Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Tranquility or Justice?

It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.

And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

– Martin Luther King, “The Other America” (March 14, 1968)

This week’s featured posts are “The Skittles Analogy” and “The Asterisk in the Bill of Rights“.

Some quick thoughts about the quote above: King gave this speech three weeks before his assassination, so it is very close to his last word on the subject. Such radical King quotes have largely been white-washed out of history. Instead, each January MLK Day is largely a celebration of color-blindness, as if the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and sundown towns could just be waved off, and we could best move forward by pretending that none of it ever happened. King himself never held that view, as you will quickly see if you read entire speeches rather than a few carefully selected lines.

This week everybody was talking about Charlotte

Since the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday, Charlotte North Carolina has seen daily demonstrations. The demonstrations appear to have been mostly peaceful, but occasionally turned violent. One person was shot and eventually died, but police claim they didn’t do it and no one seems to know who did. I haven’t seen anything about whether the dead man was a protester.

To me, there seem to be two issues related to police killing blacks. First, the black community has no confidence in the investigative process, and I can understand why. Take the Freddie Gray case, for example. He was apparently healthy when Baltimore Police took him into custody, and then he died of a spinal cord injury. No one seems to be at fault; every charge has resulted in a not-guilty verdict. And in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, the police seemed more interested in doing public relations for Officer Wilson than a neutral investigation.

There’s at least a partial a solution to this part of the problem, and it’s already law in Wisconsin: any police shooting requires an outside investigation; a police department can’t be allowed to investigate its own officer.

Second, American police tactics are senselessly confrontational. Even in shootings that are judged to be justified, I’m often left wondering: “Did you really need to push it to that point?” Standard practice seems to be to start by barking orders, and then to keep escalating until either the orders are followed or the civilian is dead. That’s what I see in the Scott video. In many other cases, people wind up dead because police don’t understand they’re dealing with someone who is deaf or mentally handicapped or otherwise incapable of understanding their demands.

Police in other countries don’t behave that way, as this article about Scottish police tactics makes clear.


While we’re talking about black lives not mattering, conservative columnist Glenn Reynolds tweeted “Run them down” in response to protesters who blocked an interstate in Charlotte. He then defended the tweet on his Instapundit blog. Twitter suspended his account for promoting violence, and USA Today suspended him as a columnist for a month.

If you think this isn’t about race, imagine, say, white Catholics blocking a road leading to an abortion clinic. Would anybody suggest running over them?

and tonight’s presidential debate

Like Frank Bruni, my main worry about the debate is that the bar for Trump has been set so low. If he makes it through the evening without calling Hillary a bitch or talking about his penis again, lots of people will be impressed by his performance. I remember the first 2000 debate, when Gore ran rings around Bush on substance, but the headlines the next morning were that Gore sighed too loudly.

One measure of what Hillary is up against is just how contradictory or constricting all the “expert” advice is: She shouldn’t raise her voice or interrupt Trump. She should keep her answers short, but tell her own story and project a positive vision. Point out when he’s lying but don’t get mired in fact-checking. Show her intelligence and reveal his ignorance without sounding like a know-it-all. Either do or don’t talk about the specifics of her plans for governing. And brush off his attacks as silly.

And then there’s sexism. A woman can’t possibly look “presidential”, because the American people have no image of a woman being president. And I can guarantee that tomorrow morning Trump will not be criticized for shouting, frowning, interrupting, dressing wrong, blustering, not showing proper respect, or any of the things Clinton has to be on guard against. Anna Waters, a Northwestern student who debated in high school, outlines all the built-in disadvantages female debaters have to overcome. Another high school debater complains about the challenge of “trying to both confront stereotypes but at the same time being weirdly beholden to them”.

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The National Museum of African-American History and Culture opened this week on the National Mall in Washington, DC.


Hottest summer ever.


John Oliver compares Hillary’s scandals to Trump’s in some detail, and then concludes:

This campaign has been dominated by scandals. But it is dangerous to think that there is an equal number on both sides. And you can be irritated by some of Hillary’s; that is understandable. But you should then be f**king outraged by Trump’s.


If you’ve been thinking that Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson represents the “good” side of conservatism, you might want to think again. When he was running for president as a Republican in the 2012 cycle, he brushed off any concern about global warming, arguing that “In billions of years, the sun is going to actually grow and encompass the Earth, right? So global warming is in our future.” He went on to call for building new coal-fired power plants.

In case the insanity of this remark isn’t already obvious to you, imagine applying the logic to other issues: There’s no point worrying about nuclear war, because the sun is eventually going to burn all our cities anyway. And after the solar catastrophe, who’s going to care what our national debt was?


warren2Elizabeth Warren crossed the border to Nashua Saturday morning to give a pep talk to the door-knockers and phone-bankers gathered at the local Democratic headquarters. I had a chance to snap this picture.

She said she was going to talk about three things that are in danger in this election, but then she added a fourth. A Republican sweep in this election would result in

  • ending the Affordable Care Act and defunding Planned Parenthood
  • rolling back Dodd-Frank and the other Wall Street reforms that were passed after the 2008 collapse.
  • Donald Trump immediately appointing a Supreme Court justice.
  • “Donald Trump and the Republicans are making hate OK.”

Her summary of Democratic values was

  • Every young person is entitled to get an education without being crushed by debt.
  • No one who works full-time should live in poverty.
  • After a lifetime of hard work, people are entitled to retire in dignity.
  • “Let me say something that is deeply controversial in Republican circles: We believe in science, that climate change is real, and we have a moral obligation to pass on a livable Earth.”
  • Equal pay for equal work and a woman’s right to choose.
  • When Wall Street CEOs break the rules, they should go to jail like anyone else.
  • Money should not own our government.

Two sports legends worth remembering today: Golfer Arnold Palmer died yesterday at 87. He was part of that first generation of athletes that TV made into icons.

And Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully called his last game. Scully is 88, and has been announcing Dodger games on radio and TV since 1950, when they played in Brooklyn. The Dodgers gave him a great send-off: The final play he broadcast was a walk-off homer that clinched the division title.

and … and …

no, I just don’t have a closing in me this week. Let’s hope my sense of humor recovers soon.

The Snow Jobs of Yesteryear

Now, the engineers and managers believe with all their hearts the glorious things their forebears hired people to say about them. Yesterday’s snow job becomes today’s sermon.

Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano (1952)

This week’s featured post is “ISIS is losing, but what happens next?

This week everybody was talking about where President Obama was born

Donald Trump’s first foray into national politics was in 2011, when he was the leading voice in the Birther movement, which charged that President Obama was an illegitimate president, because he wasn’t actually born in the United States. Trump often went even further, implying Obama’s whole history was phony.

Our current president came out of nowhere. Came out of nowhere. In fact, I’ll go a step further: the people that went to school with him, they never saw him, they don’t know who he is. It’s crazy.

As recently as Thursday, Trump still wouldn’t admit that President Obama was born in the United States, but his campaign issued a statement giving him credit for

bring[ing] this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate. Mr. Trump did a great service to the President and the country by bringing closure to the issue that Hillary Clinton and her team first raised.

But Friday, Trump embraced that position himself:

President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. … Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it.

In other words, he withdrew his lie about Obama (without apology), and substituted a new lie about Clinton: She started it.

Both Politifact and FactCheck.org looked at the Clinton-was-a-birther claim in 2015 and rated it false. This week ABC and Politico reviewed the evidence and agreed.

Neither Clinton herself or anyone connected with her campaign ever raised the issue in public (unlike Trump who talked about virtually nothing else for six weeks in 2011). Some 2008 Clinton supporters discussed it on the internet, but this was a far more tenuous connection than the current one between Trump and white supremacists like David Duke; you can’t control who supports you or what they say. (Though you don’t have to retweet their racist comments.)

The birther issue is — rightly, I believe — characterized as racist, because there was never any reason to raise it other than a desire to disqualify Obama. This tactic has a long history: As soon as blacks start applying for a position, qualifications that had never before been an issue require documentation that whites have never needed to produce, and whatever documentation blacks produce is always deemed suspicious or unacceptable for some invented reason.

It’s disingenuous of Trump to take credit for the “closure” of Obama producing his birth certificate, when Trump himself continued to raise doubts after that. AP reports:

Trump repeatedly continued to question Obama’s birth in the years after the president released his birth certificate. In August 2012, for example, Trump was pushing the issue on Twitter.

“An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud,” he wrote.

Even in January of this year, Trump sounded skeptical when asked whether he now believed the president was a natural-born citizen.

“Who knows? Who cares right now? We’re talking about something else, OK?” Trump said in a CNN interview. “I mean, I have my own theory on Obama. Someday I’ll write a book.”

This often-repeated lie has had its effect: An August poll showed that 72% of Republicans still either denied that Obama was born in America or refused to take a position. Previous polls had shown that Trump supporters were more likely to be birthers than other Republicans.

and the presidential race seems about even

Recent polls have Trump ahead in Ohio and Florida, and Nate Silver places Clinton’s odds of victory at 60%, as low as that number has been since the conventions.


I wonder how many of you are experiencing the same psychological symptom I’ve noticed in myself. Sometimes when people repress an emotion, they start experiencing themselves as the object of the emotion rather than the subject. So if you’re angry with somebody you don’t want to be angry with, like a boss or spouse, you instead believe that they’re angry with you. Jealous people imagine others are jealous of them, and so on. (The psychologists call this projection.)

The election is causing something similar in me: When I see evidence that large numbers of people are willing to make Trump our president, I feel deeply ashamed of my country and my fellow voters. But I try not to dwell on that, because what’s the point? Later on, though, I’ll notice that I’m feeling an excessive amount of shame for some comparatively trivial mistake of my own.

Anybody else noticing this? What kind of personal effect is the election having on you?


The first debate is just a week away. It will just be Clinton and Trump, since Jill Stein and Gary Johnson didn’t qualify. The moderator will be Lester Holt of NBC. Here’s the full calendar, with moderators.


Bernie:

This is not the time for a protest vote, in terms of a presidential campaign. I ran as a third-party candidate. I’m the longest-serving independent in the history of the United States Congress. I know more about third-party politics than anyone else in the Congress, okay? And if people want to run as third-party candidates, God bless them! Run for Congress. Run for governor. Run for state legislature. When we’re talking about president of the United States, in my own personal view, this is not time for a protest vote. This is time to elect Hillary Clinton and then work after the election to mobilize millions of people to make sure she can be the most progressive president she can be.


Vox‘ Dara Lind describes how sexism impacts the Clinton campaign in “Nobody ever tells Donald Trump to smile“.

For most of her career, Hillary Clinton’s been measured in comparison to men. She is less warm and authentic than her husband Bill Clinton or her 2016 opponent Bernie Sanders; she is less eloquent and transcendent than her 2008 opponent Barack Obama.

But in what way, precisely, is Hillary Clinton “less” than Donald Trump?

He frequently looks gruff and mean. He barely laughs at all, and never at himself. His speeches are frequently dark and angry. He shouts. He’s condescending and never uplifting or inspirational. He brags.

If you actually subject Donald Trump to the same scrutiny Clinton receives, you’ll see that he doesn’t show any of the qualities that other politicians — and especially female politicians — are criticized for lacking.

And yet, while the content of his remarks is sometimes criticized, he escapes the constant style-heckling directed at Clinton.


The NYT’s Timothy Egan comments on the vast public under-reaction to Trump’s statement that we should have kept Iraq’s oil, because “to the victor belong the spoils”.

As with everything in Trump’s world, his solution is simple: loot and pilfer. “Take the oil,” said Trump. He was referring to Iraq, post-invasion. And how would he do this? There would be an open-ended occupation, as a sovereign nation’s oil was stolen from it. Of course, “you’d leave a certain group behind,” he said, to protect the petro thieves.

A certain group. Let’s be clear what he’s talking about: Under Trump’s plan, American men and women would die for oil, victims of endless rounds of lethal sabotage and terror strikes. That’s your certain group.

Another detail left out of Trump’s idea: It’s useless to take the oil unless you also control a corridor to the sea, so that you can export it. How big and how vulnerable would that occupation force be?


The story that Melania Trump came to America illegally seems to be based on bad reporting. I’m going to stop repeating it unless somebody comes up with better evidence, and I recommend the rest of you do the same.

but I decided to check in on the Islamic State

The featured post “ISIS is losing but what happens next?” reviews the military situation of the Islamic State, which is looking bad for them. But it also points out the limited goals that a military victory can win for us: As long as a disgruntled population feels alienated from a political solution, some of them are going to try force.

and the upbeat census report on income

For years, the story has been the same: The economy was growing, but wages — and particularly wages for the poor and working class — weren’t budging. But Tuesday, the Census Bureau released its annual report on income and poverty, updating its numbers for 2015. NPR summarizes:

after a brutal economic recession and years of stagnation, real median household incomes rose from $53,718 in 2014 to $56,516 last year. That’s a 5.2 percent rise — the first statistically significant increase since 2007.

That income statistic is still lower than it was in 2007, before the Great Recession, and its peak came in 1999, just before the Internet Bubble popped. But it least it seems headed in the right direction now. Also, poverty is down and more people have health insurance, particularly in the states that have expanded Medicaid the way the Affordable Care Act intended (until the Supreme Court struck that part down and gave states the option not to participate).

Matt Yglesias describes why he thinks the Census Bureau is measuring the wrong things, but thinks the ultimate result is that its report might be too pessimistic.

The ways in which the census’s data sets are flawed suggests the underlying reality might be even better than Tuesday’s rosy report suggested. But the uncertainty here should be acknowledged when we discuss the report.

Two of the flaws: Households are shrinking as more people live alone and there are fewer big families. So even a smaller household income might mean that individuals are doing better. (OTOH, if people want more children but can’t afford them, per capita numbers might make them look more prosperous than they feel.) Also, the Census Bureau focuses on income as cash before taxes. So changes in your non-cash benefits or your taxes don’t show up.

One resulting anomaly has been with us for decades: As the cost of health care rises, employers that provide health insurance see their cost-per-employee rise, but the employees don’t see any comparable increase in income.

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Nearly three months after the Brexit vote, what it means is still unclear. The UK still hasn’t invoked Article 50 of the EU charter, which would formally start a divorce process that must be over within two years. Prime Minister Theresa May — remember, she took office after David Cameron staked his career on the Brexit vote and lost — says that won’t happen at least until after the new year.


The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is using its subpoena power to harass scientists whose results the Committee’s Republican majority and Republican chairman don’t like.

[Chairman Lamar] Smith’s subpoena-happy chairmanship hasn’t come out of nowhere. It apparently depends upon a conviction that the scientific community has a liberal agenda and that, if scientific results conflict with right-wing ideas, the scientists must be lying.

The new rules about House committees issuing subpoenas — written by the Republican majority in 2015 — make this kind of harassment easier.


The NRA is celebrating “a great day for freedom in Missouri”: a new gun law, passed over Governor Nixon’s veto, removes even the most common-sense restrictions:

  • Gun owners can carry concealed weapons anywhere that isn’t specifically restricted, like court houses and jails. No permits or training programs will be necessary. Just buy your gun (federal background checks still apply), put it in your pocket, and go on with your day.
  • Local police lose much of their ability to deny gun permits to high-risk individuals, like, say, people with a long history of domestic violence or suicide attempts.
  • A new stand-your-ground provision applies in public places like parking lots. If you feel threatened, you don’t have to retreat or otherwise avoid a confrontation. Just shoot your way out.

Kevin Ahlbrand, legislative director for the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, raises a good question:

Our biggest fear is criminals who have not been convicted of a felony but are engaged in criminal activity will be legally carrying guns, and we’re now going to have to assume everyone is armed. When we show up to a scene and there are five guys with their guns out, what do we do?


An affordable medium-range electric car will be out later this year. It comes from one of those nimble, far-sighted little car companies — General Motors.

“Affordable” in this case is relative, of course. The Chevy Bolt EV (not to be confused with the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid that been around since 2011), will sell for $30,000 or so after a federal rebate and go 238 miles on a charge. That’s still a significant chunk of change, but plug-in power is cheaper than gasoline, so the Bolt becomes a more reasonable investment after you factor in operating costs.

Electric-car pioneer Tesla also has a car coming out in the same cost range. It goes almost as far on a charge, but Tesla probably won’t be able to make enough of them to satisfy demand. GM will.

200 miles has long been considered a breakthrough point on electric cars, because that range wouldn’t crimp the style of the average American in day-to-day life. You’re still not going to take a Bolt on a cross-country road trip, but you should be able to commute to work, go out to lunch, and run errands after you get home without worrying about how much charge you have left.


In other car-tech news, Uber is testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh. A NYT reporter tells of his ride.

If driverless vehicles get perfected and accepted, we’ll see a new round of technological unemployment. I added up the employment numbers for the different types of drivers tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and got about 3.8 million. The total number of people employed in the U.S. is around 151 million. So we’re talking about 2.5% or so of all jobs. If you start thinking about people whose jobs depend on human drivers — say they work at truck stops or at motels in the middle of nowhere — the total goes higher.

That prospect got me reading Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano, a 1952 dystopian vision of a low-employment society. That’s where I found this week’s opening quote.

and let’s close with a sharp contrast

Here’s Little Miss Flint’s reaction to meeting President Obama.

And here’s her reaction to meeting Donald Trump.

So Clear

A mathematical theory is not to be considered complete until you have made it so clear that you can explain it to the first man whom you meet on the street.

– David Hilbert

This week’s featured post is “Instead of Dumbing Down“. It’s basically my explanation of how to explain things.

This week everybody was talking about the Commander in Chief Forum

This was supposed to be a preview of the presidential debates, with Clinton and Trump appearing on the same stage, one right after the other, and fielding questions from the same audience (military veterans on the aircraft carrier Intrepid, anchored in New York harbor) and moderator (Matt Lauer). If you missed it, you can watch the full video or read the transcript.

It’s not obvious whether either candidate “won” the Forum, but the clear losers were Matt Lauer and the country. Each of the two interviews was terrible in its own way. Lauer opened Hillary’s interview with a softball: “What is the most important characteristic that a commander-in-chief can possess?” But when her answer (steadiness) didn’t give him the segue he wanted, Lauer badgered her into repeating the word judgment, which is the Trump-campaign codeword for a long list of stuff. That gave him his transition into a long discussion of her emails, leaving only a little time to talk about ISIS, and none at all for Russia, China, NATO, and a lot of other important matters.

Trump’s interview consisted almost entirely of softballs, like “What kind of things are you reading as you prepare for the day in two months where you might be elected the next president of the United States?” When Trump repeated his predictable and easily refutable lie about being “totally against the war in Iraq”, Lauer moved on without comment.


Josh Marshall believes that Lauer actually did Trump some damage by not challenging him:

he was a sort of Trump whisperer, nudging Trump on to expand on his ridiculous points. At various points he simply let Trump be Trump. And that turned out to be really bad for Trump.

He drew Trump into gobbledygook about his plan for fighting ISIS (which he either has had all along or is going to ask the generals for or is going to combine the two plans or something), into fawning over Vladimir Putin, into saying that rape in the military comes from putting “men and women together”, into expressing his distrust of our current generals, into saying that we should have taken Iraq’s oil, and so on.


Trump’s valentine to Putin — “he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader”, admiration for his high approval rating (in a country where criticizing him can get you killed), and his “very strong control over a country” — was subsequently echoed by Mike Pence and the Twitter followers of GOP public-opinion expert Frank Luntz.

Slate’s Joshua Keating brings in the disturbing context:

Today’s Russia is a place where government officials are corrupt, life expectancy remains stubbornly low, young soldiers are sent to die in wars their government won’t even acknowledge, opposition politicians and critical journalists are murdered or arrested in alarming numbers, LGBTQ people are subject to state-sanctioned violence, and entire regions are run as the personal fiefdoms of despotic warlords.


Trump’s evidence that he was against the Iraq War from the beginning (March, 2003) was an Esquire interview from August, 2004, as opposed to the interview before the war where he supported an invasion. But even to Esquire, he doesn’t say what he would have done or not done, he just criticizes how the invasion has turned out. As National Review pointed out back in February:

In keeping with his penchant for playing all sides of every game, Donald Trump was silent on Iraq right up to the moment at which it turned nasty. He must not be allowed to pretend otherwise.

It’s important to realize just how bizarre his re-remembering of history has been. In a Republican debate, he spun a wild fantasy about a delegation that came from the White House to “silence” him, because his criticism of the upcoming invasion was getting so much publicity in stories that no one can find now.


Combined with the continued tightening of the polls, the Forum “shocked and horrified” Jonathan Chait, who “had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency” until witnessing this failure of journalism.

John Amato, though, wonders if the ultimate effect will be positive: The moderators of the debates must have been watching, and one hopes they will be trying not to make the same mistakes. This could be part of another turning: The Washington Post finally admits that “The Hillary Clinton Email Story is Out of Control“.

In fact, Ms. Clinton’s emails have endured much more scrutiny than an ordinary person’s would have, and the criminal case against her was so thin that charging her would have been to treat her very differently. Ironically, even as the email issue consumed so much precious airtime, several pieces of news reported Wednesday should have taken some steam out of the story. …

Imagine how history would judge today’s Americans if, looking back at this election, the record showed that voters empowered a dangerous man because of . . . a minor email scandal. There is no equivalence between Ms. Clinton’s wrongs and Mr. Trump’s manifest unfitness for office.

For what it’s worth, the tightening in the polls may already have turned: Nate Silver’s polls-plus model had its tightest spread on September 7, and has eased slightly since then.

and Hillary’s health

Sunday, Clinton left a 9-11 anniversary event and had to be helped into an SUV; she looked like she was about to collapse. Later in the day, she was walking down a sidewalk, waving to people, and answering reporter’s questions, saying she felt “great”. Her doctor reports that she has been suffering from pneumonia, and got dehydrated.

The open question is how much mainstream cover this will give to all the wild conspiracy theories that have been spun about her health, including everything from seizures to brain damage.

and the “basket of deplorables”

At a fund-raiser Friday, Clinton separated Trump supporters into two baskets, which basically are the ones Democrats should be reaching out to and the ones we can’t reach out to.

You know, just to be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people – now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric. Now some of these folks, they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America. But the other basket–and I know this because I see friends from all over America here–I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas–as well as, you know, New York and California–but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.

Trump’s people are trying to turn this into a gaffe comparable to Mitt Romney’s 47% speech, but I’m not seeing it. The “deplorable” group — the racists, sexists, homophobes, xenophobes, and Islamophobes — is she wrong that they’re deplorable? Is she wrong that they’re united behind Trump, and that he is moving their rhetoric into the mainstream?

and the Kaepernick protest spreads

This weekend opened the NFL football regular season, and a number of players demonstrated in one way or another during the national anthem, by kneeling, raising fists, linking arms as a group, and so on. There’s no telling where this goes from here. In the meantime, I’ll yield the floor to the Liberal Redneck.

but there was good news from North Dakota

The Keystone XL Pipeline (rejected by the Obama administration last November) got all the headlines, but it’s far from the only pipeline project. More recently, Native American groups have united to fight the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Friday, it looked like they had lost, when a court rejected the request for an injunction stopping the project. But within hours, the Obama administration stepped in with a temporary halt until the Army Corps of Engineers could reevaluate.

and let’s close with something adorable

Sometimes a lullaby just works.

Sure Signs

Official acceptance is the one unmistakable symptom that salvation is beaten again, and is the one surest sign of fatal misunderstanding, and is the kiss of Judas.

– James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1939)

This week’s featured post is “Trump Voters: Where they’re coming from, where they’re going

This week everybody was talking about the tightening polls … or not

It’s been a weird week to read political horse-race articles. On the one hand, a series of polls painted the presidential race as much closer than it was a few weeks ago, and one — the USC/LA Times poll that has consistently been the poll most favorable to Trump — even had Trump leading.

Simultaneously, I’m still seeing predictions of a Clinton landslide, or of a Republican “wipe-out” in the Senate, or even Democrats retaking the House.

What I think is going on is a confluence of several factors:

  • Clinton made the strategic decision to spend August building up her campaign in ways other than making public appearances. So she raised an incredible $143 million in August and continued to prepare an impressive get-out-the-vote infrastructure, both areas where she has a big advantage over Trump. But her voice all but vanished from the news shows.
  • To the extent that she got news coverage, it was all about nebulous pseudo-scandals (more about that below). None of the stories identified any specific wrong-doing, but they contributed to an atmosphere of suspicion. Meanwhile, what seem to me to be far more serious questions about Trump — did he bribe that state attorney general or not? — go virtually uncovered.
  • Trump managed to have it both ways on a number of issues, appearing to both soften and remain steadfast. I doubt that is sustainable.

I think Clinton continues to have a significant advantage, but the tightening polls makes it more likely that Trump will maneuver his way out of the debates. When he was far behind, the debates looked like his only chance to turn things around. But I find it unlikely that he will do well one-on-one against Clinton, because she knows her stuff and he doesn’t. If he thinks he has a non-debate path to victory, he might find some excuse to skip them.

What Clinton really needs now is a positive turn, one that draws attention to her agenda and how it will help working people. I keep hearing Republicans say that Trump loses if the election is about him, but Clinton loses if the election is about her. I think there’s a third path: Clinton wins if the election is about the country.

and Trump’s Mexico trip

He talked nicely to the Mexicans while he was there, then came back here and gave a hard-line speech.

So far, he’s managed to create a fog around what he would really do about immigration, other than build a fabulously expensive wall that Mexico really will not pay for, and which will not solve the immigration problem.

Sometimes he’s just talking about deporting undocumented criminals, and “working with” the rest at some point in the future — which is not far off from what President Obama is doing now. At other times he throws around numbers like 2 million deportations, which bear no resemblance to the actual number of criminals, unless you think all 11 million are criminals just for being here.


On the cost of the wall, BBC observes:

The 650 miles of fencing already put up has cost the government more than $7 billion, and none of it could be described, even charitably, as impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, or beautiful.

It also doesn’t cover the most difficult or remote terrain, where construction costs would be much higher. Recasting the existing fence as a wall, then adding 1000 miles more of it, would cost much, much more. (An engineer estimated $17 billion just for materials, excluding the cost of design, machinery, labor, or maintenance.)


The Hill makes an interesting point I haven’t heard anywhere else: One reason we haven’t had attacks by terrorists coming over the Mexican border is that Mexican and U.S. intelligence services are working together. If President Trump would alienate the Mexican government, that cooperation might go away.


One of Trump’s regular themes is to highlight examples of violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and talk about the lives would be saved if we got rid of them. As many people have pointed out, the problem with this line of thought is that undocumented immigrants as a group commit fewer violent crimes than the rest of us.

I think pundits have been missing the obvious conclusion to draw from these facts: We should deport everybody, all 325 million residents of the United States. That would reduce crime within our borders to zero. Think of how many lives such a total-deportation policy would save.

and media coverage

A few big issues are interweaving, and I should probably do a long post on them soon. This CNN panel discussion is a good place to start:

A long time ago, Jay Rosen outlined the problems of the media’s habits of campaign coverage, particularly its desire to “balance” stories by making them fit a both-sides-do-it, he-said-she-said narrative.

So you wind up with what Soledad O’Brien describes in this video: Clinton gives a detailed, well-reasoned speech outlining how Trump has invited white supremacists into the mainstream of American politics, and Trump calls Clinton “a bigot” without any supporting evidence whatsoever. The day’s coverage is about how the candidates “traded charges” of racism, as if both statements are of equal merit.

Even worse this week was how hard major news outlets worked to find some sinister new story in the Clinton Foundation (when there just wasn’t one), or in the release of the FBI’s report on Clinton’s email use (which Kevin Drum thinks “almost completely” vindicates her), all the while ignoring much more serious sets of facts about Trump: He gave a $25,000 contribution to the Florida attorney general, who then dropped an investigation of fraud complaints against Trump University. (Worse, the money came from his foundation, which cannot legally make political contributions, which then lied about it in its reports. Trump paid a penalty to the IRS for that violation.) Also, Trump Model Management illegally used foreign models on tourist visas, something Melania Trump has also been accused of.

and still Colin Kaepernick

One point I’ve seen in several places this week: When black protests disrupted neighborhoods in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Milwaukee, and especially when they turned violent, the chorus from the Right was that this was not an appropriate way for activists to make their point. But now that someone has found a completely silent, non-violent way to protest, that’s not appropriate either. So what is the right way to make the point that racism is still with us and something needs to be done about it?

This discussion underlines the point I was making last year in “Why BLM Protesters Can’t Behave“: If you ever find yourself protesting something, and the Powers That Be pat you on the head and say, “Well done, that’s the right way to protest” you can be 100% certain that you are wasting your time. Whatever you’re doing will have no effect. As James Agee wrote nearly 80 years ago:

Every fury on earth has been absorbed, in time, as art, or as religion, or as authority in one form or another. The deadliest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor. Swift, Blake, Beethoven, Christ, Joyce, Kafka, name me a one who has not been thus castrated. Official acceptance is the one unmistakable symptom that salvation is beaten again, and is the one surest sign of fatal misunderstanding, and is the kiss of Judas.


A few people asked the same question I raised last week: Why do we sing the national anthem at sports events anyway? Mental Floss‘ Matt Soniak did the research:

After America’s entrance into World War I, Major League Baseball games often featured patriotic rituals, such as players marching in formation during pregame military drills and bands playing patriotic songs. During the seventh-inning stretch of game one of the 1918 World Series, the band erupted into “The Star-Spangled Banner.”…

After the war (and after the song was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution in 1931), the song continued to be played at baseball games, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays and World Series games.

During World War II, baseball games again became venues for large-scale displays of patriotism, and technological advances in public address systems allowed songs to be played without a band. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played before games throughout the course of the war, and by the time the war was over, the pregame singing of the national anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual, after which it spread to other sports.

Vox‘ Zack Beauchamp points out that it isn’t Kaepernick who is bringing politics into football; the NFL is already doing that by playing the anthem in the first place.

Inserting the national anthem into sports events can never be “apolitical,” because patriotism isn’t apolitical. Remember, bringing politics into the event was explicitly the point back in World War I and II — they were trying to drum up support for a war effort.

He also comments that honoring America isn’t the point any more, if it ever was; branding the NFL as patriotic is the point. The anthem-singing ritual doesn’t promote patriotism, it exploits patriotism.

and you might also be interested in

Positive trends don’t get as much press as signs of the Apocalypse, but this one should:

There are 42 percent fewer teen births now than just seven years ago. In 2007, 4.2 percent of teenage girls in the United States gave birth. In 2014, the rate was 2.4 percent.

The reason seems to be increased use of contraceptives during a period in which teen sexual activity remained fairly constant. Abortion rates are also down.

This is an area in which liberals and conservatives made diametrically opposed predictions, and the liberal one came true. Liberals have argued that getting teens to use contraceptives would lead to fewer pregnancies and fewer abortions. Conservatives argued we should teach teens to say no to sex, and that teaching them about contraceptives would encourage teen sex and perversely lead to more pregnancies and more abortions.

I have long argued that the real reason social conservatives oppose abortion isn’t because they really believe zygotes have souls, but because they’re against female promiscuity, which God punishes via unwanted pregnancies. As it becomes clearer and clearer that effective contraception prevents abortions, teaching kids about contraception would seem to be a moral imperative for anyone who believes abortion is murder, even if it does circumvent the penalty for the comparatively minor sin of promiscuity. But I have yet to meet a social conservative willing to follow that logic.


Back to signs of the Apocalypse: Hermine is unlike any storm we’ve seen in modern times. Not that it’s the strongest or most destructive, it’s just weird. It’s an ex-hurricane that might soon be a hurricane again, even though in any other year it would be too far north to pick up new strength. In the meantime it’s sort of like a nor’easter, which is supposed to be a different kind of storm. And it’s expected to sit in one spot in the Atlantic for about a week.


The Roger Ailes story got seedier and more sensational: Gretchen Carlson will get an 8-figure settlement because she had been taping her interactions with Ailes for more than a year.


Great report on how ISIS uses the “deep web” for propaganda.


That Stanford swimmer convicted of assault with attempt to rape, the one whose six-month sentence seemed so outrageously light three months ago — he’s free. He got out early for good behavior.

This case is depressing for a lot of reasons. Rape and sexual assault are usually hard charges to prove, because often the physical evidence could be explained by consensual sex and there aren’t any corroborating witnesses. (In cases like this, where the woman was unconscious or nearly unconscious, even she may not be a convincing witness.) But this one time justice got lucky: Two good samaritans interrupted the crime, captured the guy, delivered him to police, and testified at the trial. So unlike the majority of guys who do things like this, he got tried and convicted … and served three months. I’m sure that totally ruined his summer.

When a type of criminal is hard to catch or convict, the law can maintain deterrence by increasing penalties. (“You may think you’ll get away with this, but if you’re wrong …”) That’s why, for example, horse-stealing was a hanging offense in the old West. But if you’re unlikely to get convicted, and even if you do you’ll barely be punished, what kind of deterrence is that?


A training video for dealing with white fragility in the workplace. Do your white employees and co-workers face the trauma of being called racists just because they do something racist? Or the embarrassment of seeing evidence of their white privilege? Some simple understanding and compassion from non-whites could prevent this suffering.

and let’s close with a reminder that spelling is important

Outrageous Empathy

What now strikes me most about trigger warnings is how small a request they are, in proportion to the backlash they incite. What is it about about this entirely free gesture of empathy that makes people so outraged?

– Kat Stoeffel, “Why I Stopped Rolling My Eyes at Trigger Warnings

This week’s featured posts are “Academic Freedom and Institutional Power at My Old School” about the University of Chicago’s denunciation of trigger warnings and its affirmation of “controversial” speakers;  and “About the Foundation“, which makes the case that the “scandal” of the Clinton Foundation has a lot less substance than you might think.

This week everybody was talking about immigration

Donald Trump appears to have finally found ten seconds to think about his immigration proposals. Wow, deporting 11 million people would be tough to do, wouldn’t it? Who knew? (Well, just about everybody Trump debated in the primaries, to name a dozen or so.) Maybe he’s rethinking it. Or maybe not. Watch this space.

You know who should be paying attention to this? Not just the people who voted for Trump in a primary because they wanted 11 million brown people rounded up and tossed out on their ears, but also the mainstream Republicans who were placated when Trump said he would appoint Supreme Court justices from a list of judges with sound conservative credentials. When it gets to be decision time, that promise won’t mean anything either.


Slate‘s Jamelle Bouie makes an even stronger statement about Trump “outreach” to black voters than I did last week: It’s really a dog whistle to white supremacists.

and trigger warnings

The University of Chicago, where I did my graduate work in the late 70s and early 80s, made the news this week when the Dean of Students sent a somewhat adversarial welcome-letter to the incoming freshman class, warning them not to expect any safe spaces on campus.

This whole notion of academic freedom threatened by over-sensitive students, who want to be educated without ever being challenged, and of brave U of C administrators standing up to them, is bogus. I challenge the Dean’s underlying assumptions and relate some of my own experiences in “Academic Freedom and Institutional Power at My Old School“.

and the national anthem

49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick has kind of a complicated racial heritage: He’s a mixed race child (African/European) who was adopted and raised by white parents alongside their white children. In my judgment, he could pass for a white guy with a good tan.

Footballwise, he’s a huge talent whose career has been relatively disappointing so far, kind of like Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton until he broke out last year. Five years from now, he could be in the Super Bowl or he could be selling insurance somewhere.

But none of that is why he made headlines this week. Friday night, before a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, he refused to stand for the national anthem. Unlike Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, who raised a furor by failing to appear sufficiently focused and respectful while the anthem played during a medal-award ceremony, Kaepernick actually intended to protest, saying afterward:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.

This aroused a bunch of anger against him, like fans burning his jersey. It’s a fundamentally convoluted response: We hate this guy for speaking his mind because Freedom.

I doubt Kaepernick’s disapproval will induce America to change its ways with regard to race, but maybe it will start a much-needed discussion about “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the flag-worshipping rituals at sporting events.

To my mind, beginning a sporting contest with the anthem (or with two anthems if a U.S.-based team plays one from Toronto or Vancouver) is a strange practice we would never start today if it weren’t already traditional. We don’t begin movies or plays or concerts with the national anthem, so why sports? There’s nothing particularly patriotic about playing or watching sports. And if some terrorists or revolutionaries want to take time off from their plotting to root for the Cubs, I don’t see the harm.

Personally, I stand respectfully when the anthem is played before a Nashua Silver Knights baseball game, but I’m doing it to avoid calling attention to myself, and I resent being forced to make a political statement before I can watch the game.

The Kaepernick controversy has also sparked some discussion about the anthem itself, particularly these lines from its third verse

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave

which refer to the fact that the British encouraged American slaves to run away during the War of 1812, when the anthem was written. But Francis Scott Key is cheered by the fact that a lot of them died anyway. Go, USA!

Maybe we could just play ball, and skip all this nonsense.

and you might also be interested in

Incredibly, the WSJ could find no living member of any president’s Council of Economic Advisers who supports Trump.


Last week’s discussion of private prisons caused one of the commenters to point out an amazing article “My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard“, which appeared a few months ago in Mother Jones. It’s long and horrifying, but well worth the time and discomfort.

The article is a combination of an expose with a personalized Stanford prison experiment. Being a guard really does start to change the writer.

The other thing that comes through is the complete absence of any notion of rehabilitation. Literally no one in the story cares about the prisoners as people, or about returning them to society.


In Newsweek Kurt Eichenwald explores “Donald Trump’s God Problem“. Though more accurately, the problem doesn’t belong to Trump, it belongs to the evangelical leaders — like James Dobson   — who not only support Trump, but who claim that their support is based on their Christianity.

The primary issue here is the credibility of evangelicalism, particularly as it relates to politics. For years, there has been a logic to the evangelists’ support of the Republican Party: Both held similar views on most social issues, and there was more public discussion by conservative candidates about how faith informed their policies. This year, that is not true. Instead, you have a man whose positions on important social issues have changed, whose faith is obviously shallow and who seems to know nothing about even the basics of evangelicalism, Christianity or the Bible. Mr. Dobson, if Donald Trump represents Christian values, those values mean nothing. By endorsing him, evangelists are creating the image that what matters to them is political influence, not the word of God.

Eichenwald could just as validly be addressing Jerry Falwell Jr., who called Trump “God’s man to lead our great nation at this crucial crossroads in our history” and hallucinated “I’ve seen a man who honors his fiduciary responsibilities through his corporations.” Or the lesser known but still influential theologian Wayne Grudem, who promotes Trump not as the lesser of evils, but as “a morally good choice” (setting off Amy Gannett, who I linked to two weeks ago).

I would argue that these power-corrupted leaders are not just “creating the image” that politics drives them, they are exposing the truth about themselves: Conservative politics is now a demonic spirit that possesses the body of evangelical Christianity. It needs to be cast out.


Van Jones explains the incarceration problem very simply and directly:

A lot of times people say, “If you don’t want to do the time, don’t do the crime.” Really? Have you ever committed a crime? You’ve got more people who are doing drugs on college campuses, in yacht clubs, country clubs — we all know that’s going on. But the SWAT team never shows up there. The SWAT team shows up in the housing projects, where you’ve got poorer people doing fewer drugs, and those people go to prison.

But think about it: What if one of the times when you were breaking the law, when you had something illegal in your pocket, in your car, at your party, the police had kicked in those doors. Would you want to be known for the rest of your life based on what happened that night? That is what is happening to millions of people.

If rich folks kids get in trouble, they go to rehab. Poor folks kids get in trouble, they go to prison.

and let’s close with a time trip

Take a flight over Rome during the reign of Constantine.

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.

and you might also be interested in

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!

584274482-khizr-khan-father-of-deceased-muslim-u-s-soldier-crop-promo-xlarge2

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.

and you might also be interested in

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.

and you might also be interested in

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.