Unwarranted

Ferguson is a city located in northern St. Louis County with 21,203 residents living in 8,192 households. … Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of $2,635,400. In 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed of 24,532 warrants and 12,018 cases, or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.

– Arch City Defenders, “Municipal Courts White Paper

This week’s featured post is “What Your Fox-Watching Uncle Doesn’t Get About Ferguson“. The featured post from two weeks ago “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party” continued its viral spread last week. It’s now over 100,000 page views, making it the second most popular Sift post ever. But it’s still got a ways to go to catch “The Distress of the Privileged” at 332K. (Those numbers make the 2,000 views of last week’s “The Ferguson Test” seems puny, but it’s actually quite good by normal Weekly Sift standards.)

This week everybody was still talking about Ferguson

Wednesday, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell nailed the NYT for police reporting that reminds me of the reporting Judith Miller did for them in the lead-up to the Iraq War: Leaks from government sources are reported as facts, the official framing of events is accepted uncritically, and contradictory evidence is discounted.


A different angle on Ferguson comes from Arch City Defenders, a group that “strives to provide holistic criminal and civil legal services to the homeless and working poor in the St. Louis Region.”

In a white paper on the St. Louis area municipal courts published before Mike Brown’s death, ACD focused on Ferguson and two other municipalities that it described as “chronic offenders” for abuses of the justice system like

being jailed for the inability to pay fines, losing jobs and housing as result of the incarceration, being refused access to the Courts if they were with their children or other family members, and being mistreated by the bailiffs, prosecutors, clerks and judges in the courts.

… In many municipalities, individuals who are unable to pay whatever fines they are assessed are incarcerated — sometimes repeatedly over many years. One defendant described being incarcerated fifteen or sixteen times over a decade on the same municipal charge.

In short, if you are poor in Ferguson, getting a speeding ticket can wreck your life. But it makes money for the town.

Court costs and fines represent a significant source of income for these towns. According to the St. Louis County two municipalities alone, Ferguson and Florissant, earned a combined net profit of $3.5 million off of their municipal courts in 2013.

ACD’s Thomas Harvey says:

The courts in those municipalities are profit-seeking entities that systematically enforce municipal ordinance violations in a way that disproportionately impacts the indigent and communities of color.

St. Louis County municipal courts typically don’t provide public defenders, so even if the law makes allowance for poverty, the poor may not know how to claim their rights. Those who can afford lawyers often can deal with minor violations without a court appearance, with the result that (as one resident put it) “You go to all of these damn courts, and there’s no white people.”

ACD’s white paper draws an obvious conclusion: “This interaction … shapes public perception of justice and the American legal system.”


St. Louis police released a cellphone video of two of their officers killing a different black man. The video contradicts several parts of the police account of the killing, but nonetheless the shooting is judged by experts to be justified. Watching it gives you some idea of what police are allowed to get away with.


Three of the officers involved in policing the Ferguson protests have been disciplined. The first was Ray Albers of the St. Ann police force, who was videotaped waving a gun at the crowd and yelling, “I will fucking kill you.” He’s been suspended indefinitely.

The second is Glendale officer Matthew Pappert, who was suspended after tweeting: “These protestors should have been put down like a rabid dog the first night.”

But the scariest is Dan Page of the St. Louis force. He’s been relieved of duty after St. Louis Post-Dispatch released a video of an hour-long talk he gave to a meeting of the local Oath Keepers chapter in April. The articles about him pick out the easy sound bites: his hostility to gays, women, the Supreme Court, and President Obama, as well as several statements expressing pride in being “a killer”. But if you watch the whole talk, what’s really frightening is Page’s paranoid thought process, and the fact that the gym-full of people he appears to be talking to seem to approve.

I have listened to certifiably paranoid people before, and this talk is exactly what they sound like. They present “evidence” for their dark fantasies that you look at and think “Huh?” Page wanders through the Constitution, the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, and various other apparently authoritative sources, referencing bits that (if you look them up) have little to do with what he’s saying. (At the 25 minute mark: “In Psalms 83, Russia invades Israel. They are beat back, eight-fifths of their army are killed.”)

At around the 17-minute mark he presents a slide he says came from a talk by the Secretary of the Army. The untitled, unannotated slide is simply a list of ten regions. (“1. America, Canada, Mexico … 10. Remainder of Africa”.) Page finds this slide deeply threatening: “World government, folks. Anybody who resists it is dead.”

The idea that Dan Page is on the street with a gun is scary enough, much less that he has wielded the authority of a police officer for 35 years.


Online arguments about the Brown shooting are so formulaic that The Daily Dot has a taxonomy of the ten kinds of trolls you’ll run into.


As part of a long article that is well worth reading end-to-end, an ex-cop compares Ferguson to the Bundy Ranch showdown.

On the Bundy Ranch, armed protesters were violently obstructing law enforcement from performing their duties.  Sniper rifles were pointed at those law enforcement officers. Then those “snipers” openly gloated about how they had the agents in their sights the entire time. And what was the police response?  All out retreat.  Nobody was arrested. No tear gas deployed. No tanks were called in. No Snipers posted in the neighborhood. No rubber bullets fired. Nothing. Police officers in mortal danger met with heavily armed resistance and no one had to answer for it.

… Just imagine if there were 150 black folks walking around Ferguson with assault rifles right now. Imagine if a couple of them took up sniper positions on the tops of buildings with their rifles pointed at the police officers.  Take a quick guess at how that story ends.

and ISIS

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria beheaded American journalist James Foley — and posted the video on YouTube — after the U.S. government refused a 100 million Euro ransom demand and a rescue attempt failed. This sparked a lot of discussion about widening the U.S. involvement in Iraq beyond the current air strikes.

I don’t doubt that a lot of people in ISIS are bad guys. But it gets old watching the pro-war spin machine work. Once again, we face a group of insane, unstoppable monsters far worse than the last group of insane, unstoppable monsters we were warned about. Rick Perry thinks they’re coming over the Mexican border, and a former CIA deputy director warns us that they could get an AK-47 and shoot up a mall — not because either man has any evidence that such things are in the process of happening, but because we have a new name for the Boogie Man.

The problem with the panic-mongering is that it just raises the pressure to do something. It doesn’t increase the effectiveness of any of the somethings we might do. Couldn’t we someday have a rational discussion of what our options really are, and what good or bad things are likely to result from the various things we might do?

and Ukraine/Russia

The Ukrainian government forces seem to be advancing against the pro-Russian rebels who hold several cities near the Russian border. Russia is moving what it claims is humanitarian aid across the border, but Ukraine says it’s military re-supply for the rebels. It’s hard for American journalists to verify anybody’s story.

and you also might be interested in …

It’s still in the laboratory (at my alma mater, BTW), but wow is this cool: transparent solar cells. Someday, your windows could generate electricity without blocking the view.


The pressure to change the name of the Washington NFL team continues its slow, inexorable build. The editorial board of The Washington Post announced Friday that it will no longer refer to the team as “Redskins” in its editorials. (Presumably, the announcement itself was the last time.) That move was mostly symbolic, since the R-team isn’t mentioned that often on the editorial page, and the news and sports sections of the paper will continue to print “Redskins”. But it’s something.

As of June, The Seattle Times won’t use the name at all. It’ll be interesting to see how they cover the Seattle-Washington Monday Night Football game on October 6. Maybe this article from The Kansas City Star could be a model.

Wednesday it came out that longtime NFL referee Mike Carey had been quietly boycotting Washington games since 2006. When confronted with the fact that he had not refereed a Washington game in many years, Carey owned up:

The league respectfully honored my request not to officiate Washington. … It just became clear to me that to be in the middle of the field, where something disrespectful is happening, was probably not the best thing for me.

Carey has retired from the NFL and now works for CBS’ football coverage team as a rules analyst. He was the first African-American to referee a Super Bowl. A coaches’ poll once named him (tied with another guy) as the league’s best referee.

CBS’ Phil Simms and NBC’s Tony Dungy have said they will try to avoid saying “Redskins” while announcing or commenting on games.

Sooner or later, these little grains of sand will turn into a landslide. For now, not cooperating with the misnamed team requires an explanation. But we’re approaching a tipping point, where those who do cooperate will be expected to explain.

and let’s close with some creative law-breaking

Cracked has compiled a list of “The 7 Most Badass Acts of Vandalism Ever Photographed“. I mean, would you have thought to paint a giant penis on a drawbridge, so that would rise every time the bridge goes up? Or turn a Soviet monument in Bulgaria into colorful American comic-book characters and other mythical beings like Santa Claus and Ronald McDonald? Or let half a million brightly colored plastic balls bounce down the Spanish Steps in Rome? Somebody did.

What Your Fox-Watching Uncle Doesn’t Get About Ferguson

It doesn’t matter how many details you know. If you start the story in the wrong place, you won’t understand it.


Part of my regular news-watching cycle is to check in on Fox News from time to time. It keeps me honest and helps me anticipate the kinds of arguments I’m likely to start hearing from conservatives.

Watching Fox was particularly interesting in the early part of this week, because in the evenings they (like MSNBC and CNN) gave a lot of air time to their reporters on the streets in Ferguson, Missouri. So it was a rare opportunity to see all three cable news networks cover the same controversial events at the same time. Most days, the difference between the networks lies mainly in what they choose to cover — a new report on climate change might lead the news on MSNBC, while Fox focuses on Benghazi hearings in Congress. But for a few days the what of the news was obvious and inescapable, so Fox’s unique perspective on the world could only express itself in the how.

Some of the difference in coverage has been on the detail level and is easy to filter out if you’re aware of the various networks’ points of view. When police would start moving in on demonstrators, for example, Fox would report as fact whatever they were hearing from police — that, say, shots had been fired from the crowd — while MSNBC would stick closer to what they could see (police moving in), express ignorance as to why it was happening, and then later report what police were saying (shots were fired from the crowd) as a claim they couldn’t verify. Whether you were pro-demonstrator or pro-police, you could watch either network and make a good guess about what the other was reporting.

But there has been a much more subtle, harder-to-compensate-for difference in the way each network answers the fundamental question: What are the demonstrations in Ferguson all about?

On Fox, the answer to that question is very simple. Demonstrators in Ferguson are reacting angrily to a single, one-of-a-kind event: White police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed an unarmed black 18-year-old, Michael Brown. That restricted context drives the rest of their narrative.

The apparent mystery. Like any good narrative hook, Fox’s omission of context creates a mystery: Why do so many people in Ferguson care so much about that particular event? Of course, Michael Brown’s family would be upset, and even Fox’s audience can cut them some slack if they want Officer Wilson nailed to the wall. But what about all those other people on the street night after night? It’s safe to say that most of them never even met Michael Brown. Why were they giving up their evenings and risking arrest or worse?

Once you have that question in your head, several answers suggest themselves: Maybe they’re all just crazy. Fox’s resident psychologist, Dr. Keith Ablow, says “the psyche of the community” deserves as much investigation as the actions of police.

Or maybe most of the protesters really don’t care about Brown, and the demonstrations are just an exciting thing to do in a boring town. At night on the streets, you’re where it’s all happening. You might even get on national TV. That’s the interpretation Fox correspondent Steve Harrigan was promoting when he described the demonstrations late Monday night as a “media event” and “child’s play”. (In response, he got cussed out on camera by one of the black “children” he was demeaning: “We go through this shit every day,” the young man reported. Harrigan did not follow up on that observation.)

An even more sinister solution to the mystery evokes racial stereotypes that Fox doesn’t need to spell out. A hint is enough: Maybe these young black men are just wired for anarchy and violence. The Brown shooting was nothing more than an excuse for doing what they’d do all the time if police weren’t stopping them. And once you raise the stereotype of the lawless black savage, the incidents of looting take on a significance far beyond their number or the number of people responsible: This isn’t about Brown or the police at all, it’s about grabbing some free liquor or a new pair of Air Jordans.

In addition, the why-do-they-care mystery leads right into a question Fox raises at every opportunity: Why do blacks only go to the streets about white-on-black cases like Brown and Trayvon Martin, when black-on-black violence [see endnote 1] kills far more people? How street demonstrations could prevent black-on-black violence is a question they never address. (Demonstrations speak to governments and the national electorate, and have little effect on criminals or hot-headed youth.) But Fox presents the Brown and Martin demonstrations as pointless anyway, so why shouldn’t there be equally pointless demonstrations against black-on-black violence instead?

Second, restricting your attention to that one context-free event makes the crowd look like a lynch mob. Why are they so sure Officer Wilson wasn’t justified in shooting Brown? Why can’t they wait for the investigative process to play out? And why can’t they cooperate with police now to keep the peace?

And finally, the mystery-framing makes the politics of the situation look purely venal. How outrageous it seems that liberals — they must be liberals — are exploiting the Brown shooting to register Ferguson’s black population to vote!

What makes Fox’s frame so convincing to its audience is that you can feel well-informed inside it. You can know how many people were arrested each night and which stores they looted. You can learn details of the shooting (though anonymous leaks from police will be reported more authoritatively than eye-witness testimony from black citizens). You can learn statistics about black crime in America. You can know just how rare police killings are compared to drug killings or other black-on-black murders. You’re not ignorant; you’re a walking storehouse of the kinds of information MSNBC would never tell you.

But in spite of that well-informed feeling, you don’t understand what’s really going on, because Fox is leaving out key background information and then beginning the story in the wrong place. The right story begins not with Officer Wilson’s bullets, or even with Michael Brown in the convenience store, but with a community where lesser forms of police abuse are an everyday occurrence.

Start by asking. Slate‘s Jamelle Bouie did what Fox reporters (or most individual whites) hardly ever do: ask the black community what they’re concerned about and listen to their answers.

Talk to anyone in Ferguson and you’ll hear a story about the police. … Everyone—or at least, every black person—can recall an incident. Everyone can attest to friends and relatives who have been harassed, assaulted, or worse by the police.

The right story begins here: A majority-black community feels abused by its almost entirely white police force. [2] And complaining to the white-dominated local government does no good. (As a report from Arch City Defenders spells out, the town of Ferguson gets significant revenue from assessing fines against poor people.)

If you start there, the narrative takes a completely different path. When a policeman shot Michael Brown six times on a city street in broad daylight in front of witnesses, the Ferguson community was not shocked (the way I would be if one of my white friends were gunned down by police in my majority-white town). Quite the opposite, this was the kind of incident they found all too believable, given the police behavior they see all the time.

So the reaction we’ve been seeing on the streets isn’t “OMG! How can something like this happen?”, it’s “This shit has to stop.”

No mystery. So it’s no mystery at all why people who never met Michael Brown have been out on the streets. Brown’s death is part of a bigger issue that they all have a stake in: How can the police be gotten under community control, and disciplined to treat the community with respect?

Their tactics are also no mystery: When the political process is unresponsive, the streets are the only communication channel left. Trayvon Martin’s mother is supposed to have said, “If they won’t hear us, make them feel us.” And Ja’han Jones put it more aggressively on Salon: “What if being peaceful won’t change a thing?”

As far as Officer Wilson is concerned, the crowds are not rushing to judgment, they are speaking from experience. Yes, police act this way, and the result is always the same: If the incident isn’t ignored completely, it is shunted into a opaque “process” in which eyewitnesses are ignored and no quantity of physical evidence is sufficient to bring charges. Ferguson police have showed every indication of wanting to go that way: keeping back relevant information as long as possible, smearing Michael Brown, responding to protests with even more excessive force, leaking bogus “facts” that support Wilson, and arresting reporters.

What’s rare about the Brown shooting isn’t the shooting itself, but how visible everything is: The body was lying in the street for hours. The eyewitnesses have been on TV. Nothing in the autopsy or other available evidence contradicts their testimony. If the police don’t have to answer for this, then what are the limits? Is there anything they can’t sweep under the rug?

Once you understand where the story really starts and what it’s really about, then the whole detour into black-on-black crime is revealed to be “the politics of changing the subject“. Other than corpses, the two issues have nothing in common. It’s like asking Sean Hannity, “Why have you spent so much time on the four Americans who died at Benghazi when tens of thousands of Americans die in car accidents?”

My reality and theirs. Demographically, I look more like a Fox viewer than a Ferguson protester. I’m white, over 50, and have an above-median household income. I barely notice when a police car goes by, and when I have had occasion to deal with my local police — usually because I approached them with a question — they have been unfailingly polite. When I arrange to meet people socially or promise to be somewhere, I don’t allow extra time for the possibility that I might be stopped and frisked, or taken down to the police station and questioned about some crime I never heard of. That kind of stuff never happens to guys like me.

If I did find myself in an unexpected and unpleasant run-in with police, it would feel like snow in July. My instinct would be to wait it out until polite normality re-asserted itself. So I could easily follow the advice of LAPD’s Sunil Dutta:

if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long? … Save your anger for later, and channel it appropriately. Do what the officer tells you to and it will end safely for both of you. We have a justice system in which you are presumed innocent; if a cop can do his or her job unmolested, that system can run its course. Later, you can ask for a supervisor, lodge a complaint or contact civil rights organizations if you believe your rights were violated. Feel free to sue the police! Just don’t challenge a cop during a stop. [3]

Great advice for me, but I don’t believe it has much to do with the reality of places like Ferguson, or even parts of Dutta’s own Los Angeles.

What if I weren’t a middle-aged middle-class white guy? What if police abuse is normal in my experience? What if I’ve cooperated before, and before, and before that … and the stop wasn’t “complete in minutes” and I got tased, pepper-sprayed or worse anyway? What if I “saved my anger for later” and the appropriate channels laughed at me? What if I have dead or injured friends whose attempts to cooperate didn’t “end safely”, and other friends who weren’t “presumed innocent” in court, and are now in prison on sketchy or manufactured evidence?

What’s your advice for me then, Officer Dutta?

What your Fox-watching uncle doesn’t get. The frustrated citizens of Ferguson are pursuing a plan that makes sense: Wait for an incident so egregious that it can’t be swept under the rug, and then get out on the streets in large numbers. Tell your story to the country, put your political leaders on the spot, and show the world how “justice” works in your town. Shine a spotlight on the usual shadowy self-investigation process, and dare the powers-that-be to work their usual trickery in front of a national audience.

That plan might not work — it didn’t work in Florida — but what more likely plan have you got for them? They can’t just be quiet and wait for justice to be served. They’ve got to do something.

Because “we go through this shit every day”, and that shit has to stop.


[1] Reason‘s Steve Chapman asks:

Most crimes are committed by males, but we don’t refer to “male-on-male crime.” Whites in the South are substantially more prone to homicide than those in New England, but no one laments “Southerner-on-Southerner crime.” Why does crime involving people of African descent deserve its own special category?

[2] Unlike Bill O’Reilly, Ferguson residents aren’t giving police credit for all the people they stop and don’t kill. What’s up with that? And what about the 3/4ths of the people police across the nation kill who aren’t black?

[3] This advice was funnier when Chris Rock was giving it.

The Monday Morning Teaser

It’s been another week of unusually high traffic at the Sift. Two weeks ago the blog had 71K hits, last week 58K. That’s more than half the hits the blog has had in all of 2014. The reason is “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“, which is now over 100K page views and still running. Last week’s “The Ferguson Test” looks anemic by comparison at 1.9K, but that’s actually pretty good by normal standards.

This week I’m continuing to look at Ferguson, focusing on the different ways of telling the story, and how that affects what you think about it. If you start with the wrong frame, you can believe you’re very well informed and still be getting it completely wrong. The featured post will be “What Your Fox-Watching Uncle Doesn’t Get About Ferguson”.

Ferguson also leads the weekly summary: It came out that Ferguson’s court system is actually a money-making business, and fines — mostly levied against poor people — are a major revenue source. That might have some effect on the faith Fergusonians have in their justice system. Also, the video of an hour-long talk one St. Louis cop gave came out, and it’s scary to picture this guy with a gun and a badge.

This week ISIS and Ukraine/Russia also got a lot of attention. And the heat about the Washington Redskins’ name notched up a couple degrees. But there was good news from my alma mater, Michigan State: transparent solar cells. And we’ll close with seven amazingly creative acts of vandalism from around the world.

Predicting when posts will appear is a little more difficult this week. I’m aiming to have the Ferguson post out around 10 EDT and the weekly summary between 11 and noon.

Conditioning

As a white person in the U.S., I am conditioned from birth to see whiteness as safety — white neighborhoods, white people, white authority figures. My lived experience, my conversations with people of color, and my study of history have shown me over and over that this is a wild and cruel perversion of the truth. But the cultural conditioning is strong. Unless I fight it every day, white superiority seeps into my brain in slow, almost undetectable ways.

– Rev. Meg Riley, “Up to Our Necks

Last week’s “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party” had the hottest first week in Weekly Sift history, with over 62,000 hits so far. It has slowed down a little, but is still getting thousands a day. Already it’s the third most popular Sift post ever.

This week’s featured article is “The Ferguson Test“. Rather than focus on breaking news (something a one-man weekly blog can’t hope to do well) this post asks you to take a step back and examine your own reactions to Ferguson. How is race influencing the way you perceive the facts?

This week everybody was talking about the Ferguson protests

Very short version, for people who have been cut off from civilization all week: A young black man was shot by police under suspicious circumstances in a mostly-black suburb of St. Louis. The police stonewalled (but the family has released its own autopsy), the community protested (mostly peacefully, but with violent incidents), and the local police responded with military weapons and tactics until Governor Jay Nixon put the state police in charge, which temporarily calmed things down. Over the weekend, things heated up again and now the National Guard has been called in.

To get a handle on this, the continuously updated Vox card stack “Everything you need to know about the Ferguson, MO protests for Michael Brown” is a good place to start. The NYT has a day-by-day timeline. But maybe nobody does a better job of pulling it all together than John Oliver.

Here’s the thing the [Ferguson] mayor doesn’t understand. As a general rule, no one should ever be allowed to say, “There is no history of racial tension here.” Because that sentence has never been true anywhere on Earth.

And he responds to Governor Nixon’s scolding of the community (with the “profoundly patronizing” tone of “a pissed-off vice principal trying to restore order at an assembly”) by turning it around.

That should go both ways. I know the police love their ridiculous unnecessary military equipment. So here’s another patronizing test: Let’s take it all away from them. And if they can make it through a whole month without killing a single unarmed black man, then (and only then) can they get their fucking toys back.

Articles about Ferguson have explored several inter-related issues.

The specifics of the Brown shooting. See the above-mentioned Vox card stack. And an editorial in The St. Louis American gives some important political and economic background. In an era where downtowns are gentrifying, the poor are increasingly ending up in the first ring of suburbs, in places like Ferguson. But as whites flee to the more distant suburbs or return to the city, the white-dominated political power structure is often the last thing to go.

Racism in policing and the justice system. Ezra Klein’s article puts this together well.

Officer Friendly has changed.

The militarization of police in American cities. Due to a program that distributes unneeded military equipment to local police forces, towns as small as Franklin, Indiana now have the kind of mine-resistant personnel carriers that even the Army didn’t have in the early days of the Iraq occupation. And John Oliver’s rant (above) makes fun of Keene, New Hampshire’s suggestion that such a vehicle might be needed if terrorists strike the annual fall Pumpkin Festival (which I’ve been to and survived without incident).

The problem? Clothes make the man. If you see the public out the window of an armored vehicle, they don’t look the way they might if you were walking among them. And they don’t look at you the same, either. Worse, military veterans trained in this kind of hostile crowd control tell us that the Ferguson police are doing it wrong.

Andrew Exum tweeted:

Ferguson is useful in that it separates those who actually worry about the power of the state from those who just hate Obama and want to wave a Gadsden Flag around with their friends.

Michael Bell is a white retired Air Force officer whose article: “What I Did After Police Killed My Son” raises a more general question of police accountability.

In 129 years since police and fire commissions were created in the state of Wisconsin, we could not find a single ruling by a police department, an inquest or a police commission that a shooting was unjustified.  … The problem over many decades, in other words, was a near-total lack of accountability for wrongdoing; and if police on duty believe they can get away with almost anything, they will act accordingly.

and Robin Williams

who apparently committed suicide last Monday. There were three types of articles about him:

  • news articles about his suicide, most of which have been blessedly short on details. Like most of the public, I often compulsively seek out details and then wish I didn’t know them. A late-breaking detail was that he was suffering some early Parkinson’s symptoms.
  • tributes to his career, which had amazing breadth. I saw him live only once, at a benefit in Boston that he did for John Kerry’s Senate campaign. (I think in 1990.) I can’t remember a single word he said, but it was brilliant.
  • discussions of depression, which have ranged from clueless to extremely interesting. I got the most insight out of David Wong’s “Robin Williams and Why Funny People Kill Themselves“.

Lynn Ungar points out that the Ferguson and Williams stories have something in common: They both offer us the choice of whether to try to understand people in distress or stand in judgment over them. Both stories have an element of “if you haven’t been there, you don’t know.”

I have a personal interest in depression. Both of my parents had age-related depression in their later years, and (from the early warning signs) I suspect I will too. Among other things, the brain is an organ that processes neurotransmitters, like a big kidney that also happens to think. Like many people’s kidneys, it may do its job less and less well as it ages.

The biggest thing people don’t get about depression is that when you’re depressed, your brain is broken. (I think the TV show Homeland has done a brilliant job of showing how a person struggles to think when she knows her brain is broken. Carrie suffers from mania, which is a different malfunction, but many of the same principles apply.) Paying attention to your stream of emotions is like listening to a radio mystery during an electrical storm; bursts of static wipe out key details, other programs bleed in, and you struggle to hang on to the story you tuned in for.

In spite of mirror neurons and empathy and all that, you can never really know what’s going on in another person’s brain, even if both of you are icons of mental health. When malfunctions start to cloud the picture, we’re all just guessing. So I find it impossible to stand in judgment of Robin Williams, either to condemn him or grant him absolution. I have no idea what it was like to be in his head.


In any other week, the death of Lauren Bacall would have been the top entertainment-news story. She was not just a great actress in her own right, but because she came of age as the old Hollywood system was ending and lived to be 89, her death marks the passing of a generation.

and Hillary Clinton

In an interview with The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, Clinton began the process of distancing herself from President Obama, apparently in preparation for a 2016 presidential run. The most-quoted parts of that interview criticize Obama’s handling of Syria:

The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled

and his cautious approach to intervention in general:

Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.

As James Fallows points out, most of her interview stayed in harmony with Obama’s policies; but she should have known that the headlines would be about the differences.

If the former interpretation is right, Clinton is rustier at dealing with the press than we assumed. Rustier in taking care with what she says, rustier in taking several days before countering a (presumably) undesired interpretation. I hope she’s just rusty. Because if she intended this, my heart sinks. … Yeah, we should have “done something” in Syria to prevent the rise of ISIS. But the U.S. did a hell of a lot of somethings in Iraq over the past decade, with a lot more leverage that it could possibly have had in Syria. And the result of the somethings in Iraq was … ?

Fahred Zakaria critiques “The Fantasy of Middle Eastern Moderates“.

Asserting that the moderates in Syria could win is not tough foreign policy talk, it is a naive fantasy with dangerous consequences.

I’ve been resisting writing about 2016, because I think it’s a too-easy way to fill space with speculation that sounds a lot more important than it is. But these days a serious presidential campaign is a nationwide, multi-million-dollar enterprise that can’t be thrown together at the last minute. So we’re approaching the first big decision point: Who’s going to run? Clinton is the obvious front-runner, so the question is: If she runs, will any Democrat mount a serious challenge? And should liberals be hoping someone does, or not?

Up until this week, I’ve been focused on the importance of the Democrats hanging on to the White House, so I’ve been OK with Hillary going mostly unchallenged. If you’re focused on winning in November, you want the primaries to be like preseason football: Your team gets to run through its plays in a game-like situation, but faces no consequential threat. And you don’t want what the Republicans are shaping up to have: a big mudfest that someone wins by pandering to the party’s least attractive elements, and saying a lot of things that will come back to haunt him/her in the fall.

But the Goldberg interview reminded me of what I’ve long disliked about both the Clintons: Everything seems so calculated. I’m not sure whether there’s a real worldview in there, or just a political strategy. Bill’s two terms were a mixed bag. By preventing a Bush re-election, he gave us Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court rather than another Clarence Thomas. But after eight years spent constantly trying to find the center, the question, “What is the Democratic Party about?” seemed hopelessly muddled.

Here’s what I fear Hillary is thinking: If liberal votes can be taken for granted, then the best message for convincing swing voters is probably: “I’m tougher than Obama.” Tougher on Muslims, tougher on controlling the border, tougher on violence on our city streets. But if that message wins, where can she go with it?


And what if America is moving left, like Thomas Ricks.

and you also might be interested in …

Rick Perry got indicted for abuse of power, but I’m having a hard time getting excited about it. Steve Kornacki is skeptical and Jonathan Chait thinks it’s “unbelievably ridiculous”. They’re not Perry’s usual defenders.


Google just got a little creepier. Here’s a map of a smartphone user’s wanderings.


Kentucky’s proposed “Ark Encounter” theme park wants to get state subsidies while only hiring fundamentalist Christians.

and let’s close with something America should envy

Copenhagen’s “Cycle Snake”, a beautiful new elevated bikeway.

The Ferguson Test

This week’s events in Ferguson have tested all of us, not just police and politicians.


In a classic South Park bit, Stan’s Dad is on Wheel of Fortune. The category is “People Who Annoy You”, and the letters showing are

N-_-G-G-E-R-S

The solution is naggers, but Mr. Marsh is so overwhelmed by the horror/forbidden-pleasure of saying “niggers” on TV that he can’t think of anything else. Watching for the first time, neither could I. Surely no TV-game-show puzzle could have niggers as its solution, but it instantly jumps to mind anyway. And once you’ve had that thought, calmly running through the other vowels to find a more probable solution doesn’t seem like an option any more.

By the time he blurts out “Niggers!”, Mr. Marsh even seems proud of himself for having found the courage to overcome political correctness and speak the truth as he sees it. But it isn’t truth. It’s just an idea that shines so brightly in his head that he can’t see any alternatives.

That’s how unconscious racism works.

Stan’s Dad is not an I-hate-black-people kind of racist, and undoubtedly he would be offended to be described as any kind of racist at all. In most ways, he’s a fairly typical middle-class white parent. He didn’t wake up that morning thinking, “I’m going to say ‘nigger’ today, and don’t let anybody try to stop me.” He knows what attitudes and behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable in today’s society, and he does his best to pretend that his mind really works that way.

But it just doesn’t. Whatever his conscious intentions, his mental reflexes have been passed down from another era, when racism was as common as air.

Reacting to presidents. Earlier this year, I described how unconscious racism figures in people’s responses to President Obama. Being president and living in the White House has always been a pretty sweet ride. Protocol requires everyone to defer to you. Wherever you go, no expense is spared to keep you and your family comfortable and safe.

The public has known and accepted this for a long time. The President symbolizes the United States, so of course the Kennedys or Reagans or Bushes should be treated with utmost respect. But when the First Family became black, all that luxury and deference suddenly looked different. Why were the Obamas lording it over us like this?

So, those white folks who didn’t even notice when Reagan’s or JFK’s feet were on the desk, but who see Obama’s and think “He was raised so badly.” — are they also secretly thinking “Who does that uppity nigger think he is, acting like he’s a real president or something?” Maybe a few here or there, but mostly no. They aren’t consciously hating Obama because he’s black. But they can’t look at a black president the same way they looked at the 43 white presidents. Things just look different when Obama does them.

And once the thought “Why are the Obamas lording it over us?” pops into your head, it’s genuinely difficult to back up and think: “Wait a minute. Are there other ways to look at this? Would I be interpreting the situation this way if he were white?” In fact, not voicing that bright and shiny “truth” feels like cowardice. The racial influence is long forgotten: Who does this Obama guy think he is, acting like he’s President of the United States or something?

Unconscious racism in the police. At this point, we don’t really know what Darren Wilson was thinking when he killed Michael Brown, sparking more than a week of civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. But we know that there’s a long history of police officers reacting differently to black citizens than to whites. Ezra Klein put it bluntly:

Incidents of excessive force are commonplace, and increasingly, there’s a list of young black men who have died for no other reason than that they ran into a police officer at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

Earlier this month, for example, 22-year-old John Crawford was killed by police in a WalMart in Ohio. After he picked up a realistic-looking air rifle from the shelf, another customer called police about an armed man in the store. Crawford was talking to his girlfriend on the phone when police demanded he drop the weapon. While he tried to explain that it wasn’t a real weapon, they killed him.

By contrast, white open-carry activists have been showing up in public places like Target or Home Depot, prominently displaying actual deadly weapons. None of them have provoked a similar misunderstanding. In Aurora, Colorado (site of the 2012 movie-theater massacre) an 18-year-old white man was carrying a shotgun down a public street. When stopped by police, he argued with them and refused to turn over the gun or show any ID. They let him continue on his way, gun in hand.

Most of this disparity, I suspect, is unconscious. I sincerely doubt that Crawford’s killers went to work that morning thinking, “I hate those young black bucks. I’m going to shoot me one today if I get the chance.” But police have to deal with emergency situations that may require quick action. Somebody seems to have a gun and people might be in danger — do you calmly talk him down or go in shooting? There may be no time to work through a checklist and make an objective decision; you have to go with your gut.

But what if your gut is prejudiced? What if seeing a young black man in an emergency situation is like seeing N-_-G-G-E-R-S on the puzzle board? One possibility — that he’s a dangerous criminal and innocent people will die unless you shoot him right now — pops to mind and blots out all others.

The Ferguson test.This is a test,” Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said. But it’s not just the people of Ferguson or the police or Nixon himself who are being tested this week. It’s all of us. As we watch events unfold, in how many ways do they just look different because of race? How hard is it to back up, re-examine our initial framing, and ask ourselves what we’d be thinking if race were not a factor?

The Ferguson police as an organization. Looking at their initial treatment of the Brown shooting, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Ferguson police didn’t think killing a black teen-ager was a big deal, or that his family or the community deserved any answers about how it happened or who did it or why. Shielding the shooter appeared to be the paramount concern.

When protests did erupt, police seemed to see only the public order and safety issues rather than the community relations issues. Instead of working with community leaders to balance public safety concerns with the public rights of assembly and free expression, police attempted to dictate to the community, and to enforce their edicts with overwhelming force.

The fact that the police version of the shooting was at odds with the accounts of eye-witnesses, including at least two who did not know Michael Brown, did not seem to bother them. Witnesses and the family’s private autopsy (results of the police autopsy haven’t been revealed) paint the picture of an intentional, unnecessary killing: shots aimed at Brown’s back while he attempted to run away, and then more shots after Brown turns with his hands in the air. After interviewing one witness, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell assesses her testimony as a description of first degree murder, and the legal experts on his show agree. And yet the officer has not been arrested or charged with any crime at all.

When police finally released Wilson’s name, they simultaneously released video of Brown apparently stealing cigars from a convenience store. That video has no relevance to the legal case — officers can’t shoot down suspects trying to surrender, no matter what they are suspected of doing — but it did have public relations value. It fed the storyline that focuses on black lawbreaking and violence to the exclusion of police misconduct.

Political leaders. It was obvious early on that local officials in Ferguson were making the situation worse, and yet higher authorities were slow to intervene or comment. The swing voters in Missouri are rural or suburban whites, and Governor Nixon has been careful not to look too pro-black. You have to wonder: If police were treating a white community like an occupied war zone, and if large numbers of local whites and their elected representatives were protesting, would it take that long to get a response?

Media. Some reporters are doing their best to get the facts out and portray them fairly, but it is far too easy to treat Ferguson residents as one big black blob. If there is looting and violence, then the citizens of Ferguson are violent looters. No wonder police are shooting them in the street and riding around in tanks and paying no attention to their concerns. Let them stop breaking the law and then maybe we’ll listen to them.

It’s hard to imagine a white community getting this kind of treatment. Whites who break the law are typically presented in the media as aberrations. Often they are portrayed as crazy loners, even when they belong to groups that promote precisely the kinds of crimes they commit. If you’re a law-abiding white homeowner with complaints about your local government, you stand very little chance of being lumped together with thieves and vandals who live in your neighborhood and also happen to be white.

Again, maybe a few journalists or TV personalities are thinking, “Here’s a chance to smear blacks”, but I doubt that’s the primary motivation. I think rioting black ghetto is another one of those bright shiny notions. Get it in your head and it’s hard to get it out.

Also, I can’t count the number of times I’ve run into the comment that we shouldn’t “jump to conclusions” because “we don’t know all the facts” or “we don’t know what really happened”. If several white eyewitnesses gave consistent accounts of excessive force by a black police officer, would we be instructed to ignore them in the same way? Or does the fact that the witnesses are black make it easier to discount their testimony? Does the whiteness of the police chief make his version more authoritative?

All of us. We can blame the police for laying out self-justifying and community-diminishing narratives, and we can blame the media for promoting them. But why do we fall for them?

And I do mean we. Like Randy Marsh, I was raised at time when racism was common as air. When I take a step back, I can see the effects of that training in the way my pre-conscious processes shape the perceptions that my conscious mind then wants to treat as facts.

Situations involving black people just look different. Their lives seem less consequential, their deaths less tragic. When I hear of their misfortunes or the injustices they suffer, part of me is waiting for the explanation of how they brought this on themselves. Their stories and testimonies are easily discounted. The thought, “I need to do something about this” does not arise on its own, unless the something involves defending myself and other respectable white people. A crowd of blacks easily stops being a collection of individual humans and becomes a malevolent unit. I expect violence and lawlessness, and when it appears it dominates the picture I see. “Well, there you go,” I think.

I can see how unfair those thoughts are, when I take a step back. But it’s so easy not to.

Unitarian Universalist minister Meg Riley writes:

As a white person in the U.S., I am conditioned from birth to see whiteness as safety — white neighborhoods, white people, white authority figures. My lived experience, my conversations with people of color, and my study of history have shown me over and over that this is a wild and cruel perversion of the truth. But the cultural conditioning is strong. Unless I fight it every day, white superiority seeps into my brain in slow, almost undetectable ways.

A lot of whites get offended by the suggestion that America is a racist society. They know that the vast majority of whites are not KKK-style racists, actively plotting evil against non-whites. (Some are, of course, but it’s not fair to judge the many by the misdeeds of the few — at least not when we’re talking about whites.)

My point is: We don’t have to be KKK-style racists. We can maintain a racist society quite well just by letting our minds do what they do: assemble age-old stereotypes into the narratives we’ve been hearing all our lives.

We can do that, or we can “fight it every day”. I invite you to take the Ferguson Test and see how you’re doing in that fight.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Welcome to the hundreds of new Weekly Sift subscribers. The Sift works like this: All posts come out on Mondays. First thing Monday morning, a teaser appears. It’s chatty and previews what I plan to post. Throughout the morning, one or more featured articles come out, and finally the weekly summary with a lot of short notes and links. I try to keep the total word count of all posts (other than the Teaser) down to 3,500. I usually overshoot, but it’s seldom much over 4,000.

It’s been a wild week at the Sift. Last week’s featured article “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party” had the hottest first week in Weekly Sift history. It already has the Sift’s third-highest total pageview count at (currently) a little over 60,000. It’s still viral, with almost 7K hits yesterday. If you were considering sharing it on Facebook, discussing it on your blog, or voting it up on Reddit, I hope you do.

For the first time ever I shut down comments on a post, for two reasons: (1) By Saturday, I couldn’t both keep up with the comments and write this week’s Sift, and (2) commenters were starting to get nasty with each other. I also deleted a non-spam comment for the first time, because its only content was a crude insult against another commenter. I need to rethink my policy, so that I do stuff like this in a coherent way. I want comments, and I have a high tolerance for comments that disagree with my posts, but I also want commenters to feel comfortable and safe. Feel free to make suggestions below.

Anyway, that was last week. This week’s featured post should come out around 10 (EDT). I’m calling it “The Ferguson Test” and discussing how the events in Ferguson give us all a chance to observe the unconscious racism in our reactions. Our conscious opinions about race are one thing, but the way our pre-conscious mental processes frame a racially charged situation is something else.

In the weekly summary (probably around noon; these estimates are never exact) I’ll link to a lot of stuff other people wrote about Ferguson and the week’s other big story, the death of Robin Williams. Hillary Clinton’s attempts to separate herself from the Obama administration’s foreign policy have got me thinking about 2016, which I’ve been trying not to do. In particular: I’m a liberal Democrat, so do I want Clinton to face only token opposition in the primaries, leaving her well set up for a Democratic victory in the general election? Or do I want a strong candidate promoting a more liberal agenda and forcing Clinton left, even if that increases the chances of a Republican win? Or is that the wrong way to look at it?

Overwhelming Threats

The court finds that even those doctors who support abortion, who have training in abortion, and who would be willing to withstand the professional consequences of performing abortion would not agree to perform abortions because the threat of physical violence and harassment is so overwhelming.

Judge Myron Thompson of the U.S. court for the middle district of Alabama (8/4/2014)

terrorism, noun: The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. Oxford Dictionaries

This week’s featured post is “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party“. It’s the culmination of nearly two years of reading. A more accurate view of key points in American history can change how you see today’s politics.

This week everybody was talking about Iraq

President Obama authorized the first American air strikes since our combat mission in Iraq ended. Vox explains what’s going on. And on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver nailed Obama’s reluctant tone when he announced the strikes: “The President sounds a lot like a girl who is trying to reassure her friends that she is not getting back together with the ex-boyfriend they all hate.”

and two abortion rulings in the South

In July, a federal appeals court in Mississippi upheld an injunction that prevents a new Mississippi regulation from closing the last abortion clinic in the state. The State had argued that abortions were still available in neighboring states easily reachable by car. But the court held: “Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state.”

Last Monday, a federal district court in Alabama ruled on a similar regulation in that state: Doctors in abortion clinics are required to have admitting privileges with local hospitals. This is expected to close 3 of Alabama’s 5 abortion clinics. Judge Thompson’s ruling (that the regulation puts an undue burden on Alabama women’s right to choose an abortion) does an extraordinary job of laying out the full picture of what may superficially seem like a reasonable regulation.

It boils down to this: The history of violence against abortionists in Alabama, and the continuing harassment and intimidation of doctors and their patients, makes it unsafe for an abortion-clinic doctor to live in large parts of Alabama. In the three clinics likely to close, most doctors have their primary practice and residence elsewhere. (One doctor drives to the clinic from another state, using a diverse series of rentals cars rather than his own car, in hopes that he won’t be spotted by potential assassins.) That lack of local presence makes them ineligible for admitting privileges at local hospitals. The clinics could stay open if they could recruit new doctors who live and practice nearby, but that is impossible because they would not be safe.

The Alabama legislature, of course, knows all this. (So does the Mississippi legislature. And Texas.) The purpose of these regulations isn’t to improve care, but to shut down the clinics. And (if the courts allow it) it will work because the legislature’s strategy fits hand-in-glove with the strategy of violent anti-abortion terrorists.

and Benghazi (sort of)

The House Intelligence Committee has voted to declassify its report on Benghazi. Democrats on the committee claim the report concludes that there was no deliberate wrongdoing by the Obama administration. Rep. Mike Thompson says it “confirms that no one was deliberately misled, no military assets were withheld and no stand-down order (to U.S. forces) was given.” Republicans are saying … well, nothing, really.

But hey, there’s another committee gearing up to re-investigate. Maybe they’ll discover some reason to justify their existence.

and you also might be interested in …

A Florida judge said two Florida congressional districts violate the state constitution. His ruling rests on an anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment Florida voters passed in 2010, so the likelihood of this going beyond the Florida Supreme Court is small.


A commenter on last week’s summary provided a link to the monthly YouTube series “Global Capitalism” by Marxist economics Professor Richard D. Wolff. (It’s relevant to last week because Wolff commented on the Market Basket situation I discussed last week. Wolff gets a few of the background details wrong — the chain has 25,000 employees, not “hundreds” — but has some interesting thoughts about the abstract situation, beginning around the 38 minute mark.)

But here’s a quote from earlier in the program, when he’s talking about inequality, and about U.S.A. Today‘s calculation that only 1 in 8 American families have enough income to afford the American Dream:

It’s really important for Americans to understand that the economic anxieties they feel and the economic difficulties they have are not about them as individuals. … And don’t [go] blaming yourself or agonizing about what you didn’t do when you were a student, or courses you didn’t take, or majors you didn’t choose, or any of those other things. This is not about that. This is a social problem, and an economic problem, and you’re just being victimized by it. And the worst thing to do if you’re victimized by a social problem is to convert it into an individual problem. … Trying to solve the economic problem that I’m describing, which is engulfing this society and others, as if you’re the one who caused it and you’re the one who can fix it is painful to watch. It’s not going to work. It’s going to make you feel terrible. And meanwhile, you’re not helping to build a social movement, which is the only way you solve a social problem.


A bridal shop in Pennsylvania refused to serve a lesbian couple because “providing those two girls dresses for a sanctified marriage would break God’s law.” According to ThinkProgress:

Pennsylvania is currently the only state in which same-sex couples can legally marry, but also legally be refused jobs, housing, and public services just because of their sexual orientation.

To me, this is no different from the black waitress who has to serve the guy in the Confederate-flag t-shirt. In a service economy, sometimes you have to serve people you disapprove of or resent. And the fact that other people from your church might resent the same people in the same way doesn’t turn it into a religious-freedom issue.


Last week I raised the question of when to call attention to outlandish statements and when to write them off. The Alabama Republican Congressman talking about the “war on whites” … tough call. I wish I believed the voters in his district were embarrassed by this kind of nonsense, but I doubt they are.

and let’s close with something thought-provoking

I didn’t realize you could photoshop video, but of course you can. In this French-language video, the singer is “beautified” while we watch.

Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party

Tea Partiers say you don’t understand them because you don’t understand American history. That’s probably true, but not in the way they want you to think.


Late in 2012, I came out of the Lincoln movie with two historical mysteries to solve:

  • How did the two parties switch places regarding the South, white supremacy, and civil rights? In Lincoln’s day, a radical Republican was an abolitionist, and when blacks did get the vote, they almost unanimously voted Republican. Today, the archetypal Republican is a Southern white, and blacks are almost all Democrats. How did American politics get from there to here?
  • One of the movie’s themes was how heavily the war’s continuing carnage weighed on Lincoln. (It particularly came through during Grant’s guided tour of the Richmond battlefield.) Could any cause, however lofty, justify this incredible slaughter? And yet, I realized, Lincoln was winning. What must the Confederate leaders have been thinking, as an even larger percentage of their citizens died, as their cities burned, and as the accumulated wealth of generations crumbled? Where was their urge to end this on any terms, rather than wait for complete destruction?

The first question took some work, but yielded readily to patient googling. I wrote up the answer in “A Short History of White Racism in the Two-Party System“. The second turned out to be much deeper than I expected, and set off a reading project that has eaten an enormous amount of my time over the last two years. (Chunks of that research have shown up in posts like “Slavery Lasted Until Pearl Harbor“, “Cliven Bundy and the Klan Komplex“, and my review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article on reparations.) Along the way, I came to see how I (along with just about everyone I know) have misunderstood large chunks of American history, and how that misunderstanding clouds our perception of what is happening today.

Who really won the Civil War? The first hint at how deep the second mystery ran came from the biography Jefferson Davis: American by William J. Cooper. In 1865, not only was Davis not agonizing over how to end the destruction, he wanted to keep it going longer. He disapproved of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, and when U. S. troops finally captured him, he was on his way to Texas, where an intact army might continue the war.

That sounded crazy until I read about Reconstruction. In my high school history class, Reconstruction was a mysterious blank period between Lincoln’s assassination and Edison’s light bulb. Congress impeached Andrew Johnson for some reason, the transcontinental railroad got built, corruption scandals engulfed the Grant administration, and Custer lost at Little Big Horn. But none of it seemed to have much to do with present-day events.

And oh, those blacks Lincoln emancipated? Except for Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, they vanished like the Lost Tribes of Israel. They wouldn’t re-enter history until the 1950s, when for some reason they still weren’t free.

Here’s what my teachers’ should have told me: “Reconstruction was the second phase of the Civil War. It lasted until 1877, when the Confederates won.” I think that would have gotten my attention.

It wasn’t just that Confederates wanted to continue the war. They did continue it, and they ultimately prevailed. They weren’t crazy, they were just stubborn.

The Lost Cause. At about the same time my American history class was leaving a blank spot after 1865, I saw Gone With the Wind, which started filling it in like this: Sadly, the childlike blacks weren’t ready for freedom and full citizenship. Without the discipline of their white masters, many became drunks and criminals, and they raped a lot of white women. Northern carpetbaggers used them (and no-account white scalawags) as puppets to control the South, and to punish the planter aristocrats, who prior to the war had risen to the top of Southern society through their innate superiority and virtue.

But eventually the good men of the South could take it no longer, so they formed the Ku Klux Klan to protect themselves and their communities. They were never able to restore the genteel antebellum society — that Eden was gone with the wind, a noble but ultimately lost cause — but they were eventually able to regain the South’s honor and independence. Along the way, they relieved their beloved black servants of the onerous burden of political equality, until such time as they might become mature enough to bear it responsibly.

A still from The Birth of a Nation

That telling of history is now named for its primary proponent, William Dunning. It is false in almost every detail. If history is written by the winners, Dunning’s history is the clearest evidence that the Confederates won. [see endnote 1]

Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel had actually toned it down a little. To feel the full impact of Dunning-school history, you need to read Thomas Dixon’s 1905 best-seller, The Clansman: a historical romance of the Ku Klux Klan. Or watch the 1915 silent movie made from it, The Birth of a Nation, which was the most popular film of all time until Gone With the Wind broke its records.

The iconic hooded Klansman on his horse, the Knight of the Invisible Empire, was the Luke Skywalker of his day.

The first modern war. The Civil War was easy to misunderstand at the time, because there had never been anything like it. It was a total mobilization of society, the kind Europe wouldn’t see until World War I. The Civil War was fought not just with cannons and bayonets, but with railroads and factories and an income tax.

If the Napoleonic Wars were your model, then it was obvious that the Confederacy lost in 1865: Its capital fell, its commander surrendered, its president was jailed, and its territories were occupied by the opposing army. If that’s not defeat, what is?

But now we have a better model than Napoleon: Iraq.

After the U.S. forces won on the battlefield in 1865 and shattered the organized Confederate military, the veterans of that shattered army formed a terrorist insurgency that carried on a campaign of fire and assassination throughout the South until President Hayes agreed to withdraw the occupying U. S. troops in 1877. Before and after 1877, the insurgents used lynchings and occasional pitched battles to terrorize those portions of the electorate still loyal to the United States. In this way they took charge of the machinery of state government, and then rewrote the state constitutions to reverse the postwar changes and restore the supremacy of the class that led the Confederate states into war in the first place. [2]

By the time it was all over, the planter aristocrats were back in control, and the three constitutional amendments that supposedly had codified the U.S.A’s victory over the C.S.A.– the 13th, 14th, and 15th — had been effectively nullified in every Confederate state. The Civil Rights Acts had been gutted by the Supreme Court, and were all but forgotten by the time similar proposals resurfaced in the 1960s. Blacks were once again forced into hard labor for subsistence wages, denied the right to vote, and denied the equal protection of the laws. Tens of thousands of them were still physically shackled and subject to being whipped, a story historian Douglas Blackmon told in his Pulitzer-winning Slavery By Another Name.

So Lincoln and Grant may have had their mission-accomplished moment, but ultimately the Confederates won. The real Civil War — the one that stretched from 1861 to 1877 — was the first war the United States lost.

The missed opportunity. Today, historians like Eric Foner and Douglas Egerton portray Reconstruction as a missed opportunity to avoid Jim Crow and start trying to heal the wounds of slavery a century sooner. Following W.E.B. DuBois’ iconoclastic-for-1935 Black Reconstruction, they see the freedmen as actors in their own history, rather than mere pawns or victims of whites. As a majority in Mississippi and South Carolina, and a substantial voting bloc across the South, blacks briefly used the democratic system to try to better their lot. If the federal government had protected the political process from white terrorism, black (and American) history could have taken an entirely different path.

In particular, 1865 was a moment when reparations and land reform were actually feasible. Late in the war, some of Lincoln’s generals — notably Sherman — had mitigated their slave-refugee problem by letting emancipated slaves farm small plots on the plantations that had been abandoned by their Confederate owners. Sick or injured animals unable to advance with the Army were left behind for the slaves to nurse back to health and use. (Hence “forty acres and a mule”.) Sherman’s example might have become a land-reform model for the entire Confederacy, dispossessing the slave-owning aristocrats in favor of the people whose unpaid labor had created their wealth.

Instead, President Johnson (himself a former slave-owner from Tennessee) was quick to pardon the aristocrats and restore their lands. [3] That created a dynamic that has been with us ever since: Early in Reconstruction, white and black working people sometimes made common cause against their common enemies in the aristocracy. But once it became clear that the upper classes were going to keep their ill-gotten holdings, freedmen and working-class whites were left to wrestle over the remaining slivers of the pie. Before long, whites who owned little land and had never owned slaves had become the shock troops of the planters’ bid to restore white supremacy.

Along the way, the planters created rhetoric you still hear today: The blacks were lazy and would rather wait for gifts from the government than work (in conditions very similar to slavery). In this way, the idle planters were able to paint the freedmen as parasites who wanted to live off the hard work of others.

The larger pattern. But the enduring Confederate influence on American politics goes far beyond a few rhetorical tropes. The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries.

That worldview is alive and well. During last fall’s government shutdown and threatened debt-ceiling crisis, historian Garry Wills wrote about our present-day Tea Partiers: “The presiding spirit of this neo-secessionism is a resistance to majority rule.”

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

When in the majority, Confederates protect the established order through democracy. If they are not in the majority, but have power, they protect it through the authority of law. If the law is against them, but they have social standing, they create shams of law, which are kept in place through the power of social disapproval. If disapproval is not enough, they keep the wrong people from claiming their legal rights by the threat of ostracism and economic retribution. If that is not intimidating enough, there are physical threats, then beatings and fires, and, if that fails, murder.

That was the victory plan of Reconstruction. Black equality under the law was guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. But in the Confederate mind, no democratic process could legitimate such a change in the social order. It simply could not be allowed to stand, and it did not stand.

In the 20th century, the Confederate pattern of resistance was repeated against the Civil Rights movement. And though we like to claim that Martin Luther King won, in many ways he did not. School desegregation, for example, was never viewed as legitimate, and was resisted at every level. And it has been overcome. By most measures, schools are as segregated as ever, and the opportunities in white schools still far exceed the opportunities in non-white schools.

Today, ObamaCare cannot be accepted. No matter that it was passed by Congress, signed by the President, found constitutional by the Supreme Court, and ratified by the people when they re-elected President Obama. It cannot be allowed to stand, and so the tactics for destroying it get ever more extreme. The point of violence has not yet been reached, but the resistance is still young.

Violence is a key component of the present-day strategy against abortion rights, as Judge Myron Thompson’s recent ruling makes clear. Legal, political, social, economic, and violent methods of resistance mesh seamlessly. The Alabama legislature cannot ban abortion clinics directly, so it creates reasonable-sounding regulations the clinics cannot satisfy, like the requirement that abortionists have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Why can’t they fulfill that requirement? Because hospitals impose the reasonable-sounding rule that their doctors live and practice nearby, while many Alabama abortionists live out of state. The clinics can’t replace them with local doctors, because protesters will harass the those doctors’ non-abortion patients and drive the doctors out of any business but abortion. A doctor who chooses that path will face threats to his/her home and family. And doctors who ignore such threats have been murdered.

Legislators, of course, express horror at the murder of doctors, just as the pillars of 1960s Mississippi society expressed horror at the Mississippi Burning murders, and the planter aristocrats shook their heads sadly at the brutality of the KKK and the White Leagues. But the strategy is all of a piece and always has been. Change cannot stand, no matter what documents it is based on or who votes for them. If violence is necessary, so be it.

Unbalanced. This is not a universal, both-sides-do-it phenomenon. Compare, for example, the responses to the elections of our last two presidents. Like many liberals, I will go to my grave believing that if every person who went to the polls in 2000 had succeeded in casting the vote s/he intended, George W. Bush would never have been president. I supported Gore in taking his case to the Supreme Court. And, like Gore, once the Court ruled in Bush’s favor — incorrectly, in my opinion — I dropped the issue.

For liberals, the Supreme Court was the end of the line. Any further effort to replace Bush would have been even less legitimate than his victory. Subsequently, Democrats rallied around President Bush after 9/11, and I don’t recall anyone suggesting that military officers refuse his orders on the grounds that he was not a legitimate president.

Barack Obama, by contrast, won a huge landslide in 2008, getting more votes than any president in history. And yet, his legitimacy has been questioned ever since. The Birther movement was created out of whole cloth, there never having been any reason to doubt the circumstances of Obama’s birth. Outrageous conspiracy theories of voter fraud — millions and millions of votes worth — have been entertained on no basis whatsoever. Immediately after Obama took office, the Oath Keeper movement prepared itself to refuse his orders.

A black president calling for change, who owes most of his margin to black voters — he himself is a violation of the established order. His legitimacy cannot be conceded.

Confederates need guns. The South is a place, but the Confederacy is a worldview. To this day, that worldview is strongest in the South, but it can be found all over the country (as are other products of Southern culture, like NASCAR and country music). A state as far north as Maine has a Tea Party governor.

Gun ownership is sometimes viewed as a part of Southern culture, but more than that, it plays a irreplaceable role in the Confederate worldview. Tea Partiers will tell you that the Second Amendment is our protection against “tyranny”. But in practice tyranny simply means a change in the established social order, even if that change happens — maybe especially if it happens — through the democratic processes defined in the Constitution. If the established social order cannot be defended by votes and laws, then it will be defended by intimidation and violence. How are We the People going to shoot abortion doctors and civil rights activists if we don’t have guns?

Occasionally this point becomes explicit, as when Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle said this:

You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.

Angle wasn’t talking about anything more “tyrannical” than our elected representatives voting for things she didn’t like (like ObamaCare or stimulus spending). If her side can’t fix that through elections, well then, the people who do win those elections will just have to be intimidated or killed. Angle doesn’t want it to come to that, but if liberals won’t yield peacefully to the conservative minority, what other choice is there?

Gun-rights activist Larry Pratt doesn’t even seem regretful:

“The Second Amendment is not for hunting, it’s not even for self-defense,” Pratt explained in his Leadership Institute talk. Rather, it is “for restraining tyrannical tendencies in government. Especially those in the liberal, tyrannical end of the spectrum. There is some restraint, and even if the voters of Brooklyn don’t hold them back, it may be there are other ways that their impulses are somewhat restrained. That’s the whole idea of the Second Amendment.”

So the Second Amendment is there not to defend democracy, but to fix what the progressive “voters of Brooklyn” get wrong.

It’s not a Tea Party. The Boston Tea Party protest was aimed at a Parliament where the colonists had no representation, and at an appointed governor who did not have to answer to the people he ruled. Today’s Tea Party faces a completely different problem: how a shrinking conservative minority can keep change at bay in spite of the democratic processes defined in the Constitution. That’s why they need guns. That’s why they need to keep the wrong people from voting in their full numbers.

These right-wing extremists have misappropriated the Boston patriots and the Philadelphia founders because their true ancestors — Jefferson Davis and the Confederates — are in poor repute. [4]

But the veneer of Bostonian rebellion easily scrapes off; the tea bags and tricorn hats are just props. The symbol Tea Partiers actually revere is the Confederate battle flag. Let a group of right-wingers ramble for any length of time, and you will soon hear that slavery wasn’t really so bad, that Andrew Johnson was right, that Lincoln shouldn’t have fought the war, that states have the rights of nullification and secession, that the war wasn’t really about slavery anyway, and a lot of other Confederate mythology that (until recently) had left me asking, “Why are we talking about this?”

By contrast, the concerns of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and its revolutionary Sons of Liberty are never so close to the surface. So no. It’s not a Tea Party. It’s a Confederate Party.

Our modern Confederates are quick to tell the rest of us that we don’t understand them because we don’t know our American history. And they’re right. If you knew more American history, you would realize just how dangerous these people are.



Endnotes

[1] The other clear evidence stands in front of nearly every courthouse in the South: statues of Confederate heroes. You have to be blind not to recognize them as victory monuments. In the Jim Crow era, these stone sentries guarded the centers of civic power against Negroes foolish enough to try to register to vote or claim their other constitutional rights.

Calhoun way up high

In Away Down South: a history of Southern identity, James C. Cobb elaborates:

African Americans understood full well what monuments to the antebellum white regime were all about. When Charleston officials erected a statue of proslavery champion John C. Calhoun, “blacks took that statue personally,” Mamie Garvin Fields recalled. After all, “here was Calhoun looking you in the face and telling you, ‘Nigger, you may not be a slave but I’m back to see you stay in your places.’ ” In response, Fields explained, “we used to carry something with us, if we knew we would be passing that way, in order to deface that statue — scratch up the coat, break up the watch chain, try to knock off the nose. … [C]hildren and adults beat up John C. Calhoun so badly that the whites had to come back and put him way up high, so we couldn’t get to him.”

[2] The vocabulary of this struggle is illuminating. A carpetbagger was a no-account Northerner who arrived in the South with nothing more than the contents of a carpetbag. A scalawag was a lower-class Southern white who tried to rise above his betters in the post-war chaos. The class-based nature of these insults demonstrates who was authorizing this history: the planter aristocrats.

For a defense of the claim that the aristocrats intentionally led the South into war, see Douglas Egerton’s Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War.

[3] Though Congress had to find other “high crimes and misdemeanors” for their bill of impeachment, Johnson’s betrayal of the United States’ battlefield victory was the real basis of the attempt to remove him.

[4] Jefferson Davis and the Confederates also misappropriated the Founders. It started with John Calhoun’s Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States, published posthumously in 1851, which completely misrepresented the Founders and their Constitution. Calhoun’s view (that the Union was a consortium of states with no direct relationship to the people) would have made perfect sense if the Constitution had begun “We the States” rather than “We the People”.

Calhoun disagreed with Jefferson on one key point: All men are not created equal.

Modern conservatives who attribute their views to the Founders are usually unknowingly relying on Calhoun’s false image of the Founders, which was passed down through Davis and from there spread widely in Confederate folklore.

The Monday Morning Teaser

The featured article this week is something I’ve been working on quite a while: “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party”. For almost two years I’ve been on a reading project that has radically changed my interpretation of American history, and shone a different light on today’s politics. Along the way, I’ve been able to break out some of that work into articles like “Slavery Lasted Until Pearl Harbor“, but today I’m going to try to sum it all up.

The full thesis is that the way you were taught about Reconstruction in high school (or in the movies) is completely wrong: Reconstruction was the second phase of the Civil War, and when you put the two phases back together, you’re left with a war that looks a lot like Iraq — an initial battlefield victory, followed by a terrorist insurgency against the occupation. Ultimately, the insurgency was successful, and the Confederate social order was restored. In short, the South won.

That victory set up a Confederate pattern of no-holds-barred resistance to social change that has been with us ever since, centered in the South but not strictly Southern. That pattern repeated most obviously in the resistance to the Civil Rights movement, but also in resistance to abortion rights, and in the current Tea Party rejection of all things Obama. The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries.

Along the way, we’ll see where the enthusiasm for guns comes from, as well as the bogus co-opting of the American revolutionaries and the Founders. Scratch the surface of the Tea Party, and it has much more to do with Richmond and Montgomery than with Boston or Philadelphia, and inherits more from Jefferson Davis than from Thomas Jefferson.

As you might imagine, covering all that takes a long time. The weekly summary will be shortened accordingly, and I’ll still run over my usual word limit.

I always underestimate how long it takes to put the finishing touches on a long article, so let’s guess the Tea/Confederate article comes out around 10 EDT, with the shortened weekly summary around 11.

Pernicious Effects

The only place where [climate change] denial is anything credible any longer is here in Congress, where money from the fossil fuel industry still has such a pernicious effect.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI, last Tuesday in the Senate)

Everybody talks about affordable health care, Syria, Ukraine, or the children at the border. The real issue is our institutions aren’t working. That’s one of the reasons we’re unable to deal with these other questions.

Senator Angus King (I-ME, quoted in Saturday’s NYT)

This week’s featured article is “Can Conservatives Solve Poverty?

This week in New England, everybody was talking about a grocery chain

Seriously. If you live somewhere else, you probably know nothing about this, but the local Market Basket chain is the site of a fascinating struggle over the meaning of capitalism. In particular, is it possible to run a company in a way that benefits all of its stakeholders — customers, workers, managers, stockholders, and the community — or does capitalism necessarily mean managers and stockholders exploiting everyone else? (Except in Germany, I mean.)

For years now, Market Basket has been doing a pretty good job for all the stakeholders — paying good wages, keeping prices low, and still turning a nice profit. But recently the other side of the family got control of this family-run corporation, and all hell broke loose. Now workers are striking (without a union; figure that out), customers (including me) are boycotting, and the former CEO Arthur T. is trying to buy the company away from his cousin Arthur S., who would rather sell out to a mega-corp.

Esquire has a good article laying out the details. I’ll add only that it’s impossible to over-state the amount of buzz this has locally. There are demonstrations outside the supermarkets. In restaurants, I hear people at other tables talking about it. Thursday, I was at a diner I never go to, where no one knows me, and a guy a few stools down the counter had to tell me (at some length) what a greedy bastard Arthur S. is. I have yet to hear anyone take the side of the current management.

and the holes in Siberia

One of the big mysteries about global warming is when the feedback cycles start to take off, so that the problem escapes our control completely. One cycle environmentalists are holding their breathes about involves methane trapped in the Siberian permafrost: As Siberia warms, the permafrost thaws, releasing the methane into the atmosphere, where it is a powerful greenhouse gas and creates more warming.

So the three big holes that have appeared recently in Siberia are causing a lot of anxiety. I found the explanation of Russian geophysicist Vladimir Romanovsky on Scientific American‘s site:

The crater’s formation probably began in a similar way to that of a sinkhole, where water (in this case, melted ice or permafrost) collects in an underground cavity, Romanovsky said. But instead of the roof of the cavity collapsing, something different occurred. Pressure built up, possibly from natural gas (methane), eventually spewing out a slurry of dirt as the ground sunk away. … The development of permafrost sinkholes could be one indication of global warming, [said] Romanovsky. “If so, we will probably see this happen more often now.”

Oh boy.

and Gaza

It deserves attention, but I can’t find much new to say about it: Ceasefires get negotiated and broken. Civilians keep dying. And I’m not sure what any of this has to do with a long-term solution to the underlying problems.

Interesting poll from the Pew Research Center. Asked who was more responsible for the current violence, the over-65 age group said Hamas (53%-15%), while the 18-29 age group said Israel (29%-21%). Whites said Hamas (46%-14%), but blacks were divided (27% Israel, 25% Hamas) and Hispanics said Israel (35%-20%).

and impeachment

Humorously, Republicans are now pretending that all the talk about impeaching President Obama is a “scam” drummed up by the Democrats as a fund-raising ploy. (Suing Obama for abuse of power is on, though. The House voted to authorize that suit Wednesday.) Fact check: The WaPo has a timeline of Republican calls for impeachment, going back to 2009.

It is true that Speaker Boehner says there won’t be an impeachment. The problem: He also said there wouldn’t be a government shutdown. The Republican base (57% in a recent poll) wants impeachment, and Boehner has consistently caved to the base, even when it means reversing whatever he may have said along the way.

In 2006, when Nancy Pelosi said that the new Democratic House majority wouldn’t impeach President Bush, that was the end of it for all practical purposes. Dennis Kucinich might offer a bill of impeachment, but the leadership easily killed it. The difference: Pelosi was actually the leader of the Democratic caucus, and Boehner is only the figurehead of Republicans. Boehner has been repeatedly wrong about what the Republican caucus will and won’t do — as recently as this week, when his border-crisis bill had to be pulled back without a vote, so that the most extreme anti-immigrant yahoos could rewrite it.

Of course, it’s also true that Democrats are fund-raising off the impeachment threat. (Check your Inbox.) When your opponents threaten to do something that silly and unpopular, you capitalize on it. Or, expressing it from the other side: You don’t get to pander to your base on something this important without the rest of the country listening in.

and what else Congress did and didn’t get done before its vacation

VA reform. Congress did indeed pass a bill to reform the Veterans Administration. Shortened time horizons allowed a $44 billion House bill and $55 billion Senate bill became a $16.3 billion compromise. The LA Times summarizes:

The deal includes $10 billion in emergency funds to pay private doctors to treat veterans who can’t get a VA appointment within 14 days or those who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. The remaining funds are allotted to build up the healthcare system’s clinical staff and lease new clinics across the country.

National Journal lists long-term veterans’ issues still to be addressed.

The Highway Trust Fund. Mission accomplished: an accounting gimmick will keep it from running dry for another few months. Gail Collins:

We now make about half as much fiscal effort as Europe does on these matters. You may be tired of hearing people ask why we can’t have day care like Sweden. But it does not seem too much to demand a Spanish level of commitment to infrastructure repair.

Israel. Israel gets $225 million to reload its Iron Dome missile defense.

Refugee children. Republicans in the House spent a lot of time telling reporters that President Obama’s $3.7 billion proposal to handle the refugee children crisis was a “blank check”, but (as so often happens) the House leadership was unable to pass its own bill. John Boehner’s stopgap bill to provide funding until the end of September had to be pulled back without a vote. Then, as Michele Bachmann put it, “We completely gutted the bill,” focusing it almost entirely on border security, and adding a companion bill to deport the so-called “dreamers” — the undocumented high school graduates who were brought to this country as children, whose deportations were delayed by President Obama’s executive order and who would get permanent residency if the DREAM Act ever passed. Fox News summarizes:

The new bill includes $70 million in National Guard money for both the states and federal government. It includes more than $400 million for the Department of Homeland Security to boost border security, and nearly $200 million for housing and “humanitarian assistance.” It would also tighten language tweaking a 2008 immigration law, for the purpose of speeding deportations of illegal immigrant children back to Central American countries.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans blocked a $2.7 billion plan, using a point of order that required 60 votes to overcome. With no bill coming to his desk, President Obama is considering a broader executive action on immigration, which some Republican congressmen have said would lead to impeachment.

and the ObamaCare subsidies

TPM’s Dylan Scott highlights a key point in the legislative history of the Affordable Care Act: The Congressional Budget Office never analyzed a scenario in which costs would be affected by states choosing not to set up their own exchanges.

“It definitely didn’t come up. This possibility never crossed anybody’s mind,” David Auerbach, who was a principal analyst for the CBO’s scoring of the ACA, told TPM on Thursday. “If we started to score it that way, they would have known that, and they would have said, ‘Oh, oh my gosh, no, no no,’ and they probably would have clarified the language. It just wasn’t on anybody’s radar at all.”

The idea that Congress might have intended the apparent meaning of a line in the bill limiting ObamaCare’s insurance subsidies to plans purchased on state-run exchanges was the center of a decision by the D. C. circuit appeals court last week. Simultaneously, the 4th circuit ruled the opposite way.

Law professor Richard Hasan elucidates the legal theory — textualism — which justifies the D. C. court’s ruling (though not its reading of history).

The 4th Circuit judges, and Edwards, were looking at the whole statute to make it coherent and to make the law work. There is a long tradition of reading statutes in this purposeful way, and a few decades ago, the opposing strict textual reading likely would not have been taken seriously. Today, however, arguments that were once considered “off the wall” are now, in Yale law professor Jack Balkin’s terms, “on the wall.”

The counterargument—that courts have an obligation to make laws work—is especially important these days, when Congress is barely working. In this time of political polarization, Congress is much less likely to fix any statutes, much less a statute as controversial as Obamacare. The judges surely know that the courts, rather than Congress, will have the last word on the statute’s meaning.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration appealed the D.C. court’s ruling to the entire court (rather than the three-judge panel that issued the 2-1 ruling). If they succeed there, then there is no conflict between the appeals courts and the Supreme Court need not take the case, unless it wants to. But the ObamaCare critics who lost in the 4th circuit are asking the Supreme Court to intervene.

and you also might be interested in …

This week’s quote comes from a 7-minute speech Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island gave after Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma led a Republican effort to block a resolution saying that climate change is happening. The whole thing is worth watching or reading. Here’s another chunk, responding to Inhofe’s frequently repeated charge that climate change is a hoax:

Let me tell you some of the government agencies who are so-called “colluding” together – who believe that climate change is real and that carbon pollution is causing it. NASA: We trust them to send our astronauts to space, to deliver a rover the size of an SUV to Mars safely, and drive it around, sending data and pictures back from space. You think these people know what they’re talking about? … The idea we should base policy on a petition that imaginary people are on, rather than on what NASA, NOAA, the US Navy and every single scientific society and the entire property casualty insurance/reinsurance industry are telling us is just extraordinary.

[Note: Based on the video, I edited/corrected that quote from the transcript.]


My reading list grows. Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge goes on sale tomorrow. Frank Rich has already reviewed it.


Salon’s Kim Messick re-interprets the Republican Civil War:

The party is now riven into three parts: a donor class that, like the rank-and-file, mainly wants to win elections and to govern the country in a (relatively) responsibly conservative way; a ferocious cell of right-wing fabulists that prefers defeat to the slightest modulation in its hatred of the modern world; and a network of entertainers and “journalists” with an entrepreneurial investment in promoting the second group at the expense of the first. This leaves the latter in an increasingly exposed position.


It’s hard to decide when to call attention to outlandish statements and when to write them off. I’m inclined to write off the blogger on the Times of Israel site who wrote “When Genocide is Permissible”, though he got some attention on Salon and in a few other places. The Times removed the post promptly, issued a statement rejecting its views, and discontinued the author’s blog. It’s easy to tar a site by quoting things that get uploaded without going through an editor. But in this case there’s no reason to believe the blogger represents anyone other than himself.

On the other hand, I think the openly theocratic views of elected representatives like Iowa Congressman Steve King don’t get nearly enough attention. Right Wing Watch posts this audio:

In St. Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill … he says, “And God made all nations on Earth, and He decided when and where each nation would be.” … So I believe in the sovereign nation state. I believe that God gave us this country. He shaped it with the hands of the founding fathers, whom he moved around like men on a chessboard to build this nation. And we need to respect it and revere it and restore this country to its true destiny.

Such mythologizing of a nation’s history and “true destiny” is a prime characteristic of fascism. (It’s easy to have a blind spot for your own country’s myths, but wouldn’t it be a little bit creepy to hear Vladimir Putin expound on the divine founding and true destiny of Russia?) The line sometimes attributed to Sinclair Lewis has it right: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” And you have to wonder who is included in the “us” to whom God gave this country. King then segues into demonizing his chosen scapegoats:

That means we have to secure our borders. We have to restore the rule of law — we can’t be rewarding people for breaking it. That’s all pretty clear and is fundamentally, philosophically and, I think, faithfully sound. … I declare [President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy] to be Deferred Action for Criminal Aliens, because each one of them that came across the border illegally committed the crime of unlawful entry into the United States.

Multiple misrepresentations: You could just as easily read that Bible verse to mean that if people have made it to this country, God intends them to be here. (It is God, and not us, who “appoints the bounds of their habitation.”) That would also be consistent with our history, because, as I’ve observed before, the Founders did not secure the borders against immigrants. (That started much later.) Also, unlawful entry is not a crime. As Charles Garcia put it for CNN:

Migrant workers residing unlawfully in the U.S. are not — and never have been — criminals. They are subject to deportation, through a civil administrative procedure that differs from criminal prosecution, and where judges have wide discretion to allow certain foreign nationals to remain here.

To put it bluntly, King cloaks lies about our history and laws in dubious religious rhetoric. That ought to be a scandal.

and let’s end with some industrial art

This week I discovered Bored Panda, which is a treasure trove of beautiful, surprising, and creative images. This post calls attention to several pieces of railroad art from Portugal by Artur Bordalo. If the environment gives you parallel lines, why not use them?

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