Category Archives: Weekly summaries

Each week, a short post that links to the other posts of the week.

The Call Remains

The movement began as a call to end violence. That call remains. … My prayers are with the victims of all violence.

– DeRay McKesson, a Black Lives Matter activist

This week’s featured posts are “A Real Pro-Police Agenda is Liberal” and “Mike Pence. I’ve heard that name before.

Recently everybody has been talking about the police officers killed in Baton Rouge and Dallas

As I often note, a weekly blog is not a good place to cover breaking news. We’re still figuring out what happened yesterday in Baton Rouge, and the first details that come out in such situations often have to be revised later. Watch the Wikipedia page for developments.

In both Baton Rouge and Dallas, though, it looks like the shooters are black veterans of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. Who knows if this was really their thought process, but it’s not hard to imagine one: If you’ve been trained to solve problems with violence, what are you going to do when you see your people being killed and the system failing to call anyone to account?

The important thing at a moment like this, I believe, is to avoid assessing collective guilt and assigning it to individuals who merely resemble the wrong-doers you feel threatened by. That was one of the two big mistakes Dallas shooter Micah Johnson made: The police he murdered had nothing to do with killing Alton Sterling or Philandro Castile. (The other mistake was taking the law into his own hands.)

Assigning Johnson’s or Gavin Long’s guilt to the entire Black Lives Matter movement would a similar mistake. BLM is not about killing police or killing whites; it never has been. BLM is a response to a society that seems not to value black lives. Police killings are only a piece of that story: Across the board, problems are taken less seriously if they mainly affect blacks. The egregious cases we’ve been seeing, of police killing black men on video and facing no consequences — matching stories that have been told in the black community for decades, but which were discounted by whites because there was no evidence (beyond the testimony of other blacks) — are simply the clearest examples of that larger issue.

Refusing to assign and punish collective guilt, though, doesn’t mean that we have to ignore systemic problems. Individual police around the country are not responsible for killing Alton Sterling, and anyone who attempts to punish them for it is expanding the problem rather than solving it. But there is a systemic problem in the way that American police departments deal with blacks, particularly young black men. There is also a problem with the tendency of police to cover up the wrong-doing of other police rather than uphold high standards.

Pressure to reform the way police departments work from coast to coast should not stop just because two individuals carried out collective vengeance.

The post-Dallas attacks on Black Lives Matter caused me to look back at the various BLM-themed posts I’ve written over the last year. I think they hold up pretty well; or at least I don’t see anything major I want to change. The main BLM-related Sift posts are

  • Samaritan Lives Matter, where the example of Jesus’s most famous parable illustrates why “All lives matter” isn’t the right slogan.
  • Rich Lowry’s False Choice, the false choice being that black communities can either have the current overly violent, racially biased kind of policing, or no policing at all.
  • Why BLM protesters can’t behave, the answer being that the rest of us ignore them when they make their case politely.
  • Justice in Ferguson, about the Justice Department’s report on policing in Ferguson

A post that doesn’t specifically mention BLM, but is still relevant, is “My Racial Blind Spots“.

and the Nice attack

Hard to believe this attack, where 85 people were killed and 303 injured by a man driving a truck, happened on Thursday. So much has happened since.

Am I the only one who sees the similarity between this and Stephen King’s novel Mr. Mercedes?

and Hillary and Bernie

It finally happened on Tuesday in Portsmouth, NH. Senator Sanders didn’t embrace Clinton’s candidacy with the enthusiasm of Elizabeth Warren, but he appeared on a platform with her and said the important words:

I have come here to make it as clear as possible why I am endorsing Hillary Clinton and why she must become our next president. Secretary Clinton has won the Democratic nomination and I congratulate her for that. … I intend to do everything I can to make certain she will be the next president of the United States.

The preliminary schedule for next week’s Democratic Convention has Bernie speaking on Monday.

and reactions to the FBI’s recommendation not to prosecute Hillary Clinton

FBI Director James Comey’s statement about the Clinton email investigation should not have surprised anybody who read my article “About Those Emails” last month. Comey concluded:

In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.

To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.

Since that’s more or less what I predicted — not because I’m so brilliant, but because the experts I’ve been reading had already reached similar conclusions months ago — I am not scrambling to explain how Comey could possibly have made this decision.

However, pundits inside the conservative bubble (and many Sanders supporters who had latched onto conservative-bubble accounts to feed a desperate hope that Clinton might not be nominated) were shocked by this outcome, because they had concluded long ago that Clinton should be in jail and that Comey was exactly the kind of upright investigator to put her there. Unable to say, “I guess I had that wrong”, they came up with a number of creative theories about the corruption of Comey and Attorney General Loretta Lynch and President Obama, or about what other considerations could have motivated Comey’s actions.

This kind of thing has happened before: In the closing weeks of the 2012 election, dwellers inside the conservative bubble decided that the polls were all skewed, and so a Romney victory — nay, a landslide — was at hand. When reality reared its ugly head, conspiratorial explanations were required, like massive vote fraud in multiple swing states (most of which had Republican governors) that somehow produced no evidence other than Obama’s victory.

But instead of stretching to explain the failure of reality to live up to their expectations, surprised people might do better to consider the question raised by Ollie Garky on Daily Kos (later picked up by AlterNet): If events keep surprising me, shouldn’t I change my news sources? Back in 2013, Conor Friedersdorf suggested this criterion for comparing news sources: Who best equipped readers to anticipate the outcome that actually happened?

The Comey announcement does seem to have knocked Clinton down in the polls, so that in some polls the race is even now. (538’s weighted average still has her with a 3.6% lead.) I’m expecting that dip to be temporary, but we’ll see.

and Trump’s upcoming convention

My comments about Mike Pence have been spun off into a separate article.

A related topic is the ill-fated TP logo, which was inserted into the public discussion and then prematurely withdrawn about 24 hours later. Not only does the TP bring toilet paper to mind, but the penetration imagery was a little too suggestive. As she so often does, Samantha Bee took it all the way with an animated breaking-the-mattress GIF.

More seriously, there is the Republican platform, which TPM describes as defining “the party of Kris Kobach“. McCain and Romney tried to soften the hard-right positions of the base in order to make a better appeal to the general electorate, but the Trump campaign has gone all-in on the red-meat issues.

but we should pay more attention to the coup attempt in Turkey

which apparently failed. Most Americans think of Turkey as a country way over there that has little to do with us. But if Islam is going to find a synthesis between its religious traditions and Western secular values of democracy and human rights, Turkey is the most likely place for it to happen. If democracy is not going well there, it’s a very bad sign for the world.

It’s also hard to say whether the failure of the coup is good or bad for Turkish democracy in the long run. President Erdogan has been getting increasingly autocratic, but a military junta might have been worse.

Juan Cole sees both angles: He is encouraged that the people came into the streets to oppose the army, yet he recognizes that “President Erdogan looks at the system as an elective dictatorship.” In a later post he says:

President Tayyip Erdogan is taking advantage of the failed coup against him to purge the judiciary and security forces of anyone who is lukewarm toward or actively critical of him.

and the UK’s assessment of the Iraq War

Unlike us, the United Kingdom decided to take an official look back at its involvement in the Iraq War, assess what went wrong, and see what could be learned. The result is the massive Chilcot Report, which I have not read. The best summary I have run across is in The Guardian. It paints an ugly picture. For example

the intelligence community worked from the start on the misguided assumption that Saddam had WMDs and made no attempt to consider the possibility that he had got rid of them, which he had.

The report finds that there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein, and that Prime Minister Tony Blair intentionally exaggerated the evidence that there was. Eight months before the invasion, when there were still many options other than war, Blair promised President Bush “I will be with you, whatever.” The invasion began with essentially no plan for putting Iraq back together.

We can only wonder what a similar investigation into the Bush administration would find. But Congress has been unable to squeeze such a probe into its tightly packed schedule of eight Benghazi investigations.

and one thing Trump said

I know, it seems impossible. The media hangs on his every word, so how could something he said deserve even more attention? But this does. In the aftermath of the Dallas shooting (discussed above) Trump told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly:

When somebody called for a moment of silence to this maniac that shot the five police, you just see what’s going on. It’s a very, very sad situation.

It wasn’t a slip of the tongue. He repeated the claim at a rally in Indiana:

The other night you had 11 cities potentially in a blow-up stage,” he said. “Marches all over the United States—and tough marches. Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac! And some people ask for a moment of silence for him. For the killer!

Given Trump’s record, it probably won’t shock you to learn that the event he is talking about never happened: No one called for a moment of silence to honor Dallas cop-killer Micah Johnson. But it’s worse than that: No one — including his campaign — can even explain where he got the idea. To all appearances, he just made it up.

Why would somebody do that? And then to imply that the BLM marches were “started by a maniac”, as if Johnson were a central figure in the Black Lives Matter movement, or the post-Dallas marches were intended to carry on his work (when in fact all public statements by march organizers denounced the killings) … why would anybody make up a Big Lie that incendiary?

Josh Marshall comments:

These are the words – the big lies rumbling the ground for some sort of apocalyptic race war – of a dangerous authoritarian personality who is either personally deeply imbued with racist rage or cynically uses that animus and race hatred to achieve political ends. In either case, they are the words of a deeply dangerous individual the likes of whom has seldom been so close to achieving executive power in America.

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Ark Encounter, the Kentucky theme park that presents Noah’s flood as a historical event, is back in the news.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent letters to a thousand public school districts in nearby states, warning that a class field trip to the Ark would violate separation of church and state by inappropriately proselytizing for a religious sect. (That ought to be obvious, but apparently to some people it isn’t.)

Ken Hamm, who is behind both the Ark and the Creation Museum, struck back by offering reduced admission to public school groups. We’ll see if anybody takes him up on it, and what court cases result.

Paul Ryan had his picture taken with the Republican interns of the House. Did you ever see so many white people in your entire life?

Architect Andrew Tesoro relates his experience of doing business with Donald Trump. It’s a story repeated by many small businessmen — at least 60 by the count of USA Today — who deliver their products and then get bullied into accepting a much smaller payment than the one Trump had agreed to. (Tesoro isn’t one of those 60, because he was intimidated out of filing suit.) “His definition of winning is making sure the other guy loses. … You can’t run a country the way Mr. Trump has run his businesses.”

and let’s close with something awe-inspiring

Time-lapse video of how storms form and move.

Dogma and Storm

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on July 18.

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.

– President Abraham Lincoln (1862)

It is preposterous to suppose that the people of one generation can lay down the best and only rules of government for all who are to come after them.

– President Ulysses Grant (1885)

This week’s featured post is “Are we overdoing the Founding Fathers?

This week everybody was talking about terrorist attacks in the Muslim world

In Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Bangladesh, and Turkey. Note how much less impact these attacks had on the American news cycle than attacks in Europe usually do. That’s a measure of implicit bigotry that I can see in myself: I have to struggle against a shit-happens reaction to human tragedies that don’t involve Americans or Europeans, as if Bangladeshi lives were just a different currency than European lives, with an unfavorable exchange rate.

and two pseudo-scandals that may finally be reaching their conclusions

The House Select Committee on Benghazi finally issued its 800-page report, which not even Chairman Trey Gowdy could pull spin as a revelation:

I simply ask the American people to read this report for themselves, look at the evidence we have collected, and reach their own conclusions.

Vox‘s Jeff Stein accepted that challenge, and concluded that the report would only impress people who came to it with the assumption that the Obama administration must be up to something sinister.

Nothing in it convinced me of a devastating scandal. The scales did not fall from my eyes to expose the secret malevolence of the Obama administration.

In other Clinton-pseudoscandal news, Hillary was finally interviewed by the FBI. The FBI has said all along that her interview would come near the end of the investigation, so maybe that will soon be over as well. I have not seen anything yet that makes me want to revise my opinion from three weeks ago.

Update: FBI says no charges.

and the Supreme Court’s abortion decision

Remember that anti-abortion law Wendy Davis filibustered in the Texas legislature in 2013? It passed in the next session, and now the Supreme Court has invalidated it because it places an “undue burden” on a woman attempting to exercise her right to have an abortion.

ProPublica pulls together the best analyses of the decision. From a layman’s point of view, here’s what I think it means: Legislatures and courts represent equal branches of government, so typically judges make an assumption of good faith when they analyze a law. In other words, judges assume the legislature is trying to do what it says it is trying to do, and they read the law within that frame.

However, there are certain situations where legislatures again and again have passed bad-faith laws. Racial discrimination has been the biggest example; for decades the rationales kept changing, but the results were always that the races stayed separate and minority races drew the short straw. Eventually, the Supreme Court developed the levels-of-scrutiny doctrine that allowed it to reject consistent legislative bad faith.

That doctrine has never applied to abortion laws, but the Texas law in this case is a classic bad-faith law: It purports to be about women’s health, but the actual intent is to impose so many hard-to-satisfy regulations on abortion clinics that most of them would go out of business. Outside the big cities, that would make abortions so hard to get in Texas that women without much support or many resources just wouldn’t be able to get them.

The Court’s decision never uses the phrase bad faith, but that’s what the decision is about. The Court has finally lost patience with bad-faith regulation of abortion clinics. Bad-faith anti-abortion laws all over the country should start coming down.

and Elie Wiesel

who died Saturday.

I’ve been looking for the perfect Elie Wiesel retrospective and not finding it. I never met Wiesel or even saw him speak in person, but he came to symbolize two important things for me.

First, in regard to the dark side of life, we all have a narrow path to walk: To one side is denial, the temptation to say that because the bad things are not happening to me, at least not at the moment, they aren’t real. They won’t happen because they don’t happen and they haven’t happened, even if some people say they did. To the other side is the temptation to dismiss or debunk all higher values, and so give in to cynicism, bitterness, or depression. Wiesel, to me, represents the hope that it is possible to walk that path without sliding off in either direction: We don’t have to whitewash the world to love it, or imagine that people are wonderful in order to have compassion for them.

In terms of religion, to me Wiesel represented a balance between traditional religious values and modern humanism. He often talked about God, but never simplistically or dogmatically. The one clear thing the Holocaust had taught him was that God cannot be counted on to save us. If the world is to avoid spiraling into ever deeper darkness, human beings will have to step up and see to it.

Bernard Avishai’s Wiesel piece in The New Yorker starts well, but ends up focusing on Wiesel’s reluctance to confront Israel about its treatment of the Palestinians. I get where he’s coming from and agree with him on the substance, but I have more of a nobody’s-perfect reaction. I hope for a more generous response when I die, so I feel obligated to extend that generosity to others.

but not enough people are paying attention to this article

Most progressives regret NAFTA, feel an instant antipathy to any action of the WTO, and oppose ratification of the TPP. At the same time, it’s one of those obvious Econ-101 truths that trade is good. Just as no individual can hope to be self-sufficient at a level much above subsistence, no country can truly prosper by cutting itself off from the rest of the world.

So a blanket opposition to any and all trade agreements can’t be the right progressive position. If only someone would lay out some general principles of a positive progressive trade policy. Well, Jared Bernstein is taking a whack at it.

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Good environmental news is so rare, you shouldn’t miss it when it happens.

Remember the hole in the ozone layer? Well, three decades after countries started banning the chemicals destroying it, the ozone layer is on the mend, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

Full scale 2016 coverage begins with Nate Silver’s first general election forecasts. He started Hillary Clinton with about an 80% chance of winning, now down to 77%. Nate explains his thinking here.

He offers three different models, one based only on polls, one based on other factors like economic data, and a third projecting what would happen if the election were today. (Look in his left-hand column for the buttons that choose the model.) They allow you to look at different kinds of uncertainty. The if-today model, which he calls the Now-cast, only reflects the uncertainties in polling: If the election were held today, a candidate who has Hillary’s current lead in the polls would win 85.5% of the time. The other two models also reflect uncertainties of events, what we might call the shit-happens factor. Polls in June can only tell you so much about what will happen in November, which is what gets Clinton’s win probability down to 80.3% in polls-only and 73.5% in polls-plus.

The models are constructed in such a way that they will converge by election day.

While we’re on polls, the NYT’s Nate Cohn talks about the different assumptions and corrections that can go into polls, and how they can go wrong. In a separate article, Cohn discusses conspiracy theories about vote fraud:

There are plenty of good reasons for people to think the U.S. election system doesn’t work, even if there are basically zero reasons to think it’s “rigged” or that there’s multistate election fraud.

I’m not sure how I missed “I’m Angry! So I’m Voting For Donald Trump” when it came out three months ago, but it’s still accurate. At the time, Klavan’s eventual conclusion to “vote for someone else, who would be, like, a better president” probably meant some other Republican. (The Daily Wire is a conservative web site, after all.) But it works just as well for Hillary.

TPM’s analysis of Trump’s fund-raising problems is interesting. So far, there’s still no confirmation of his pledge to forgive the loans he has made to the campaign.

The Obama administration has admitted to killing between 64 and 116 civilian bystanders in drone strikes outside war zones. Outside organizations have higher estimates. Long War Journal estimates 158 civilian deaths in Pakistan alone.

A draft of the Democratic Platform is out.

Governor Jerry Brown just signed a slew of new gun-control laws in California. To me the most interesting one is the ban on magazines that hold more than 10 bullets, because it requires gun-owners to do something specific: turn those magazines in or otherwise dispose of them. I wonder how many will comply, and how aggressively California will enforce the law.

George W. Bush was historically unpopular when he left office, but his fans claimed that history would vindicate him. (I argued against that view.) So far, not so much. Noted presidential biographer Jean Edward Smith (whose previous books made the case that Eisenhower and Grant were under-appreciated) has a new book Bush, which ends with this line:

Whether George W. Bush was the worst president in American history will be long debated, but his decision to invade Iraq is easily the worst foreign policy decision ever made by an American president.

That doesn’t sound much like vindication.

and let’s close with something awesome

Earth isn’t the only planet to have an aurora phenomenon. Here, the Hubble space telescope spies one on Jupiter.

Expect gobs of amazing Jupiter photos this week as the Juno probe arrives.

No Island is an Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.

– John Donne, Meditation XVII, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1624)

The next Sift is on a Tuesday. I’m going to try something new, and adjust to the July 4th holiday by putting the Sift out on Tuesday the 5th. It’s an experiment.

This week’s featured post is “What’s Up With Congressional Democrats?

This week everybody was talking about Brexit

I confess to not giving Brexit the attention it merited, because I just didn’t believe it would happen. Like a lot of people, I expected a replay of the Scottish independence vote of 2014: a lot of angst, followed by, “Well, never mind then.”

But they really did it: Thursday the UK voted to leave the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron had staked his government on the outcome, so Friday morning he announced his resignation, to take effect before the Conservative Party conference in October that will choose his successor. (The British prime minister is sort of a cross between president and speaker of the house. As when Paul Ryan replaced John Boehner as speaker, Conservatives can choose a new prime minister without consulting the voters, because they hold 330 of the 650 seats in Parliament. Elections happen every five years, with the next one set for 2020. One could happen sooner if a vote of no confidence succeeded in Parliament, but that isn’t currently in the works.)

Legally, the Brexit vote was an advisory referendum, so the government has the option to ignore it, though Cameron has said: “for a Prime Minister to ignore the express will of the British people to leave the EU would not just be wrong, it would be undemocratic.”

Officially, nothing happens until the UK informs the EU that it is invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. That sets a two-year clock running: Either the two parties negotiate an official exit agreement or the UK’s membership dissolves automatically when the clock runs out.

Cameron apparently has decided he doesn’t want to be the PM who starts that clock, leaving the Article 50 notification to his still-to-be-chosen successor. So we’re probably looking at an exit date of October, 2018 or later.

Or maybe even never, if this analysis holds: Maybe nobody who promises to invoke Article 50 can replace Cameron as prime minister. Your guess on that is as good as mine.

English Brexit supporters may not have thought they were voting to disunite the United Kingdom. But as we saw in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, disintegration has its own momentum: If you don’t want to be a regional minority in a larger superstate, what makes you think the regional minorities in your smaller state will be content to stay?

So other dominoes are starting to fall. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, fairly large majorities voted against the referendum. And now many are wondering if the England-for-the-English movement behind Brexit is going to create a country that the Scots and Irish want to stay in. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called a new independence referendum “highly likely”.

Then we get to Northern Ireland, where things really get messy. Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said:

All of us who believe in Europe and want to be part of Europe will be deeply disappointed that, effectively, English votes have dragged us out of Europe. … I think that our case for a border poll [i.e., a vote to leave the UK and rejoin Ireland] has also strengthened by the outcome of this vote.

McGuinness represents Sinn Féin, the party that wants to unite with Ireland, i.e., the largely Catholic party that used to have links with the IRA. The other major party in Northern Ireland is the largely Protestant Unionists, which First Minister Arlene Foster belongs to. They want to stay in the UK and strongly oppose joining Ireland. She says: “I don’t believe [a border poll] will happen.”

It’s important to remember that people were killing each other over this issue until less than 20 years ago. Fintan O’Toole writes in The Guardian about all the ways Brexit screws up the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace.

I never imagined then that I would ever feel bitter about England again. But I do feel bitter now, because England has done a very bad day’s work for Ireland. It is dragging Irish history along in its triumphal wake, like tin cans tied to a wedding car.

All but a few diehards had learned to live with the partition of the island of Ireland. Why? Because the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic had become so soft as to be barely noticeable. If you crossed it, you had to change currencies, and if you were driving you had to remember that the speed limits were changing from kilometres per hour to miles. But these are just banal details. They do not impinge on the simple, ordinary experience of people sharing an island without having to be deeply conscious of division.

But if the whole point of Brexit is for the UK to control immigration, then the Ireland/Northern Ireland border has to harden, and other provisions of the peace agreement become more tenuous as well.

Northern Ireland desperately needed a generation of relative political boredom, in which ordinary issues such as taxation and the health service – rather than the unanswerable questions of national identity – could become the stuff of partisan debate. Brexit has made that impossible.

Things may get complicated in Gibraltar as well, where Brexit threatens two major local industries with a largely EU customer base: tourism and financial services.

London’s role as a world financial capital is also threatened. That, together with a cosmopolitan culture and a comparatively large non-white population has motivated 100,000 people to sign a petition calling for London’s independence. That seems extremely unlikely, but is a measure of the general upset. London voted against Brexit, about 60%-40%.

Joseph Harker, deputy opinion editor of The Guardian describes how this looks to Britain’s ethnic minorities. The explicit target of the Leave campaign may have been the low-wage workers coming in from poorer EU countries like Poland and Bulgaria, but the implications are larger.

This morning, knowing these despicable tactics have won over the nation, it feels like a “First they came for the Poles” moment. It seems only a matter of time before the intolerance that has been unleashed, reinforced and normalised, looks for the old, easy targets of people who look different. People like me.

“I want my country back,” the leavers said. Right now, I don’t feel part of that country.

and what it implies for American politics

Too many people to list have made the connection between the pro-Brexit voters in the UK and the Trump voters in the US. One of them was Trump. In an email to supporters (I suppose I should tell them I’m not one) he wrote:

Voters in the United Kingdom chose to leave the flawed and failing European Union and reassert control over their borders, politics and economy, taking a brave stand for freedom and independence. … These voters stood up for their nation – they put the United Kingdom first, and they took their country back.  With your help, we’re going to do the exact same thing on Election Day 2016 here in the United States of America.

The comparison works in some ways but not others. Obviously, Trump and Brexit both appeal to the same kind of nativist, anti-globalist, anti-immigrant sentiment. On his MSNBC show Friday, Chris Hayes expressed another parallel: the sense among non-supporters that this just couldn’t happen.

I think a lot of people felt like there was some kind of guard rail on the road. … And the realization was: There’s no guard rail, there’s just the outcome of the election. People say to me at barbecues, “He can’t really win.” No, he could! If he gets enough votes he will be the president.

The main way the Brexit/Trump analogy doesn’t work is that the UK has a much whiter electorate than the US. Also, the mistake a lot of us made about Brexit was ignoring polls that said the referendum was a toss-up. (Republicans made a similar mistake about Trump in the primaries; they were slow to take him seriously even though he led in the polls.) By contrast, the current RCP polling average has Clinton with a solid-but-not-overwhelming 6.8% lead. Republicans would do well to watch their own this-can’t-happen thinking: A new poll has Clinton winning Arizona by 4 points.

While the Brexit vote might inspire Trump supporters, the subsequent chaos might cut the other way: The pound immediately dropped by 9% and stock markets around the world started falling like stones. (That fall has continued this morning.) The uncertainty around Brexit might tip Europe into a recession. I can easily imagine Clinton supporters in October saying, “Don’t do to America what Brexit did to the British.”

A lot of 50-something potential Trump voters just took a big loss in their IRAs while listening to Trump (from his revamped Scottish golf course) tell them what a great thing that was, and how much money he is going to make from the fall of the pound. I doubt that went over well. Politics is all fun and games until you have to start delaying your retirement.

You know which other presidential candidate was thrilled by the Brexit vote? Jill Stein. Her motivation is that the EU is pro-corporate, but to me she seems way too sanguine about making common cause with bigots.

Best response to Trump’s Scotland trip. @DavidStroup tweeted: “We should probably not let Trump back to the U.S. until we figure out what’s going on.”

and the Supreme Court

Every year, the end of the term in June produces a flurry of decisions. This year the Court faced the additional complication of having an empty chair: The Senate has refused to take any action on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to replace Justice Scalia. That created some 4-4 ties, which makes for weird law: The decision of the lower court stands, and serves as a precedent for any court further down its ladder, but is not a precedent for the country as a whole. So if, say, an appeals court in a different circuit ruled the opposite way, that ruling might stand also, and a law might just mean different things in different parts of the country.

Affirmative action. The Court upheld the University of Texas’ affirmative action program. Justice Kagan didn’t vote, but Justice Kennedy joined the other three liberals for a 4-3 decision. Kennedy wrote for the majority, with Alito penning a dissent about twice as long.

The gist of the argument seems to be that Alito thought he had set a perfect trap for UT, and Kennedy let them out. The Court had previously sent the case back to a lower court to be considered under “strict scrutiny”, in which the good faith of UT could not be assumed. (In other words, this affirmative action plan might be a sinister plot to discriminate against whites, rather than an attempt to create a more diverse educational environment for everyone, as UT claimed.)

Alito’s interpretation of strict scrutiny meant that UT had to quantify just how much diversity its educational environment needs, and how this plan achieves it with as little anti-white discrimination as possible. Of course, that would basically be a quota, which is also illegal. Kennedy brushed off the quantification demand, which is probably the just outcome, though I’m not sure it’s correct legally.

Immigration. Here we see the impact of the Senate’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland. As to whether President Obama’s executive orders allowing about four million undocumented immigrants to stop worrying about deportation are or are not within his constitutional power, the Court said only this:

The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.

In other words, the appellate court’s decision blocking Obama’s order stands, because the Supreme Court can’t agree. Slate‘s Walter Dellinger responded:

Seldom have so many hopes been crushed by so few words.

If a lawsuit gets filed in a different part of the country and gets a different result from a different appellate court, then we really go down the rabbit hole.

Anyway, let’s recap: The Senate passed an immigration reform bill, which the House refused to vote on. President Obama tried to step in and solve part of the problem without new legislation, and the Senate’s refusal to vote on Garland’s nomination means that the Supreme Court deadlocked on the legality of Obama’s action.

So everybody agrees we have an immigration problem, but no action can be taken on it. Conservatives love to invoke the Founders, so let me do the same now: I’m sure this kind of dysfunction isn’t what they had in mind.

and the House sit-in for gun control

I cover this in “What’s Up With Congressional Democrats?

If you want to jump ahead of the current gun-control debate and consider what changes we should hope for, I recommend this Guardian article. It points out that “the gun problem” is actually several different problems — gang violence, domestic violence, suicide, and mass shootings — that require their own solutions.

As long as we’re in the nothing-can-be-done mood, though, this kind of thinking can be counter-productive, because whatever you propose in one area can be criticized for doing little to help in the other areas. “See? This doesn’t address the real problem.”

and the Trump campaign’s finances

The June report the Trump campaign filed with the FEC showed two interesting things: First, the campaign did very little fund-raising in May and entered June with only $1.3 million in the bank, which is a ridiculously low number compared to either the McCain and Romney campaigns or the Clinton campaign, which had over $42 million (similar to what Obama had in 2008).

But the more interesting story was deeper in the FEC report: The whole campaign looked oddly like a money-making scheme. AP reported:

Through the end of May, his campaign had plowed about $6 million back into Trump corporate products and services, a review of federal filings shows. That’s nearly 10 percent of his expenditures.

Trump’s “self financing” had consisted mainly of loaning money to his campaign rather than giving it, opening up the possibility that new donations could go mainly to Trump, both to pay back the loans and for new payments to his companies. The pressure from this story forced Trump to announce that he would forgive $50 million worth of loans to his campaign, effectively donating $50 million that he previously had reserved the right to get back.

I know this sounds cynical, but we’ll have to check the July FEC report to see if he actually did forgive the loans.

In other Trump news, he has found Jesus — just in time to justify Evangelical Christians voting for him. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

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I’m becoming more optimistic that there will ultimately be Democratic unity. While I think too much was made of Bernie Sanders’ statement about voting for Clinton “in all likelihood”, which wasn’t anything like an endorsement, the statement he made about the draft Democratic platform, while critical, sounded to me like the kind of targeted, substantive criticism that people make when they want to see a process work. I would be more worried if he were continuing to make general criticisms about the Party not representing working people, rather than pointing to a few specific issues like a moratorium on fracking.

One of the joys of YouTube is that you can be a fly on the wall for conversations you never would have been involved in otherwise. Here, George Will discusses authoritarianism and libertarianism with two guys from Reason magazine. This happened back in March, when Trump’s nomination seemed likely but not inevitable yet. I’m never going to be a fan of either Will or Reason, but I feel like I understand them both better now.

and let’s close with John Oliver

Every international disaster is more enjoyable when John Oliver covers it.

Stopping Power

Give me three 100 round drum magazines and I could hold my whole block hostage for a day. Give me thirty 10 round magazines and someone will be able to stop me.

– Daniel Hayes, “I Am an AR-15 Owner And I’ve Had Enough

This week’s featured post is “Our gun problem IS a terrorism problem“.

This week everybody was talking about Orlando

Much of the airtime related to Orlando was a simple outpouring of grief, as might happen whenever a large number of people die — in a medium-sized plane crash, say, or the collapse of an auditorium. The fact that so many of the victims were part of a very specific community — Latino LGBT in Orlando — made the story particularly poignant. If you are part of that community, you might know many of the victims, rather than just one or two. So in that sense it’s like when a plane crashes while carrying a high school French club to Paris, or when most of the Marshall football team was killed.

A second major angle on the story was to examine the killer himself and his motives. This is where the story starts to bifurcate depending on how people of different political views want to frame it. (I believe it shouldn’t bifurcate, as I explain in “Our gun problem IS a terrorism problem“.) You can tell this as a pure Muslim terrorism story: Omar Mateen came from a Muslim family, and his parents are Afghan immigrants. He has been to Saudi Arabia (apparently to do the hajj in Mecca) and the United Arab Emirates. In a 911 call made during the attack, he dedicated his killings to ISIS. (However, ISIS appeared to play no role in the attack, other than in the killer’s mind. The FBI had investigated his trips to the Middle East and found no indication that he received terrorist training.)

You can tell it as a violence-begets-violence story: Mateen was bullied as a youngster, and was a violent man before his attack on the Pulse nightclub. He abused his wives, and sought out a profession — security guard — that allowed him to carry a gun.

You can portray Mateen as a man struggling to deny his sexuality. Pulse was not a random choice. He apparently had attended the nightclub many times, and participated on gay dating web sites. The massacre can be presented as Mateen’s ultimate attempt to declare to the world that he found homosexuality abhorrent rather than tempting. A unique perspective on this interpretation is in two segments (here and here) where Rachel Maddow interviews Sohail Ahmed, a British gay Muslim who once contemplated terrorist acts and now campaigns against violent Islamism.

And finally, the Pulse massacre can be framed as just another mass killing, like Columbine or San Bernadino or Aurora or Sandy Hook. In some sense we don’t care why shooters keep doing these things; we just want it to stop.

If we’re going to profile Muslims, why not profile men?

and guns

Paul Ryan called for a moment of silence in Congress to honor the dead in Orlando, but Democrats decided that Congress’ silence on the mass-shooting issue was part of the problem.

In the Senate, Chris Murphy of Connecticut pulled off something remarkable: He used a filibuster to push an issue forward rather than shut it down. He held the floor for 15 hours until he got an agreement to hold two votes:

One would bar those on a terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms and the other would expand background checks.

It’s important to understand why this worked. An old-fashioned stand-up-and-talk filibuster is limited by individual stamina, so opponents can always wait you out. So as a forcing tactic, it can’t accomplish much by itself. What it does, though, is create drama and draw national attention. If that attention results in national outrage, then the Senate leadership may have to respond.

That’s what happened here. Murphy got a concession because he drew attention to an issue where the public is overwhelmingly on his side. (A PPP poll in Virginia shows an incredible 86%-7% split in favor of keeping people on the no-fly list from buying guns and an even larger majority in favor of universal background checks.) But apparently even that kind of majority will ultimately fail in the face of the NRA: Both measures are expected to lose today when the Senate votes. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine is trying to stitch together a compromise, but even if it passes, the House will probably not vote on it.

An AR-15 owner explains why limiting magazines to ten bullets would make mass killings much harder.

MarketWatch columnist Brett Arends goes back to The Federalist to explain what the Founders meant by “a well-regulated militia”: a citizen army resembling today’s National Guard, which they hoped would avoid (or at least minimize) the need for a professional permanent standing army. The militia is “necessary to the security of a free State” because the Founders feared that a professional army might develop its own interests independent of the People, and so establish tyranny.

Today we have a professional army, anyway. Military matters have become so complex that no part-time soldiers could do it all. So you could argue that makes the Second Amendment null and void, like the parts in the Constitution about slaves and Indians being counted as “three-fifths” of a person in the Census.

But even if you still want to defend the Second Amendment, it should apply only to those who volunteer to join the “select corps” of their National Guard, undergo rigorous training to attain “proficiency in military functions” and perform the “operations of an army,” serve as ordered under the ultimate command of the president and be subject to military discipline.

and Trump

My intuition was telling me that Trump’s reaction to Orlando was disastrous, but my Trump intuition hasn’t been that good, so I was still worried. Fortunately, recent polls seem to bear me out: both the ones that ask specific questions about Orlando and the head-to-head match-ups, where Clinton’s lead keeps growing. (One poll that showed Clinton’s lead shrinking was comparing to a previous poll that I consider an outlier: Reuters has Clinton’s lead down from 14% to a mere 10.3%, which is still above her margin in most other polls.)

Republicans are still talking about getting rid of Trump at the convention, but I’ll believe it when I see it. One thing I’m not hearing so far is some large number of Trump delegates wanting to be free of their commitment to vote for him.

By far the best response to Trump’s banning The Washington Post from his campaign comes from the tiny York Dispatch of York County, PA. In an editorial “Ban us, you big baby“, they ask why they don’t deserve the honor of being banned too.

The Dispatch might be small by comparison, but our commitment to asking tough questions, pointing out inconsistencies, flagging outright lies, simply holding candidates accountable for their words and actions is second to none. … Now, we understand sitting out your campaign events means we might miss a serious, coherent policy speech. Let’s just say, we like our odds. … No, we’re pretty sure we can cover that circus just fine from outside the tent, with the rest of the journalists who refuse to be silenced.

Josh Marshall makes two points about Trump’s recent troubles:

Every candidate is dependent on good poll numbers for morale, fundraising and more. But Trump’s platform isn’t abolishing Obamacare or lowering taxes or kicking more ass in the Middle East. His platform is “winning.” So if he’s clearly not winning, it’s uniquely debilitating.


[T]he general election puts a bullshit based candidacy in direct contact with the reality based world. That creates not only turbulence but turbulence that builds on itself because the interaction gets in the spokes of each of these two, fundamentally different idea systems. You’re seeing the most telling signs of that with the growing number of Republicans who, having already endorsed Trump, are now literally refusing to discuss him or simply walking away when his name is mentioned.

Paul Krugman makes a related point: Republicans like Bush and Rubio fell so easily before Trump because (like Soviet leaders before the collapse), they can’t believe what they have to say. A bullshit-based system requires a master bullshitter, which is why the choice came down to Trump or Cruz.

The New Republic attends a Trump rally in North Carolina, where vendors hawk t-shirts saying “Trump That Bitch!” and “Hillary Sucks But Not Like Monica!”. Things must have gotten worse since I stood in line (unsuccessfully) for a Trump rally in January. The worst I noticed then was “Hillary For Jail”.

AJ+ interviews a woman who was an undercover CIA agent in the Muslim world.

If I learned one lesson from my time with the CIA, it is this: Everybody believes they are the good guy.

Media Matters traces how years of anti-immigrant propaganda on Fox News and right-wing talk radio laid the groundwork for Donald Trump’s candidacy.

and Bernie Sanders

Sanders addressed his supporters online Thursday [video, transcript]. He has stopped talking about flipping superdelegates and winning the nomination, but is also not dropping out or endorsing Clinton. Apparently he will go to the convention seeking changes in the primary rules for future elections and in the Democratic platform.

However, when I imagine Clinton strategists watching this speech, I picture them totally confused about what they can offer Bernie, because his demands are not sharpening. Instead, he repeated virtually his entire stump speech. The implied answer to “What do you want?” is “Everything.”

Losing candidates don’t get everything. If they did, elections would be pointless.

If Sanders identifies parts of his agenda that are broadly popular among Democrats — the $15 minimum wage comes to mind — he might win those votes at the convention. But he can’t expect the convention even to debate a broad replacement of Clinton’s positions with his, much less to win such a vote. So where is he going with this?

Pundits are debating about Sanders’ “leverage”, and whether it is shrinking as former supporters like Senator Merkley and Congressman Grijalva defect to Clinton and progressive heroes like Senator Warren get enthusiastic about the Clinton/Trump match-up. Sanders’ intransigence is becoming an Andy Borowitz punch line:

Sanders acknowledged that continuing to fight for the nomination after Clinton is elected President would represent a “steep challenge,” but added, “When we started this race we were only at three per cent in the polls. Anything is possible.”

According to Vox, the Sanders campaign believes their leverage vanishes as soon as they endorse Clinton. But I don’t see it that way: What Clinton really wants from Sanders is an enthusiastic convention speech that tells his supporters they have a place in the Democratic Party and an interest in seeing Clinton beat Trump. They want him campaigning for the Democratic ticket in the fall on college campuses and other places where he is more popular than she is. That leverage stays in place until election day, unless he dissipates it himself, as he might be doing.

I’ve seen a lot of angst about whether the Democratic establishment will learn the right lessons from the surprising success of the Sanders campaign. I wish I saw more angst about whether progressives will learn from Bernie’s failure to win over blacks and Latinos. There’s not going to be any progressive revolution unless people of color believe it’s their revolution. They didn’t this time. What’s going to be different next time?

but you may have missed the good news on net neutrality

Two years ago, in what was widely reported as a defeat for net neutrality, the D.C. Court of Appeals threw out the FCC’s net neutrality rules, but for an interesting reason: It wasn’t that the FCC lacked the power to make such rules, but that the FCC’s power worked differently than the rules implied.

The gist of the court ruling is that the FCC has classified cable companies as information-services providers, but that its net-neutrality rules regulate them like telecommunications carriers. So the FCC’s net-neutrality rules can’t stand. But — and this is the observation that snatches victory from the jaws of defeat — it’s totally within the FCC’s current powers and mandate to just reclassify the cable companies.

It did that, and then re-issued its net neutrality rules. The re-issued rules came back to the same court, which approved them this time. Doubtlessly this will go to the Supreme Court, but so far the good guys are winning.

This is one of many issues that points out the importance of winning the White House: Obama appointed the FCC commissioners whose votes made the difference, and the ultimate decision may hang on which party gets to replace Justice Scalia.

Clinton and Trump have sharp differences here. Trump has tweeted:

Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target the conservative media

while Clinton supported the FCC’s decision.

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Yesterday was Juneteenth, the anniversary of the day in 1865 when the abolition of slavery was announced in the last holdout state, Texas. As I’ve discussed before, that was far from the end of slavery, and abolition often only applied within the reach of occupying Union soldiers. But abolition deserves a holiday somewhere in the calendar, and this one is as good as any.

This week at its annual meeting, the Southern Baptist Conference (the U.S.’s largest Protestant denomination) passed a resolution against flying the Confederate flag:

We call our brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters.

Like many American denominations, the Baptists split over slavery during the years leading up to the Civil War. The Southern Baptists descend from the pro-slavery side of that split, but have moderated considerably since.

The resolution was originally proposed by a black pastor from Texas, and then sharpened by a white former president of the conference, who wrote:

I asked my brothers and sisters to strike the resolution’s language claiming that some people fly this divisive symbol out of a fond memory of their fallen ancestors, rather than hate. … At our denomination’s beginning, we took the wrong stand on the issue of slavery. We cannot undo what our ancestors did, but I felt we had a historic opportunity to show that we have repented of these ungodly attitudes. The SBC has officially and publicly apologized for our racist past, but words without action are cheap and hollow.

I’ve written about the flag before, and here’s where I come down on the fallen-ancestor thing: If you want to put an appropriately-sized Confederate battle flag on the grave of your great-grandfather who died at Vicksburg, I’m fine with it. But flying that flag from a flagpole, where the general public can see it, says something different: that the masters weren’t wrong when they revolted against the United States in order to defend their right to keep black people in slavery.

If that’s the message you want to send, well, it’s a free country. But don’t kid yourself that you’re really saying something else.

Governor Brownback’s huge tax cuts and other conservative policies were supposed to bring jobs to Kansas. Well, in this particular case, they’ve caused jobs to leave Kansas. The CEO of Pathfinder Health Innovations writes:

In the end, I believe the goals of the Brownback administration are going exactly to plan – starve the state of resources to the point where it just makes sense to turn over critical government functions to for-profit entities.

I can’t, in good conscience, continue to give our tax money to a government that actively works against the needs of its citizens; a state that is systematically targeting the citizens in most need, denying them critical care and reducing their cost of life as if they’re simply a tax burden that should be ignored.

It’s because of these moves that I have decided to deny Kansas revenue from Pathfinder’s taxes by moving our company to Missouri.

Paul Ryan is trying to provide a non-Trump policy center for Republicans to coalesce around. His web site at is putting out a series of issue papers under the heading “A Better Way“. Its healthcare proposal is supposed to appear Wednesday, but The Hill reports that once again Republicans will fall short of offering an actual, ready-to-vote-on plan that the CBO can analyze for costs and benefits.

House Republicans’ ObamaCare replacement plan will not include specific dollar figures on some of its core provisions, and will instead be more of a broad outline, according to lobbyists and aides.

Jonathan Chait explains why this is not surprising.

The Republican health-care stance combines rhetorical opposition to all of the cruel features of the old health-care system with denunciations of every practical measure in Obamacare required to fix them. The unspecified alternative allows them to promise that nobody will suffer from lack of access to insurance, but without committing to any sacrifices needed to make this happen.

So, seven years into the debate about ObamaCare, there is still no real alternative other than a return to the system that was bad and still getting worse in 2009.

The prospect of another Clinton administration should have us re-examining the good and bad of the last one. A budget surplus, low unemployment, and low inflation can make the late 90s sound like the Good Old Days, but Nicholas Kristof observes that welfare reform didn’t work out as well as he had hoped at the time.

Welfare reform has failed, but the solution is not a reversion to the old program. Rather, let’s build new programs targeting children in particular and drawing from the growing base of evidence of what works.

That starts with free long-acting birth control for young women who want it (70 percent of pregnancies among young single women are unplanned). Follow that with high-quality early-childhood programs and prekindergarten, drug treatment, parenting coaching and financial literacy training, and a much greater emphasis on jobs programs to usher the poor into the labor force and bring them income.

and let’s close with some intellectual humor


It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.

— George Orwell, “The Principles of Newspeak

This week’s featured posts are “What Should ‘Racism’ Mean? Part II” and “About Those Emails“.

The last two days, everyone has been talking about the Orlando shooting

It certainly deserves top billing. Looking at my Facebook news feed, it seems to be what’s on everybody’s mind, and it’s certainly on mine. I wish I had something comforting or hopeful or inspiring to say about it, or even something accusatory that directed blame to more appropriate places than it would otherwise go.

But I don’t. And I don’t want to cheapen the discussion by launching a canned rant about guns or terrorism or some other related issue. Maybe by next week I’ll have something more insightful to say.

One thing I have noticed, though: In previous mass killings, there has been a “We are all …” meme. “We are all Americans“, “Je suis Charlie“, and so on. But one measure of the power of LGBT prejudice is that nothing similar seems to be happening this time. There is no “We are all queer” meme.

I’m reminded of a criticism made by a character in the Richard Condon novel Winter Kills about a fictional president who resembles JFK: “He went to Germany and said ‘I am a Berliner’, but he never went to Mississippi and said ‘I am a nigger’.”

Until then, everybody had been talking about the first woman to clinch a major-party nomination

It was a good week for Hillary Clinton. Monday night AP’s and NBC’s running total of Clinton delegates (both pledged and super) went over the magic number of 2383, clinching the nomination for her. Tuesday she won four of the five primaries (and lost the North Dakota caucus), including getting a surprisingly large margin in California.

With the race decided, the heavyweight endorsements came in: Obama, Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren. Unlike what’s happening the Republican side, all her endorsers seem enthusiastic about getting out and campaigning for her.

Bernie Sanders still hasn’t quite come around yet, but I hope nobody’s pushing him too hard. Clinton would benefit more from a quality endorsement than a prompt one. Better if it takes him a few weeks to endorse Clinton, but it’s clear that he genuinely wants to reconcile his supporters to the Democratic nominee, than if he offers some quick gritted-teeth statement and then stomps off to Vermont until after the election.

The bad news about Clinton looks to be wildly exaggerated: The Clinton Foundation donor who got appointed to a national security board actually did have some reason to be there.

Sanders supporters have been making the point that, since superdelegates could still change their votes, Clinton hasn’t really clinched anything yet.

If you want to get into legalisms, though, no one has ever clinched a nomination before the convention actually voted. Because superdelegates aren’t the only issue: Every convention is a law unto itself, and can change its own rules. So the convention of either party could free its pledged delegates from any previous obligation. In an absolutely literal sense, then, neither Clinton nor Trump has clinched the nomination, and neither had Obama or Romney at this point four years ago.

The Atlantic took this a step further:

If the Sanders camp truly wants to reserve use of the term [presumptive nominee] until every doubt is gone, then it should advocate that people never use it. Even post-convention, a party could put forth a replacement if the nominee dropped out or died.

However, if you cover the 2016 Democratic race the way every race in history has been covered before now — i.e., counting pledged delegates and believing unpledged delegates when they say they are voting for a particular candidate — then Clinton clinched the nomination last Monday and is the presumptive nominee.

Long but interesting Facebook article on Clinton’s long-term popularity/unpopularity.

So what do we see in this data? What I see is that the public view of Hillary Clinton does not seem to be correlated to “scandals” or issues of character or whether she murdered Vince Foster. No, the one thing that seems to most negatively and consistently affect public perception of Hillary is any attempt by her to seek power. Once she actually has that power her polls go up again. But whenever she asks for it her numbers drop like a manhole cover.

I’ll probably talk about this article more in some future week, but the gist is that there is an underlying, usually unconscious, sexism at work: Patriarchal culture trains us to accept power-seeking in men, but to see power-seeking women as unattractive.

and Trump’s bad week

Before Orlando, outrage over Trump’s repeated anti-Hispanic comments against Judge Curiel had been dominating the news, sometimes overwhelming the history Clinton was making. Many statements from Republican leaders either denounced Trump or distanced themselves from him. I link to several in the featured post “What Should ‘Racism’ Mean? Part II.

The Clinton campaign’s mock Trump University ad is pretty funny.

A true factoid has been bouncing around Facebook since Obama’s endorsement of Clinton: Only five living people know what it’s like to be president. The three Democrats (Carter, Bill Clinton, Obama) have endorsed Clinton, but the two Republicans (Bush and Bush) have not endorsed Trump.

David Brooks has harsh words for Paul Ryan, who agrees that Trump says racist things, but urges the Republican Party to unite around him anyway.

Ryan’s argument … puts political positions first and character and morality second. Sure Trump’s a scoundrel, but he might agree with our tax proposal. Sure, he is a racist, but he might like our position on the defense budget. Policy agreement can paper over a moral chasm. Nobody calling themselves a conservative can agree to this hierarchy of values.

USA Today examined the 3500 lawsuits Trump and his companies have been involved in, and drew this conclusion:

The actions in total paint a portrait of Trump’s sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. In some cases, the Trump teams financially overpower and outlast much smaller opponents, draining their resources. Some just give up the fight, or settle for less; some have ended up in bankruptcy or out of business altogether.

Republicans who are counting on President Trump to stand by his promises (like choosing Supreme Court nominees from his list) should bear this pattern in mind: Once Trump has gotten what he wants from you, he’ll try to negotiate about whether he should fulfill his side of the deal. He usually wants some additional concession in exchange for delivering what he already owes you.

The number of companies and others alleging he hasn’t paid suggests that either his companies have a poor track record hiring workers and assessing contractors, or that Trump businesses renege on contracts, refuse to pay, or consistently attempt to change payment terms after work is complete as is alleged in dozens of court cases.

The New York Times casts a similar light on Trump’s Atlantic City casinos, all of which are either bankrupt now or owned by somebody else.

But even as his companies did poorly, Mr. Trump did well. He put up little of his own money, shifted personal debts to the casinos and collected millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and other payments. The burden of his failures fell on investors and others who had bet on his business acumen.

The same could be said about Trump Tower Tampa (where Trump made money while investors lost their deposits on condos that were never built) and several other Trump projects.

Those who invested early in the visions of businessmen like Sam Walton and Bill Gates got rich — sometimes very, very rich. But partnering with Trump has often meant that he winds up with your money.

One of my Facebook friends raised a question about why these stories are coming out now. Didn’t any of the 16 other Republican campaigns have opposition research departments that could feed reporters info about Trump’s shady record?

This illuminates an important difference between the Republican primaries and the general election. Inside the conservative bubble, it’s heresy to point out that some rich people are more deserving than others. They’re all job creators who should get more tax cuts. Attempting to portray any rich man negatively is just “class warfare” or “the politics of envy“.

But the general electorate understands well that, while some people get rich through talent and hard work and visionary ideas, others make money by being scoundrels.

and that rape case

Since there’s a sports angle, a really good summary is in Sports Illustrated. The details bear out the impression you’ve probably already gotten from the headlines: A handsome young athlete (Brock Turner) from an elite university (Stanford) becomes an object of a judge’s empathy, moreso than the woman he sexually assaulted. So Turner gets a 6-month sentence (which could be as little as 3 months if he doesn’t get into any trouble in jail).

Two heroes of the story are Swedish grad students, who happened to be biking past a frat house when they noticed that the female half of the couple apparently having sex by the dumpster was actually unconscious. Rather than decide it wasn’t their business, they asked what was going on, chased Turner down when he ran away, called police, and testified at the trial. I’d like to think young American men would have done the same, but I’m not sure.

At the trial, Turner claimed the woman consented, which seems hard to square with her being unconscious. That points out one of the weird things in the way we discuss rape: When we talk about sex, consent becomes a tricky concept. But in money discussions, consent is totally straightforward.

For example, imagine I ask you for money and you say no. If I then take your wallet, I’m a thief. It doesn’t matter at all whether you’ve given me money in the past, or if you’ve been giving money to lots of other guys. Maybe your jeans are so tight that the wallet in your pocket is totally obvious, leaving nothing to my imagination. Maybe hundred dollar bills are hanging out of your blouse pocket. Maybe we’re both drunk and you pass out before you get done turning me down. None of that matters. If you never said “Here, take my money” I’m a thief.

In discussions of rape, we use phrases like consensual sex. Try to imagine a similar phrase in the money example. It’s redundant to talk about a consensual gift or a consensual loan, because there is no gift or loan without consent; there’s just theft.

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Clinton’s charge that Trump is “temperamentally unfit” to be president — which looks like it’s going to be a major theme of her campaign — brings up some fascinating history I hadn’t known.

During the 1964 campaign Fact magazine asked 12,000 psychiatrists, whether Barry Goldwater was “psychologically fit” for the presidency. Most ignored the mailing, but 1189 responded that he wasn’t, and some added colorful comments that made for a sensational article.

It took a few years, but Goldwater won his lawsuit against Fact, and the American Psychiatric Association decided that the profession didn’t need this kind of publicity. So now the official code of ethics contains a “Goldwater Rule”.

On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.

Samantha Bee explains how it came down to Trump.

and let’s close with the generic TED talk

John Barth once wrote a short story called “Title”, in which every element of the story — including the title — is a placeholder or a generic description. Pat Kelly has now done the same thing for TED talks.


Float and Sting

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.

— Muhammad Ali

This week’s featured post is “Preserving the Cult of the Job Creator“.

This week everybody was talking about Muhammad Ali

who died Friday at age 74.

Boxing has declined in the last few decades, to the point that it’s now on the fringes of most sports fans’ attention. I had to look up who the heavyweight champion of the world is now, and didn’t recognize any of the names I saw.

If you grew up in this era of decline, you may not have any notion of what the heavyweight boxing title used to mean. I can’t think of anything to compare it to today. It had a mythic quality; the Champ wasn’t just a star athlete, he was the current avatar of some essential aspect of manliness. In recent years, probably no athlete has stood as high as Michael Jordan did in the 1990s, but even he was just a man playing a game. Half a century ago, the Champion of the World was more than that.

So it mattered who the Champ was, even if you didn’t care about boxing as a sport. That a black man like Joe Louis could be Champ in the 1930s and 40s (not just beating all comers, but representing America against foreigners like Nazi Germany’s Max Schmeling) didn’t just inspire his fellow blacks, but influenced many whites’ thinking about race, and probably played a role in the acceptability of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s.

In pure sporting terms, Muhammad Ali was a figure on the scale of Tiger Woods or LeBron James. He changed his sport with a style that was light and graceful. Previous champions had been powerful punchers. But Ali’s quickness made opponents miss by embarrassing margins, letting him strike back while they were off balance.

And then there was his beyond-sports significance. Joe Louis had epitomized the soft-spoken black man who knew not to overstep. Satchel Paige played the minstrel and clown, hoping to avoid white hatred by keeping things light. Jackie Robinson understood that his play on the field could be his only response to racist abuse. But Ali got in America’s face. “I am the greatest!” he announced bluntly. He set the stage for the black-power turn in the civil rights movement. Why did a successful black have to be humble and take care not to offend? Why couldn’t he be as brash as any white man?

And why did he have to be Christian? Already celebrated as Cassius Clay, he rejected that as a “slave name” when he converted to Islam. By insisting that the public use his Muslim name, Ali blazed a path later followed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and many other sports stars.

At the height of his career, Ali refused to be drafted for the Vietnam War, catalyzing a national debate about whether black men should fight yellow men to maintain white men’s power. (“No Viet Cong ever called me nigger,” he said.) After being refused conscientious-objector status, he was convicted of draft evasion (later overturned by the Supreme Court on a technicality) and banned from boxing for more than three years.

Then he returned to take the championship back from Joe Frazier. The three Ali/Frazier bouts were Super-Bowl-level events; for a few days all other sporting news faded to insignificance.

So if Ali’s heyday happened before your time, this is what I would like you to understand: He filled a role in society that does not exist any more. There is literally no one like him.

and (yet again this week) Donald Trump

Whatever else you may think of Trump, he is a genius at drawing media attention. Hillary Clinton got a lot of buzz for her foreign-policy speech Thursday, but only because she was talking about Trump. Afterwards, conservatives criticized Clinton’s speech because it unveiled no new foreign-policy ideas … as if anyone would have covered an actual Clinton-doctrine speech that wasn’t about Trump.

Donald Trump’s ideas aren’t just different – they are dangerously incoherent. They’re not even really ideas – just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds, and outright lies. He is not just unprepared – he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.

The Trump University fraud suits got major coverage this week. The basic story is the same one I summarized in March. What was new was how Trump doubled down on vilifying the judge in the San Diego suit, claiming that he must be biased against Trump because he is “Mexican” (actually an American born in Indiana to legal Mexican-immigrant parents). He also suggested that a Muslim judge might be also be biased against him.

Try to imagine any comparable situation. Picture, say, President Nixon denouncing Judge Sirica for being Italian, or Ted Cruz blaming the same-sex marriage decision on Justices Kagan, Breyer, and Ginsburg being Jewish.

The Atlantic notes an appellate court’s comment on a case in the 90s where similar objections were made:

“Courts have repeatedly held that matters such as race or ethnicity are improper bases for challenging a judge’s impartiality,” wrote the chief judge, Ralph Winter, a Reagan appointee. “Nor should one charge that a judge is not impartial solely because an attorney is embroiled in a controversy with the administration that appointed the judge. … Finally, appointment by a particular administration and membership in a particular racial or ethnic group are in combination not grounds for questioning a judge’s impartiality. Zero plus zero is zero.”

Vox makes this observation:

For a man who’s quick to claim that “the Hispanics” love him, Trump certainly seems quick to assume that actual Hispanics do not.

Trump’s other defense was to release a video in which Trump U customers praised the seminars they attended. AP discovered that these were not “typical” Trump U customers at all, but were “beholden to Trump” in some other way. For example, one owed Trump a favor for providing a blurb for her son’s self-help book. Another is a businessman who sells products through Trump’s golf courses, restaurants, and resorts.

As for why there are lawsuits in only two states, Vox reports: “State attorneys general who dropped Trump University fraud inquiries subsequently got Trump donations.” A former Texas official told The Dallas Morning News:

The decision not to sue him was political. Had [Trump] not been involved in politics to the extent he was at the time, we would have gotten approval. Had he been just some other scam artist, we would have sued him.

Tuesday, Trump lit into the press for doing its job too well.

Recapping the story from the beginning: Back in August, Fox News hosted a Republican debate. Megyn Kelly’s questions to Trump were tougher than he liked, so he tried to intimidate Fox into removing her five months later when Fox News held the last debate before the Iowa caucuses in January. Fox refused, so Trump boycotted the debate and staged a rival event, which he promoted heavily and billed as a fund-raiser for veterans groups. He claimed to raise $6 million, of which he supposedly donated $1 million himself.

In any other campaign, reporters would routinely ask the campaign office for proof that the money had been distributed, some staffer would assemble the paperwork and put out a press release, and that would be the end of it, probably without you ever hearing about the follow-up. But the Trump campaign didn’t do its part, so The Washington Post started contacting veterans groups to see if they’d gotten the promised money.

The Post’s David Fahrentholt first wrote about it in March, when he could only account for half the money. He came back to the topic on May 21, and got Trump’s campaign manager to admit that they only collected $4.5 million. He wouldn’t say whether Trump’s million was part of that or not.

Then on May 24, the checks suddenly went out.

Summing up: When Trump made a claim that garnered him good publicity, at least one hard-working reporter checked to see if it was actually true. It turned out to be only half-true, and the reporter’s scrutiny shamed Trump into making good on his promises. That’s good journalism. Any veterans group that got a check dated May 24 should send David Fahrenthold a thank-you note.

But Trump went into a tirade against the press corps as a whole, calling an ABC reporter “a sleaze”.

The unprecedented scale of Donald Trump’s disconnection from the truth has swamped ordinary notions of fact-checking. (PolitiFact has identified 29 Trump pants-on-fire lies, compared to 3 from Clinton and none from Sanders.) How the media should adjust has become a topic of discussion. Here, CNN tried out something new: fact-checking him in real time.

A number of American writers, some as famous as Stephen King and Amy Tan, published “An Open Letter to the American People” speaking out against Donald Trump. Unfortunately, it included this line:

Because American history, despite periods of nativism and bigotry, has from the first been a grand experiment in bringing people of different backgrounds together, not pitting them against one another

which Daniel José Older described as

not only empirically false, it’s a continuation of the ongoing legacy of sanitized lies America has shoved down its own throat since its creation

I guess I’d say that from the beginning, the two impulses have struggled for dominance. In every generation, America was bringing people of diverse backgrounds together in new ways, and also pitting people against each other. (“All men are created equal,” the slave-owner wrote earnestly.) Over time, I think the bringing-people-together impulse has been slowly winning out, as movements for abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, gender rights, gay rights, (and so on) attest. But I think it’s a mistake to minimize either the authenticity of the idealism that has animated Americans through the centuries or its consistent failure to fully manifest in a fair society.

And yes, electing Trump would be a lurch back towards nativism and bigotry.

and the Democrats

Tomorrow is the last big round of primaries, with only D.C.’s primary next week still left. California is the big one and may be close, but probably it will also be anticlimactic. New Jersey is in the Eastern time zone and Clinton should win it easily. That should give her more than enough delegates have the nomination already clinched before California is called.

Then Wednesday, we get to the moment everyone has been speculating about: What will Bernie do? At this point I think I’ll just wait and see.

Hard to say what’s going on with the general-election polls. Some show a close race between Trump and Clinton, while others don’t.

and the gorilla that got killed

Harambe, a gorilla at the Cincinnati  Zoo, was killed the Saturday before Memorial Day after a 3-year-old boy fell into the gorilla enclosure and seemed to be in danger.

This set off a storm of social media commentary because it wasn’t Harambe’s fault, maybe the boy could have been saved without killing the gorilla (though I wouldn’t want to be the guy who made that decision if the boy then died), and so on.

One major target was the boy’s mother, for not keeping better track of him. She has four children (who I assume were all at the zoo with her, though I haven’t seen anybody verify that explicitly). The fact that the family is black raised the old stereotype of irresponsible black women who have more children than they can manage. And it came out that the children’s father had served a year in jail on a drug charge, as if that had some relevance.

It’s a shame there isn’t more sympathy for a mother who clearly must have believed her child was about to die right in front of her.

My wife and I are that couple you know who likes kids but have none of their own, so we’ve had lots of conversations with parents who were letting their hair down. I think every parent I’ve known can tell a story about a moment when their kid was suddenly gone, and then just as suddenly reappeared someplace he or she couldn’t possibly be. Kids are ingenious little buggers who can spot momentary distractions and take advantage by moving really, really fast.

Here’s my negligent-adult story: I was out in the yard with a friend’s daughter. At one point she was standing securely on my shoulders, perfectly balanced between my raised arms, which she could grab if she got unsteady. But then she jumped off at a moment and in a direction that I completely did not expect. My dive to catch her was too slow, and we stayed in eye contact all the way to the ground, which seemed like a very long time. Landing on her back scared her and knocked the wind out of her, but she was otherwise unharmed.

All the stories I know personally are like that: The shield of adult protection momentarily fails, and something really bad could happen, but it doesn’t. Cars stop inches short, human or animal predators don’t happen to appear during the defenseless instant, the ER people get the stomach pumped out in time, and so on. That’s what happens almost every time adult vigilance fails. Some people get unlucky, but the rest of us (if we’re honest) have to admit this truth: If perfection were the standard, then nobody would deserve to have healthy children.

So the reactions I empathized with were like Amanda Marcotte’s:

The expectation that you spend the next 18 years of your life never being less than perfect for a moment is one reason I don’t want kids.

And Kimberley Harrington’s:

If you want to know why mothers — especially mothers in this country — are so batshit crazy, maybe it has something to do with the fact that we are blamed for every. god damn. thing. BY STRANGERS. Work full time? Why are you letting someone else raise your kid? Stay at home mom? Why aren’t you teaching them to be independent go-getters? Breastfeeding, formula feeding, fucking wilderness schools, grit, financial savvy, watching them all of the time, watching them none of the time, free range, Tiger Mom-ing ALL OF THE THINGS OH MY GOD INTERNET MAKE UP YOUR FUCKING MINDS.

but I need to fix a mistake

Last week I got taken in by some of the bad reporting on a case of an antibiotic-resistant infection. A commenter linked to a more accurate article from Ars Technica.

While, again, this isn’t exactly good news, it’s not catastrophic. There are several last-resort antibiotics, and doctors can try different combinations and strengths of prescriptions before an infection may be deemed untreatable.

The somewhat more detailed summary goes like this:

Thursday’s report of a mcr-1-based colistin-resistant bacterial infection in a US patient is concerning, but unsurprising. The plasmid based resistant gene threatens to spread to other bacteria, potentially to ones that are already resistant to last resort drugs, such as CRE. However, the trajectory of mcr-1‘s emergence and its contribution to drug resistant infection trends is not yet clear. For now, the case serves mostly to highlight the ongoing crisis of rising antibiotic resistance and furthers the need for better stewardship of old antibiotics and development of new ones.

My mistake in falling for — and worse, promoting — the more apocalyptic version of the story (that the bacteria was resistant to all antibiotics) demonstrates a type of error I think everybody needs to watch out for: I’ve been watching the erosion of antibiotic effectiveness for years now and trying to call my readers’ attention to it. So when reputable news outlets seemed to be saying that the disaster I’d been warning about was finally here, I didn’t check the details the way I should have.

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In case you missed it, here’s the town hall meeting President Obama had Wednesday in Elkhart, Indiana.

And he answered more questions afterward, like this one about gun control.

I guess it’s not that surprising to hear that there’s a 50th-anniversary Monkees album. But the fact that it’s getting good reviews is a shock.

and let’s close with something hopeful

José Picardo is a high school assistant principal who thinks the kids might be all right. In an article published on Medium, he recalled this photo that went viral on the internet last year, apparently showing teen-agers at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam staring into their phones while ignoring Rembrandt’s masterpiece “The Night Watch” on the wall behind them.

Lots of folks took the photo as “a perfect metaphor for our age”, in which young people are so addicted to technology that the beauty of the real world escapes them.

But what were they doing? Texting? Playing Angry Birds? Checking how many Likes their selfies were getting?

Not exactly.

It turns out that the Rijksmuseum has an app that, among other things, contains guided tours and further information about the works on display. As part of their visit to the museum, the children, who minutes earlier had admired the art and listened attentively to explanations by expert adults, had been instructed to complete an assignment by their school teachers, using, among other things, the museum’s excellent smartphone app.

Not Thrones and Crowns

When wilt thou save the people?
Oh God of mercy when?
The people, Lord, the people
Not thrones and crowns, but men.

— “Save the People” from Godspell

This week’s featured post is “The Election is About the Country, Not the Candidates“. I also wrote a column about Humanism for UU World.

This week everybody was talking about the presidential race

The Inspector General for the State Department put out a report on the Clinton email affair. I had a hard time finding an article that I thought put the proper importance on this story, neither overblowing it nor completely writing it off. I found myself more-or-less on the same page as The New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza:

So this scandal is like so many that have dogged the Clintons: while it’s more molehill than mountain, it does genuinely revolve around a serious issue (Clinton’s commitment to transparency); her initial response was less than forthcoming; and the critics exaggerating the degree of wrongdoing have demonstrated more interest in damaging her politically than fixing the underlying government-wide problem that the e-mail imbroglio has revealed.

Two polls of the California Democratic Party came out last Monday: PPIC had Clinton up by 2%, 46%-44%. SurveyUSA had Clinton up by 18%, 57%-39%. The close-race poll makes a better headline than the it’s-not-close poll, so that’s the one that got all the attention.

Of course both polls were before the inspector general’s report on Clinton’s emails, which can’t have done her any good.

In North Dakota Thursday, Trump laid out his energy policy, which is all fossil fuels all the time, including coal.

He did not explicitly address the scientific legitimacy of human-caused climate change, but said, “We’re going to deal with real environmental challenges, not the phony ones we’ve been hearing about. … Regulations that shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants and block the construction of new ones — how stupid is that?”

He also pledged to restart the Keystone XL pipeline project, cancel the Paris climate agreement, and stop the Obama/Clinton policy of foreign aid to help poorer countries adapt to climate change. (Just to give one example, by 2050 rising seas are expected to drive about 18 million Bangladeshis from their homes. Where will they go?)

It’s hard for me to get excited about the climate-policy differences between Clinton and Sanders when Trump is sounding like a Bond villain.

The biggest non-story of the week was the Trump/Sanders debate, which took over the news cycle for two whole days, even though it should have been completely obvious that Trump would never do it.

It got covered as Trump-and-Sanders-will-gang-up-on-Hillary, but that’s not where Bernie was headed, and probably wouldn’t have done him any good anyway. Sanders’ closing argument is that he’s the better candidate to run against Trump, so that’s what he would have been trying to prove. Agreeing with Trump about “crooked Hillary” would have turned off more Democratic voters than it attracted.

Trump, conversely, had nothing to gain. Sanders would be trying out liberal anti-Trump arguments, letting Clinton see how Trump handles them. And even if Trump managed a smashing victory, he would just have been scoring points against somebody he wouldn’t run against anyway.

Of course, Trump would accept the initial challenge, because that’s the image he wants to project. But just as obviously, he’d make up conditions that couldn’t be met so that he could back out. And that’s what happened.

Even Rachel Maddow, who ought to be smarter than this, devoted half of a 20-minute segment to this topic Thursday, and got all whipped up about it.

Violence between pro-Trump and anti-Trump people broke out outside Trump’s San Diego rally Friday night. There had previously been protests outside Trump’s Fresno rally.

If anti-Trump protests are going to be a thing — and it looks like they are — it seems likely that there will be more fights and arrests and so forth. No matter who is actually at fault, I suspect the anti-Trump people will get blamed.

That’s why I’m hoping that Clinton will distance herself from the anti-Trump protests, and denounce any violence in strong terms. Something like: “If you want to protest peacefully against Donald Trump, that’s your right as an American. But don’t do it on my account. If you want to work for my campaign, we have lots of more useful jobs for you to do.”

Jonathan Weisman describes how he became a social-media target of Trump-supporting anti-Semites. Meanwhile, BuzzFeed‘s Rosie Gray reports on the excitement Trump has raised at the white-nationalist American Renaissance conference. That’s not to claim that Trump is actively anti-Semitic or a white nationalist himself. But at some point you do have a responsibility to notice and comment on the things that are being done in your name.

Something Trump himself did do is use 12 minutes of a public rally to bash by name the judge who presides over the San Diego version of the Trump University fraud suit. (There’s a separate New York suit. Neither will go to trial before the election.) Trump described the judge as a “Mexican” and a “hater”.

I’m telling you, this court system, judges in this court system, federal court, they ought to look into Judge Curiel. Because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace, OK?

On and on like that for 12 minutes.

James Fallows makes the historical comparison:

When the results of an established process turn against them, presidents and presidential aspirants must defend the process. That’s the difference between rule-of-law and rule-of-men. Richard Nixon disagreed with the Supreme Court’s rulings against him but did not question their legitimacy or say he would try to get back at the Justices. Al Gore had far better logical and jurisprudential grounds for questioning the ruling in Bush v. Gore, but while he made clear that he bitterly disagreed, he of course complied. He did not mention the ethnicity of the Justices or say that they should be “looked into.”

I’ll take that a step farther: When you’re talking to a room filled with your rabid fans, and your speech is likely to get covered on national TV, how hard is it to imagine one lunatic deciding to impress you by doing something about that hater judge?

VoxLiz Plank takes on Trump’s talk about Hillary’s “woman card”, when he went on to say: “We’re petrified to speak to women any more.” She lists a number of things that women might be afraid of, like, say, rape, or having their concerns ignored by a Congress that is 80% male.

But yeah, men’s fear of being labeled as sexist when they clearly say things that are definitely sexist … definitely trumps the very well documented systemic sexism that women face every day.

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Obama went to Hiroshima and said this:

Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.

The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.

It’s been great, these last seven years, to have a president I can take pride in.

One of those simple stats that speaks volumes: Home ownership is at its lowest rate since 1967. The millennial generation’s path through life is going to be different than previous generations.

Thursday, health officials announced the first incidence in the U.S. of a bacterial infection that is immune to all known antibiotics. This has been coming for a long time, but now it’s here.

Venezuela is spiraling downward.

An important lesson in structural racism: A Pro Publica investigation shows that a widely used algorithm to predict whether criminals will commit more crimes — producing “risk scores” that judges and parole boards use to decide on sentences — is biased against blacks. It over-estimates the risk that blacks will commit future crimes, and under-estimates the risk that whites will.

There’s no evidence that anybody did this intentionally, but factors that seem to make sense on an individual basis have the effect of reproducing the culture of mass incarceration.

Race is not one of the questions. The survey asks defendants such things as: “Was one of your parents ever sent to jail or prison?” “How many of your friends/acquaintances are taking drugs illegally?” and “How often did you get in fights while at school?” The questionnaire also asks people to agree or disagree with statements such as “A hungry person has a right to steal” and “If people make me angry or lose my temper, I can be dangerous.”

Since blacks are imprisoned at much higher rates than whites, their children will have worse risk scores. If you attend a bad public school, with lots of violence and drugs, it will count against you. And so on.

Due to some really bad reporting, a lot of people now believe that scientists have shown at long last that cellphones cause cancer. VoxBrad Palmer does the kind of careful science reporting that is too boring for most media outlets.

So here’s what happened, more or less: Researchers bombarded some rats with more cellphone radiation than any human is likely to be exposed to, and they did get more tumors of two particular types in those rats than in the control group. On the other hand, we’ve been conducting an unofficial experiment by having lots of humans use cellphones, and we’re not seeing the kinds of increases in cancer that we would if there were a large effect. (And BTW: the irradiated mice on average lived longer than the control group.)

In short, it’s the kind of study that should make people go “Hmmm”, not “OMG, we’re all going to die!”

Look: Science moves slowly. Individual studies are often wrong, and it’s rare for one paper to completely upend everything we know about a topic. There are very few genuinely “game-changing” studies. And reporters need to do a better job of putting this incrementalism in context — rather than preying on people’s fears for clicks.

and let’s close with something cute

At the end of a long day, Momma Raccoon makes sure all the kids get home safe.

One Purpose

Whether you voted for me or you voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team, and none of us can afford to sit on the sidelines. … Barack Obama is my candidate, and he must be our president.

Hillary Clinton, 2008 Democratic Convention (8-26-2008)

This week’s featured post is “Fears of Democratic Disunity: talking myself down“.

This week everybody was talking about a plane crash

The usual news sites can be confusing places to keep track of an unfolding story like the loss of EgyptAir Flight 804. They focus too much on what information is new today, and it’s often hard to tell whether they’re reporting or speculating. I recommend checking the Wikipedia page from time to time. That way you get the whole story as it is currently understood.

and whether the Democrats can unify

In the featured post, I let my fears run wild and then talk myself down.

while the Republicans unite around Trump

Interesting article in The Atlantic about Trump’s message to coal country versus Clinton’s.

[Trump’s] plan is very easy to envision: You’ll have your job back, and your old lives. This is the power of Trump’s blame-based worldview. When curing a community’s malaise is as simple as getting rid of the bad actor who caused it—in this case, Obama’s environmental regulations—the rewards feel more certain, more tangible.

“When you say, ‘I’m going to give your job back,’ that’s a very immediate solution to the problem,” said Erin Cassese, an associate professor of political science at West Virginia University. “If you want to find fault with Clinton’s plan or Sanders’s plan, it’s that they’re really vague. People don’t have a clear vision of what their lives are going to be like in four years. It’s more abstract, and that’s why it has less resonance with voters.”

The problem is that Trump’s plan has almost no chance of success. A U.S. president has no power to stoke global demand for coal, or pump up the price of natural gas; the most Trump could do is repeal Obama’s environmental rules, and economists agree that would have a minimal effect on employment.

In the fall campaign, that’s going to be the argument across the board. Clinton will offer a detailed program to make things better than they are now; Trump will pledge to make things right again, but offer either no plan or one based in fantasy. It’s going to be a serious test of the wisdom of the electorate.

Trump put out a list of the 11 white people he would consider nominating to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. In general, conservatives consider this a good list and liberals don’t, but getting into that argument misses the obvious: Once in office, Trump will do what he wants, independent of anything he’s said in past or is saying now.

Look at what we’ve already seen: He publishes a tax plan, and then distances himself from it. One of his top surrogates now says his Mexican Wall would be “virtual” and his deportation promise “rhetorical”. As Kyle Kondik of Sabato’s Crystal Ball put it:

Tackling Trump on the issues will be tricky because he just changes his positions all the time.

So in January, if Trump pulls a Caligula and nominates his horse to the Court, I can imagine what he’ll say if anybody mentions this list. “That was a good list, a great list, and those 11 judges are really top people, totally first rate. But America’s Greatness — have you seen him? — what a horse he is!”

but a lot of important things have been happening the in the world while we’ve been focused on presidential politics (and bathrooms)

I haven’t given this stuff nearly the attention it deserves. Fortunately, Vox been on the case.

Brexit. The European Union is at a tricky point. Its member countries are unified enough that the EU limits the actions of the national governments, but not so unified as to provide the kind of benefits that, say, the states of the US see from our federal government. (For example, if our states had the kind of loose relationship EU countries do, Florida might have had to go bankrupt in the 2008 real estate crash, or New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.)

Previously, this has come to a head with regard to the Greek economic crisis, and the “Greek exit” option got smushed down to “Grexit”. (Greece decided to stay in the EU for now.) Now Britain, a much larger, richer economy, is facing a referendum to leave the EU.

Britain has always had an ambivalent relationship with the European mainland, which is symbolized by the fact that it has retained the pound, rather than merge into the EuroZone. That limits some of the hassle of being in the EU, and would limit some of the impact of a Brexit. (For example, Britain’s national debt is in its own currency, which it could print if it needed a quick way out of a debt crisis. Greece, on the other hand, owes Euros, which it doesn’t control.)

Vox has a good explanatory article. An exit vote on the UK referendum on June 23 would trigger the negotiation of an exit agreement with the EU, which would then have to be approved. So the referendum is a move towards exit, but not a direct exit.

The biggest worry, though, isn’t Brexit itself, but the larger nationalistic process it might be part of.

Brexit is the British manifestation of a broader popular revolt against European integration that is gradually spreading across Europe. If the British people choose to abandon the EU at this vulnerable moment, it might well be the catalyst that causes the cancer of populism and disintegration — which is helping to drive this campaign in the UK — to metastasize across Europe at a dramatically faster rate.

The Brazilian impeachment. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has been impeached by the Senate, which under the Brazilian system means that she immediately steps down until cleared.

This is a weird story about Brazil’s weird version of democracy, in which a clear majority of Congress is under investigation for corruption.

Ever since colonial times, Brazil has been dominated by wealthy elites who thought they could get away with anything — mostly because they usually did.

Rousseff probably will be removed permanently, and it’s hard to feel too bad about that, because she is corrupt. But she might well be less corrupt than either the people who are impeaching her or the VP who will take over.

The Zika virus. Brazil is also ground zero for an outbreak of the Zika virus.

But Zika isn’t just somebody else’s problem. There’s already been a death in Puerto Rico, and much of the Southern U.S. is at risk. The Obama administration has asked for $1.9 billion to fight the disease, but this apparently is the kind of “wasteful government spending” that Republicans feel obliged to block. The Senate is trying to pass a $1.1 billion bill, while the House is only willing to spend $622 million — and funding it by taking the money away from anti-Ebola work. God forbid that we increase our public health budget just because there’s a public health problem.

Puerto Rico. It looks like Congress will pass a bill to deal with the Puerto Rican debt crisis. Matt Yglesias describes the proposal as “in effect … bankruptcy” because the lenders and bond holders will get less than 100% of what they’re owed on paper. No federal money is appropriated to bail anybody out.

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Larry Wilmore appeared on Chris Hayes’ MSNBC show Wednesday, and an interesting point came up: We’re at the point where people will start wondering what history will make of the Obama administration.

Like Wilmore, I think Obama is going to come out pretty well. Not only is ObamaCare ultimately going to be remembered as a major accomplishment, but he’s going to get credit for the way he held things together in the face of the horrible conditions he inherited from Bush and unprecedented obstruction from the opposing party.

Anyway, more about that in January. But it seemed like a good time to review my end-of-term assessment of George W. Bush in 2009. I’m standing by all of it: In hindsight, I don’t see any reason to look more kindly on what he did.

Oklahoma’s legislature just passed a bill criminalizing abortion, but the governor vetoed it. I think of these sorts of laws as Lawyer Full Employment acts. The only thing they accomplish is to create court cases whose outcomes are known before they begin.

George Zimmerman just sold the gun he used to kill Trayvon Martin for $250,000. This looks to me like a pioneering transaction that brings a whole new market into the capitalist system. Imagine the possibilities: “Of course I didn’t hire that guy to kill my parents (and besides, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him). But after I got my inheritance, how could I turn down the opportunity to own an artifact of such personal significance to my family?”

and let’s close with something unexpected

The sidewalks of Boston are covered with secret poems that you can only see when it rains.

Truth and Fantasy

I play to people’s fantasies. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.

— Donald J. Trump, The Art of the Deal (1987)

This week’s featured post is “Four False Things You Might Believe About Donald Trump“.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump-Ryan meeting

Trump dominated the news cycle even more than usual this week. His meeting with Paul Ryan was covered like an international summit, even though there was really nothing to say about it: We’re not sure what they talked about and nobody expected a clear result. It sounds like they have agreed to agree at some point in the future, though the content of that agreement has been left open.

In general, and with a few notable exceptions, this was the week when elected Republicans realized they have no choice: Trump is their nominee, and his positions are vague enough to leave room for imagining that he will do something they’ll like.

Trump is still refusing to release his tax returns, giving very implausible excuses for his refusal.

It’s hard to imagine what could be in there that is worse than what the media is already imagining. I think the most likely thing we’d learn is that he’s not nearly so rich as he claims. Using a separate source of information, Crane’s New York Business argues that his annual income must be less than $500K.

The NYT did a deeply researched article into Trump’s interactions with women. Trump thinks it’s a hit piece, but it actually captures some of the ambivalence of his character: On the one hand, Trump made room for women to advance in his organization, giving them opportunities they would not easily find elsewhere in the real-estate-development business. On the other, he feels like this should give him cover when he misbehaves, which he frequently does.

The other Trump news story falls into the WTF category: The Washington Post released a tape of a 1991 conversation in which Trump is posing as his own publicist and talking to a gossip columnist. The conversation is largely about all the women who either want Trump or want him back.

I’m a bit at a loss about how much importance to give this. It doesn’t fall into any of the usual political-scandal categories. It’s more like: “Who does that kind of thing?” I’m reminded of the damaging YouTube of John Edwards primping his hair.

Trump’s response is more telling than the story itself: He reiterated his threat that the Trump administration would start an antitrust case against Amazon, whose owner (Jeff Bezos) also owns the WaPo. Josh Marshall comments:

and polls

Lots of Democrats freaked when a Quinnipiac poll showed tight Clinton/Trump races in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — i.e., the states that have been the deciders in most recent elections.

Slate‘s Jamelle Bouie dug into the numbers to see what was going on, and discovered something interesting: Quinnipiac is assuming that these states will have a significantly whiter electorate than in 2008 or 2012.

The standard narrative for nonwhite voting in a presidential year is this: Before Barack Obama, blacks and Latinos turned out to vote in modest and static numbers. After Obama’s 2008 campaign, they began to vote in droves, transforming the American electorate. Now, with Obama and his historic candidacy off of the ballot, they’ll return to the sidelines.

Every part of this narrative is wrong.

To me, the compelling part of Bouie’s counter-narrative is the Hispanic vote, where turnout is traditionally low, but went up to 50% in 2008 and 48% in 2012. Somehow, I think Trump is going to inspire a lot of Hispanic voter turnout.

So the Q poll should be read as more of a cautionary tale than a prediction: If Democrats forget about non-white turnout, or if Clinton makes the mistake of competing too hard for the angry white voter and blurs the choice between herself and Trump, things could get close.

In general, you shouldn’t let yourself get too upset by any one poll. The media has a tendency to publicize polls precisely because they say something unexpected. (In the primaries, any poll showing Sanders unexpectedly close to Clinton made headlines, while polls showing Clinton comfortably ahead didn’t.) In practice, that means that the polls you’re most likely to hear about are the outliers, the ones fall outside the range of the other polls. Those are precisely the ones you should be most suspicious of.

and bathrooms

The Obama administration has sent a letter to all the school districts in the country, warning them that bathroom rules discriminating against transgender students (like the ones mandated in North Carolina by HB2) will be seen as violations of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. Vox has an informative article about this.

[Until they are tested in court] the Obama administration’s guidelines are simply a legally non-binding guidance. Still, they suggest that the Obama administration will attempt legal action against violators. And if courts do ultimately rule in the administration’s favor, schools and states could lose billions in federal education funding for violating civil rights laws — a position no public official wants to be caught in.

The article also contains a map showing all the states where some kind of transgender-rights protection already exists. In other words, there’s no reason why opponents of trans rights need to make up hypothetical examples of men claiming to be trans so that they can enter women’s bathrooms and locker rooms for whatever nefarious purposes. If such things are going to happen, they should already be happening all over the country.

For example, last week I watched Bill O’Reilly raise these kinds of fears on his TV show. Bill’s show comes out of New York, where the law already includes protections of trans rights. So if trans rights cause a problem, he’s perfectly situated to report on that problem, not speculate hypothetically about it.

Religion writer Jonathan Merritt has written an interesting article about how the religious right is playing this issue. His claim is that they learned nothing from their battles against gay rights, and so they’re making all the same mistakes: They’re making abstract arguments based on dogma and stereotypes, and aren’t paying attention either to the experiences of real people or to what science is finding out.

When it comes to transgender issues, conservative Christians advocate for a privileged majority that is not currently under threat while ignoring the plight of an oppressed minority that is currently being harassed. Are you starting to see the parallels to the way Christian activists bungled the gay rights fight?

In the early 2000s I began predicting that the battle over gay marriage was already over. My conservative friends called me crazy, but time proved who was right. Because conservative Christians seem hellbent on perpetually making the same mistakes ad infinitum, today I’m predicting that the transgender conversation is over. And once again, conservative Christians will be the authors of their own demise.

Scare tactics only work until real experience starts to develop. Conservative Christians could claim anything they wanted about same-sex marriage leading to the fall of Civilization as long as no states had legalized it. But eventually you could go to Massachusetts or Canada and see for yourself that Civilization was doing just fine.

and you might also be interested in

Mistakes are bigger in Texas. This TCU typo is the worst since the commencement of the University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Pubic Affairs in 2012. I’m not making that one up either.

Also in Texas: An 8th-grade girl in Houston was held by police after she tried to buy her school lunch with a $2 bill her grandmother had given her. The bill failed the current counterfeiting test because it was printed in 1953. The link (from the local ABC affiliate) tells of numerous other cases in which school officials and police have treated students like adult felons rather than give them the benefit of the doubt while an anomaly is investigated. Oddly, this seems to happen almost entirely to non-white students.

West Virginia Democrats are a confusing bunch. In their presidential primary, they picked Sanders over Clinton 51%-36%. But on the same day, in the governor’s race, they nominated a billionaire coal baron who denies global warming and has a history of safety violations in his mines.

and let’s close with something big

A life-size Foosball game.

Say Never

This is a Joe McCarthy moment. People will be judged by where they stood at this time. Those who walked with Trump will be tainted forever after.

— David Brooks, “If Not Trump, What?” (4-29-2016)

This week’s featured post is “What Will Republicans Do Now?

If you’re wondering where I was last week, check out the Mayday service I gave at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois.

These last two weeks, everybody has been talking about the end of the Republican primary campaign

Two weeks ago, the plan to stop Donald Trump at the convention was still iffy, but didn’t seem completely daft. Then very quickly, Trump won the Middle Atlantic primaries by wide margins and Cruz collapsed in Indiana. Suddenly Cruz and Kasich were out and Trump was the last man standing.

I talk about the still-splintered Republican Party in the featured post.

Before Cruz went out, though, he unleashed the kind of scathing diatribe you can’t take back, calling Trump a “pathological liar” who “lies [with] practically every word that comes out of his mouth”.

In a response that I think comes straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everyone else of lying. … And it’s simply a mindless yell. Whatever he does, he accuses everyone else of doing.

This is actually a sound insight. In particular, I think it applies to Trump’s recent attack on Hillary Clinton:

Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the women’s card.

Reverse that and see how much better it fits. Would anyone support Donald Trump if he weren’t a white man? Isn’t he constantly playing the white man card, stoking up white male resentment against Hispanics, against women, against blacks, against Middle Easterners?

Another frequent Trump claim is that Hillary either will or should be indicted over the email affair. But the more we learn, the more clear it is that she broke no laws. It is Trump, on the other hand, who has a legal problem: The Trump University fraud lawsuit will be heard shortly after the election.

and political comedy

At his last White House Press Correspondents’ Dinner, President Obama proved once again that he has a career in stand-up waiting, if he wants it.

And Jimmy Kimmel did a funny but effective piece about climate change.

The Daily Show turned real Donald Trump quotes into a rap video.

That video illustrates one reason I think liberals will do better against Trump than conservatives did: Trump deserves to be laughed at, and we have much better comedians.

Meanwhile, the last week of the Ted Cruz campaign was full of unintentional yucks: Ted accidentally elbowed his wife in the face. His would-be VP, Carly Fiorina, diverted attention from the entrance of the Cruz family by falling off the stage. And in a WTF moment, Carly started singing. When Hollywood eventually makes a comedy about the 2016 campaign, those moments will have to be included.

and Puerto Rico

The first time I noticed that Puerto Rico had a debt problem was when I started seeing this ad:

It was paid for by one of those dark-money groups with an amorphous name: the Center for Individual Freedom. So of course you can trust everything they tell you.

To get a better idea of what’s involved, watch this John Oliver segment (which features Puerto-Rican-born Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton).

The general theme here is the problem of colonialism: Puerto Rico may have its own government, but the rules it operates under are circumscribed by what Congress allows, and Congress often makes new rules affecting Puerto Rico either by accident (just failing to mention it in the law) or in order to achieve some purpose on the mainland, with the effect on the island being mostly an afterthought.

Right now, Puerto Rico owes $70 billion, or about $20,000 per person. The debt simply can’t be paid, and as the laws currently stand, the island’s government has to pay its bonds before providing services like public health and education. If they do that, it seems clear that people will die; that’s why they’re currently in violation of the law.

Mainlanders who want to write Puerto Ricans off because they’re Hispanics might want to think again: Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, all its people are American citizens. They don’t have to cross any borders or jump any walls to resettle in your town; they just need a plane ticket.

and Cinco de Mayo

For an explanation of why wearing a sombrero, eating nachos, and drinking too much tequila is not a proper way for Anglos to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, listen to Liz Martinez , or watch this:

For what Cinco de Mayo really means, see Wikipedia.

For non-Hispanic Americans, Cinco de Mayo should be an annual opportunity to think about cultural appropriation, the tendency of powerful cultures to steal anything that looks like fun from less powerful cultures. (I discussed this a few years ago in “A Brief Meditation on White Twerking“.) Done badly, the powerful culture’s megaphone drowns out the authentic tradition, ruining practices and celebrations for the people they ought to belong to.

There are respectful ways to mark holidays of cultures you don’t belong to. For example, if you’re a Gentile and your Jewish friends invite you over for a Passover Seder, you can attend without worrying about cultural appropriation, as long as you don’t try to make yourself the center of attention. That’s way different from dressing up like Moses and inviting a bunch of other Gentiles over to eat matzo shaped like the 10 commandments and drink a lot of Manischewitz.

The question is who’s in control. One key symptom of privilege is the tendency to assume that you ought to be in control. If someone else is offended by what you do, you’ll be the judge of whether their objection is justified. You’ll examine your own intentions, and if you decide you meant well, that’s all that matters. If that doesn’t satisfy some people, well, that’s their problem.

You can see that process at work in Washington Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder: He knows he doesn’t intend to insult Native Americans, so if they take offense they’re just wrong. “The truth is on our side,” he says.

A current example is Donald Trump’s Cinco de Mayo tweet. All the elements of cultural appropriation are on display: A white guy eats a white imitation of Mexican food while proclaiming (falsely, according to New York Eater, which judged the Trump Tower Grill’s taco bowls to be “an insult to Mexicans every bit as profound as Trump’s previous pronouncements”) that his people do it better than actual Mexicans. It’s textbook. No wonder California Republican Dennis Hollingsworth tweeted in response: “Holy guacamole, what a dipshit.”

Like Hollingsworth, many interpreted Trump’s tweet as a clueless attempt to reach out to Hispanic-American voters. (Reince Priebus’ generous interpretation was that Trump is “trying”.) But I see something more clever. Trump knows the Hispanic vote is beyond his reach. His actual purpose here is to convince other clueless Anglos that he’s not anti-Hispanic, so they can vote for him without feeling like bigots.

The goal was to get the response he got from Bill O’Reilly (and Neil Cavuto): that the objections to his tweet demonstrate the “political madness” of this campaign. No doubt O’Reilly’s aging white audience is saying, “Look at how crazy those people are! Trump says he loves them, and they’re mad.” Just what the Donald wanted.

and HB2

The plot thickens regarding North Carolina’s HB2 law, the one that polices the state’s bathrooms and prevents local governments from protecting any rights the state doesn’t recognize — particularly gay or trans rights.

Wednesday, the U. S. Justice Department sent Gov. Pat McCrory a letter notifying him that the law violates federal laws against sex-based discrimination in the workplace. The feds wanted assurance by today that North Carolina will not be enforcing the law, which Gov. McCrory is not going to give, calling the letter “Washington overreach”. Billions in federal funds are potentially at risk.

Basically, McCrory is taking the same path that Southern governors like George Wallace and Ross Barnett did during the civil rights era: calling for delay and invoking states rights.

One possible way out is if the city of Charlotte agrees to repeal the LGBT-rights ordinance that HB2 was passed to undo. Then the state might amend HB2 in some way acceptable to the Justice Department. So far, though, Charlotte seems to be taking the view that they didn’t make this problem.

and let’s close with something time-devouring

Polygraph has constructed the most addictive web site I’ve ever linked to. Start at any date you want (after 1958; 1997 is the default), and then watch (and hear) the Billboard Top 5 songs evolve week by week, with a running total of how many weeks each artist stayed at #1. “Maybe I’ll just watch another couple of months,” I say. “Aren’t the Beatles due to show up soon? How long will it take them to catch Elvis?”


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