Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Unexplored Terrain

The current presidential race, however, is something special. It takes antiscience to previously unexplored terrain.

Scientific American Donald Trump’s Lack of Respect for Science Is Alarming

This week’s featured post is “What’s a 21st-Century Equivalent of the Homestead Act?” It’s an essay question. I don’t have an answer, but I’m hoping you do.

This week everybody was talking about the Olympics

But I don’t think you need me to tell you more about Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt.

Personally, I got frustrated watching NBC’s Olympic coverage, because they always seemed to have something better to do than show us athletic competition.

The women’s 5000 meter finals Friday night summed up my experience: Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana had already won the 10,000 meters in record time, and she moved out to a seemingly insurmountable lead in the 5000. So the announcers got bored and cut away to show us clips from the heartwarming story that happened in one of the qualifying heats, when New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin and America’s Abbey D’Agostino, helped and encouraged each other to finish after a collision. Then they showed us close-ups of Hamblin running in the finals (she finished 17th and was never near the front of the pack) and D’Agostino watching from the stands with a torn ACL.

By the time the announcers found their way out of the time passages and back to the race they were supposedly covering, Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot had erased Ayana’s lead and was whizzing past her. We did get to see the finish, with Cheruiyot far ahead on her way to an Olympic record. But imagine how exciting it must have been, when Cheruiyot began to make her move and everyone suddenly realized this race wasn’t over yet. I had to imagine it, though, because I didn’t see it. Thanks, NBC.


ThinkProgress‘s Lindsey Gibbs tells the fascinating story of South African runner Caster Semenya, whose right to compete as a woman has been challenged because she has unusually high testosterone levels. This isn’t about doping or sex-change surgery or some other artificial method for acquiring an advantage; she was just born that way.

Unlike drug tests, gender tests (or testosterone tests, if you will) are not carried out at random. And Semenya happens to be tall, muscular, flat-chested, and black. This is not a coincidence. According to Katrina Karkazis, a senior research scholar at the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University, in the past, IAAF specifically singled out female athletes who “display masculine traits” for testosterone tests, while the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has encouraged its national charters to “actively investigate” any “perceived deviation” in gender.

In practice, gender testing is far more about policing women’s bodies than protecting women’s sports. Testosterone tests tend to target women who don’t fit into the ideal Western standards of what a woman should look like — delicate and overtly feminine, white and lithe.

ESPN’s Kate Fagen agrees with a tweet she saw:

I know Semenya is a woman because people are trying to control her body.

Semenya is allowed to compete because of a precedent-setting challenge by Indian sprinter Duttee Chand, who said:

I was born a woman, reared up as a woman, I identify as a woman and I believe I should be allowed to compete with other women, many of whom are either taller than me or come from more privileged backgrounds, things that most certainly give them an edge over me.

The idea that sport had a level playing field before women like Chand and Semenya arrived is a myth worth challenging. Gibbs concludes that naturally high testosterone is like a lot of other genetic differences that don’t bother us:

Sports are supposed to reward freak-of-nature athletes. … Every elite athlete has some sort of physical advantage they were born with.

538‘s Christie Aschwanden writes a more intellectually challenging account of the nebulous relationship between sex and gender, but comes to the same conclusion:

In the end, the real question to ask is: What is the purpose of sport? Is it more important to provide uncomplicated stories that make us feel uplifted, or to celebrate extraordinary human effort and performance? My vote goes to the latter. Participating in sports taught me to feel powerful in my body, and I’m glad that no one put limits on how strong I could be. When Semenya takes to the line on Saturday, I’ll be cheering for her every step of the way.

For me, this comes back to a point I made when the Caitlyn Jenner controversy was at its peak: Everything you thought was a category is actually a continuum. It’s simple and in some ways comforting to think in binary terms like male/female, black/white, gay/straight, citizen/foreigner, and so on. But those clean categories are always something we impose on the world, not the way the world is.

Semenya won the gold medal in the 800 meters Saturday night.


As usually happens, women Olympians have had a harder time getting respect from the media than men. Liz Plank compiles the incidents in “The Wide World of Sexism“.

and Trump’s policy speeches

Hillary Clinton has had a full spectrum of policy proposals since early in the campaign, but it’s often been hard to get anything more specific out of Donald Trump than “I’m going to build a wall.” Having criticized him for this, I have a responsibility to pay attention when he does give some specifics.

Law and order. Tuesday, Trump went to West Bend, Wisconsin, a 95% white suburb 40 miles from Milwaukee, which has been torn by riots after yet another police killing of an unarmed black man. [I got the unarmed part wrong, apparently. See the comments.] He gave a law-and-order speech “about how to make our communities safe again from crime and lawlessness.”

Trump’s answer: Stop criticizing police.

The problem in our poorest communities is not that there are too many police, the problem is that there are not enough police. … Those peddling the narrative of cops as a racist force in our society – a narrative supported with a nod by my opponent – share directly in the responsibility for the unrest in Milwaukee, and many other places within our country.

They have fostered the dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America.

Every time we rush to judgment with false facts and narratives – whether in Ferguson or in Baltimore – and foment further unrest, we do a direct disservice to poor African-American residents who are hurt by the high crime in their communities.

In other words, he’s repeating the mistake I described two years ago in “What Your Fox-Watching Uncle Doesn’t Get About Ferguson“: He has removed all the context of a community that was already feeling oppressed by the police, all the day-in day-out experience of ordinary citizens being degraded and disrespected. Instead he’s talking about the Milwaukee riot as a one-off event in which unscrupulous liberal politicians sold “false facts and narratives” to gullible black people, who had been perfectly content until somebody told them Sylville Smith was dead.

But riots don’t come out of nowhere, and urban blacks aren’t violent savages looking for an excuse to go on a rampage. The Baltimore riots didn’t happen just because of Freddie Gray, and the Ferguson riots weren’t just about Michael Brown. To describe them that way is like blaming the California wildfires on whichever particular spark happened to set them off, while ignoring the underlying roles of drought and climate change.

In general, I am skeptical of Trump’s expressed concern for African-Americans (where he’s currently polling at 2%). If you want to reach out to a community, you go there. You don’t talk about that community in front of other people. As I see it, the point of Trump’s concern is to reassure the white people of West Bend that he (and by implication, they) are not really racists. He’s selling the idea that he wants more and harsher policing in Milwaukee out of compassion, not out of fear and racial stereotyping.

In front of another nearly all white crowd in Michigan, he again talked “to” blacks.

What do you have to lose? You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?

You mean, other than voting rights and health insurance? Again, this is a white stereotype of black experience. You have to wonder how it sounds to a middle-class black couple who may be struggling to make ends meet, but have jobs, hope for their kids’ education, and a home in a neighborhood they don’t consider a slum.

Terrorism. Last Monday, Trump talked about his approach to terrorism. His speech was a combination of

  • fantasizing about the past. In particular, he continued to lie about opposing the Iraq invasion when in reality he expressed support for it until after it started becoming unpopular. He quotes from an Esquire interview he gave late in 2004, where he sounds critical of the war. But even then, he just said he would have invaded Iraq better than Bush did, not that he wouldn’t have done it. Trump has been a weather vane on this issue; whichever opinion was popular at the time was the one he had supported all along.
  • proposing to do stuff the Obama administration is already doing. President Trump will work together with our allies in the region and with NATO to get rid of ISIS. Why didn’t anyone ever think of that before?
  • proposing to do impossible stuff. “We cannot allow the internet to be used as a recruiting tool, and for other purposes, by our enemy – we must shut down their access to this form of communication, and we must do so immediately.” But why stop there? While we’re holding that magic wand, let’s cut off their access to the English language, so they can only recruit Americans in Arabic.
  • proposing to do stuff that is against the American values we’re supposed to be defending. Rather than pull out of Iraq, “we should have kept the oil.” So we would have kept soldiers in Iraq “to guard our assets. In the old days, when we won a war, to the victor belonged the spoils.” Clearly his notion of “the old days” doesn’t include the post-World-War-II period, when we didn’t sack Germany for everything we could carry off; we funded the Marshall Plan to rebuild it. He also wants to keep Guantanamo open and send more people there, trying them in military tribunals and torturing them if necessary.

His “extreme vetting” of people who want to come to America is still vague enough that it’s hard to tell whether it falls under stuff we’re already doing or stuff that’s against American values. Probably it’s a mixture. Vox explains.


The Trump campaign had a shake-up, with Paul Manafort out and Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon in. It’s not clear whether Manafort is out because the campaign has been a disaster, or because of what’s come out about him: He funneled pro-Russian Ukrainian money to Washington lobbyists, without registering as a foreign agent. On the surface that looks illegal; it at least deserves an investigation. If anybody connected to Clinton did something similar, I’m sure Congress would be all over it.

Bloomberg‘s Eli Lake now looks like a prophet. When Manafort joined the campaign in April, Lake wrote: “Trump Just Hired His Next Scandal“.


Meanwhile naked Donald Trump statues began appearing in cities around the country. New York City defended its decision to remove theirs:

NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small.

I’m of two minds about this, and I’m glad to hear that the sculptor is a Gary Johnson supporter, so Democrats have nothing to answer for. Slate‘s Christina Cauterucci sums up the anti-statue position:

Encouraging people to laugh at the statue of Trump because it’s fat, wrinkly, and small-dicked doesn’t tell them Trump is a bad person. It tells them that fat, wrinkly, and small-dicked (or transgender, or intersex) people are funny to look at and should be embarrassed of their naked bodies.

Like many of Trump’s own insults, the statues are “demeaning, gratuitous, and don’t say anything worth saying.”

I’m not sure I agree with that assessment, though, because there’s an ongoing debate among anti-Trump people about whether to respond to him with fear, anger, or laughter. The statue clearly comes out on the side of laughter; which is a point worth making. (Though I agree with Cauterucci about the collateral damage to people who share the statue’s supposedly risible features.)

As for the offense to Trump himself, what standards of decency are he and his supporters playing by? If I could identify any, I’d happily grant him the protection of those standards. But it gets tiresome to follow rules and uphold standards when your opponents don’t.


Back in February, a young woman artist painted a nude Trump with a small penis, an image which briefly became a viral sensation. According to Salon, she literally got a black eye for her efforts.


And finally, Chelsea Handler explains sarcasm to Trump. My inner pedant can’t resist pointing out that he should have claimed his “Obama founded ISIS” line was hyperbole, an “obvious and intentional exaggeration”, though Handler’s framing of it as lying also has merit. And she throws in yet another small-penis joke: “Poor Melania. The only way she’ll ever have an orgasm is if she plagiarizes one from Michelle Obama.”

and conspiracy theories

Wouldn’t it be great if our political campaigns revolved around issues that were real? Sadly, this is not the case.

“ransom.” Republicans have been charging that the Obama administration paid a $400 million “ransom” to Iran to get back three Americans. This is another version of the argument I discussed in “If This Is Munich, We Must Be Germany” after the Iran nuclear deal was signed. Like the money we supposedly “gave” Iran in that deal, it was really their money all along. By withholding it, we got concessions from them in exchange for nothing of ours.

Vox has the long complicated explanation. The short version is that the Shah’s government ordered weapons from us just before it fell, and we neither delivered them nor returned the money to the revolutionary government, which we didn’t recognize. The agreement that President Reagan made in 1981 to resolve the Iran hostage crisis included the establishment of the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal to adjudicate a bunch of the remaining issues, including the Shah’s $400 million.

This churned out over decades, until the Obama administration eventually decided it was going to lose the case and settled out of court. There was interest involved, so the $400 million was just a first payment on what we owed. Simultaneously, a prisoner-exchange deal was being negotiated, in which we swapped our prisoners for their prisoners. Suspicious of the Iranians, the administration withheld its cash payment until it was sure Iran was keeping the terms of the prisoner deal. That resulted in the sequence of events that can be made to look like ransom: money goes in one direction at about the same time that people go in other.

Vox says this flap exemplifies everything that’s wrong with our national discussion of Iran. As time goes on, it becomes more and more clear that the Obama’s critics were wrong about the Iran deal: The Iranians are sticking to it, which (at a minimum) should greatly delay the day when they get nuclear weapons.

This creates a major problem for team anti-deal. They need evidence that the deal isn’t working and should be undone, but the facts about the deal’s core provisions don’t support that. The result is an endless deluge of spin. Every new piece of information on Iran or the nuclear deal becomes evidence that Iran is evil or cannot be trusted.

The “ransom” story is another in a list of spun-out-of-nothing stories designed to the Obama administration look hapless in its dealings with Iran, when in fact it has been doing quite well.

Clinton’s “health problem”. The latest Clinton pseudo-scandal is that there’s something seriously wrong with her, which the campaign is covering up. She has seizures or brain damage or something. The “evidence” for this consists of fake documents circulating on the internet, video clips from odd angles replayed endlessly, photos of Clinton being helped up icy steps last winter, and Sean Hannity’s interviews with doctors who have never examined Clinton. New York magazine reviews and debunks.

The problem with this theory is that all those physical and mental disabilities supposedly go back to before she proved herself to be sharp and focused during 11 hours of hostile questioning by the Benghazi Committee.

So this seems like a short-sighted plan of attack for Trump. Next month, a feeble, brain-damaged old woman is going to kick his butt in the debates. How is he going to explain that?


When hearing these stories or similar ones, it’s important to remember “The Fox Cycle“, a six-step process by which nonsense on right-wing blogs becomes mainstream media news.

  1. Right-wing bloggers, talk radio hosts, and other conservative media outlets start promoting a fringe or false story.
  2. Fox News picks up the story and gives it heavy, one-sided coverage.
  3. Fox News and conservative media attack the “liberal media” for ignoring it.
  4. Mainstream media outlets eventually cover the story, echoing the right-wing distortions.
  5. Fox News receives credit for promoting the story.
  6. The story is later proved to be false or wildly misleading, long after damage is done.

but we should be talking more about the Louisiana floods

If New Hampshire ever has a big natural disaster, I hope it doesn’t happen while the Olympics is interrupting a presidential campaign. The floods in Louisiana are getting so little coverage that when the disaster-relief bill comes up in Congress, a lot of people are going to be asking “What Louisiana flood?”

I grew up next to the Mississippi, so I know that river floods are among the least televisible disasters. There’s no storm surge, no wildfire, no tornado dropping out of the sky. It’s just the inexorable creep of the waterline higher and higher.

Well, OK, sometimes it televises, like when coffins go for a swim.

That’s almost as striking as this video of a burning house floating away in West Virginia earlier this year. That’s become my new standard of misfortune: “It could be worse. I could be watching my burning house float down the river.”

and two unusual political statements

Wired and Scientific American do not usually weigh in on presidential elections. But this time they have. Wired endorses Hillary Clinton

for all of its opinions and enthu­siasms, WIRED has never made a practice of endorsing candidates for president of the United States. Through five election cycles we’ve written about politics and politicians and held them up against our ideals. But we’ve avoided telling you, our readers, who WIRED viewed as the best choice.

Today we will. WIRED sees only one person running for president who can do the job: Hillary Clinton.

… Her vision is bright and forward-looking; Donald Trump’s is dark and atavistic. She’s qualified, she knows the material; Trump is all bluster. We happen to believe that for all the barbs aimed at Hillary Clinton—the whole calculating, tactical, Tracy Flick enchilada—she is the only candidate who can assess the data, consult with the people who need to be heard, and make decisions that she can logically defend. Sure, she’s calculating. She’s tactical. There are worse things you can ask of a person with nuclear codes.

and Scientific American doesn’t tell you who to vote for, but wants you to be aware of Donald Trump’s “alarming” lack of respect for science.

Many politicians are hostile to science, on both sides of the political aisle. The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has a routine practice of meddling in petty science-funding matters to score political points. Science has not played nearly as prominent a role as it should in informing debates over the labeling of genetically modified foods, end of life care and energy policy, among many issues.

The current presidential race, however, is something special. It takes antiscience to previously unexplored terrain. When the major Republican candidate for president has tweeted that global warming is a Chinese plot, threatens to dismantle a climate agreement 20 years in the making and to eliminate an agency that enforces clean air and water regulations, and speaks passionately about a link between vaccines and autism that was utterly discredited years ago, we can only hope that there is nowhere to go but up.

and you might also be interested in

The Justice Department says it is going to phase out its use of private prisons to house federal inmates. Currently about 1 in every 8 federal prisoners is in a privately owned facility rather than a federal prison.

But we’re still far from the end of the private-prison industry, because most of their business comes from states and from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which detains large numbers of undocumented immigrants. But the Justice Department’s decision could mark a turning point. (Still, this is serious: Corrections Corporation of America stock has fallen from over $27 to under $20 since DoJ’s announcement.)

Privatizing prisons was always a bad idea, because it creates a perverse set of incentives.

  • A prison should rehabilitate its inmates and return them to society, but a business wants repeat customers.
  • All prisons are tempted to cut corners on expenses that benefit the prisoners, but only private prisons can immediately transform those savings into bonuses or profit.
  • All industries try to increase their business by lobbying and contributing to political campaigns. But for the prison industry, “increasing business” means depriving more citizens of their freedom.

Politico says:

The Olympics is about the worst thing that could have happened to the Trump train. Here’s a candidate whose message depends entirely on convincing Americans that they’re living in a failing nation overrun by criminal immigrants. And for the past two weeks, tens of millions of Americans have been glued to a multi-ethnic parade of athletes, winning easily. “Make America Great Again” has never felt more out-of-touch than it does against the backdrop of tenacious, over-achieving American athletes driven by their own journeys in pursuit of the American Dream.

According to Voice of America:

nearly 50 of the athletes were born outside the U.S. The range of nations is wide: Sudan, Kenya, China, Albania, Montenegro and Cuba, to name just a few.


In a move described as “fighting absurdity with absurdity”, the #CocksNotGlocks campaign will have University of Texas students hanging dildos from their backpacks when classes start Wednesday. The point is to protest the new Texas law that allows concealed carry of firearms inside campus buildings.

The idea comes from UT alum Jessica Jin, who says:

A lot of our American culture is still so puritanical, and we see that in the continual normalizing of gun culture, while shutting down sex culture, which is pretty harmless and happy. If the guns around you aren’t making you uncomfortable, then maybe this dildo protest will make you think twice about what it is that makes you feel uncomfortable, and why.


Last fall, when Hurricane Joaquin looked like it might threaten Washington, D.C. (it didn’t; it turned south and missed the eastern seaboard entirely), Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council discussed the role of God’s judgment with Jonathan Cahn. Cahn made the case:

God knows that American leaders have “crossed a gigantic line” and “overruled the word of God massively” when they “legalized the killing of the unborn in 1973 and now we have the striking down of marriage.” Cahn said that the White House’s decision to celebrate LGBT pride month with rainbow lights was another “act of desecration” that will “provoke judgment.”

And Perkins underlined it:

All of these things are quite amazing when you look at them collectively. And I’ll just say this Jonathan, because I know that there are those on the Left that like to mock these things. America has a history, our leaders actually, our president, our governors, when these things have happened in Nature, like hurricanes, all of these external events that put our nation at risk; there’s a long line of historical tradition here where we — not so much in recent years — but they had stepped back and said, “Is God trying to send us a message?”

So this week, when “a flood of near Biblical proportions” hit Perkins’ home in Louisiana, he didn’t seem to be taking that step back and asking if his convention speech endorsing Donald Trump had called down God’s judgment.

Turn back, Tony. Forswear your foolish ways.


Amanda Marcotte makes a good point about the American swimmers in Rio, who police say vandalized a gas station and then made up a story about being robbed: “If the swimmers are lying, I doubt it will be used as evidence from here on out that we can’t trust anyone else who says they were robbed.” Women and rape, on the other hand …


Rush Limbaugh and World Net Daily have identified the latest Obama plot to undermine American values: lesbian farmers. Rural areas everywhere should fear for their conservative purity.


Sadly, this is not satire: Yesterday, White Lives Matter protesters with Confederate flags, at least one Trump hat, and at least one semi-automatic rifle protested outside Houston’s NAACP headquarters.


Over the years, there’s been a lot of discussion about how many Walmart employees need food stamps or some other form of public assistance. (So do employees at other low-wage businesses like McDonalds.) The point being that if government aid allows workers to survive on ridiculously low wages, it’s really the employer who’s getting the subsidy. (Many Walmart workers did get a raise in February, but it appears that hours were cut at the same time.)

This week, Bloomberg revealed another way Walmart lives on the public dole: Its stores require far more from local police than comparable retailers like Target.

Police reports from dozens of stores suggest the number of petty crimes committed on Walmart properties nationwide this year will be in the hundreds of thousands. … More than 200 violent crimes, including attempted kidnappings and multiple stabbings, shootings, and murders, have occurred at the nation’s 4,500 Walmarts so far this year, or about one a day. …

“The constant calls from Walmart are just draining,” says Bill Ferguson, a police captain in Port Richey, Fla. “They recognize the problem and refuse to do anything about it.” … There’s nothing inevitable about the level of crime at Walmart. It’s the direct, if unintended, result of corporate policy.

Most of the policies in question revolve around keeping labor costs low. There just aren’t enough employees around, or enough security people to back them up. The police are the backup, so the cost shifts to the public.

and let’s close with something futuristic

3D printers do amazing things, and when their potential is fully realized, they’ll replace a lot skilled workers. (But that’s a problem for another day: Quite possibly, America will bring back manufacturing without bringing back manufacturing jobs.) The printer in the picture is special, though: It prints food, and cooks as it goes.

It comes from Columbia University, where they’ve been trying to make more complex 3D printers that can print with many different materials at once, and so construct more elaborate products than the plastic-or-something-like-it objects the early printers made.

While experimenting with making multi-material printers, [Professor Hod] Lipson noticed the students in his lab were beginning to use food as a test material.

“They were using cookie dough, cheese, chocolate, all kinds of food materials you might find around an engineering lab,” he says. “In the beginning, it was sort of a frivolous thing. But when people came to the lab and looked at it, they actually got really excited by the food printing.”

Lipson then brought some New York City chefs into the lab, who extended the experiments to include egg, pesto, cream cheese, flour, and jam. (Cream cheese apparently is particularly easy to work with.)

Lipson sees the printer as having two main uses for consumers. First, it could be a specialty appliance for cooking novel foods difficult to achieve by any other process. You could print, say, a complex pastry designed by someone in Japan, a recipe you’d never have the expertise or equipment to make by hand. Lipson says he could imagine digital recipes going viral, spreading across the globe.

The second use is about health and targeted nutrition. People are already increasingly interested in personal biometrics, tracking their blood pressure, pulse, calorie burn and more using cell phones and computers. In the future, it may be possible to track your own health in much greater detail—your blood sugar, your calcium needs or your current vitamin D level. The printer could then respond to those details with a customized meal, produced from a cartridge of ingredients.

It’s not quite like ordering food from the Star Trek replicator, but it’s getting there.

From the Beginning

When asked when community distrust of Baltimore law enforcement began, a former top city official deadpanned to Justice Department officials, “1729” — the year of the City’s founding.

– U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division
Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department (2016)

This week’s featured posts are “Democracy Will Survive This, With Damage” about the even-darker turn in the Trump campaign, and “It’s not just Freddie Gray” about the Department of Justice’s report on the Baltimore Police Department.

This week everybody was talking about how far the Trump campaign will go

He’s not just bullying Muslims and immigrants any more. He’s telling people the whole election process is fraudulent and suggesting violence. I cover this in “Democracy Will Survive This, With Damage


In other Trump campaign news, he’s still not releasing his tax returns, even though Clinton just released her 2015 returns. According to CNN, 34 years worth of Clinton tax returns are now available, compared to none for Trump. The Daily Wire discounts Trump’s I’m-under-audit excuse by pointing out that Richard Nixon released his 1973 returns despite an audit.


I’ve been laying off Melania Trump for the nude photos that are circulating online (which I am not linking to), because I believe all of us have the right to display or not display our bodies as we see fit (with a few exceptions like the ones that protect children from flashers). On the same principle, I also defend the right of Muslim women in France to wear burqas if they choose to.

But Melania’s immigration controversy is fair game, I think, especially given her husband’s insistence on harsh immigration enforcement for everybody else. There are two issues: By her own account, Melania came to the United States with a visa in 1996.

but the nude photo shoot places her in the United States in 1995, as does a biography published in February by Slovenian journalists.

Also, she reports going back to Europe periodically to have her visa renewed. This indicates she had the wrong kind of visa, not one that would allow her to work in the U.S., as she did. If she did that knowingly, it would constitute visa fraud.

Visa fraud would call into question a green card application and subsequent citizenship application, said immigration lawyers — thus raising questions about Melania Trump’s legal status, even today, despite her marriage to a U.S. citizen.

Melania and the Trump campaign have issued blanket denials that she did anything wrong, but they haven’t released any paperwork to support that claim — even though that could clear things up immediately.


In 2007, Trump sued reporter Timothy O’Brien for the claims he made in his book Trump Nation, mainly the charge that Trump was not nearly as rich as he purported to be. As a result, Trump had to submit to a deposition under oath, where lawyers forced him to admit to 30 public lies.

and another attempt at a Clinton email scandal

The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch released some emails they got through a Freedom of Information Act request. The emails are supposed to demonstrate an improper relationship between the Clinton State Department and the Clinton Foundation.

Here’s what I’m not seeing: A case where somebody at the State Department sacrificed the interests of the United States in favor of the interests of the Clinton Foundation. Instead, what the emails reveal looks more like networking: Clinton Foundation people suggest other people for jobs (which we don’t know whether they got), try to get their donors introductions with movers and shakers (apparently unsuccessfully, in the example given), and so on.

To me, it falls well short of scandalous. The New Yorker‘s Benjamin Wallace-Wells has looked at all this closer than I have.

In the e-mails around Clinton, there is a constant, low-amplitude, transactional scurry: of older people for an audience, and of younger people for a position.

Wallace-Wells finds this swirl “unsavory”, but sees it as the way the world works, not something unique about the Clintons.

What [the emails] have revealed is not some new hidden system of levers beneath the capital but, rather, the same old system that we’ve more or less tolerated all along. Access to governmental power depends too much on personal relationships; rich friends of politicians have too easy a time gaining an audience. “The scandal isn’t what’s illegal; the scandal is what’s legal,” the journalist Michael Kinsley famously said, during the George H. W. Bush Administration.

As with so many of the other attempts to find a Clinton scandal, we are left with little to compare it to, because no other government official has ever been scrutinized this thoroughly. Would we find exactly the same kinds of interactions if we delved into any other government department or any other administration to the same depth? Far worse? We don’t know.


The conservative press has tried to inflate the impression of scandal by claiming that investigations are being launched by the FBI, the IRS, and others, but it’s not at all clear that is happening. (Naturally, no one can disprove that investigators are looking into something, and even if some are, it’s a long, long way from there to the conclusion that there is something for them to find.)

One report of an “investigation”, for example, comes from this Washington Examiner article, whose source seems to be Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, who (along with other Republican congresspeople) had asked the IRS to investigate. Her evidence of an investigation appears to be this letter, which to me looks more like a brush-off: Her request has been forwarded to another office; the word investigation does not appear. But this questionable sourcing allows any other conservative website to say authoritatively that “the IRS is investigating”, with a link to the WE article.

This follows the standard script for fanning Nothing into Something: You release what you claim is an indication of some nefarious activity. You interpret hints from anonymous or third-hand sources into a claim that an official investigation is underway. Then you start revving up your audiences’ expectations about the horrifying crimes this investigation will reveal, and raising fantasies about how completely it will undo your enemies. How many times have we been through this?


In general, attacks on the work of the Clinton Foundation have proved baseless. FactCheck.org looked into several charges a year ago and found nothing sinister. CharityWatch gives the Clinton Foundation its A rating. Among other virtues, the Foundation spends only 2% of its money on fund-raising. That helps keep its overhead down to 12%, leaving 88% to spend on programs.

For comparison, the Environmental Defense Fund — also rated A; I just picked them at random — spends 11% on fund-raising and 20% on overhead. And here’s a comparison I didn’t pick at random: Freedom Alliance, which Sean Hannity pushes. It gets a D rating, spends 37% on fund-raising and 48% on overhead.

The Clinton Foundation works on a wide variety of projects, including HIV/AIDS in the developing world, building a viable economy in Haiti, and childhood obesity in the United States.

The Clinton Foundation’s FAQ reports that Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton do not receive any income from the Foundation, including personal expense reimbursement. The flow of cash seems to be in the other direction: Many of the Clintons’ speaking fees go to the Foundation.

but more people should be paying attention to the Justice Department’s report on policing in Baltimore

That gets discussed in “It’s not just Freddie Gray“.

and you might also be interested in

When religion and politics mix too closely, both get corrupted. Christian blogger Amy Gannett points out how Evangelical Christian leaders are “losing a whole generation” by attaching so closely to conservative partisan politics that they construct arguments that make a moral imperative out of supporting Donald Trump.

My generation will not identify with this. We cannot call a candidate “good,” as Grudem does with Trump, who has made racist remarks. We will not call a candidate “good” who has demoralized and dehumanized women on national television.

and let’s close with an endorsement of cosmic significance

Do you watch Donald Trump on TV and say, “Finally, somebody who agrees with me and will say all the things I’ve been thinking for years!”? Well, you’re not alone: the Devil feels exactly the same way.

Non-interference

Never interfere with an enemy while he’s in the process of destroying himself. 

– attributed to Napoleon

This week’s featured post is “Sexism and the Clinton Candidacy“. Short version: A man can misbehave and be an endearing rogue, but there’s no stereotypic loophole for a woman’s mistakes.

Last week the Sift had its two millionth page view since I moved the blog to weeklysift.com in 2011. The push over the line came from “Why Bernie Backed Hillary“, which got over 16K hits.

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s downward spiral

Up until this week, Republicans were willing to rationalize Donald Trump’s rhetorical excesses: It was a strategy, an act, a way to manipulate the media, and so on. He could turn it off and on as necessary to control the news cycle.

But when he went into a full-bore multi-day attack on gold-star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan, raising stereotypes about Muslim women, describing his own wealthy lifestyle as “sacrifice“, and even connecting the Khans to terrorism, it became hard to ignore what’s really been going on: Trump has a character flaw that borders on a personality disorder.

There is no strategy here: He kept his self-destructive argument with the Khans going because he simply cannot control himself. If he feels disrespected, he must strike back and keep striking back until he can convince himself that he has won.

In other words, he proved the truth of what Clinton said about him in her acceptance speech:

A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.

Combined with Clinton’s convention bounce, that put Trump’s poll numbers into free fall. Between the conventions, the race was either tied or Trump might even have been a point or two ahead. But this morning both Nate Silver and the RCP average have Clinton up 7 points. BTW, Nate has a great graphic of how the national and state-by-state polling fits together. (If you find this a little hard to read, click it and scroll down.)

Here’s how bad things are for Trump: He’s already making plans for how he’s going to soothe his ego after he loses: He’s going to claim Clinton cheated. More and more, this campaign is reminding me of third grade.

and I thought I was on vacation when …

… I was in Portland, Maine on Friday. I was on my way to my favorite Portland tea shop to read a book I hope to tell you about soon (Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance), when I noticed a big crowd in front of city hall about a block away.

I knew Trump had been in Portland on Thursday, and I had seen on TV that protesters silently holding up pocket copies of the Constitution had been removed from his rally.

In that rally, Trump promoted a local version of the immigrant-crime-wave lie I pointed out in his convention speech.

We’ve just seen many, many crimes, getting worse all the time. And as Maine knows – a major destination for Somali refugees. They’re coming from among the most dangerous territories or countries anywhere in the world. We have no idea of who they are … this could be the great Trojan horse of all time!

To which the Portland Press Herald responded:

Mr. Trump can relax. We know who they are. They are our neighbors and our friends. Some of them work in our schools and hospitals. Some are students. Some own businesses. They pay taxes, which are used for, among other things, maintaining the stage from which he spoke.

What I had stumbled into Friday afternoon was originally supposed to be the Portland Somali community’s counter-demonstration, and it included some of the same Constitution-waving protesters. But when they had asked the mayor if they could hold their rally on the steps of City Hall, he asked if he could spread the word around, because “maybe some other people will want to join in.”

By the time I got there, there were about 400 of us, of all races. (My estimate on the spot matched the one in the newspaper the next morning.) It was not a partisan thing; I didn’t see any Clinton signs. People were there to support their neighbors and the unity of their city against outsiders peddling hate. The Press Herald quoted the police chiefs of Portland and nearby Lewiston, where many Somali refugees have settled. Both made the same points:

  • Crime is down, not up.
  • There is no special Somali-refugee crime problem.
  • Nobody from the Trump campaign had talked to them.

That third point is the one that most enrages me. Anybody can get a fact wrong. But Trump is not trying to get his facts right. He’s going to American cities and raising fear against the immigrants who have settled there without even checking that those fears are based on anything real.


BTW, the Constitution thing is a big deal. Khizr Khan started it at the Democratic Convention when he offered to give Donald Trump his copy of the Constitution. And Trump made a huge blunder when his people ejected the silent protesters in Portland. They weren’t disrupting anything, they were just holding up the Constitution, which Trump’s people saw as a hostile act. The crowd booed them (and their Constitutions) as they were led away.

Up until now, waving the Constitution has been a conservative thing. I imagine Ted Cruz pulling his hair out and yelling at Trump as he watched this on TV: “You let the Democrats take the Constitution away from us?”

and my church is also in the news

First Parish Unitarian Universalist in Bedford, Massachusetts — I know, I live in New Hampshire, but I go to a church 25 miles away in Massachusetts; it’s a long story — is in the middle of an expensive project to bring our carbon footprint as close to zero as we can. After new insulation and HVAC equipment, the last piece of that plan is to put solar panels on the roof of our early-19th-century building, carefully positioned so as not to be too striking from the road.

The local historical commission blocked that, and now we’re going to court. ThinkProgress picked up the story this week, noting that we’re using the kind of religious-freedom legal argument that “is more often used by conservative faith groups”. We’re arguing that publicly fighting climate change is part of living our faith. It’ll be interesting to see what a court does with that reasoning.

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No matter who wins in November, or what kind of Congress she gets, the new President will have to face the problem of slow growth. It’s not just an American problem, so it probably doesn’t have a purely American solution.

Both parties have been talking around that. There’s a certain amount of genuine mystery about global growth, so the idea that we can ramp up growth locally by cutting taxes or building infrastructure is a little iffy.


For Obama’s 55th birthday, USA Today put together this compilation of his most endearing moments.


There’s Liberal vs. Conservative, and then there’s Reality vs. Fantasy. Incumbent Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson made it clear which side he’s on in an interview on a local radio show:

First of all, the climate hasn’t warmed in quite a few years. I mean, that is proven scientifically.

After 2014 turned out to be the hottest year on record (until 2015 was hotter), the government’s real scientists published this graph, showing that global warming has actually accelerated in recent years.

Senator Johnson went on to explain what really motivates climate change activists:

The reason they’re doing it is it’s such a great opportunity to control, you know, pretty much, government, and control your lives.

Yep, that’s why I drive a hybrid and why my church is going to court for the right to put solar panels on its roof: It’s all part of a nefarious plan to control everybody’s lives. I can’t remember exactly how the plot is supposed to work, but I’m sure somebody explained it to me once.

and let’s close with some Trump songs

Here a busker redoes “The Boxer”:

And Dennis Leary and James Corden put a Trump twist into Leary’s “I’m an Asshole”.

Resolve over Fear

At its core, discrimination is the result of fear. Those who think Americans scare easily enough to abandon our country’s ideals in exchange for a false sense of security underestimate our resolve.

Kareem Abdul-Jabar at the 2016 Democratic Convention

This week’s featured posts are “Why Bernie Backed Hillary” and “Disbanding NATO: Why Vlad Loves Donnie“.

This week everybody was talking about the Democratic Convention

Nate Silver summarized it pretty well:

Each day of the Democratic National Convention had an overarching strategic goal. Monday was about uniting the party. Tuesday was about telling Hillary Clinton’s life story (and, by extension, improving her dismal favorability ratings). Wednesday was about articulating forceful contrasts for swing voters and reminding them of the consequences of a potential President Trump. Thursday, with a lot of flag-waving and representation from the military, along with Clinton’s own remarks, was about establishing her credentials as commander in chief.

Headliners. Each day’s headliners came through with amazing speeches, which you should watch if you haven’t already. Monday: In what some have called “a speech for the ages“,  Michelle Obama subtly talked about the First Family as role models for children, reminded us of the class and dignity with which the Obamas have carried that responsibility, and left us imagining Donald Trump in that role. She also began what became a drumbeat in later speeches: defining a uniquely Democratic message of patriotism and optimism — not that America has always been right, but that we constantly get better.

Bernie Sanders gave Clinton everything she could have wanted in an endorsement. (Details in the featured article.)

Tuesday’s highlight was Bill Clinton playing a new role: the spouse who humanizes the candidate. This was an important moment in the convention. One comment I frequently see from Bernie-or-bust posters on Facebook is that no one is actually for Clinton, but we’re just supposed to vote against Trump. Bill’s 45-year love story (beginning with “In the spring of 1971, I met a girl.”) set her in a context that many voters (especially younger ones) have probably never seen. Yes, there are a large number of people who have loved and admired Hillary Clinton for many years.

Wednesday was Joe Biden and Tim Kaine and President Obama. As Nate Silver said, this was the night for convincing swing voters, and they did it by claiming a lot of the up-with-America themes that usually belong to Republicans, but which Trump’s convention abandoned. President Obama:

Look, we Democrats have always had plenty of differences with the Republican Party, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s precisely this contest of idea that pushes our country forward. But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican — and it sure wasn’t conservative. What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems — just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate.

And that is not the America I know. The America I know is full of courage, and optimism, and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous.

Thursday was Clinton herself, whose major challenge was not to be overshadowed by all the excellent oratory that had come before. She didn’t attempt to compete with President Obama in terms of vision and inspiration, but presented herself as a steady hand with a lifelong record of public service and a progressive agenda. She left a very deft trap for Trump, which he proved unable to avoid blundering into:

He loses his cool at the slightest provocation – when he’s gotten a tough question from a reporter, when he’s challenged in a debate, when he sees a protestor at a rally. Imagine, if you dare imagine, imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.

Surprises. Wednesday also had an unusual endorsement from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had mulled his own third-party presidential run. Bloomberg is also the kind of business success Trump only pretends to be.

Throughout his career, Trump has left behind a well-documented record of bankruptcies, thousands of lawsuits, angry shareholders and contractors who feel cheated, and disillusioned customers who feel ripped off. Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business. God help us. I’m a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one!

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But the big surprise came Thursday, with the speech by Khizr Khan (accompanied by his wife Ghazala), about his son Captain Humayun Khan, who died saving his soldiers in Iraq in 2004.

If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America. Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country.

Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words “liberty” and “equal protection of law.”

Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America — you will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities.

You have sacrificed nothing and no one.

As Hillary had predicted, Trump couldn’t just let that go. He couldn’t say something like “While I disagree with much of what Khizr Khan had to say about me, I respect his family’s sacrifice.” Instead, he asked why Ghazala didn’t say anything, invoking another stereotype of Muslims:

She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.

And he defended his own “sacrifices”.

I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.

Ghazala Khan replied in The Washington Post:

When Donald Trump is talking about Islam, he is ignorant. If he studied the real Islam and Koran, all the ideas he gets from terrorists would change, because terrorism is a different religion.

Donald Trump said he has made a lot of sacrifices. He doesn’t know what the word sacrifice means.

Like so many of the damaging spats Trump gets into, this could have been over in a day. Fox News didn’t even show the original speech, so many conservatives would never have noticed it. Instead, it’s a multi-day story and could turn into one of the defining moments of the campaign.


Now that even conservatives are saying that the Democrats put on a much better convention, Donald Trump is ducking responsibility for the Republican Convention: “I didn’t produce our show — I just showed up for the final speech on Thursday.” Though Trump’s speech did get slightly more viewers than Hillary’s — 34.9 million compared to 33.7 — overall the four-day Democratic Convention had a 16-million viewer lead in the ratings.

I guess viewers would rather hear from Meryl Streep and Katy Perry than Scott Baio and Willie Robertson, and would rather watch Kareem Abdul-Jabar than wonder why Tim Tebow decided not to come. In a rather pointed reference to the Melania plagiarism story, Trevor Noah observed that Republicans “don’t have a Michelle Obama. They just have a Michelle Obama tribute act.”

and its result

Polls that came out last week showed Trump getting a bounce from his convention and pulling into the lead. There are still a number of polls to hear from, but the early ones indicate that the Democratic Convention has undone that bounce and then some.

Since Trump’s own blunders are turning the post-convention news cycle against him, Clinton’s convention bounce may solidify into a lasting advantage.

and the Trump/Putin connection

which I discuss in the other featured post.

but you should notice the victories against voter suppression

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals annihilated North Carolina’s voter-suppression law:

Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist.

… Using race as a proxy for party may be an effective way to win an election. But intentionally targeting a particular race’s access to the franchise because its members vote for a particular party, in a predictable manner, constitutes discriminatory purpose. This is so even absent any evidence of race-based hatred and despite the obvious political dynamics. A state legislature acting on such a motivation engages in intentional racial discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act.

ThinkProgress called this opinion “a beat-down” and chose to illustrate it with a GIF of Hulk pounding Loki into the pavement in the first Avengers movie.


In a separate case, a federal judge struck down a string of voter-suppression provisions of Wisconsin law, writing:

The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities.

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The legal process against the yahoos who took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge for more than a month last winter is continuing to churn. Ryan Bundy is defending himself in court, which must be entertaining for the press, if frustrating for the judge. Ryan is claiming to be a sovereign citizen who is not subject to federal law, and is making a number of absurd motions that follow from that assumption. Meanwhile, the government is asserting that the armed occupation is not a legitimate assertion of First and Second Amendment rights: “Taking a gun into a government office is not First Amendment protected activity.”


The Obama Presidential Library is going to be on the Chicago lakefront, about a mile from where I lived when I was a student at the University of Chicago.

and let’s close with somebody who has far too much time

If you’re feeling withdrawal during the Game of Thrones off-season, and you have hopelessly nerdy tendencies anyway, I’ve got a guy to introduce you to. Just as the Baker Street Irregulars take Sherlock Holmes way too seriously, Lyman Stone gives that kind of attention to Westeros. In particular, how big is it? In what ways do the demographic details in the novels fail basic rules of world-building? And how could you make it as realistic as any dragon-inhabited medieval world threatened by the undead could possibly be?

Better in Russian

I’ve heard this sort of speech a lot in the last 15 years and trust me, it doesn’t sound any better in Russian.

– Garry Kasparov, former Putin challenger and world chess champion
7-21-2016

America was not built on fear. It was built on courage, on imagination, and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.

Tim Kaine, quoting Harry Truman
7-23-2016

This week’s featured posts are “You Have to Laugh“, where I (mostly) ignore the ominous implications of the Republican Convention and focus on the all the great comedy it inspired, and “The Big Lie in Trump’s Speech“, where I lay out the unspoken falsehoods that hold the speech together.

This week everybody was talking about the Republican Convention

It was hard to think about anything else this week. Both featured posts center on it, one on its humorous aspects and the other on the disturbing ones.

One of the more interesting perspectives on Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday night comes from Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion who (until he had to leave the country) was a leader in the movement against Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. In a WaPo op-ed, Kasparov writes:

I saw an Americanized version of the brutally effective propaganda of fear and hatred that Vladimir Putin blankets Russia with today. …

In both cases, the intent of the speaker is to elicit the visceral emotions of fear and disgust before relieving them with a cleansing anger that overwhelms everything else. Only the leader can make the fear and disgust go away. The leader will channel your hatred and frustration and make everything better. How, exactly? Well, that’s not important right now. …

It is painful to admit, but Putin was elected in a relatively fair election in 2000. He steadily dismantled Russia’s fragile democracy and succeeded in turning Russians against each other and against the world. It turns out you can go quite far in a democracy by convincing a majority that they are threatened by a minority, and that only you can protect them.


In that speech, Trump brought up his father, from whom he inherited his real estate empire:

My dad, Fred Trump, was the smartest and hardest working man I ever knew. I wonder sometimes what he’d say if he were here to see this tonight. It’s because of him that I learned, from my youngest age, to respect the dignity of work and the dignity of working people.

Folk-music legend Woody Guthrie was one of Fred’s tenants for two years. He had a different view of who Fred respected, writing (what look to be lyrics) in his notebooks about “Old Man Trump” and the “racial hatred he stirred up” by imposing a color line that kept blacks from becoming Guthrie’s neighbors. Years later, The Village Voice reported:

According to court records, four superintendents or rental agents confirmed that applications sent to the central office for acceptance or rejection were coded by race. Three doormen were told to discourage blacks who came seeking apartments when the manager was out, either by claiming no vacancies or hiking up the rents. A super said he was instructed to send black applicants to the central office but to accept white applications on site. Another rental agent said that Fred Trump had instructed him not to rent to blacks. Further, the agent said Trump wanted “to decrease the number of black tenants” already in the development “by encouraging them to locate housing elsewhere.”


Charles Pierce:

These were not people begging to govern. These were not even people begging to be governed. These were people begging to be ruled. For all the palaver about freedom and liberty, and all the appeals to the Founders and the American experiment, this whole convention was shot through with an overwhelming lust for authority.

This was a gathering of subjects thirsting for a king.


Trump appears to have gotten a small-to-medium-sized bounce out of the convention, which has (for the moment) put him narrowly in the lead in most polls. Between the conventions is often a skewed time to poll, so Nate Silver‘s NowCast (if the election were held today) model favors Trump, while his more sophisticated PollsPlus model still favors Clinton. Both currently project a close election.

and Tim Kaine

I admit it: I didn’t expect to like Tim Kaine. I’d never watched or listened to him, but his picture looks like some grey-haired vanilla white guy. (And speaking as a grey-haired vanilla white guy myself, I think we have enough representation in the halls of power.) As a senator, he has a generic-Democrat voting record, and when he wanders off the reservation, he tends to wander right rather than left.

I’d been hoping for somebody with better progressive credentials, like Elizabeth Warren or Sherrod Brown. (I’d really been hoping for Al Franken, who I think would do the best job of getting under Trump’s skin.) Some new face who could energize young people would be great too, though (not being an excitable young person myself) I have a hard time figuring out who that would be.

Like Digby, I was willing to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt on having done the political calculation right: Maybe the first female president, like the first black president, needs a running mate who calms everybody down. Her people have done the focus groups and I haven’t, so maybe they know more than I do.

Then I watched Kaine’s introductory appearance with Clinton at Florida International University. My first impression is that Tim Kaine is one of the most likable politicians out there. He seems spontaneous, even when you know he has to be using a prepared text. He somehow manages to sound light without sacrificing seriousness. (Having done some public speaking myself, I envy that.) He can talk about his faith without either pandering or getting preachy. He can put forward a positive vision rather than just tear down Trump. His facility with Spanish — which comes from leaving law school for a year to be a missionary in Honduras — is a bonus in an election that depends so much on Hispanic turnout.

And then there’s a moment in his speech (around the 46-minute mark in the video) that really does look spontaneous. He’s talking about immigration reform, and is starting a story about watching new citizens get sworn in, when he asks for a show of hands from all the naturalized citizens in the audience. Apparently there are a lot of them because Kaine seems surprised: “Yeah. Wow. Thanks for choosing us!”

I was charmed. So often the immigration discussion happens in a judgmental frame: Are these people good enough to be Americans? Kaine turned that around by appreciating the compliment they pay us by wanting to join our country.

So I still expect to hear about issues where I disagree with him, and I’ve already heard a few. But I’m going to listen to what he has to say.


Jonathan Chait has an interesting perspective on Kaine, beginning with the idea that he was considered acceptably progressive eight years ago when he was on Obama’s VP short list.

The left does have reality-based reasons for its dismay. There are aspects of Kaine’s record and beliefs it has reason not to like. At the same time, the complaints about Kaine suffer from a certain myopia that seems to be symptomatic of the hothouse atmosphere that has developed on the left during the Obama era. Emphasis on doctrinal purity have blotted out broader assessments of personal fitness, the absence of ideological dissent overwhelming the presence of positive qualities. The prevailing definition of a perfect leader has become a perfect follower.

and the Democratic Convention

which starts tonight with speeches by Bernie Sanders and Michelle Obama. Tuesday night’s headliners are Bill Clinton (who has spoken at every Democratic Convention since 1988) and Elizabeth Warren. Wednesday is basically the retirement party for President Obama and Vice President Biden, as well as Kaine’s acceptance speech. Naturally, Hillary will speak on the final night, Thursday.

I am hoping that the Democrats don’t fall into the trap of answering Trump’s 100%-negative convention with an all-negative convention of their own. (The Kaine speech I linked to above makes me hopeful.) I want to hear that Democrats are working on the real problems that face Americans, and that we’re even willing to tell you how we plan to attack those problems. It doesn’t need to be a seminar on public policy, but people need to hear that the Democrats have thought things through on a level deeper than “I’m going to build a wall.”

The tricky piece of messaging will be how to attack the Republican Congress, rather than just Trump. As I spelled out a few weeks ago: Obama is and for eight years has been a powerful voice for change in America; what maintains the status quo is the logjam in Congress.


The ever-present background story as the Convention begins is the leak of DNC emails, leading to the resignation of Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

There are 20,000 of these emails, and I have not even attempted to go through them myself. How serious you think the revelations are seems to depend on what you previously thought about the DNC and the Sanders campaign. Vox (which has generally supported Clinton over Sanders) finds no bombshell:

The emails seem to confirm Bernie supporters’ general impression that many DNC officials liked Hillary Clinton more than Sanders. What the emails don’t seem to prove, at least so far, is that they used DNC resources to help Clinton or hurt Sanders.

But more Bernie-leaning The Intercept has a harsher take on the story.

What makes the issue hard for me to judge (without more research than I’ve been willing to do so far) is that at some point the Sanders campaign began attacking the DNC fairly aggressively. So when internal DNC emails express anger at the Sanders campaign, it’s hard to tell whether the writers are angry at Bernie for running against Hillary, or for attacking the DNC. It would be understandable for people who feel under unfair attack to express anger among themselves against the source of those attacks. It would be still be wrong for them to take action on those feelings, but so far it’s not clear to me that they did.

On the fringes of the pro-Bernie left, there have long been conspiracy theories about vote fraud in the primaries and various other offenses far more serious than just rooting for Hillary when you’re supposed to be impartial. Nothing I’ve seen in the published snippets of the emails validates those claims, and it would be a shame if the DNC-email story perpetuates such talk.

On the Clinton side, there’s talk about a Russian role in the email hack, and accusations that Putin wants to influence the election in Trump’s favor. So far that’s also still mostly a conspiracy theory: You can tell a plausible story, and there is some evidence for each of the individual links, but the theory as a whole is still pretty speculative.

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One year in, the Iranian nuclear deal still looks pretty good from the American side. But Iranians who thought their economy would instantly rebound have been disappointed.



One of the featured posts focuses on political humor, but this piece didn’t quite fit and is too good to leave out: The Liberal Redneck tells us what he thinks about Black Lives Matter.

Responding to that sentiment with “All Lives Matter” would be sorta like telling Susan G. Komen to chill it with all the pink shit on account of all cancer sucks. That last part’s true, but it ain’t really the fucking point.


Things have taken a turn for the worse in Turkey, after President Erdogan survived a coup attempt last week. Erdogan has declared a three-month state of emergency, and struck back against a large swath of people he believes to be his enemies.

Some 60,000 bureaucrats, soldiers, policemen, prosecutors and academic staff have come under the government’s spotlight, many of them facing detention or suspension over alleged links to the Gülenist movement and the coup plotters.

Earlier on Wednesday, the government had imposed a work travel ban on academics, which, a senior Turkish official said, was a temporary measure as accomplices of the coup plotters in universities were a potential flight risk.

All 1,577 deans of public and private universities in Turkey submitted their resignations at the government’s urging. This came after 20,000 teachers and administrators were suspended from their jobs as a result of the coup, along with 6,000 soldiers and more than 2,700 judges and prosecutors, and dozens of senior generals accused of involvement in the coup.


Roger Ailes is out at Fox News, after Gretchen Carlson’s complaints of sexual harassment were echoed by other women who have worked at Fox, including current star Megyn Kelly. But don’t cry for Roger, he gets a $40 million dollar parachute.

And apparently the problem is bigger than just Ailes.

The investigation by Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, focused narrowly on Mr. Ailes. But in interviews with The New York Times, current and former employees described instances of harassment and intimidation that went beyond Mr. Ailes and suggested a broader problem in the workplace.

The Times spoke with about a dozen women who said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it. Two of them cited Mr. Ailes and the rest cited other supervisors. …

They told of strikingly similar experiences at Fox News. Several said that inappropriate comments about a woman’s appearance and sex life were frequent. Managers tried to set up their employees on dates with superiors.

Here’s a longer article devoted to a single case: former Fox reporter Rudi Bakhtiar, who says she was fired after she complained.

Donald Trump’s comment is classic male chauvinism: “I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he’s helped them.” Dean Obeidallah of The Daily Beast responded:

Think about that comment for a moment. Trump is basically saying that since Ailes had helped these women with their careers, the alleged sexual harassment was okay because it was the price to pay for his help.

Larry Wilmore of The Nightly Show referred to this idea that you can harass women you’ve helped as “the Skeazy Pass”.


This is the third or fourth time I’ve seen a small businessman tell the same story about dealing with Trump. You’ve got to wonder how often this happened.

and let’s close with something awesome

The Late, Late Show‘s James Corden spends 15 minutes with the First Lady. When the Obamas return to private life, I’m going to miss Michelle.

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.

and you might also be interested in

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.

and you might also be interested in

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.

and you may also be interested in

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.

and

[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 speaker.gov 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

Unthinkable

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.

 

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