As If

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on July 22.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Hebrews 13:3

There is no featured post this week.

This week everybody was continuing to talk about our concentration camps

[BTW: I just discovered the Native American cartoonist Richardo Cate’. The cartoon above appeared in his series “Without Reservations“. I predict you’ll see more of his stuff here in coming months.]

Tuesday, “Close the Camps” protests were held in cities around the country.

Please, everybody, don’t let this story go away. I know it’s easy to think “I already protested/wrote to my representatives in Congress/wrote a letter to the editor/gave money last week. This week I’ll move on to something else.”

But the camps are still there. Kids are still being separated from their parents. Abuse is still happening out of the public’s view. If you’ve ever wondered how Germans in the Nazi era ever let things get as bad as they did, this is how. They had other stuff to do. It didn’t seem to be their business. Maybe they even said something once and then let it go.

ICE has a new tactic for threatening immigrants who have taken refuge in churches. (An immigrant is living in my church, for example.) There’s no legal principle that stops ICE from taking immigrants out of churches, but so far they seem to believe that the bad publicity wouldn’t be worth it.

Now they’ve started issuing fines in the hundreds of thousands. Edith Espinal-Moreno has been living in a Mennonite church in Columbus for more than a year.

According to the letter from ICE, provided to ABC News, Espinal-Moreno is being fined $497,777, because she “willfully” refused to leave the country or comply with ICE orders. … “I think they want to push the envelope to see what they can get away with. If they can levy a $500,000 fine against a destitute mother who’s been sitting in a church a year and a half and they can get away with that, then what’s going to stop them from breaking down the door and dragging her out?” [Attorney David] Bennion said.

When Democrats like AOC started calling the border internment centers “concentration camps”, gentile conservatives like Liz Cheney dusted off their imaginary menorahs and objected on behalf of Jews everywhere: It disrespected the memory of the Holocaust to use that term in any other context. Like Babe Ruth’s #3, “concentration camp” should be retired for all time to avoid unworthy comparisons.

No doubt there are a number of actual Jews who feel that way, but another large number believe that they honor the memory of the Holocaust best by responding before a situation reaches Auschwitz proportions. This week, the Jewish group Never Again Action demonstrated in a number of cities around the country. More than 100 were arrested.  The young woman in the picture was arrested a week ago yesterday in New Jersey. (Among the policeman’s many tattoos, the radical gun-rights slogan Molan Labe is clearly visible.)

If you’ve been wondering what kind of person works for the border patrol under these conditions, we’re finding out. Pro Publica uncovered a “secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents”. The group has about 9,500 members. (Currently, the Border Patrol has about 20,000 agents.)

Posts viewed by Pro Publica included “jokes” about migrants who died in custody, as well as “vile and sexist” posts about Congresswomen Veronica Escobar and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who were scheduled to tour a Border Patrol facility.

“These comments and memes are extremely troubling,” said Daniel Martinez, a sociologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson who studies the border. “They’re clearly xenophobic and sexist.”

The postings, in his view, reflect what “seems to be a pervasive culture of cruelty aimed at immigrants within CBP. This isn’t just a few rogue agents or ‘bad apples.’”

This culture of cruelty isn’t going to get better on its own, or under Trump’s supervision. Let me repurpose Trump’s statement about Mexican immigrants: Some Border Patrol agents, I assume, are good people.

But how long can that last? Already, the Border Patrol is a sadist’s dream job, while agents with consciences have to be wondering how much longer they can do this. That’s the typical life cycle of concentration-camp systems, and why they have an inescapable tendency to spiral downward unless outside forces intervene.

and post-debate polls

Everyone expected the post-debate polls to show a tightening of the Democratic presidential race — the immediate consensus was that Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren had done well and Joe Biden badly — but it was impossible to guess how big the change would be. It’s still hard to say, as the various polls have a wide range.

All the polls I’ve seen still show Biden in the lead, but that’s about all they agree on. In the Harvard-Harris poll, Biden is leading Bernie Sanders 34%-15%, with Warren at 11% and Harris at 9%. But Quinnipiac tells a completely different story: Biden 22%, Harris 20%, Warren 14%, and Sanders 13%. If you’d rather see Warren in second place, look at the Economist/YouGov poll: Biden 23%, Warren 19%, Harris 15%, and Sanders 9%.

To me, this suggests there’s more randomness at work than the usual margin-of-error calculations account for. Margin-of-error is an estimate of “sampling error”: Maybe just by luck, a poll interviewed too many (or too few) Biden supporters. In addition to that, though, it looks like there’s some randomness in the voters themselves: Somebody who tells you they’re for Biden in the morning might tell another poll they’re for Sanders in the afternoon or Harris in the evening.

The main thing this tightening means, though, is that Biden can’t coast to the nomination. When he was leading the field by 30 points, Biden could stay aloof from debates over issues: Let’s not bicker among ourselves, and focus instead on uniting behind me and beating Trump in the general election.

In a tighter race, though, Biden will have to actively defend his positions against the party’s progressive wing. He’ll need to explain why he thinks it’s better to add a public option to ObamaCare than to replace the private health insurance industry entirely. He’ll have to put forward a more specific immigration proposal (perhaps along the lines Obama’s DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson outlined yesterday). And so on. All those cases can be made — centrist candidates like Bennet and Delaney were making them in the debate — and might even be persuasive. But Biden has to start doing that persuading himself. In a closer race, he needs to argue that his way forward is best; he can’t just be the likeable Uncle Joe.

The risk is that the party will come out of the convention divided, and that Trump will be able to build on the criticisms raised against the eventual nominee, whoever that might be. The upside is that every part of the party will feel heard.

and the Fourth of July

Trump’s self-glorifying extravaganza wasn’t as bad as many of us feared. He did not make an overtly partisan speech, insult his rivals, brag about his accomplishments, or start the crowd chanting campaign slogans. So in general, he seemed to stay within the letter of the law about using public funds to pay for campaign rallies. (I know that’s a low bar for a POTUS, but as long as I keep expressing my low expectations for this president, I feel obligated to acknowledge when he exceeds those expectations.)

I did not watch his 45-minute speech (life is too short for that) but I did read the transcript on the White House web site. It was largely vacuous, and I found myself agreeing with David Frum:

The speech existed only to provide a reason why he needed to stand in one place long enough for five waves of warplanes to cross the sky.

I also have to agree with Frum’s deeper assessment:

Yet it’s a strange thing about words. Talk long enough, and sooner or later you will say something. Consciously or not, Trump did say things that evening.

As Trump retold the story of the Pacific War, he said this: “Nobody could beat us. Nobody could come close.” When he paid tribute to the Air Force, he said this: “As President Roosevelt said, the Nazis built a fortress around Europe, ‘but forgot to put a roof on it.’ So we crushed them all from the air.” He added: “No enemy has attacked our people without being met by a roar of thunder, and the awesome might of those who bid farewell to Earth, and soar into the wild blue yonder.” Bringing the story to more recent times: “The Army brought America’s righteous fury down to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and cleared the bloodthirsty killers from their caves.”

Were these wars right or just? Why were they fought? What were their outcomes? Except for the mentions of “freedoms” sprinkled randomly through the text, those questions went unconsidered. Instead, Trump would periodically ad-lib “What a great country!” after this or that mention of power and violence. America is great because it crushes all before it.

Altering for circumstances, it was a speech that could have been given by Kaiser Wilhelm or Napoleon or Julius Caesar or the Assyrian Emperor Sennacherib. … No non-American could watch that spectacle at the Lincoln Memorial and feel that America stood for anything good or right or universal. Power worshipped power, for its own sake.

I usually ignore discussions that have no point beyond “Trump is stupid.” However, his praise for how the Continental Army “took over the airports” elicited so much creative ridicule I have to mention it. Check out .

Naturally, Trump didn’t acknowledge making a mistake or laugh at himself. It’s the teleprompter’s fault. Remember when Republicans used to ridicule President Obama for using a teleprompter at all? It was a way to deny that this black man could be as intelligent and articulate as he appeared. Now the teleprompter takes the blame for a president who has no idea what’s coming out of his mouth.

While we’re talking about creative ridicule, I have to mention the #UnwantedIvanka series. Ivanka’s inappropriate attendance at the G-20 meetings in Japan, as if she were herself a world leader rather than just a world leader’s daughter, inspired Photoshop mavens to insert Ivanka into images from Yalta (above) to the Last Supper.

Wired offers this interpretation of the meme:

President Trump is the one copy-pasting his daughter into history. Twitter’s just joining in.

The joke is that Ivanka looks no more out of place at the parting of the Red Sea or at the diner with Hopper’s nighthawks than she did at the G-20.

I will not take the cheap shot. I will not take the cheap shot. I will not … oh, hell, here it is.

Finally, while we’re honoring our military, I want to raise a dissenting view. “America’s Indefensible Defense Budget” by Jessica Matthews in the New York Review of Books.

These days, increasing defense spending seems to be a goal in itself, disconnected from any strategy detailing what our military is supposed to accomplish or any assessment of the risks our nation faces.

Are we actually as threatened as our lopsided spending suggests? Or are we achieving, through a rapidly growing military, valued international aims that are otherwise unattainable? If funds were tight or we were really concerned about deficits—that is, if we were forced to make tradeoffs—could we achieve equal or better security for much less money? In short, do we need to or want to devote three fifths of the government’s discretionary funds to defense? There are no widely agreed-upon answers because the questions aren’t being asked.

and the census

So here’s how things have shaken out: The administration argued that the Supreme Court had to decide by July 1 whether or not the census could have a citizenship question, because otherwise there wouldn’t be time to print the surveys. Then the Court ruled that the reason Secretary Ross had given for including the question was a pretext, which is a fancy legal term for “lie”. The Supreme Court ruling seemed to leave room for the administration to come back with a better reason for adding the citizenship question, but there appeared to be no time.

The government’s lawyers admitted defeat in court, and Secretary Ross announced that the census would be printed without the question. But then Trump tweeted that all that was fake news, and that the administration would go forward with the question somehow. In other words, there is now time for a new legal process to consider a new pretext. (No one really doubts the real reason Trump wants to include the question: It will intimidate Hispanics into ignoring the census. The resulting undercount will raise the political power of white non-Hispanic voters.)

Wednesday’s transcript of the conference call with Judge George Jarrad Hazel, from the lower court where the case started, is amazing to read. Basically, the Justice Department is saying that it has no idea what position it is supposed to be representing, given that the President’s tweets contradict what they had just told the judge. The judge responds:

If you were Facebook and an attorney for Facebook told me one thing, and then I read a press release from Mark Zuckerberg telling me something else, I would be demanding that Mark Zuckerberg appear in court with you the next time because I would be saying I don’t think you speak for your client any more.

The embarrassment of the DoJ lawyer is evident.

I want to back up just a step and say that I’ve been with the United States Department of Justice for 16 years, through multiple Administrations, and I’ve always endeavored to be as candid as possible with the Court. What I told the Court yesterday was absolutely my best understanding of the state of affairs and, apparently, also the Commerce Department’s state of affairs, because you probably saw Secretary Ross issued a statement very similar to what I told the Court.

The tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the President’s position on this issue, just like the plaintiffs and Your Honor. I do not have a deeper understanding of what that means at this juncture other than what the President has tweeted. But, obviously, as you can imagine, I am doing my absolute best to figure out what’s going on.

Sunday, the Justice Department announced it was replacing its legal team on this case. The NYT speculates that the previous team just couldn’t take it any more.

“There is no reason they would be taken off that case unless they saw what was coming down the road and said, ‘I won’t sign my name to that,’” Justin Levitt, a former senior official in the Justice Department under President Barack Obama, said on Sunday.

Two points to make about intimidation and the census:

  • It isn’t just the undocumented who will avoid responding to the census, it’s any household that includes someone who isn’t documented. (What if Dad is undocumented, but Mom has a green card, and the kids are citizens?)
  • You will hear it claimed that people shouldn’t be intimidated, because the law doesn’t allow census responses to be used for law enforcement. That’s true as far as it goes. But anybody who is confident that this administration will obey that law hasn’t been paying attention. Trump has proclaimed our laws protecting asylum-seekers to be “loopholes” and violates them regularly. The laws protecting census responses could become “loopholes” also.

but I have a book to recommend

A year and a half ago I told you about Cory Doctorow’s novel Walkaway. This week I read his new short story collection Radicalized. There are four stories in Radicalized, and you could read any one of them during an afternoon at the beach. They all have something interesting to say about the social/technological trends we’re in the middle of and where they might go.

The best story is the title piece, “Radicalized”, which follows the evolution of a social media group for men whose loved ones have cancer. First it evolves towards an angry focus: Why my wife? Why my daughter? Then the anger intensifies and focuses on insurance companies that deny treatment. Finally, the group has narrowed down to bereaved men who feel that they have already lost everything, and who blame the insurance companies and the politicians who protect them. And then the suicide bombings start.

To me, the most horrifying horror stories are the ones that make me understand how I could do horrible things.

“Model Minority” is in essence a Superman story, though Doctorow calls his hero “American Eagle” for copyright reasons. (But the Eagle has a girlfriend Lois and a colleague/friend Bruce, so Doctorow’s intentions are clear.) The model minority in the title is the Eagle himself, the last of his kind, who one day finds himself stopping some New York City police from beating up an innocent black man. Suddenly, and for the first time in his century-long career, he is on the wrong side of the system. The story is essentially about white allyship, and the fantasy that your own power and privilege should be able to fix longstanding systemic problems — ones the powerless have been struggling with for decades — as soon as you figure out how to apply it properly. Let’s just say things don’t work out so easily.

“Unauthorized Bread” imagines a near future in which the inkjet-printer model gets applied to all household gadgets. Your computerized toaster makes perfect toast, but it will only function if you’re using authorized bread, which (like HP Ink cartridges) is unjustifiably expensive. Your dishwasher never leaves a spot, but it will only run if it detects authorized dishes. And so on. The story is a meditation on how the technology that was supposed to free us from drudgery has started controlling us.

In “The Masque of the Red Death” a rich guy foresees the collapse of civilization and builds a redoubt in Arizona for himself and 30 friends. His Social Darwinist views about what it takes to survive turn out to be misguided. When it all comes down, maybe being part of a productive community will be more important than hoarding scarce resources.

and you also might be interested in …

If the climate-change computer models seem too complicated for you, here’s a simple fact: June was the hottest month ever recorded.

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles like this lately:

Every few days I am appalled by some Never-Trump Republican who thinks he or she should be allowed to pick the Democratic nominee. I’m sorry you lost your party, folks, but that doesn’t mean you get to take over mine. And I don’t want to be rude, but if any of you were as smart as you think you are, you would never have lost your party to begin with.

A tweetstorm by author Chris Arnade objects to the NYT’s Bret Stephens and all those who claim to speak for the Obama-to-Trump voters:

While my book focuses on all back-row (all races in all places), I did run across a fair number of Obama to Trump voters & voters who voted for Obama then sat 16 out. What they shared in common, politically, was a deep frustration with the status quo. Or with centrist politics! …

In short, Op-ed imagined Obama – Trump voters & their reaction to Dem debates. I spent a lot of last 5 yrs talking to Obama-Trump voters in their own counties (not via polls, or surveys). They don’t want what he says they want. They just want dramatic change.

The pattern: A lone-wolf Republican criticizes Trump, and then decides he must leave either Congress or the Republican Party. Jeff Flake, Lamar Alexander, and now Justin Amash.

The Republican Party has become the Party of Trump, and has no place for anyone else. If you vote for ANY Republican (I’m looking at you, Susan Collins), you’re voting for Trump. It really is that simple.

The effects of gerrymandering in one graphic:

Samantha Bee discusses how the media ought to cover the sexual assault allegations against President Trump.

The difference between this year’s crops and last year’s is visible from space. Here are two images a year apart, from 2018 and 2019. That east-west white line is I-72, connecting Springfield and Decatur in Illinois.

Sift readers are sometimes surprised to discover that I belong to a church and write for a religious magazine. Then there are stories like this one from Jacksonville, Florida. A public library was going to hold a “Storybook Pride Prom for LGBT teens” when conservative Christians organized a protest to “express your disgust that this perversion is taking place in a taxpayer funded library!” The protests forced the library to cancel “amid fears for the teens’ safety”.

But then the local Unitarian Universalists jumped in and had the event at their church.

“It was the right thing to do,” Grace Repass, the church’s past president, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “The LGBTQIA+ youth in our community deserve to have their prom and we wanted to support them.”

Repass said the decision to host the prom was swift and unanimously supported by the church’s board, and she said the event featured “happy teens, grateful parents, and a lot of community support.”

“We see our church as a safe place for people who are figuring out who they are,” she said. “Our Unitarian Universalist values call us to respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person. So, it’s a matter of integrity — to act in alignment with who we say we are.”

Those are my people.

A new kind of cancer therapy has worked in mice. It’s two ideas put together: Scientists already knew how to make “nanobodies”, antibody-like entities that mask the proteins that signal the immune system not to attack cancer cells. Get a nanobody attached to a cancer cell, and then the immune system should take care of it.

The problem is to target the nanobodies so that they invade tumors, rather than spread throughout the body and cause the immune system to attack all kinds of things it shouldn’t. Well, it turns out that certain kinds of bacteria hide inside tumors, precisely to avoid the immune system.

Putting those two ideas together, tumor-seeking bacteria were re-engineered to become nanobody factories. The bacteria seek out the tumors, then explode into a swarm of nanobodies.

Of course, if you follow this kind of research, “it works in mice” is a phrase you’ve heard many times. (I’m amazed any mouse ever dies of cancer, given all the viable treatment options.) Application to humans is probably years away, if indeed it works for us.

If you don’t live in California, you may have missed the saga of Rep. Duncan Hunter, who is accused of misusing $250K of campaign money for such purposes as pursuing affairs with five different women. Hunter’s wife has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring with him, and is planning to testify against him. (Congress really needs a Corruption 101 class for its members. “Never piss off your co-conspirators” should be a basic principle.)

Hunter remains in Congress, but the LA Times is urging him to resign “to spend more time with his lawyers”.  So far he’s resisting such calls; I assume because Congress needs all the morally upright defenders of family values it can get.

Cases like that ought to shame Republicans, but they’ve moved beyond shame. The satire site McSweeney’s nails it in “Before You Call Out Our Hypocrisy, Let Us Remind You That We Don’t Care“.

Seriously, guys, stop trying to appeal to our conscience. We have none. Any semblance of something resembling goodwill to our fellow man was snuffed out when we accused the families who lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook massacre of creating an elaborate hoax and then terrorized them for the past, oh, six years. Or maybe it was when we lost our shit because black players kneeled. Honestly, there have been so many moments for us to have a crisis of conscience, and we just keep consistently plowing straight on through to not giving a shit.

… For a bunch of Ivy League-educated smartypants, you guys are really bad at reading between the lines.

and let’s close with something patriotic

The Device Orchestra presents the national anthem played on seven credit card machines.

The Device Orchestra’s YouTube channel is a hoot. Want to see electric toothbrushes do “Finlandia“? A collection of gadgets do “Take On Me“? “Game of Thrones“? They’ve got it.

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  • Dave Weissbard  On July 8, 2019 at 11:26 am

    This has become one of my favorite internet sites. I can’t remember how I connected with it! Now, with the photo of my beloved sanctuary, I have a clue. Great work, Doug! You should have millions of readers!

  • Tom Phillips  On July 8, 2019 at 11:32 am

    Great overview with essential details, like few others — if any — extant today. (Even the wet shirt story was, ah, apt.)

  • Michael Wells  On July 8, 2019 at 11:52 am

    On the illegal use of census data, please remember that the U.S. Government used the 1940 federal census data secretly to round up and intern (into concentration camps) citizens and non-citizens of Japanese ancestry during the 1940’s. See:

  • Creigh Gordon  On July 8, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    I feel for compassionate people working in the detention centers. They know they are doing wrong, but they also know that if they quit they can and will be replaced with worse people.

  • HA Bond  On July 8, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    Thank you SO much for the parody on the headline about offending Rich White Assholes. They lost their party, it was their fault they lost their own party, don’t try to take over MINE!

    • Guest  On July 9, 2019 at 9:48 am

      I was grateful it was included too, Bond, as the underlining point of the parody has been made by progressives for years now against the DNC-bought elite, corporation lick-spittle, and establishment democrat crowd (or, using the parody’s parlance, against the rich assholes).

      Chris Arnade’s corollary point in particular was one that the Hillary Clinton folks misunderstood or consciously ignored in 2016. A good segment of people were frustrated at status-quo, centrist presidential politicians, and they wanted dramatic change. It’s part of the reason why Sanders dominated Clinton among independents and undecideds in all the 2016 polls, and why he polled as the best chance to defeat Trump. Whether Sanders can be that person again in 2020 is another question. But can anyone make the case that that underlining dynamic has changed, that Arnade’s research is incorrect?

  • Guest  On July 9, 2019 at 9:25 am

    “There’s no legal principle that stops ICE from taking immigrants out of churches”

    That is isn’t strictly true, Doug, though the legal principle in question is far from ironclad. Churches, along with schools, health care facilities, and religious or civil events like weddings, funerals, and public demonstrations, are covered under the Sensitive Location Memo. Sensitive locations cannot be targets of ICE enforcement unless one of three conditions are met: exigent circumstance, other law enforcement action leading ICE agents into the location, or prior approval obtained from a designated supervisor.

    So yes, there are loopholes that this or any other administration can exploit, but the guiding principle is there.

    I wish your church and everyone for whom it provides refuge, immigrant or otherwise, all the best.

    • Paul Bradford  On July 11, 2019 at 11:15 am

      The notion of ‘sensitive locations’ is currently ICE policy, but it’s not law. It could be changed by ICE.

  • Diana Whitney  On July 9, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    Lots of good stuff here! Big CHEERS to your church for stepping in when the community library backed down. We had a similar experience around a scheduled Drag Queen Story Time event in Spokane (Washington, the nearest city to my small town) last month but happily the library, with a lot of community backing, stayed strong in the face of slanderous attacks and bigotry:

    There were, of course, protesters at the event (a smashing success with another scheduled!) but no obvious guns or physical violence (possibly, in part, due to the strong police presence and the protesters being outnumbered!) See the linked article (above) for some heartening (and disheartening) quotes and a description of how people were kept safe. Yes, reminescent of school integration, kids going to story time at the local library needed police protection. *sigh*

    Here is the open letter sent to the Spokane Public Library (South Hill) by a grateful community (including myself):

    I am not religious but appriciate the good done by Unitarian Universalists. Just wish communities would not bow down to bigotry leaving churches to step in…if we are lucky. Social justice and civil rights should not be dependent on the charity or the goodwill of religious groups….but, thanks. Yay UUs!

  • Kim Cooper  On July 20, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    I would like to suggest that, as long as the military budget is so huge, that we assign the military to oversee infrastructure maintenance and repair — using their budget to hire locals to do the work.

    • weeklysift  On July 20, 2019 at 8:38 pm

      Makes sense. We need good roads and bridges to transport troops around in case of invasion.

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