Present Danger

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

Dr. John Holdren, presidential science advisor

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

This week everybody was talking about the kidnapped Nigerian girls

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

and Ukraine

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

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

The NYT’s Ukraine Crisis in Maps feature helps.

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

and the national climate assessment

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

and a privileged Princeton freshman

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

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

and separation of church and state

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the changing politics of ObamaCare

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

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

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

which lead to new Benghazi hearings

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Alan  On May 12, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    A lot of recent Supreme Court decisions that I consider horrible, including Greece v Galloway, have the same core flaw: they’re assuming everyone involved is perfectly rational. Of course a perfectly rational citizen dealing with a perfectly rational town board would simple quietly wait through the prayer with no negative consequences. Of course a perfectly rational Greyhound bus passenger would be comfortable refusing a search when pressured by police officer who has stopped the bus and is blocking aisle (United States v. Drayton). The Supreme Court members who support these decisions tend to be well-off, straight, white, Christian men for whom these are all entirely theoretical issues; they have no idea what it’s like in practice. This is why “judges should just make mechanical decisions” is a terrible idea; human beings aren’t computers, so computer programs aren’t the right model for law.

  • Colin  On May 12, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    The Jack-in-the-Box employees did NOT lock themselves in the freezer.

    “However, Brian Luscomb, vice president of corporate communications for Jack in the Box, told the New York Times this evening, “Our employees told us that they did not hide in the freezer.” We have amended the post to reflect this new information.”

    • weeklysift  On May 13, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      More accurately, corporate communications says they didn’t, as opposed to the local police who say they did.


  • By The Worth of Ice | The Weekly Sift on May 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    […] that televised same-sex kiss (that I posted a picture of last week) after Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams? Well, it generated a new round of Christian […]

  • By Trends | The Weekly Sift on December 30, 2019 at 10:13 am

    […] established a town council’s right to begin its meetings with sectarian prayers. (My take in that week’s summary: “If you’re in the majority and you want to lord it over the minority, the Court thinks you […]

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