polarized today than in 1994. Anybody who had been paying attention already knew that, but it’s nice to have the phenomenon quantified in graphics like this:

Deeper in the report, though, is some genuinely interesting stuff: Right and Left are not just mirror-image tribes. Increasingly, liberals and conservatives live different lives and want different things. For example, they value different kinds of communities. So, given their druthers, they won’t live near each other.

A more ominous difference is in polarized attitudes towards compromise. As Jonathan Chait put it: “Conservatives don’t hate the immigration deal. They hate all deals.

That’s why Republicans keep driving us into government shutdowns or to the brink of a debt crisis: Their constituency sees compromise as corruption, so a Republican legislator who compromises needs to be able to claim it was a last resort before disaster. As Jonathan Haidt spelled out in The Righteous Mind, conservatives place a much higher value on purity than liberals do.

The disturbing thing about the compromise-is-corruption notion is that it’s fundamentally un-American. James Madison’s whole notion of separated powers with checks and balances depends on the willingness of the separate people who wield the separated powers to work something out. If they refuse to, then the whole constitutional system goes belly-up and the mob demands a man-on-horseback who can get things done. (I described this process in more detail — and how far along we are — in last fall’s “Countdown to Augustus“.)

It’s worth remembering that in our history, that system of compromise has only failed once: the Civil War. It failed then because a powerful group of Americans — the Southern slaveholders — decided they were done with the long series of compromises that had held the Union together since its creation. So they rejected the North/South Democratic coalition that had held the White House for Pierce in 1852 and Buchanan in 1856, and walked out on a Democratic convention that was ready to nominate another likely winner, Stephen Douglas. (Lincoln’s plan to keep slavery out of the territories but leave it alone in the slave states was similarly unsatisfying to abolitionists, but they mostly voted for him anyway.) And when slaveholders’ unwillingness to unite behind Douglas let Lincoln win with under 40% of the vote, they seceded from the Union rather than wait to see what they could work out with the new president after he took office. When it became obvious they were losing the war at horrible cost, they kept fighting anyway. Even after Lee surrendered, Jefferson Davis was captured trying to get to Texas, where he thought he might keep the war going. All because the Confederate aristocracy rejected the very idea of compromise. (A readable account of the political lead-up to the war is in Douglas Egerton’s Year of Meteors.)

and school shootings (again)

This one was Tuesday in Troutdale, Oregon. has listed 74 school-shooting incidents since Sandy Hook.

In the 50s, the threat was nuclear war, so we convinced ourselves we could protect children with duck-and-cover drills.

Now it’s lockdown drills against gunmen. Soon maybe we’ll have kids practice hiding under bulletproof blankets.

The Bodyguard Blanket is the kind of solution a hyper-individualistic free-market society comes up with. It’s like responding to air pollution not by regulating polluters, but by encouraging breathers to buy gas masks.

An insightful article by a lifelong gun owner is Gawker’s “It’s Really Hard to Be a Good Guy With a Gun“.

The universe of scenarios in which carrying a gun seems prudent or useful just keeps shrinking and shrinking, even as the legal freedom to wield personal firepower keeps expanding. The NRA has recalibrated its message for the 21st century: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” But in many ways, the 21st century has already overtaken us good guys.

and tenure for teachers

A California judge ruled that the state’s teacher-tenure system is unconstitutional, because it violates minority students’ right to a quality education. I expect a higher court to overrule, because the decision just screams judicial activism; California’s public education policy would be better decided by the voters’ elected representatives. And while a judge might well decide that the education provided in some schools does not fulfill the state’s constitutional commitment, it seems well beyond a judge’s competence to decide that the flaw is the tenure system.

Behind the popular fire-bad-teachers meme lurks a notion I find very doubtful: that there are legions of effective, well-qualified teachers eager to work their magic in under-performing schools, if only we could get rid of the teachers who occupy those jobs now.

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George Will stepped on a hornet nest on June 6, when he wrote that colleges and universities are learning that

when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.

The proliferating victims he’s talking about are female students who claim to have suffered a sexual assault on campus. Will’s statement got roundly condemned all over the internet, and launched a petition for the Washington Post to end Will’s twice-a-week column.

Most of the time, I’m against these fire-somebody-who-wrote-a-bad-thing campaigns, because it’s genuinely hard to engage the culture without occasionally mis-stepping and enraging people you didn’t mean to provoke. But I’ve got a second reason for the Post to fire Will: In his old age he’s become a bad writer. Will’s column wastes the big stage of the WaPo’s opinion pages.

Take the column in question. It’s not even about campus sexual assault. He only mentions that inflamatory topic on his way to a far more vague and boring point: Because they have embraced a never-defined “progressivism”, universities have no basis to protest the government’s plan to rate them. Why they should protest — and why the government wants to rate them — is also unspecified. So of course Will never lists the “privileges” that make sexual-assault-victim such a “coveted” status, or identifies anybody in particular who covets it. Why should he nail down a throw-away line when he doesn’t nail down anything?

Will’s muddled essays have come to resemble shaggy-dog jokes. Only after you decrypt his pseudo-intellectual prose and follow the labyrinthine thread of his logic can you realize that his point is insubstantial. What a waste of one of the highest-profile spaces in American media.

The note above brings up something I’ve wondered about before: Doesn’t the WaPo have any editors? I write for much lower-budget publications, but even so, editors occasionally save me from making a fool of myself. Editors are a benefit of organized journalism. The Post isn’t doing Will any favors by leaving him unsupervised.

NBC giving big bucks to Chelsea Clinton is more than a little creepy, even if they do plan to terminate her contract if/when her mom officially starts running for president. The fact that they also employ Republican daughters like Jenna Bush Hager and Meghan McCain (for salaries the article doesn’t specify) doesn’t make me feel any better. It all points to the corruption of the meritocracy Chris Hayes described in Twilight of the Elites. For all I know, Chelsea and Jenna and Meghan might be brilliant; but they wouldn’t be where they are if they hadn’t been born with a head start.

and let’s end with something fun

As the Joker asked about Batman: “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” Photographer Chis McLennan goes to Botswana, attaches a camera to a little radio-controlled dune buggy, then drives it into a pride of lions. Because we’d all do that if we had Batman-scale toy budgets.

Making Peace

NED STARK: Make peace with the Lannisters, you say? With the people who tried to murder my boy?
PETYR BAELISH: We only make peace with our enemies, my lord. That’s why it’s called “making peace”.

Game of Thrones

This week’s featured article is “This Is How It Ends“. If you missed it, last week’s “#YesAllWomen and the Continuum of Aggression” was very popular, with nearly 5,000 hits.

This week everybody was talking about Sgt. Bergdahl

Two weeks ago, could you have imagined that the last American POW could be freed and it would make people furious? Or that Fox News and the rest of the conservative media machine would start villifying the POW? And his family? I certainly didn’t see that coming.

I don’t think there’s a political explanation for this. Sure, Republicans are looking for something new to get excited about as the ObamaCare issue continues to fizzle on them, but why this? Especially when so many of them have to do a complete about-face and pretend they never said a bunch of things they were saying just a few weeks ago.

I think this response requires a psychological explanation: Trading POWs makes it a little too real that the War on Terror fantasy is ending. All those heroic dreams about “ridding the world of evil-doers” have come down to this. It’s a sad, hung-over morning in America, and a lot of people are pissed they have to wake up. “This Is How It Ends” fills that frame in.

and the impact of Obama’s new carbon rules

Grist summarizes nine things you should know about them. That article has the most succinct response I’ve heard to the perennial “Environmental regulations kill the economy” objection:

Job losses in the coal industry will be offset by hiring in the construction and clean energy sectors. Lower rates of respiratory illness will save money on health care and improve productivity. EPA estimates that lower particle pollution from coal burning will reduce annual heart attacks, asthma attacks, premature deaths, hospital admissions, and lost days of work and school by the thousands. The economic value of these savings could outweigh increased costs by up to a factor of 10.

Well-designed regulations don’t cost money, they save money.

and yet another school shooting

This one at Seattle Pacific University. The gunman was pepper-sprayed and tackled by a student while he was reloading. Two takeaways:

  • Once again, a bad guy with a gun was stopped by a good guy (or a good woman) without one.
  • Limiting how many shots a gun can fire without reloading is a good idea. It gives by-standers a chance to tackle a shooter before the death toll gets too high.

In other gun news, the NRA briefly showed some sanity, but then changed its mind. The NRA’s Institute for Legal Action posted a statement on its website asking open carry demonstrators in Texas — the ones taking AK-15s into Chili’s and Target — to cool it, referring to such behavior as “downright weird”. But when Open Carry Texas asked for a retraction of those “disgusting and disrespectful comments”, the NRA backed down. It removed the post from its web site and instead claimed the NRA is “the leader of open carry efforts across the country.”

The NYT’s Juliet Lapidos wondered whether this was the NRA’s “Tea Party moment”: Has the NRA pandering to the lunatic fringe “spawned a movement it can’t control”?

The Daily Show had a fabulous piece about the racial angle on guns: black and white “experts” give open-carry do’s and don’ts.

White expert: When you bring your gun to a restaurant, DO calmly inform the other patrons that you are there just to eat and not to shoot anyone.

Black expert: And when you bring your gun to a restaurant, DON’T be black. Because even if you tell them you’re not going to shoot, they’re probably not going to believe you.

but gay marriage rulings don’t even make headlines any more

Add Wisconsin to the list of places where federal judges have found that a state ban on same-sex marriage can’t be sustained after the Supreme Court’s Windsor ruling last June. WaPo counts 13 post-Windsor rulings for same-sex marriage and none against. I’m not even reading them any more because they’re all the same: States have no reason to ban same-sex couples from marrying, beyond the simple desire to make life harder for gays and lesbians. This was a radical argument when Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall made it in 2003, but it has become the conventional wisdom.

It’s fascinating to look back at my account of the 2003 Goodridge decision and see that — in spite of a dozen years of losses in court — the arguments against marriage equality have not changed. The anti-homosexual side keeps saying the same thing and hoping that this time it will convince somebody.

and you also might be interested in …

“I don’t plan on getting raped,” says a daughter on her way to college. And Mom answers: “Neither did I.

The platform of the Texas GOP is always a good read. This year’s proposed version endorses quack “reparative therapy” to cure gays, plus (according to Steve Benen)

complete elimination of the Voting Rights Act; policymakers at all levels should deliberately “ignore” climate change; public schools should end sex-ed and start promoting Christianity; abortion should be banned; English should be the official language of Texas and of the United States; open-carry laws should apply to gun owners statewide

The San Antonio Current has the raw quotes, but they left out some of the best stuff:

All federal enforcement activities in Texas must be conducted under the auspices of the County Sheriff with jurisdiction in that county. … We believe the Environmental Protection Agency should be abolished. … we urge Congress to withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights … We strongly support the Electoral College. … We support the adoption of human embryos … We unequivocally oppose the United States Senate’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. … We oppose any laws regarding the production, distribution, or consumption of food. … We pledge our influence toward a return to the original intent of the First Amendment and toward dispelling the myth of separation of church and state. … we support reducing taxpayer funding to all levels of education institutions. … We believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed. … We support the return to the time-tested precious metal standard for the U.S. dollar. … We support the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and the removal of U.N. headquarters from United States soil.

If you live somewhere else, you might just shake your head and say “Texas”. But as voters have discovered in North Carolina and a few other states, Texas is just where right-wingers feel free to let their freak flag fly. Give Republicans a big enough majority in your state legislature, and crazy stuff will start showing up there too.

Religious freedom for me, but not for thee. In Cincinnati, no Catholic school teacher can support same-sex marriage in public on his/her own time. This new clause in the teaching contract is causing veteran teachers to resign.

You can expect a new push to teach Christianity in the public schools under the guise of Biblical literacy. In addition to trying to expand the definition of religious liberty to diminish the health insurance of his female employees, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green has been funding the Museum of the Bible‘s development of a curriculum aimed at high schools: The Book: The Bible’s History, Narrative and Impact.

SMU religious studies professor Mark Chauncey reviewed the curriculum, finding:

This is a classic example of preaching religious beliefs in the guise of promoting religious literacy. It’s hard to imagine this curriculum, with its sectarian elements, errors and oddities, was put together by dozens of scholars as claimed.

Those who want to tear down the wall between church and state often try to make the law sound complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. If a public school teacher says, “In the New Testament, Jesus rises from the dead, and many present-day Christians regard this as a historical event rather than a myth.” that’s teaching about Christianity, which is completely legal. But if s/he says, “Jesus rose from the dead.” that’s teaching Christianity, which is illegal. If someone convinces you that this principle is tricky, the person being tricked is you.

So far, Senator Mark Pryor in Arkansas has been doing the best job of any Democrat in making his opponent pay for his far-right voting record. Here’s a recent Pryor ad:

 and let’s close with something vast

If you’re not paying attention to the Astronomy Picture of the Day at NASA, you’re missing out. This was Sunday’s picture, of the open cluster NGC 290.

Other People’s Bodies, Other People’s Love

Other people’s bodies and other people’s love are not something that can be taken nor even something that can be earned — they can be given freely, by choice, or not. We need to get that. Really, really grok that, if our half of the species ever going to be worth a damn. Not getting that means that there will always be some percent of us who will be rapists, and abusers, and killers.

– Arthur Chu, “Your Princess is in Another Castle

This week’s features posts are “#YesAllWomen and the Continuum of Aggression” and “How the Fall Elections are Shaping Up for Democrats“.

This week everybody was talking about #YesAllWomen

I agree with Rebecca Solnit that this is a moment when the national conversation could change. I try to do my part in “#YesAllWomen and the Continuum of Aggression“.

and Maya Angelou

who died Wednesday at age 86. I’m marking the occasion by reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her memoir of growing up in the Jim Crow era. At a time when some southern whites are trying to whitewash Jim Crow, it’s important to stay in touch with the authentic voices of black experience.

Things I never knew: She had a singing career.

and climate change

If you missed last night’s Cosmos, go find it. Neil deGrasse Tyson does a watchable understandable explanation of why the case for human-caused global warming is so compelling.

Also, the EPA is finally planning to set limits on carbon emissions from power plants. But Ohio is rolling back it’s green energy standards, a cause that ALEC and the Koch brothers are pushing all over the country.

And Tom the Dancing Bug thinks people who haven’t learned yet probably never will.

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There’s a reason why two weeks ago I described roads paved with solar panels as a “big dream”. This week an engineer shot it down.

Solar Roadways seem to take the problem of generating solar power, and put it into conditions that maximize cost.

He concludes:

Those solar-panel-covered shade structures that are popping up in church parking lots all over Tucson are looking smarter by the minute. The solar panels are mass-produced in China for a couple dollars a watt, and the structures are simple cantilevered steel I-beam ramadas. No fancy computers are needed, no worries about damage from tires, no hacking-into can happen, and they are not blocked by pedestrians, cars, trees or buses.

TPM’s Josh Marshall has coined a term that deserves to catch on: hate martyr, defined as:

someone who is either anonymous or had little profile in the political world but suddenly becomes a cause celebre and hero on the right by trashing some racial or ethnic group or gay people and then getting criticized for it. Whether it’s dressed up as religious liberty or free speech or whatever else, the essential element is right-winger persecuted (i.e., criticized by people on TV) for expressing bigoted or racist or just retrograde views about some historically (or presently) oppressed, denigrated or discriminated against group.

The archetypal hate martyr, according to Marshall, is Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson (whose quote I just linked to in the Maya Angelou note). Robertson was an invited speaker at Thursday’s Republican Leadership Conference. Phil’s son and co-star Willie was a guest of a Republican congressman at the State of the Union.

Steve Benen looks at the full list of RLC speakers — Robertson, Donald Trump, Rep. Steve King, Dinesh D’Souza, Sarah Palin — and thinks maybe this isn’t the best approach to the “minority outreach” Republicans claim to want.

And Ted Cruz won the RLC’s presidential straw poll. He gave a speech defending the government shut-down.

A Humanist in the armed forces may not believe in God, but faces many of the same spiritual challenges any other soldier does: the possibility of dying or killing, balancing duty and personal fulfillment, not to mention just being far from home. So why are there no Humanist chaplains? Universities have them.

Ron Crews of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty engages in the usual sophistry:

The motto [of the Army chaplaincy] is ‘for God and country’—how could an atheist fulfill that motto if by definition he does not believe in God?

Yes, definitely, maintaining the motto of the chaplaincy should trump the needs of our soldiers.

Years ago when I read James Ault’s Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church, I learned something important from a footnote: Fundamentalists churches tend to follow the pattern of oral cultures: reinterpreting their histories freely as living memory fades.

It has happened before our eyes with respect to abortion. They tell the story this way: Their theology told them that fetuses had souls, so they were forced into politics to defend those souls. The more historians look at the record, though, the more they see this isn’t true: The theology came along to justify the political positions already taken for other reasons.

This week historian Randall Balmer exposed another chunk of the story: The original motivation behind the Moral Majority was to defend segregated schools.

and let’s close with something awesome

National Geographic follows an “epic gathering” of mobular rays.

Owning and Disowning

We inherit our ample patrimony with all its incumbrances; and are bound to pay the debts of our ancestors.

– Timothy Dwight “The Charitable Blessed” (1810)

The last slaveholder has been dead for a very long time. The last soldier to endure Valley Forge has been dead much longer. To proudly claim the veteran and disown the slaveholder is patriotism à la carte.

– Ta-Nehisi Coates “The Case for Reparations” (2014)

This week’s featured article is “Ta-Nehisi Coates Goes There: Reparations“.

This week everybody was talking about yet another mass shooting

Every mass shooting is stomach-turning, but this one has a special feature: the idea that men are entitled to female sexual partners we find attractive, and that if we don’t get them we are justified in seeking revenge on the entire gender. I feel slimed. I can’t imagine how women feel about it.

The guns-make-us-safer arguments of the NRA are almost believable if you picture home invaders who want something rational like jewelry or electronics. But when somebody wants to go out in a blaze of glory, more and bigger guns just make a bigger blaze.

and reparations for the oppression of blacks

Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic wrote the article of the year: “The Case for Reparations” and I wrote an almost-as-long article commenting, elaborating, and taking it personally. Centuries of public policy created the wealth gap between blacks and whites. Why is it unthinkable to use public policy to undo that?

and (still) the VA

This is going to go on for a while, because there’s a genuine mystery here that may not have a simple resolution. Some of the basics: The VA gives veterans world-class care once they manage to get in the door. But there have been long-standing problems both with appointment backlogs and backlogs in processing claims. In recent years the VA established metrics to measure how well they were solving those problems, and reported that they were doing remarkably well.

Unfortunately, they were cooking the books. Somebody (or maybe a lot of somebodies) saw their mission as delivering good numbers, not delivering timely medical care. This is a common problem in our data-obsessed times. (See, for example, the Atlanta public schools, which decided its mission was to improve test scores, not education. Or watch just about any season of The Wire.) Of course all those somebodies at the VA need to be found and fired, and maybe some of them should go to jail. But that just gets us back to Square One with the problem of caring for our veterans.

Partly, the problem goes back to the cardinal sin of the Iraq War: The Bush administration refused to let anyone plan for the possibility that the war might be long and costly. Even after the wounded starting coming home, National Journal reports, the Defense Department was cooking the numbers:

Early on, the department was publicly counting only about a third of the casualties stemming from the War on Terror. That was because the Department was only counting servicemen and women immediately targeted in the department’s wounded-in-action statistics. That accounting method left out those who were not targeted but were wounded nonetheless, such as troops injured when they were riding two trucks back from one that was hit by a roadside bomb, or those hurt in training or transportation.The underreporting made it more difficult for the VA to prepare for the coming influx of requests for help.

So the Obama administration knew there was a resource problem — not enough money, facilities, doctors, etc. — when they took office. And they thought they were solving it. Under Obama, the VA’s budget has gone from $97.7 billion in FY 2009 to $153.8 billion in FY 2014.

But already a year ago, Huffington Post reported:

“We’re glad to see the increase in the budget,” said Paul Reickhoff, chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. But he was highly skeptical of the VA claims that it is making progress on reducing the backlog of veterans claims for benefits. “The customers on the ground, our members, don’t see it,” he said.

So where has the money been going? A piece of the mystery is that along with the new money came new responsibilities. National Journal says:

the Obama administration has also changed the rules to give more benefits to veterans. In 2010, the administration expanded coverage related to exposure to Agent Orange, a Vietnam War-era defoliant that has created a vast list of health problems. Veterans have long tied an assortment of illnesses to Agent Orange, and now more of those illnesses are covered. Additionally, the administration made it easier for veterans to get coverage for posttraumatic-stress disorder, a disease less easily diagnosed and adjudicated than physical injuries.

But that doesn’t sound like the whole story, and nothing else I’ve heard so far does either. Nobody has a partisan motive to short-change our veterans. And so far there are no reports of sweetheart deals that sent billions to some favored contractor for nothing, or enormous bridge-to-nowhere facilities that sit empty. This situation calls for a real investigation that is neither a whitewash nor a witch hunt. It will interesting to see if our political system is capable of making that happen.

and another NBA owner talking about race

This time it’s Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks. I find I’m willing to cut Cuban slack, though, because I think he’s clumsily saying something more-or-less right. (In my terminology prejudice is an unavoidable aspect of being human, while bigotry is something we should be trying to eradicate. I hear Cuban confessing that he has prejudices that he is trying to keep from becoming bigotry.) I agree with ESPN’s Michael Wilbon:

If we’re going to have honest conversations about race and bigotry and prejudice, then we’re going have to have some uncomfortable moments. What’s most important to me here is that clearly and without qualification, Mark Cuban condemns bigotry. … This in no way, in my mind, comes into the area code of Donald Sterling’s comments.

Whites have been denying our racial prejudices for a long, long time. (Wilbon again: “I hear people say, ‘I don’t see color.’ And I say, ‘Stop. Everybody sees color.’”) So it’s totally to be expected that when we finally begin to talk seriously about race, we’re not going to phrase everything in the most sensitive way. By all means blacks (and whites with more experience discussing race) should point out to Cuban the ways that he’s still invoking offensive stereotypes — those “uncomfortable moments” Wilbon is talking about — but also give him credit for what he’s doing right.

That’s more-or-less the approach that NYT columnist Charles Blow takes.

Cuban says in the interview, “I know that I’m not perfect.” None of us are, Mr. Cuban, and I applaud your candor even as I correct your assertions. That is how the race discussion must be conducted.

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Chris Hayes is doing a great series on the conservative heartland. This week the show focused on Kansas, which has become a laboratory for far-right policies. How’s that working?

Update on last week’s article “Climate Denial is a Sunday Truth” in which I argued that the business community — especially the insurance industry — is well aware that climate change is real. From ThinkProgress:

Last month, Farmers Insurance Co. filed nine class-action lawsuits arguing that local governments in the Chicago area are aware that climate change is leading to heavier rainfall but are failing to prepare accordingly. The suits allege that the localities did not do enough to prepare sewers and stormwater drains in the area during a two-day downpour last April.

And the NYT:

Most insurers, including the reinsurance companies that bear much of the ultimate risk in the industry, have little time for the arguments heard in some right-wing circles that climate change isn’t happening, and are quite comfortable with the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the main culprit of global warming.

“Insurance is heavily dependent on scientific thought,” Frank Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America, told me last week. “It is not as amenable to politicized scientific thought.”

Great article about diet: What if fat isn’t just an issue of excess calories? What if the body is actively looking for foods it can easily turn into fat? When you eat them, you’re still hungry, because they went straight to fat and didn’t give your body any calories to run on.

When Sainsburys dressed a mannequin in a 12-Years-a-Slave outfit, they weren’t really trying to sell their customers the runaway-slave look. Turns out, that was just a tasteless part of their buy-the-DVD display. But for a minute, it seemed like the “Derelicte” scene from Zoolander had burst into reality.

Authors need to slow down: Important books are piling up faster than I can read them. (Yes, Elizabeth Warren, I’m looking at you; or at least at your picture on the cover. Get in line behind Thomas Piketty.) So I haven’t even picked up Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide about his role in the Snowden leaks.

But sometimes you don’t have read a book to know that a criticism of it is off-base. In his review for the NYT, Michael Kinsley writes this about leaking government secrets:

The question is who decides. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.

If government officials have the final say on what information the voters are allowed to know before they pass judgment on those same government officials, then democracy is pretty much a sham: You get to judge me, but only based on the information I choose to tell you.

This situation calls for one of those marvelous Madisonian check-and-balance processes, but unfortunately there’s no prospect of us getting one. So in a broken system, anyone who finds him/herself in a position to take action — Snowden, Greenwald, Julian Assange, whoever — has to use his/her own judgment. Nobody thinks this is ideal, but it’s not Glenn Greenwald’s fault. Glenn should not defer to the government until the improbable moment when the government unveils its ideal information-releasing process.

David Atkins reads the tea-leaves of the European Parliament elections: In hard economic times with a lot of immigrants still coming in, the most likely political beneficiaries are the fascists. Centrists preaching austerity have no defense against the far right.

The only possible way that a party of social tolerance survives for long in this sort of economic environment is if it goes hard after the plutocrats truly responsible for the economic malaise. The social liberal/economic conservative mold of Bloomberg is a recipe for political disaster.

Curing cervical cancer is one kind of problem. Curing cervical cancer in Haiti, using tech that a Haitian clinic might be able to afford, is a different problem entirely. The NYT Sunday Magazine recounts the fascinating story of “The MacGyver Cure for Cancer“.

An illustration of what the book Cornered was about: Even when monopolistic power isn’t being used to raise consumer prices, it’s still not benign. Amazon is trying to squeeze book publishers, and those who don’t go along are finding that their books are hard to buy and take forever to ship. Sure, you can distribute your books without Amazon. Good luck with that.

Today our anti-trust laws are only enforced against companies that use their market power directly against consumers. But it can be just as damaging to the economy for a near-monopoly to use its market power against producers, by re-organizing the market around its artificially constructed bottleneck. This is the main reason to oppose the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger, even if it’s true that the two cable giants don’t compete for the same customers.

and let’s close with an amazing catch (sort of)

by the ball girl, not the outfielder.

Snopes says it never really happened, but why let reality stand in the way of a good video? And ball girls and ball boys really have made some outstanding catches. (I also tip my hat to several of the announcers, who were able to come up with their names without missing a beat.)

The Worth of Ice

We never know the worth of water, until the well is dry.

Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia #5451 (1732)

This week’s featured article is “Climate Denial is a Sunday Truth“.

This week everybody was talking about Antarctic ice

The apparently slow pace of climate change creates the comforting illusion that we have time to dawdle before we respond: The worst outcomes aren’t due for a century or so, so surely it won’t matter if we twiddle our thumbs for another few years.

But there’s also a long lag time between action (burning fossil fuels) and response (higher temperatures). And so we can pass a tipping point without realizing it: The carbon already in the atmosphere may already make certain outcomes inevitable, even if they take decades to arrive.

Two recent reports say that the melting of the western Antarctic ice sheet has now passed such a tipping point. As NASA’s press release puts it:

the glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica “have passed the point of no return,” according to glaciologist and lead author Eric Rignot, of UC Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The new study has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. These glaciers already contribute significantly to sea level rise, releasing almost as much ice into the ocean annually as the entire Greenland Ice Sheet. They contain enough ice to raise global sea level by 4 feet (1.2 meters) and are melting faster than most scientists had expected.

In The Guardian, Rignot elaborated:

We announced that we had collected enough observations to conclude that the retreat of ice in the Amundsen sea sector of West Antarctica was unstoppable, with major consequences – it will mean that sea levels will rise one metre worldwide. What’s more, its disappearance will likely trigger the collapse of the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which comes with a sea level rise of between three and five metres. Such an event will displace millions of people worldwide.

Two centuries – if that is what it takes – may seem like a long time, but there is no red button to stop this process.

Chris Mooney at Mother Jones called this “a holy shit moment for global warming“. But it’s also typical in this sense: The Amundsen ice looks more-or-less the same today as it did last week, when we didn’t know it was doomed. Plus, it’s metaphoric: The real damage is happening on the underside of the Antarctic glaciers, where we can’t see. As the glaciers melt, they get lighter and their seaborne edges ride higher. That lets more water seep underneath, and lifts the glaciers away from insulating land, melting them faster.

These kinds of feedback loops are what tipping points are all about. (Another one that’s in the offing, though nobody can date its arrival, is when methane trapped in the Siberian permafrost starts escaping into the atmosphere. Methane is itself a greenhouse gas, so once the escape starts it will warm the planet and accelerate the escape.)

Steven Colbert captured the moment’s dark humor:

Unstoppable melting, it’s out of our hands now. I mean, what a relief! I didn’t think it would happen, but we finally ran the clock out on the possibility of my personal sacrifice making a difference.

The New Yorker‘s Elizabeth Kolbert makes the connection to our dysfunctional political debate:

Of the many inane arguments that are made against taking action on climate change, perhaps the most fatuous is that the projections climate models offer about the future are too uncertain to justify taking steps that might inconvenience us in the present. The implicit assumption here is that the problem will turn out to be less serious than the models predict; thus, any carbon we have chosen to leave in the ground out of fear for the consequences of global warming will have gone uncombusted for nothing.

But the unfortunate fact about uncertainty is that the error bars always go in both directions. While it is possible that the problem could turn out to be less serious than the consensus forecast, it is equally likely to turn out to be more serious. In fact, it increasingly appears that, if there is any systemic bias in the climate models, it’s that they understate the gravity of the situation.

Try to think of any other risk we treat this way: We’re going to do nothing about it until we’re 100% sure that we’re headed for disaster.

and the VA

VA hospitals have been making veterans wait ridiculously long for appointments, and then have falsified data to hide their systemic poor performance. So far, everyone from Congress to the president to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki claims to be “mad as hell” about the situation, but it’s not clear what happens next.

Somebody who has been criticizing the VA for years is Rachel Maddow. She’s the one I’ll be watching

and the 60th anniversary of the Brown decision

Saturday was the 60th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that proclaimed the end of “separate but equal” as a defensible legal concept.

The best discussion of this I saw was on Chris Hayes’ show, where he interviewed some surviving members of the Brown family.

and the apparent dwindling of the Tea Party

In case you missed it: Friday, tens of millions of “patriot” protesters descended on Washington for an “American Spring“. They overthrew the federal government and sent former President Obama to Gitmo. Or at least that was the plan. The actual turnout was more like a few hundred — far less than what liberal Moral Mondays can turn out in North Carolina. The government is intact and President Obama remains at large.

Chris Hayes interpreted this non-event as end of the Tea Party’s ability to turn out big crowds: “As a grass roots movement, it is no more.”

Similarly, the media narrative for this spring’s round of Republican primaries has been the victory of the Republican establishment over Tea Party challengers. (Notable exception: Ben Sasse in Nebraska, who is being billed as “the next Ted Cruz“.) Establishment figures like Mitch McConnell no longer need to quake in their boots over the prospect of a Tea Party primary opponent.

But while all this is true, one piece of the story is often left out: The Tea Party is vanishing because it won. The “establishment” candidates who are winning these primaries — like North Carolina’s Thom Tillis — have done so by agreeing down-the-line with Tea Party positions on the issues. You’ll know the Tea Party has actually lost if John Boehner brings the Senate’s bipartisan immigration bill to the floor, or if Republicans work with President Obama to get the corporate tax reform both sides want. Don’t hold your breath.

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Rockford, IL in 2009

Wednesday, Rachel Maddow did a marvelous piece on the history of tank-car explosions like the recent one in Lynchburg, VA, and the NTSB’s decades-long unsuccessful battle to get safety upgrades to the DOT-111 car that is used for 70% of the energy industry’s rail shipments. As I watched one scene after another of giants balls of flame erupting in various places around the country, I kept thinking: What if Al Qaeda were rolling tankers full of crude oil into our towns and cities, and blowing them up with the same frequency that these tankers are blowing up on their own? What would we be willing to spend to make that stop?

Poor, persecuted Tim Tebow

Remember that televised same-sex kiss (that I posted a picture of last week) after Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams? Well, it generated a new round of Christian persecution claims: The media has a double standard because Sam is getting positive coverage for being gay, while Tim Tebow got negative coverage for his conservative Christianity. (More accurately: Tebow got less than 100% positive coverage; a lot of Tebow-mania was downright worshipful. For a more balanced view of Tebow’s image, listen to another outspoken Christian quarterback, Kurt Warner.)

Rachel191 explains the difference Sam and Tebow:

[T]here is a distinct difference between sharing a celebratory kiss during a special moment with a significant other, and Tebowing. Now, if Michael Sam somehow manages to turn every appearance on the field into a demonstration or endorsement of his sexuality, yeah, they’ll be similar. But nothing of the sort has happened (or is even likely possible).

… Existing as a gay man, including having a family, is not “evangelizing” for homosexuality. It’s just existing. And being uncomfortable at the sight of gay men existing is not evidence that homosexuality is being “forced” on you. It’s evidence that you have issues you need to work through.

If during a blockbuster movie you ever find yourself wondering “How much of that is real and how much is computer generated?”, listen to Godzilla director Gareth Edwards narrating one of his scenes.

Republicans warned you that ObamaCare would cause organizations to shut down. Finally we have an actual example: the Rotacare Free Clinic in Tacoma, Washington. It closed its doors because its volunteer doctors and nurses aren’t needed now that its former patients have real insurance.

 “It happened very quickly. We had to start telling our providers not to come because we didn’t have enough patients,” Mary Hoagland-Scher, a Tacoma family practitioner who served as the clinic’s medical director, told TPM. “It just dried up. Poof.”

Last Monday, a Republican Senate filibuster killed a bipartisan energy efficiency bill that the Republican House had previously passed. The Energy Efficiency Improvement Act was a baby-step forward: It raised efficiency requirements on government buildings, while creating a voluntary certification program for private buildings.

But even that was too much to ask. Senate Republicans wouldn’t consider it without tying it to approval of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. Grist’s Ben Adler elaborates:

When the bill passed the House, I concluded that energy-efficiency measures could win Republican support if they avoided any mandates on the private sector and any spending of government money. After all, there is nothing for conservatives to oppose about making government more efficient and offering voluntary programs to help companies save money.

Well, now you can add another condition to the list of Republican demands: Even a modest energy-efficiency measure cannot be passed without including unrelated giveaways to fossil-fuel industries.

And there’s one other motive behind the filibuster: The names attached to the Senate version of the bill are Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Shaheen is running for re-election this year, and being challenged by Massachusetts import Scott Brown. Brown lobbied his former Republican colleagues in the Senate not to give Shaheen an accomplishment to run on.

and let’s end with a big dream

What if the roads were paved with solar panels, creating a decentralized power grid?

Present Danger

Climate change is not a distant threat. It is affecting the American people already. On the whole, summers are longer and hotter, with longer periods of extended heat. Wildfires start earlier in the spring and continue later into the fall. Rain comes down in heavier downpours. People are experiencing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies. And climate disruptions to water resources and agriculture have been increasing.

Dr. John Holdren, presidential science advisor

This week’s featured articles are “New Evidence that ObamaCare is Working” and “Privilege and the Bubble of Flattery“.

This week everybody was talking about the kidnapped Nigerian girls

If you’re like me and know next to nothing about the internal politics of most African nations, Vox’s “Everything You Need To Know About Nigeria’s Kidnapped Girls” is a good place to start. “Everything you need to know about …” is a one of the standard formats on Vox (Ezra Klein’s news start-up), and it’s perfect for a story like this.

and Ukraine

Likewise, I can’t claim any deep understanding of the Ukraine/Russia conflict. I’m following the day-by-day developments via the NYT and CNN, like everyone else.

In Foreign Policy, Peter Pomerantsev wonders if Putin has re-invented war for the 21st century, something he calls “non-linear war”.

The NYT’s Ukraine Crisis in Maps feature helps.

BBC compares the relative military strength of Russia and Ukraine: Ukraine has about half the troops of Russia, and the other numbers are far more lopsided. If it comes to war and Ukraine doesn’t get NATO help, Russia will win on the battlefield. (As we saw in Iraq, whether it would be able to control the populace afterwards is a different matter.)

and the national climate assessment

The White House published the 2014 National Climate Assessment. The full report is enormous (841 pages), so I suspect most people will do better with the 148-page highlights. As in this week’s Sift quote, it is emphasizing that the effects of climate change are already visible, and fighting the impression that climate change is some distant threat that may never arise.

and a privileged Princeton freshman

Tal Fortgang became something of a sensation when Time published his essay “Why I’ll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege“. On the Left, it seemed like everybody had to respond, including me. I thought Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams covered it pretty well:

Young man, if you honestly think this country doesn’t care about religion or race, then you are privileged. You have grown up in an America that has enabled you to not know otherwise. And I don’t need to you to be sorry about it, because you didn’t create that. I’d just love for you to someday understand it.

and separation of church and state

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision (it’s the usual 5 against the usual 4) in Greece v Galloway follows the same pattern we saw in the affirmative action case two weeks ago: If you’re in the majority and you want to lord it over the minority, the Court thinks you should dot your i‘s and cross your t‘s first, but otherwise, go ahead.

In this case the majority is religious rather than racial. The town board of Greece, NY started opening its monthly meeting with prayer in 1999, each time inviting a different local minister to be “chaplain of the month”. Except for a few months in 2008 when it was trying to avoid this lawsuit, all the chaplains have been Christian and many of them have delivered sectarian prayers. The town claims no malice towards non-Christian faiths and they haven’t been barred from delivering prayers, but it just didn’t make any particular effort to include them or let them know how they might volunteer to lead prayers.

The majority opinion makes all this sound perfectly reasonable and in line with precedents where the Court has given its blessing to Congress and the state legislatures opening with prayer, respecting a long tradition. (And as in the affirmative action case, it makes any alternative sound fraught with issues beyond the ken of any court: Somebody would have to specify prayers acceptable to everyone, or dictate codes of conduct for the invited clergy.) But Justice Kagan’s dissent (beginning on page 56 of the 80-page PDF file) destroys that argument completely, pointing out two major differences:

  • Chaplains for Congress and the state legislatures lead prayers for the legislators who hire them, and citizens who attend the sessions are neither addressed nor expected to participate. By contrast, in Greece the chaplain stands with his back to the Board, facing the citizens, who the chaplain calls to stand and pray — usually without any acknowledgment of their right to opt out.
  • The meetings are not just legislative; they are also a prime way that citizens bring their concerns to the Board. So the result of the practice is this: Before you can raise your concerns with the Board — asking them, say, to put a crosswalk on a street your children use or repair the potholes in your neighborhood — you either have to pray with them first or refuse their invitation to pray.

Kagan invites us to consider other public venues where it would clearly be wrong to ask you to pray a sectarian prayer: before a judge will hear your case, when you ask for a ballot, or before you are granted citizenship. You shouldn’t have to jump a religious hurdle to exercise your rights.

That’s not at all a difficult concept to understand or implement, if you really want to.

and the changing politics of ObamaCare

The longer ObamaCare is in place, the more evidence that it’s working as designed, and the nightmare scenarios laid out by its opponents aren’t coming to pass. (Has anybody you know faced a Death Panel yet?) In “New Evidence ObamaCare is Working” I sum up the most recent information.

It’s happening slower than it ought to, but politicians on both sides are beginning to adjust to the changing politics of ObamaCare. The GOP had expected to turn the confirmation of HHS Secretary Katherine Sebelius’ successor into an anti-ObamaCare show trial, but now that it’s happening, they are becoming shy. Instead, incumbent North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan was on offense over the refusal of Republican legislatures to extend Medicaid.

On the campaign trail, it’s often the Republican candidate who runs into difficult questions about ObamaCare.

which lead to new Benghazi hearings

The GOP was supposed to coast to a Senate majority this fall by talking about nothing but what a disaster ObamaCare is. But as more and more people get affordable health insurance and some already have ObamaCare-saved-my-life stories to tell their friends and relatives, that strategy looks increasingly suspect. What’s a party to do? Tout the accomplishments of the Republican Congress? Run on a job-creation plan that is more than just the tax-cuts-will-solve-everything notion nobody believes any more? Come up with their own ObamaCare alternative?

Don’t be silly. The new plan is to run on Benghazi, even though the questions they’ve been raising were answered a long time ago, and there is no new evidence — or any evidence to speak of — of wrong-doing. Meanwhile, Democrats have to decide whether they want to boycott the new House Select Committee on Benghazi. It’s pretty clear the committee’s Republican majority has no intention of running an impartial investigation — Chairman Trey Gowdy has already slipped and called the hearing a “trial”.

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To this New England Yankee, Georgia’s new open carry law seems insane. One example: A man wandered around a public park in Forsyth County showing his gun to people at a Little League game. According to a local parent:

He’s just walking around [saying] “See my gun? Look, I got a gun and there’s nothing you can do about it.” He knew he was frightening people. He knew exactly what he was doing.

I remember some of the weird guys who hung around Little League games when I was a kid. We could ignore them because they were no threat with our parents around. Of course, they weren’t armed. But this guy caused Forsyth parents to halt the game because they didn’t think their kids were safe. And guess what? He was right. When police came, there was nothing they could do.

In Texas, members of Open Carry Texas staged a demonstration in a plaza with a Home Depot and a Jack in the Box. When men came into their store with semi-automatic weapons, the Jack in the Box workers got sufficiently scared that they locked themselves in the freezer. Digby comments:

All of this is allegedly being done to protect our freedoms. But it’s only the “freedom” of the person wearing a firearm that matters. Those parents who want their kids to feel safe in a public park aren’t free to tell a man waving a gun around to leave them alone, are they? Patrons and employees of Starbucks aren’t free to express their opinion of open carry laws when one of these demonstrations are taking place in the store. Those Jack in the Box employees aren’t free to refuse service to armed customers. Sure, they are all theoretically free to do those things. It’s their constitutional right just like it’s the constitutional right of these people to carry a gun. But in the real world, sane people do not confront armed men and women. They don’t argue with them over politics. They certainly do not put their kids in harm’s way in order to make a point. So when it comes right down to it, when you are in the presence of one of these armed citizens, you don’t really have any rights at all. 

The Pope called for a redistribution of wealth. Sean Hannity seems shocked to discover that the Sermon on the Mount wasn’t about abortion.

and let’s end with something you wouldn’t have seen last year

Openly gay football player Michael Sam got picked by the St. Louis Rams in the final round of the NFL draft (which, according to Nate Silver, is about where he should have been drafted, given that his size and skills are a difficult fit for a typical NFL defense). He reacted the way straight players have reacted for years, by kissing his sweetheart.


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