Category Archives: Morning tease

The Monday Morning Teaser

For a long time, I’ve been pointing to conservative violence and conservative violent rhetoric. So it was a shock to hear that someone I probably would have agreed with on a lot of issues had gone to the park where the Republican congressional baseball team was practicing and started shooting.

Public shootings should be wake-up calls, and so I spent a big chunk of this week thinking about what people like me need to wake up to. As usual, I think conservatives went overboard in their responses, acting as if violence were a purely liberal problem they have nothing to learn from. I don’t see any reason to give in to that view, and yet I don’t want to dodge the issue with the kind of yeah-but-the-other-side-is-worse response that we hear far too often from both sides. I still think the other side is worse, but so what? That doesn’t absolve us from working on our piece of the problem.

The result of that meditation is this week’s first featured post, “Political Violence is Our Issue Too”. It should be out shortly.

The other thing that caught my attention this week was the Virginia gubernatorial primary, which was supposed to be a neck-and-neck battle for the future of the Democratic Party between an establishment candidate endorsed by all the top Virginia Democrats and an upstart progressive supported by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The establishment candidate won easily.

That outcome cemented a set of doubts that has been growing in my mind for some while: I keep hearing the argument that the progressive revolution has all the youth and the energy and is the wave of the future, and that the out-of-touch centrist establishment just needs to get out of the way. But I wonder: When is all that youth and energy going to start translating into votes?

Not being all that young myself, I’ve lived through a lot of liberal crusades. From McGovern to Nader to Kucinich, I keep running into the delusion that the Left is far more popular than it actually is. So with regard to today’s progressive movement, I’m in a prove-it-to-me mood. Somebody’s going to have to win something, preferably something the establishment can’t win, before I’m going to take all this rhetoric seriously.

I think about the Tea Party, and about Trump, who I regard as their candidate. Nobody got out of the way to make room for them. They took over the Republican Party by winning elections. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable test. Anyway, much more of that argument will appear at around 10 EDT in the second featured post “Why I’m Still Skeptical about the Progressive Revolution”.

Look for the weekly summary to be out about noon.

The Monday Morning Teaser

In my continuing effort not to get swallowed completely by the Trump/Russia scandal (which seems overdue for a name, like Watergate or Teapot Dome), I’m continuing to read what’s-going-on-with-the-economy books. This week I want to tell you about The Wealth of Humans by Ryan Avent of The Economist. This can be read as a where-are-the-jobs-of-the-future book, which I’ve reviewed several of in the last few years. But I was more interested in Avent’s explanation of the recent increase in inequality: Technological and geo-political change has made social capital the decisive factor of production. And since few of us really understand social capital and our culture has no shared understanding of who should own it, the wealthy have been free to usurp all its benefits.

I’ll put that insight into the context of Rousseau’s and Thomas Paine’s writings on inequality, as well as one of my own favorite talks “Who Owns the World?” That’s the very reduced version of my review of the book, which will appear by 9 a.m. EDT as “Social Capital and Inequality”.

Of course the weekly summary will return to Trump/Russia, and in particular James Comey’s testimony last Thursday. There’s also the British election to discuss (reminding you that last week I passed on Nate Silver’s observation that anything could still happen). I didn’t really have to cover all the fascinating discussions that spin out of the Wonder Woman movie, but I couldn’t resist. A bunch of other things make it into the short notes, and I call special attention to Mitch McConnell’s attempt to sneak ObamaCare repeal past the public without hearings, before closing with a video reviewing the entire history of the world in less than 20 minutes.

The Monday Morning Teaser

The big story this week was Trump announcing that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change. It was amazing (in a bad way) to listen to his speech, because the gist of it was so divorced from actual reality: In one sentence, he described the agreement as both “nonbinding” (true) and “draconian” (false).

However, the explanation of why this was such a bad move suffered from a similar problem, especially in the eyes of low-information voters: If the agreement is nonbinding, why is it such a big deal? How can a bunch of nations stating their good intentions be so important that disavowing it has apocalyptic consequences? That disconnect, plus an inclination to distrust “liberal experts” anyway, made the criticism of Trump’s action ring false among people who are inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

What is needed, I decided, is not a deep legal analysis of the agreement, or a review of the evidence for climate change, or a description of the horrors that a few more degrees of global average heat could unleash. What we really need is a simple example from everyday life that illuminates what the Paris Agreement is and does.

I happen to have one handy. I just got done serving on the committee that organizes my church’s annual pledge drive. Like Paris, the pledge drive is voluntary, nonbinding, and vitally important to the survival of the church. The parallels actually run pretty deep. If you want to get technical, they’re both devices for building trust among a large number of individual decision-makers in the presence of a free-rider problem.

So that’s this week’s featured post: “The Paris Agreement is like my church’s pledge drive.” It should be out before 9 EDT. The weekly summary links to a bunch of other commentary on Paris, reviews the week’s progress on the Russia investigation, covers polls on both the Georgia special election and UK parliamentary election, and discusses the Kathy Griffin and Bill Maher blunders, plus a few other things, before closing with the best news I’ve heard in some while: Animaniacs is coming back. That should be out by 11 or so.

The Monday Morning Teaser

After the Civil War, Memorial Day arose as a holiday for remembering the human cost of war: You went to a cemetery to visit the graves of friends and relatives who had been killed. It had a personal scale. If you thought of nations at all, it was to pray that somehow they might work out their differences without any more battles.

But in the post-Vietnam era of the professional military, more and more Americans — particularly in the upper and upper-middle classes — have no personal connection to the wars we fight, much less to those who have died in them. And so the holiday is tending to drift. If it has any content at all (beyond marking the beginning of summer), it’s turning into a celebration of the American military and the greatness of the United States.

I feel a need to protest this, so today’s featured post will be “On Memorial Day, we ought to remember the dead, not celebrate the Empire.” It should be out early, certainly before 9 EDT.

The weekly summary will review whatever-the-heck is going on with Jared Kushner, an appeals court (by a wide margin) refusing to let Trump’s Muslim Ban take effect, the CBO score on the Republican healthcare bill, Clarence Thomas amazingly taking a stand against racial gerrymandering in North Carolina, the FY2018 budget proposal, and a few other things, before closing with a Paul Simon/Stephen Colbert duet that doesn’t feel very groovy.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I’ve got two featured posts planned this morning, both having something to do with trying to proceed responsibly on the Trump-Russia scandal.

The Clinton impeachment in the late 90s was what hardened me as a Democrat. Before that I’d been a mostly left-leaning independent, but I had voted for a number of moderate Republicans over the years, and I went through a real decision process on every election. But when Republicans in Congress misused the impeachment power so badly — and virtually none of them dissented from that effort — their whole party became dead to me. It seemed obvious that having an extra-marital affair and then lying about it wasn’t what the Founders had in mind as an impeachable offense.

Now, as impeachment talk starts to swirl around Donald Trump, but we don’t yet know the full extent of what he did, I think it’s important to examine myself for hypocrisy, and do what I can to guard against a similar partisanship. So this week I set myself a challenge: Can I spell out a vision of impeachment that I’m both willing to apply to Trump and prepared to live by the next time there are accusations against a Democratic president?

My answer to that question is in the article “What is impeachment for?”, which should be out between around 9 EDT.

A second post comes out of a question a commenter raised last week: How will we know if we’ve gone off the rails on Trump conspiracy theories the same way that Republicans did on Benghazi conspiracy theories? My first response was that it’s way too early to be making those comparisons. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Republicans — not the puppet-master types, but the rank and file who are still genuinely enraged about Benghazi and really believe that Clinton and/or Obama got away with murder — made their key mistakes early in the process, right about where we are now with Trump/Russia.

So I wrote “Step Around the Benghazi Trap”, which still needs some work, but should be out by 11.

The weekly summary is more focused on the immediate news: the special counsel, the Russia leak, what Trump’s Saudi-Arabia speech tells us about policy changes, Roger Ailes died and Bill O’Reilly might be coming back, and some other stuff, before closing with a caption contest for that weird-glowing-orb photo. I’ll predict it for noon.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Just about the only thing pundits have been talking about this week is the firing of Jim Comey on Tuesday. Initially, the Trump administration claimed the firing had nothing to do with the FBI’s Russia investigation. But their story kept changing, until by Thursday’s interview with Lester Holt, Trump’s attitude seemed more like: Yeah, I obstructed justice. So what?

So what? is a question for Congress, which so far seems unwilling to answer it, as it has been unwilling to confront Trump about any of his other assaults on our nation’s small-R republican traditions. I think we’re at the point where this has stopped being an issue of partisanship and has become an issue of patriotism: As Trump, in typical bully fashion, keeps pushing towards a Putin-style authoritarian kleptocracy, is Congress ever going to start defending the Republic? Is there a line somewhere that Ryan and McConnell won’t let Trump cross? Where might it be, and will Congress itself still have any power by the time we get there?

I think it’s time to stop being polite about these questions, so that’s what I’ll do in this week’s featured post: “Are Congressional Republicans Patriotic or Not?” That should be out between 8 and 9 EDT.

In the weekly summary, I’ll list questions that I think the Russia investigation still needs to answer, call your attention to the voter-suppression task force Trump just created (that may yet split out into its own article), note that something strange is going on at the Census Bureau, discuss an insightful column about Confederate monuments, and cover a bunch of other stuff, before closing with the answer to a question no one was asking: What do you get when you cross Stars Wars with Sgt. Pepper?

The Monday Morning Teaser

I’m back home again in the eastern time zone, operating on my usual schedule.

Last week I linked to some other people’s responses to the Bret Stephens’ NYT column “Climate of Complete Certainty“, in which he denounced environmental activists for making claims beyond what the underlying science justifies, but oddly named no environmental activists and specified no unjustified claims. That left his critics in the odd position of feeling like they needed to argue, but not really knowing what to argue against.

This week it dawned on me how to understand that column: as an illustration of Jason Stanley’s model of propaganda. The best propaganda, Stanley argues, doesn’t lie; it just activates false ideas that are already sitting in the minds of its target audience. I reviewed Stanley’s book How Propaganda Works a couple years ago, but his ideas are worth looking at again now that we have such an excellent current example. So the featured post this week will be “Climate of Propaganda” and should be out before 8 EDT.

A second post is a short note that outgrew its space, on the odd ceremony at the White House Thursday celebrating Trump’s executive order defending “religious liberty”, i.e., the one that is supposed to end the persecution of Christians by the IRS and other federal agencies. Since that persecution doesn’t exist, and since the order stopped well short of the unconstitutional things Trump had promised (like ending enforcement of LGBT rights), the religious leaders attending Trump’s ceremony were actually celebrating the fact that the conman they support has conned them. I’ll describe that scene in “Much Ado About Religious Liberty”, which should appear around 9.

The weekly summary has some important news to cover: France decided not to go fascist, raising the possibility that the Trump election was the peak of the global fascist momentum. The House passed TrumpCare, and House Republicans celebrated at the White House as if it had become law. One House Republican told a town hall meeting “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” I think we’ll hear that line a lot in the 2018 campaign, so I’ll examine the evidence against it. New Orleans is having a divisive and potentially violent argument about removing Confederate statues. There’s some other stuff, and I’m still looking for a closing. So that probably appears between 11 and 12.

The Monday Morning Teaser

This week we made it through Trump’s hundred days, which apparently could not end without a proposal to cut the taxes of rich real estate developers.

So we’ve been treated to a reprise of one of the GOP’s oldest song-and-dance numbers: trickle-down economics: We should all be happy that the rich are getting tax cuts, because that will ignite economic growth and produce good jobs for the rest of us. You might think that the Bush administration was a decisive experiment testing that notion, and that it failed the test very badly, but apparently memories are short. Anyway, that’s the subject of this week’s featured post: “Why cutting rich people’s taxes doesn’t create jobs”. It should be out fairly soon.

The weekly summary will include further comments on the hundred days, the self-serving nature of Trump’s tax proposal, the controversy over Obama’s $400K speech, infighting among Democrats, the advanced tactics used to promote fake news, and a few other topics. I’ll predict that it posts by noon EDT.

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.