Category Archives: Morning tease

The Monday Morning Teaser

I’m still in the West — Santa Fe this week — so things might run a little later than usual again.

Trump’s 100th day is Saturday, so I was tempted to write a 100-days post. But after I read about six such articles, I realized that there will be hundreds of them, so mine may not be strictly necessary. Still, though, I wrote an article last November “The Trump Administration: what I’m watching for“, so it seems like basic accountability to go back and check whether any of the things I was worried about have been happening. That didn’t take nearly so many words, though, so I tucked it into the weekly summary.

The idea for this week’s featured post ended up coming from David Brooks, of all people. I usually grind my teeth through Brooks’ columns in the NYT, and, well, I did through Friday’s “The Crisis of Western Civ” as well. But it raised an issue that I thought deserved better than Brooks was giving it: whether the collapse of the story the West used to tell about itself has something to do with the difficulty the West is having defending itself against the rise of fundamentalist religious movements on the one hand and neo-fascist nationalist movements on the other.

Once I started doing my own version of that column, it linked in with another article: Peter Beinart’s “Breaking Faith” in The Atlantic, where he noted that the Christians most vulnerable to Trump’s tribalist us-against-them message are the ones who don’t go to church any more. They retain Christianity as a tribal identity, but not as an active faith whose practice pulls them into the community. Once again, the breakdown of an old message was leading not to progress, but regress.

Naturally, my post, “What’s Our Story?”, isn’t going to solve either problem. But I hope it will get you thinking about it in a different way. That should be out sometime in the next hour.

As it has for around 100 days or so, the weekly summary suffers from an excess of news: Trump’s 100 days, the Georgia congressional election, the March for Science, Bill O’Reilly’s firing, the French election, and a few other things. I’m not sure when that will be out.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Arizona, it turns out, doesn’t do daylight time. Here in Sedona it’s Mountain Standard Time, three hours head of my usual Eastern Daylight. So the Sift may run a little later than usual this week.

One of the themes I touch on now and then is how to talk about racism. In 2014’s “What Should ‘Racism’ Mean?” I collected a bunch of “outrages” committed by President Obama — things all presidents do, like putting their feet up on the desk in the Oval Office or letting soldiers hold umbrellas over their heads — as examples of a more subtle kind of racial bias: To many, maybe even most whites (including me, sometimes) things just look different — and usually more objectionable — when blacks do them. And I raised the question: If you don’t want to call that racism — reserving that word for extreme cases like slavery and Jim Crow — what is your name for it?

Last year I followed that up in “What Should ‘Racism’ Mean? Part II” by pointing out that two-thirds of Republicans (a group that did not include Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, among other GOP leaders) did not consider an outrageous Trump statement (that Judge Curiel couldn’t rule fairly in the Trump U lawsuit because he was “Mexican”) to be racist at all. What definition of racism did that imply?

This week I return to that subject with a positive suggestion: Let’s allow conservatives their distinction between the KKK and the more subtle kinds of racism by modifying racism with a temperature metaphor: Active racial animus is hot racism, while disregard or skewed perception of non-whites is cold racism, or even room-temperature racism. I’ll explain how that works using a recent shouting match on MSNBC as a jumping-off point in “Racism: Hot and Cold”. That should be out shortly.

In the weekly summary, there’s talk of war: The MOAB was used for the first time in Afghanistan, and Trump rattled his saber at North Korea. And by now you probably know all about the United Air Lines fiasco, but there’s been some interesting writing about its larger meaning. Rick Perlstein’s reassessment of conservative history in the wake of Trump is fascinating reading. Turkey continues moving towards dictatorship. And I’ll close with a collection of 50 photos intended to sum up each of the 50 states, like this summary of Kansas.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I’m running an hour behind this week, because I’m in the Central Time Zone. (Amarillo, to be exact, on my way to Arizona.)

Two featured posts this week. The first is the week’s obvious news story: the attack on the Syrian air base. Usually I leave major news stories to major news outlets and only provide links, but here I think the coverage is doing a bad job of disentangling the diverse ways people are reacting. Also, I think Obama is getting a bad rap for “doing nothing” about Assad in 2013, when people really mean “not blowing anything up”. That should be out sometime before 9 EDT. (I’m giving times in Eastern because that’s what I usually do. I’m traveling, but most of you aren’t.)

The second relates a news story to a new book: Jeff Sessions’ announcement that the Justice Department is going to stop overseeing local law enforcement — ignoring a law to do so, by the way — dovetails nicely with Chris Hayes’ new book A Colony in a Nation.

Hayes argues that the right way to think about cases like Michael Brown and Freddie Gray isn’t that the American justice system was biased against them, but that their neighborhoods exist under a different justice system than the one whiter and more affluent people live under. They live in what he calls “the Colony”, not “the Nation”. In the Colony, police are an occupying force, controlling the public in accordance with rules and standards imposed from outside the community.

Obama’s Justice Department tried to bring the rights of America’s internal colonial subjects closer to those of full-fledged citizens. That is the effort that Sessions has pledged to stop. I’m guessing about when that will appear, maybe 10-11 EDT.

In the weekly summary, I’ll talk about the White House palace intrigue that has Steve Bannon retreating from Jared Kushner; the Senate changing its rules to approve Supreme Court Justice Neal Gorsuch, and why the filibuster is nothing to mourn for; Trump’s infrastructure vaporware; and a few other things before closing with a rocked-out parrot.

The Monday Morning Teaser

This week is an experiment in more-but-shorter posts. I’ve been meaning to run such an experiment for a while, and this week it happened more-or-less naturally: I didn’t have a 2,000-word idea, and several notes from the weekly summary were getting too long.

So anyway, three posts in addition to the summary: “Trump Went to Jared” about the ascendancy of the President’s born-rich son-in-law as a paradigm for how to succeed in the Second Gilded Age; “Freedom (Comcast’s) vs. Rights (Yours)”, which follows up on the freedom vs. rights idea I first noticed when talking about Reconstruction, that the rights of the weak depend on institutions that restrain the freedom of the strong; and “Can We Get Real About Opioids?”, pointing out how we dodge the real issues about drugs, and how Trump’s approach to the opioid problem is still doing it.

They should come out in that order, between 8 and 11 EDT, with the weekly summary (Russia, ongoing congressional dysfunction, climate change, nonbinary gender, and a bunch of other stuff, closing with another reworked classic “The Boy From Mar-a-Lago”) around noon.

The Monday Morning Teaser

A chunk of this week’s Sift is already up: “Donnie in the Room“, a poetic retelling of the TrumpCare debacle modeled on “Casey at the Bat“. It seemed more likely to find readers if it came out quickly, so I posted it Saturday morning, and then added an afterword about “Casey” Sunday afternoon. (Also, whenever I get such a crazy idea in my head, I am possessed by the notion that everyone must have thought of this, so I have to be sure to get mine out first.)

By the way, if you find yourself in an inter-generational conversation, an interesting topic is to compare notes on the poems you remember from school. “Casey”, for example, was ubiquitous in my day, but seems to be taught only rarely now. Young people do seem familiar with Poe’s “The Raven“, and I forgot to ask about “The Man Who Wasn’t There“. (Mysteriously, I can’t find anyone of any age who remembers Oliver Wendell Holmes’ clever “The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay“. That’s Holmes senior, the judge’s father, who in the 19th century was one of the best-known poets in America.)

Anyway, go read “Donnie” if you haven’t already; I’m pleased with it. This was another week of too-much-news, so even with a featured post out already, it will take me until 11 or so to post the weekly summary.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I still am still trying to figure out how to deal with the higher volume of news since Trump took office. At first I thought it was just a new-administration thing. Presidents always have a bunch of stuff they promised to do “on Day 1”, but eventually things settle down to the administration making one big push at a time and its enemies trying to gin up one big scandal.

But now we’re two months in, and it’s not settling down. In the Trump administration, there are literally a dozen possible scandals brewing, any one of which might turn into something major. The many conflicts of interest don’t even seem to be scandals any more; they’re just events. Trump and his people are also trying to reform healthcare, pushing a budget whose outrages I still have not fully grasped, and trying to break the tie on the Supreme Court. They’re battling the courts over their Muslim ban. They’re running a continuous disinformation campaign against the media. And then from time to time Trump starts some totally unnecessary drama, like his baseless claim that Obama wiretapped him, which has somehow morphed into an international incident.

Beyond just keeping up with the day-to-day, we need to understand the deeper currents that push events along, like the white-nationalist influence on both Trump and his base, the combination of ambition and distrust that characterizes Trump’s relationship with the old Republican establishment and conservative ideologues, the efforts of Democrats and other liberals to organize the grass-roots resistance, and the long-term effect on democracy of a degradation of public discourse.

It defies condensing. I regularly blow past the word-count I aim for each week, while simultaneously feeling like I have left out too much.

So, this week I mainly focused on the courts: I’d been wondering whether judges would be willing to block Trump’s Muslim ban on establishment-of-religion grounds, now that the new version has cleaned up the obvious due-process violations. Two did, and that should start a new round of appeals. The featured post looks at the arguments they made in “Still a Muslim Ban, Still Blocked”. That should be out before 9 EDT.

The weekly summary will futilely attempt to cover everything else: budget, ObamaCare repeal attempt, the Dutch rejecting their own Islamophobic fascist, the wiretap claim, and all the other stuff that would dominate the news cycle in a normal week, but is slipping my mind for the moment. It should come out sometime between 11 and noon.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I guess I finally have to stop saying that the Republicans have no plan for replacing ObamaCare: Their replacement legislation is out now, and it doesn’t do most of the things they claimed it would. Trump has endorsed it, despite the fact that it doesn’t do any of the things he promised during the campaign. Remember? “Better healthcare for more people at a lesser cost.”

Anyway, I don’t have to do a post outlining what’s in the bill and how bad it is, because lots of more qualified people have already done that. I’ll link to them in the weekly summary. Instead, the featured post is going to make an outrageous claim: The poorer you are, the better your health insurance needs to be. We’re so used to making the assumption that the poor should get by on less than the rest of us — smaller apartments, lower-quality food, fewer luxuries — that we automatically carry it into discussions of healthcare. So we end up arguing about how much worse low-income people’s health insurance should be instead of how much better.

In order to justify that claim, I’ll go back to first principles and write what is essentially a primer on insurance, including such stuff as why you need fire insurance on your house but you probably don’t need an extended warranty on your camera. Expect that to come out between 9 and 10 EDT.

The weekly summary will organize a bunch of other people’s analyses of TrumpCare, and also of the revised Muslim ban. I’ll briefly cover the U.S. attorney firings, and developments in the administration’s various brewing scandals. And I’ll note a question other people have raised: Now that the public has learned to discount or ignore most of what the President says, what’s going to happen if there’s a real emergency like an Ebola outbreak or a Fukushima disaster? There are certain situations where the public is inclined to panic, and it needs trusted leadership to calm it down and get everybody to do some simple things to save lives. But we don’t have trustworthy leadership. Expect that around 11.

The Monday Morning Teaser

A few years ago I established the practice of cancelling the Sift on Mondays following Sundays where I spoke in a church. The Sunday/Monday expenditure of energy seemed like too much for me. But in those days I only spoke two or three times a year, so I needed the breaks anyway. This year my speaking schedule has picked up, and I seem to be cancelling about one Sift a month, which I think is too much. It throws off my rhythm, and creates doubt in readers’ minds about whether there is a Sift this week or not.

So in March I’m planning to try something different: When I speak in a church on March 26, I’ll follow on the 27th with half a Sift: a weekly summary, but no featured post. We’ll see how that works.

Anyway, I’m back this week with another one of those long articles I’ve been thinking about for a while: “Jobs, Income, and the Future”. If you’re sick of reading my articles about the Trump administration, this one’s for you.

For years, I’ve been reading stuff by two kinds of people:

  • economists, who think job-destroying technologies have been a constant part of the economic landscape for centuries, and consequently believe that fiscal and monetary policy can deal with the new waves of job destruction that will come from robotics and artificial intelligence;
  • technologists, who say it’s different this time — AI and robotics challenge not just individual professions, but the fundamental economic competitiveness of human beings. Ultimately, then, we need to move away from a job-based economy into some other method of supporting everyone, like a basic income.

My uncertainty comes from the fact that both types are saying what their profession always says: Technologists always think it’s different this time, and economists never believe it. But no system lasts forever, so someday it will be different. Are we there yet or not?

What I come around to believing is: almost. Right now, proper macroeconomic policy is still capable of bringing us to full employment in decent jobs — though not if we continue on the market-worshiping path we’ve been on the last few decades. But the Robot Apocalypse is coming, and will require the kind of social change that we need to start working on right away.

That post still needs a little work, so let’s predict it appearing around 10.

Sadly, the weekly summary takes us back to the world of Trump: Russia, his speech to Congress, rolling back Obama’s climate-change initiatives, taking the Justice Department out of the business of reining in racist local police, reneging on his promise that the Keystone Pipeline will use American steel, and so on.

But there are also a few non-Trump items: I learned something new about 9-11, Brownback’s low-tax Kansas experiment stumbles towards an ending, and I took a cute picture of a sandhill crane chick. The closing is Patrick Stewart and Stephen Colbert doing “Waiting for Godot’s ObamaCare Replacement”.

The Monday Morning Teaser

The most difficult thing about watching the Trump administration is separating the tragedy from the farce. When he does something that appears absurd, is that a blunder, or is it a canny move to shake up our standards of reasonability? Is he an inexperienced politician ticking down the list of his campaign promises, or a master manipulator implementing his plan to achieve domination?

In particular, which dystopian vision should we be guarding against? Is Trump a potential Hitler? Or more of a grifter opportunistically grabbing what he can get while the getting is good?

This week I’ll try to split the difference between complacency and paranoia, and lay out what I think Trump is trying to do or might do if we leave the option available. That’s in a fairly long piece I’ve been working on for weeks, which I call “The Peril of Potemkin Democracy”. I’m not sure when it will be out, but I’m hoping for about 10 EST.

The weekly summary has a lot to cover: the Flynn resignation, the continuing attacks on the press, who’s funding those pro-Gorsuch ads, John McCain’s amazing speech in Germany, why ObamaCare replacement has stalled, and a bunch of other stuff. I hope to have that out by noon.

The Monday Morning Teaser

When President Trump restarted the Keystone XL Pipeline project (stopped by President Obama in 2015), my first thought was “I should explain why this is a bad idea.” My second thought was “Didn’t I already do that already?” Sure enough, in 2013 I had written “A Hotter Planet is in the Pipeline“.

Re-reading that post, I was struck by how little has changed. Yes, oil prices are down and U.S. oil and gas production is up, undercutting the economic and national-security arguments for the pipeline; but the main reason I was against Keystone in 2013 is the main reason I’m against it now: If global warming is not going to become a far worse catastrophe than is baked into the decisions we’ve made already, a lot of the fossil fuels we know about are going to have to stay in the ground. Given that, Canadian oil sand (whose production is supposed to keep Keystone full) is a really good candidate for non-production.

Then Trump started talking about dead people voting, and that took me to another 2013 Sift post “The Myth of the Zombie Voter“, where South Carolina officials looked into a widely distributed claim that 207 dead people had voted in the state in 2010. They found innocent explanations for all but three of the 207 cases, and had so much doubt about those three that the investigation was abandoned with no prosecutions. That continues to be typical of dead-voter stories, and of voter-fraud stories in general: There’s enough evidence to raise suspicion, but whenever people look into it seriously, the sensational headlines evaporate.

Now, somewhere there is probably somebody who has been reading the Sift faithfully every week for years and remembers perfectly everything I’ve posted. (Or maybe I just enjoy imagining such a reader.) I hate to think that I’m boring that person, whoever he or she might be. But at the same time, as Trump tries to reverse all the progress Obama made, we’re going to keep running into issues that we thought got settled years ago, and we’ll need to recall the arguments that got made back then.

So rather than invent catchy new leads for the same stories I’ve been writing for years — I’m not criticizing you, Paul Krugman, I envy your persistence —  I decided to collect a bunch of the suddenly-relevant-again ones in one post: “Your Sift-Archive Review for the Trump Era”. It should be out around 8 EST.

As always these days, there’s a lot to cover in the weekly summary, and stuff that happened early in the week already seems like ancient history: the appellate court’s refusal to reinstate Trump’s Muslim ban, a bunch of less-publicized stories of crackdowns on Muslims and Hispanics, the Trump family’s ongoing efforts to profit from his presidency (and why their brazenness makes the phrase “conflict of interest” obsolete; they’re not conflicted about it), the method in the madness of Mitch McConnell silencing Elizabeth Warren, why we should all be paying more attention to the Michael Flynn/Russia scandal, One China, and more. That should appear between 10 and 11.