Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Well enough

Leave well enough alone.

re-election slogan of President McKinley (1900)

This week’s featured post is “Why so frustrated, America?” And in view of recent claims about “rigged” elections, I want to flash back to my 2013 post “The Myth of the Zombie Voter“.

This week everybody was talking about how wonderful it is that the debates are over

[Final debate: transcript, video] I think Ezra Klein really nails it in his analysis of Clinton’s debate strategy: Ordinarily, a good debate performance means making your case effectively, connecting well with the voters personally, and maybe scoring a zinger or two on your opponent that will get replayed on the news shows (like Lloyd Bentsen’s “You’re no Jack Kennedy” to Dan Quayle). You can also hope your opponent screws up, but that’s mostly out of your hands.

This time, though, Clinton recognized that Trump could be baited into screwing up, and into driving a negative news cycle against himself (like he did when he couldn’t let go of his conflicts with Judge Curiel or the Khan family). By the end of the third debate, Trump was sputtering like a kid losing a playground argument: “You’re the puppet. … I did not say that. … No, you’re the one that’s unfit. … Such a nasty woman.”

Tweeted by Daniel Dale of The Toronto Star:

In spite of Trump’s claims that everything is rigged against him, I found Chris Wallace’s questions to have a conservative bias. Media Matters lists a few, but somehow missed the first question (addressed to both candidates), which was about the Supreme Court:

What’s your view on how the constitution should be interpreted? Do the founders’ words mean what they say or is it a living document to be applied flexibly, according to changing circumstances?

Literally no one denies that the Constitution’s words “mean what they say”. That jaundiced framing of the liberal position is conservative propaganda, pure and simple. The “living document” issue concerns whether you limit the Constitution’s meaning to the specific situations people had in mind at the time, or interpret them as abstract principles that might apply to new situations in unexpected ways. For example, today the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection of the laws” includes how marriage laws apply to same-sex couples. Granted, I doubt anyone was thinking about that application when the amendment was written, but the broader interpretation is not based on claiming that the words don’t mean what they say. Quite the opposite: Same-sex couples deserve the equal protection of the laws.

I’ll add a very simple example, which I bet I’ll bet the loonier parts of the far right will start trumpeting after Inauguration Day: When Article II of the Constitution lists the qualifications for the presidency, it doesn’t specify that the president be male. But later, when it lists the powers of the president, it uses a masculine pronoun: “he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States” and so on. So do we need a constitutional amendment to extend those powers to a woman president, or can we assume that the Founders were describing the presidency in an abstract manner that does not change when a woman takes office?

If the latter just seems like common sense to you, then you believe the Constitution is a living document.

Trump described the Second Amendment as “under absolute siege”. The Trace summarizes the gun-related issues likely to make it to the Court in the near future. I think Trump has exaggerated bigly.

Three presidential debates and one VP debate: no questions about climate change. Well done, moderators.

and rigging the election

The morning-after headline from the third debate was Trump’s refusal to pledge to accept the result of the election, which he expects to be rigged. If you look at the transcript of that part of the debate, it’s even worse than the headline makes it sound. You could imagine a candidate delaying his concession, like Al Gore in 2000, or Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman when Al Franken beat him in 2008. There is a process for disputing an election result. You can ask for recounts, contest in court the validity of various ballots, and so on. Gore’s case went to the Supreme Court and Franken didn’t get to take his seat in the Senate until July.

In a really close election with legitimate issues about the count, there’s nothing undemocratic about pursuing that process as far as it goes. So it would have been legit for Trump to answer moderator Chris Wallace’s question with something like: “I’ll have to see what the issues are on election day. If my poll watchers report irregularities, if there are precincts where the totals look absurd, then I might have to go to court. It’s too soon to rule that out.”

But that’s not the set of concerns he raised. (Later, he tried to backtrack and pretend he did. “I will accept a clear election result. But I would also reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.” It’s typical of Trump to put forward multiple positions like this and keep everyone guessing.) He did mention “millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn’t be registered to vote”  though he did not give any reason for believing someone will vote those registrations. But the bulk of his answer didn’t have anything to do with making sure the winner really won.

First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt. And the pile-on is so amazing. The New York Times actually wrote an article about it, that they don’t even care. It’s so dishonest. And they have poisoned the minds of the voters. … So let me just give you one other thing as I talk about the corrupt media. I talk about the millions of people. I tell you one other thing. She shouldn’t be allowed to run. She’s guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run. And just in that respect, I say it’s rigged. Because she should never — Chris, she should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with emails and so many other things.

So he’s saying that he may not accept the election result even if it’s clear the voters voted against him. Because they shouldn’t have been allowed to vote for her at all and the media talked them into it and Mom always liked her best. There is no process that can resolve such claims, which would be based entirely on Trump’s feeling that he wasn’t treated fairly — like his claim that he was “screwed out an Emmy” when The Apprentice lost out to The Amazing Race.

Gore and Coleman did everything the system allows to make sure the votes were counted right. And even if they didn’t get all the court rulings they wanted, each eventually admitted that the process was over and he had lost.

Trump does not envision doing that. That would be new in American history, and it’s scary.

Republicans across the country disputed the idea that the election would be rigged. Ars Technica founder Jon Stokes warns Democrats to be less adamant about claiming that American elections are unriggable.

But what if our election system is vulnerable, and the Russians were to hack the vote and hand what polls indicated to be a clear Hillary win over to Trump? At that point, all of the folks who’ve been going on about the unassailability of our voting system would have a very hard time making the case to the public that the election was, in fact, rigged. They would have walked right into a trap, and when they attempt to climb out of it, Trump supporters and Putin’s online troll army would keep them down by bludgeoning them silly with their own quotes.

In some ways, the Russians would have an easier time hacking our election than either party. Republicans and Democrats would be trying make the results look as realistic as possible so as not to get caught. But Russian propaganda wins just by showing that American elections are suspect. So if Tim Kaine’s home precinct goes for Trump 3,000 to nothing, that might be fine with them.

and hacking the internet

Friday morning, some of the internet’s most popular websites were inaccessible for several hours. This appears to be something more sinister than just a glitch: Somebody launched a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on Dyn, a company you’ve probably never heard of that maintains an important piece of the infrastructure of the internet. (Briefly, a DDoS is when an attacker floods a server with so many fake requests for service that it can’t find the real requests. Imagine walking into an empty bar when suddenly dozens of ghost customers appear in front of you and start yelling for the bartender’s attention.)

It would be bad enough if somebody just had a grudge against Dyn, but it appears to be worse than that. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier (my wife is in the field and reports that he’s one of the top people) says this looks like one of a series of probing attacks on internet infrastructure.

Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down. We don’t know who is doing this, but it feels like a large a large nation state. China and Russia would be my first guesses.

So the Dark Army on Mr. Robot may be more than just Sam Esmail’s invention.

An interesting aspect of this attack is that it might have corrupted and weaponized devices that we don’t ordinarily think of as computers, the so-called “Internet of Things”, which includes “CCTV video cameras and digital video recorders”. Think about it: If your refrigerator is accessing the internet (say, to text you that it’s out of milk), how do you know it hasn’t also been corrupted into sending spam emails to thousands of complete strangers? Vendors of such online devices tend not to make security a priority, and it doesn’t occur to most of us to virus-check our smart thermostats or internet-accessible baby monitors.

Computer-security people sometimes refer to “the Internet of Compromised Things“. One of the end-of-the-world scenarios in Charles Stross’ techno-supernatural “Laundry Files” novels is Case Nightmare Yellow, when all of our smart devices become haunted and turn against us. (Laundry-agent slang calls this threat “the Internet of Things that Go Bump in the Night”.)

While we’re talking about hacking, there’s the series of hacks directed at Democrats and the Clinton campaign, the ones that have resulted in all those emails being released through WikiLeaks. The ones that came out in the last couple of weeks have been from a hack of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

On Thursday, private security researchers said they had concluded that Mr. Podesta was hacked by Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the GRU, after it tricked him into clicking on a fake Google login page last March, inadvertently handing over his digital credentials.

The U.S. government had already attributed the hack against the Democratic National Committee to the Russian government. But government intelligence agencies usually don’t tell us any more than they have to, so the conclusions have had a take-it-or-leave-it quality. We get a lot more details from this non-government report.

To date, no government officials have offered evidence that the same Russian hackers behind the D.N.C. cyberattacks were also behind the hack of Mr. Podesta’s emails, but an investigation by the private security researchers determined that they were the same.

Threat researchers at Dell SecureWorks, an Atlanta-based security firm, had been tracking the Russian intelligence group for more than a year. In June, they reported that they had uncovered a critical tool in the Russian spy campaign. SecureWorks researchers found that the Russian hackers were using a popular link shortening service, called Bitly, to shorten malicious links they used to send targets fake Google login pages to bait them into submitting their email credentials.

The hackers made a critical error by leaving some of their Bitly accounts public, making it possible for SecureWorks to trace 9,000 of their links to nearly 4,000 Gmail accounts targeted between October 2015 and May 2016 with fake Google login pages and security alerts designed to trick users into turning over their passwords.

and the Al Smith dinner

Ever since Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, the two major-party candidates have shown up for a white-tie fund-raising dinner for Catholic charities devoted to needy children (of all religions) in New York. Traditionally, it’s been a way to lighten up the campaign and establish that the candidates have a sense of humor. In each cycle, the Al Smith dinner reminds us that after the election we’re all supposed to be friends again.

The main thing it showed me this year is that I’m going to miss Barack Obama. Obama is a natural comedian who has made this stuff look easy: Just get your staff to write some jokes and go deliver them to people who want to laugh. In contrast, Hillary Clinton works hard not to step on her best lines, and mostly succeeds, but you can see the effort. And Trump only half gets this strange human notion of comedy; sometimes he just insults Clinton and looks pleased with himself. (His statement that Clinton was “pretending not to hate Catholics” drew boos.)

To remind yourself of what we’ll be missing when Obama goes back to private life, take a look at this video encouraging early voting:

and the Mosul offensive

Together with Turkish and Kurdish forces, the Iraqi government is trying to retake it’s second-largest city (Mosul) from the Islamic State. Success seems likely (eventually), but the questions are (1) how costly it will be in both military and civilian terms, and (2) whether this strange alliance can agree on what to do with the city afterward. But ISIS’ dream of a territory-holding caliphate seems to be crumbling.

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If men are constantly telling you to smile more, here’s a product that can help.

Maricopa County may be about to run Sheriff Arpaio out of town.

BridgeGate. It’s looking bad for Chris Christie. He still hasn’t been charged with anything, but his political career is probably over.

Larry Lessig was insulted in one of the Clinton campaign emails WikiLeaks released. In response he defended the privacy rights of his insulter:

I can’t for the life of me see the public good in a leak like this — at least one that reveals no crime or violation of any important public policy.

We all deserve privacy. The burdens of public service are insane enough without the perpetual threat that every thought shared with a friend becomes Twitter fodder. Neera has only ever served in the public (and public interest) sector. Her work has always and only been devoted to advancing her vision of the public good. It is not right that she should bear the burden of this sort of breach.

Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas has an optimistic reading of the long-term tea leaves: Post-Trump, the GOP fractures and the Democratic Party’s demographic advantage (and it’s youthful liberal wing) keeps growing. I don’t have a specific argument to make against his scenario (yet), but I find it hard to believe that the big-money types don’t find some way to compete.

but believe it or not, watching Clinton/Trump debates can be fun

I found it hard to make myself watch the debates. But maybe the least annoying way was to see the final debate songified by Weird Al.

Or you could watch Bad Lip Reading turn the first debate into a game show.

and let’s close with something enviable

The 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world, as of 2012. Unfortunately, I don’t live near any of them. (Two are in California and the rest in other countries.) They include this one, El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires. Built in 1919 as a tango hall, converted to a cinema in 1929, it’s now filled with books.

Making Them Cry

Georgie Porgie, puddin’ and pie
Kissed the girls and made them cry.

nursery rhyme

This week’s featured post is “A Teaching Moment on Sexual Assault“.

In other Sift news, the post “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party” has passed the 500,000 page-view mark. It’s the most popular Sift post ever.

This week everybody was talking about Donald Trump and sexual assault

Since this story has dominated the news all week, I’m going to assume that anybody who wants to follow the details has been able to. So rather than rehash it all, I’ll just hit the low points:

  • A week ago Friday, a video from 2005 came out in which Trump boasted about how easy it is to get away with sexual assault (unwanted kissing, grabbing women “by the pussy”) when you’re a star like him.
  • Two days later, in his second debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump said that what he said on the tape was just “locker room talk” (which didn’t happen in a locker room, but seems to mean: false bragging that men do to impress each other when no women are around). He said that had never actually committed such assaults.
  • Beginning this Wednesday, women started coming forward to say that Trump assaulted them in precisely the ways he described.

Huffington Post has been keeping a list of the women and their charges, updated as new charges arise. To me, the accounts vary in their persuasiveness. Kristin Anderson’s story would probably not be newsworthy if not for its similarity to the others: She recalls a 30-second encounter in a New York nightclub in which Trump put his hand up her skirt, but she can’t recall a date any more exact than “the early 1990s”, or who she was with who might corroborate her account, or even be certain which club it was. Not that it didn’t happen, but it’s hard to imagine an account so vague getting published in a different news environment.

At the other extreme, I found Natasha Stoynoff’s account compelling: She had regularly covered Trump for People magazine, and was well known to both Trump and his wife Melania. While she was at Mar-a-Lago to interview the couple for a first-anniversary feature, Trump lured her into a side room “and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.” She didn’t tell her editor, finished the feature (which was published without mention of the incident), and made sure she was never assigned to cover Trump again.

Trump denies everything, and has counterattacked.

These people are horrible people. They’re horrible, horrible liars.

One counterattack is particularly vile: He has been suggesting to his rallies that the women aren’t attractive enough to make their stories credible.

These events never, ever happened, and the people that said them, meekly, fully understand. You take a look at these people, you study these people, and you’ll understand also.

About Stoynoff in particular he said:

Take a look. You take a look. Look at her, look at her words, you tell me what you think. I don’t think so.

Of another accuser, he told a crowd in North Carolina:

Believe me, she would not be my first choice.

While he was at it, he also body-shamed Hillary Clinton. Answering the criticism that he stalked Clinton during the second debate, he blamed her for walking in front of him, and then said:

She walks in front of me, you know. And when she walked in front of me, believe me, I wasn’t impressed.

To me, that just sums it all up. She’s a grandmother who will turn 69 in two weeks. She’s been First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State, and Democratic nominee for President. And we’re supposed to judge her by her butt.

Trump has also attacked People and The New York Times, which started the deluge by publishing the first two accounts Wednesday. When Trump’s lawyer sent a letter threatening a lawsuit, The Times lawyer fired back what can only be described as a bring-it-on challenge:

We did what the law allows: We published newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern. If Mr. Trump disagrees, if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.

The next step here is easy to predict: Trump may file a lawsuit to grab a one-day headline and get his side on the record, but he cannot afford to pursue it. In a previous unsuccessful lawsuit against a reporter, giving a deposition under oath forced him to make a number of embarrassing admissions.

Trump’s other response to his problems has been to go further down the rabbit-hole of conspiracy theories and fascist tropes. In the West Palm Beach speech — which you can watch in its entirety via PBS — he painted himself as a savior. Typical American political rhetoric warns of future problems unless we change our ways, or unless the speaker’s movement or philosophy gains power. But Trump made it about himself: The political establishment

has taken our jobs away, out of this country, never to return unless I am elected president.

He repeated a claim he has made before: “I am the only one who can fix it.”

This is a struggle for the survival of our nation. Believe me. And this will be our last chance to save it, on November 8.

Trump blamed the sexual-assault allegations on a conspiracy that includes “the Clinton machine”, “the corporate media” as a unified entity “with a total political agenda”, and “international banks” plotting “the destruction of U.S. sovereignty”.

As Yochi Dreazen points out, only one word is missing from what is otherwise an ancient libel:

it’s true that Trump’s allegation Thursday that a global financial cabal is secretly working hand in hand with the media to destroy the United States doesn’t include the word “Jew.”

But here’s the thing: It doesn’t need to. Trump is using barely coded words that directly echo one of the most ancient of all anti-Semitic libels. Jews have long been accused of controlling the global financial system. Jews have long been accused of controlling the media. And Jews have long been accused of being disloyal citizens secretly working to maneuver governments to pursue disastrous policies solely for their own benefit. Trump has now chosen to combine all of those charges into a single paranoid and hate-filled rant.

If you need someone to supply that word, Trump’s alt-right allies are happy to oblige. The neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, ex-KKK grand wizard David Duke, and numerous other far-right sources are promoting the theory that the Access Hollywood tape that started this whole furor was leaked by a Jewish aide to Paul Ryan. A Daily Stormer editor posted:

The 35% or so of the country that is hardcore pro-Trump is going to know that it wasn’t “liberals” that defeated Trump, but traitors within the party who abandoned him. And they are going to want to know why that happened.

And there is only one answer:

The Jews did it.

[For the difference between standard conservative Republicans and the alt-right, see this conversation between Hugh Hewitt and Jonah Goldberg. At the time, Hewitt was supporting Trump, but more recently he has called for Trump to withdraw from the presidential race.]

Best response to the whole sordid mess: Michelle Obama.

and sexual assault in general

I cover this in the featured post “A Teaching Moment about Sexual Assault“.

It didn’t fit into the frame of that post, but subsequent to Jessica Leeds’ story, Slate did a story about airlines and sexual assault.

and more Clinton campaign email leaks from Russia by way of WikiLeaks

In particular, we now have transcripts of Clinton’s three speeches to Goldman Sachs in 2013. Personally, I’m glad they’re out. As long as they remained secret, Clinton-haters could imagine they contain some secret plot to do whatever. Now that they’re out, it’s clear that they don’t.

It turns out they aren’t even speeches, they’re Q&A sessions that mostly cover foreign policy. I found them educational, particularly the notion that the Chinese military is a power not completely under control of the central government, and that it is the force most supportive of North Korea.

I’m not sure what the point of keeping the transcripts secret was, or why Clinton refuses to verify their authenticity now. But I wonder if it has more to do with foreign governments than with the American public. For example, it might be convenient to maintain deniability of that China/Korea statement the next time she has to deal with either government.

As far as the other emails that have been released, there’s a lesson we all should have learned after the ClimateGate email dump in 2009: Whether you’ve done anything wrong or not, you never look good when your enemies get to comb through emails you thought were private and publish the excerpts they find most damaging. Countless investigations in both the US and the UK found no wrong-doing in the ClimateGate emails, but to this day climate deniers believe they revealed some nefarious conspiracy.

In emails to known associates, people say the same kinds of things they might say face-to-face: At times they are flip, snide, and short-tempered. They blow off steam to people they think will be sympathetic, and make statements they couldn’t support well enough to say them on the record. They float outrageous ideas, sometimes seriously, sometimes in jest.

I occasionally read articles in the right-wing press about some particular batch of WikiLeaks Clinton-campaign emails. Like this one where the main thing that strikes me is how tame it all is.

The emails, published by WikiLeaks after a hack of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s private account, also show Clinton campaign officials and Democratic leaders disparaging supporters of Sen. Bernard Sanders as “self-righteous” whiners, calling Hispanic party leaders such as Bill Richardson “needy Latinos,” labeling CNN anchor Jake Tapper “a d—k” and even lambasting longtime Clinton ally Sidney Blumenthal.

Horrors! In the middle of high-pressure situations, Clinton campaign staffers privately said unkind things about people who were making their lives difficult. I fear for the future of the free world if such monsters get their hands on the levers of power. But wait, there’s worse:

The Clinton campaign’s biggest problem may be its assault on Catholics.

Podesta didn’t participate in this exchange himself, but he was copied on emails that Clinton campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri  received from someone outside the campaign: John Halpin of the Center for American Progress.

In the exchange, Mr. Halpin mocks media mogul Rupert Murdoch for raising his children in the Catholic faith and said the most “powerful elements” in the conservative movement are all Catholic.

“It’s an amazing bastardization of the faith. They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy,” Mr. Halpin said.

It’s actually a good point: Catholic economic doctrine is not even remotely conservative, and hasn’t been for over a century. So there actually is a mystery here. Palmieri had a fairly boring response:

I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they become evangelicals.

This is the “assault on Catholics” that The Washington Times thinks Palmieri should be fired for. And Paul Ryan believes Palmieri’s single line about the social status of Catholics compared to evangelicals “reveal[s] the Clinton campaign’s hostile attitude toward people of faith in general.”

I wonder how many emails they had to read before they found such a bombshell.

The other issue raised by the series of WikiLeaks releases of Clinton documents is the role of Russia.

There is mounting evidence that the Russian government is supplying WikiLeaks with hacked emails pertaining to the US presidential election, US officials familiar with the investigation have told CNN.

NBC News claims to know that U.S. intelligence officials had briefed Trump on this before the second debate, in which Trump asserted that Clinton “doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.”

Yesterday on Fox News, VP candidate Mike Pence appeared to break with Trump on this:

I think there’s no question that the evidence continues to point in that direction [of Russian responsibility]. There should be severe consequences to Russia or any sovereign nation that is compromising the privacy or the security of the United States of America.

This is a problem we haven’t had to deal with before, and it’s hard to know how to think about it. On the one hand, the WikiLeaks dumps are what they are, and it seems silly to avoid knowing what’s in them. On the other hand, how do we assess the fact that one of our chief rivals wants Donald Trump to win?

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No, Canadians are not flocking to the U.S. to get health care.

Good news for the climate: 197 nations just agreed to cut way down on their use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used in air conditioners. Originally, they were supposed to replace the CFCs that were killing the ozone layer. (And they succeeded, the ozone hole seems to be filling in.) But HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases 10,000 times as effective as carbon dioxide. Estimates say that the agreement will shave anywhere from .2 to .44 of a Celsius degree off the average global temperature by the end of the century.

A fascinating story in The Washington Post about the conversion of Derek Black, son of the founder of the white-nationalist Stormfront web site, who as a teen-ager had his own radio show where he helped popularize the notion of white genocide. He has now left the white-nationalist movement, which has created a family crisis.

His story reminds me of a New Yorker article from last November about Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, the people who picket funerals with “God Hates Fags” signs.

In both stories, conversion away from a hateful ideology happens not through logical argument, but by getting to know and admire people that the ideology condemns. The personal relationship opens up a channel for new ideas to come in.

Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. A popular songwriter had never won before, but I guess the times, they are a-changing. I’d have voted for Thomas Pynchon myself, but what do I know?

A plot by anti-Muslim “Crusaders” was broken up before the group could blow up an apartment building in Garden City, Kansas. They were hoping to kill a lot of Somali immigrants and “ignite a religious war”.

A Republican Party office was firebombed in North Carolina Saturday night. Donald Trump immediately attributed it to “Animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems”. Clinton denounced the bombing, and other Democrats raised $13K to help the Republicans rebuild.

So far, nobody knows who did this. If the perps think this helps the Democrats, they’re wrong and they need to stop before the “help” any more. Others have suggested a false-flag operation to gain sympathy for Republicans, but that’s a big claim to make without any evidence. Let’s hope the authorities solve the case soon so we can all stop speculating.

Washington Post editor Fred Hiatt got philosophical on MSNBC’s Hardball Friday:

I’ve covered a lot of countries — dictatorships, democracies, everything in between — and the key thing to a democracy … I mean, there are really two things that are key. You have an election, and the loser acknowledges that they lost, and the winner lets the loser survive for another day. Trump is challenging both of those things. He’s saying “If I lose, it’s not legitimate” and “If I win, I’m going to lock her up.” This is the Putin model. It’s not democracy.

Political science professor Shaun Bowler makes a related point: After every election, people who voted for the loser are tempted to doubt the result. One key to whether a democracy succeeds or fails is whether losing candidates try to soothe or enflame those responses.

and believe it or not, you should listen to Rush Limbaugh

Wednesday, Limbaugh unleashed the most amazing rant about how hypocritical it is for liberals to invoke moral standards against Donald Trump. The point, which he borrows from therapist Michael Hurd, is that liberals have no standards when it comes to sex, so how can we invent a standard to apply to Trump? Limbaugh explains this mystery, but does so in a tone of outrage and anger.

You know what the magic word, the only thing that matters in American sexual mores today is? One thing. You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it’s perfectly fine. Whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there’s no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police. But consent is the magic key to the left.

I and every liberal I’ve mentioned this to have had a well-duh reaction: What consenting adults do is their own business, but as soon as somebody stops consenting and another party keeps going, then you’ve got rape.

and let’s close with something amazing and hopeful

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have given a paralyzed man a robot arm that feels. Not only can his brain control the arm, but tiny electrodes in his brain allow him to know when a finger is being touched or pressed.

Bizarre Talk

If we’re worried about the longer-term implications of current policies, the buildup of greenhouse gases is a much bigger deal than the accumulation of low-interest debt. It’s bizarre to talk about the latter but not the former.

– Paul Krugman “What About the Planet?” (10-7-2016)

This week’s featured post is “Best Responses to the Trump Video“.

This week everybody was talking about leaks

In addition to Trump’s sexual-assault-confessing video, which I cover in the featured post, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails hacked from the account of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Included in the haul are internal Clinton campaign discussions about what they would have to defend if the text of her Goldman Sachs speeches came out.

I haven’t examined the Podesta emails myself. Matt Yglesias concludes: “The lesson of Hillary’s secret speeches is she’s exactly who we already knew she was“. In other words, she is someone who works inside the system and negotiates with the powers that already exist rather than sweeping in from the outside. Yglesias is not alarmed by this, for reasons he explains. I’ll try to formulate my own opinion in future weeks.

Andy Borowitz:

In what passes for morality in the Republican Party, leaders are calling for the presidential candidate who hates women to be replaced by the vp candidate who hates gays.

and the weather

Hurricane Matthew swept up the Florida coast and made it all the way to North Carolina before turning out to sea. It’s been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone.

Three theories on why hundreds dead in Haiti isn’t news:

  • Haitians aren’t Americans, so who cares? (This echoes my comments last week about Gary Johnson and the decline of foreign coverage.)
  • Most Haitians are black, and (no matter what white people might tell each other) black lives still don’t really matter.
  • It’s Haiti. Something bad is always happening in Haiti.

In the conspiracy-theory world many right-wingers inhabit, Matthew’s path and intensity is no mystery: the government created it.

Hurricane truthers believe the government’s goal is to create unrest and distract the masses from election fraud [in Florida] — namely, the left’s attempt to rig the election for Hillary Clinton.

“Given the unparalleled significance of the 2016 election cycle, the politicos at the federal level would love to sow seeds of chaos any way they can in order to create cover for an election theft,” wrote.

Since climate change is a myth in this alternate universe, there must be some other reason why more powerful storms are making it further north on a regular basis. The old reliable explanation is that liberals have offended the Lord with our gay-rights agenda and overall lack of piety. But if that doesn’t convince you — how’s the reconstruction going, Tony Perkins? — a nefarious human plot backed by sci-fi technology works too.

and more debates

The VPs debated Tuesday and Clinton/Trump had their second debate last night.

By far the strangest moment in the debate was when Trump told Clinton:

If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we’re going to have a special prosecutor.

And then followed up a bit later in this exchange:

CLINTON: It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

TRUMP: Because you’d be in jail.

If you’re not familiar with how our justice system works, you might not realize why so many people were frightened by this. Ezra Klein, for example:

Tonight was a scary moment in American politics. In fact, it’s probably the scariest I can remember.

In our system, the Justice Department is supposed to be insulated from politics. Nothing in the Constitution says this, but it’s a principle deep in the mores of our system. The president is supposed to make policy and appoint people to carry out that policy, but is not supposed to have any direct influence on specific cases. That’s the principle Republicans were invoking when they objected to President Obama endorsing Secretary Clinton while the FBI was still investigating her. They were afraid that even the hint of the president’s opinion, without any direct orders, would affect the investigation. Democrats invoked that principle during the Bush administration when they objected to the firing of seven states attorneys for what they believed were political reasons.

Well, the President appointing a prosecutor to look at a particular person — especially a political rival, especially one the FBI has already cleared — is completely off the scale. That’s what happens in dictatorships, not in the United States. Trevor Noah was making this point about Trump already a year ago.

What you thought about the VP debate seems to have depended on whether you judged style or substance. Most pundits thought Tim Kaine interrupted Mike Pence too often and looked rude. But Pence chose to defend Donald Trump by simply denying that Trump has said what he said. On substance, that’s a losing position.

That denial is probably a preview of how Republicans will look back on a Trump defeat: what he actually said and stood for will go down the memory hole. Something similar happened on a larger scale after President Bush left office with historically low popularity. There was no discussion about what went wrong or how the party needed to change. Instead, they just stopped talking about Bush for a while, and when they started again they said amazing things, like “We had no domestic attacks under Bush.

Many Republicans have expressed a hope that Pence will wind up running things. But I haven’t forgotten how Gov. Pence dodged and weaved last year in order to defend the supremacy of Christians over gays in Indiana.

They don’t get much publicity, but debates are also starting to happen in pivotal senate races. Here’s video of Hassan/Ayotte in New Hampshire.

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Columbia University’s Jay Rosen is one of the sharpest observers of the culture of political journalism. In this post on his blog PressThink, he discusses the underlying frame that most political coverage is based on, and why journalists are having so much trouble dealing with the fact that the Trump candidacy doesn’t fit in that frame.

The two major parties are similar actors with, as Baquet put it, “warring philosophies.” Elections are the big contests that distribute power between them. The day-to-day of politics is a series of minor battles for tactical advantage. The press is part of this picture because it distributes attention, but — in this view of things — it does not participate in politics itself.

But in the real world, the two political parties have gotten increasingly asymmetric and are no longer similar actors at all. Trump has taken this to an extreme, and journalists have not adjusted.

Campaign coverage is a contraption that only works if the candidates behave in certain expected ways. Up to now, they always did. But Trump violates many of these expectations. … Imagine a candidate who wants to increase public confusion about where he stands on things so that voters give up on trying to stay informed and instead vote with raw emotion. Under those conditions, does asking “Where do you stand, sir?” serve the goals of journalism, or does it enlist the interviewer in the candidate’s chaotic plan? … The premise is that a presidential campaign wants to put out a consistent message to avoid confusing people, and to deny journalists a “gotcha” moment. What if that premise is false? The rationale for interviewing the campaign manager, the running mate, or some other surrogate collapses. They say one thing, the candidate says something else and the confusion is not considered a problem. It may even be a plus.

In an some other version of the United States, an election would be a time to have discussions about really important issues. Lester Holt tried to raise one in the first debate: Should the United States have a no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons?

Sadly, neither candidate rose to the challenge: Clinton cautiously avoided saying either yes or no, while Trump boldly and unequivocally said both.

It’s actually a good question. Most Americans probably don’t realize that we don’t already have a no-first-use policy. Originally, there was  a strategic reason for it: We were anticipating World War III in Europe, where the Soviet Union had an advantage in conventional forces. Since the Soviet Union was itself a European power, it could cheaply keep huge armies in a position to strike, while it was much more expensive (not to mention unpopular with the Germans) for us to keep a comparable defensive army stationed in West Germany. So if Soviet tanks started rolling west, we reserved the option of nuking them.

Russia, without its former Warsaw Pact allies and without former Soviet republics like Ukraine, isn’t nearly as formidable as the USSR was. But we still might be stuck for a non-nuclear answer if Putin decided to roll over one or more of the Baltic Republics, which we are committed to defend as members of NATO. Is that why we won’t renounce first use? Or does the Pentagon have some other scenario in mind?

I don’t believe for a minute this will actually pan out on election day, but one recent poll shows Clinton taking the lead in Arizona.

Geez, Bob, you need to stop holding back and say what you really think.

What interests me in this video is how De Niro is doing exactly what Trump does, but doing it better. They’re both 70-something guys who still know how to talk tough, but who (at this point in their lives) would probably be push-overs in any real physical confrontation. Picture the two of them joining 86-year-old Clint Eastwood in a barroom brawl. The result would play better in a slapstick comedy than in an action flick.

And Britain has a favor to ask: Could we elect Trump so that everyone forgets about their boneheaded Brexit vote?

Massachusetts is about to vote on Question 2, which would expand the number of charter schools in the state. The main argument against charters is that they drain money out of the public school system. The long-term fear is that a vicious cycle gets started, where pulling resources out of the system leads to poorer performance, which leads more families to take their kids out of the public schools, which in turn reduces state subsidies to those schools.

Last week, an editorial in The Boston Globe repeated claims made by the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation:

Examination of school funding trends in districts affected by charter school enrollments does not suggest that charter schools are over-funded, that students in district schools are suffering a loss of support, or that the per-student funding of districts is trending negatively. Rather, per-student funding has increased quite steadily across the state, and the district-charter balance has been stable.

But former state Education Secretary Paul Reville counters by pointing out that schools have many fixed costs that don’t go away when a student leaves:

Mainstream public schools would argue that the marginal savings associated with losing a student are not nearly as much as the marginal costs associated with losing a student.

But even that misses the point. The most valuable thing charter schools siphon off isn’t public money, it’s easily teachable students. My nightmare is that the kids who can sit still and process information from a teacher standing in front of a blackboard all wind up either in charters or in voucher-funded private schools. Meanwhile, the public schools are left to handle all the special needs kids, all the kids with undiagnosed vision and hearing problems, all the kids who bring their home problems to school and act out, etc. And when it costs more money per student to operate that public school, we’ll be told some nonsense about the efficiency of the private sector.

There’s a parallel to the healthcare system, particularly as it operated before the Affordable Care Act stopped insurance companies from rejecting sick people. Sometimes the way to make money isn’t to offer better service, it’s to make sure you only get the customers who don’t need service.

One bit of tax law that’s unpopular on the right, is the “Johnson amendment” from 1954, saying that churches can’t endorse candidates. The Republican platform calls for repealing it, a promise Donald Trump often makes to evangelical audiences, saying the repeal would “give churches their voice back”. Right-wing web sites call the Johnson amendment a “Christian gag rule“.

If you aren’t familiar with the details, that can sound convincing. I mean, religious convictions often go hand-in-hand with political stances, so why shouldn’t a pastor be able to speak his mind from the pulpit without worrying about his church losing its tax-exempt status? (In fact, many pastors do, and get away with it, because the rule is only enforced in egregious cases. Like when a church “placed full-page advertisements in two newspapers in which it urged Christians not to vote for then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton because of his positions on certain moral issues.”)

But the point of the Johnson Amendment is simple: Contributions to churches are tax-deductible, but contributions to political campaigns or PACs aren’t. So without some kind of restriction on church activity, churches could become money-laundering schemes: You give tax-deductible contributions to a church with the understanding that it will spend that money campaigning for your candidate. I have yet to hear any repeal-the-Johnson-amendment argument that addresses this problem.

but we should be paying more attention to Colombia

Last week I forgave Gary Johnson’s ignorance by citing the general decline in Americans’ awareness of other countries, and blamed a generational shift in news coverage. So let’s talk about what’s going on in Colombia, which produces the bulk of the cocaine Americans abuse.

One thing that makes the whole coca-growing enterprise harder to control is that Colombia has been fighting a civil war for half a century. Picture that: Our Civil War lasted only four years. If it had gone on as long as Colombia’s, we’d have been fighting until just before World War I. The BBC estimates that 260,000 people have been killed, and another six million driven from their homes. The whole country has less than 50 million people.

The government negotiated a peace deal with the guerillas (FARC, which translates to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), which was announced at the end of August and signed with much ceremony on September 26. But in a Brexit-like reversal of government policy, the Colombian voters rejected the deal in a referendum on October 2. The vote was close: 50.2%-49.8%, to the great surprise of pollsters, many of whom had the referendum passing with over 60% of the vote.

FARC has a Marxist orientation, and claims to represent the interests of the rural poor against the landed gentry and the urban elite. The areas it controls are prime coca-growing territory, and it funds itself via the drug trade. (So if you think about it, the U.S. has been bankrolling both sides. Our tax dollars aid the government, while our drug spending keeps the opposition going.)

Vox has a good article summing up the situation, quoting extensively from the BBC about what’s in the peace agreement. The agreement sounds like a model of reasonability: FARC gives its weapons to the UN and becomes a political party guaranteed ten seats in Congress. (I’m not sure how this splits between houses. There are 166 in the lower house and 102 in the upper.). Its fighters apologize to their victims and won’t be prosecuted for the war-related crimes they confess to. (Though “crimes against humanity” don’t get this amnesty.) They get temporary financial aid to re-integrate into society.

Opponents of the agreement think that lets FARC off too easy. (One woman said: “How is it justice if I, who committed no crime, was ‘imprisoned’ in a rebel camp for four months, and these criminals get off without going to jail?” While understandable from a personal point of view, this feeling is why conflicts like this drag on decade after decade: By the time one generation gets “justice” for the wrongs committed against it, a whole new set of wrongs have been committed by both sides.) Some also don’t trust FARC to disarm, while others fear having another left-wing party in Congress.

Ironically, the voters’ rejection didn’t prevent Colombian President Juan Santos from receiving the Nobel Peace Prize Friday. Whether he’ll be able to salvage an actual peace, though, is still uncertain.

and Israel

The Obama administration is objecting to the announcement of a new Israeli settlement in the occupied territories. CNN summarizes.

and let’s close with something adorable

We could teach our children violence, or maybe we could just teach them to dance. The Irish magazine Galway Now posted this viral video.

Oily Opinions

It’s not that Trump is saying things he believes to be false. It’s that he doesn’t seem to have beliefs at all, not in the way people typically talk about beliefs — as mental constructs stable across time and context. Rather, his opinions dissolve and coalesce fluidly, as he’s talking, like oil on shallow water. That’s why he gives every indication of conviction, even when, say, denying that he has said something that is still posted on his Twitter feed, or denying that he said something that he in fact said on live television, in front of millions of people, just minutes earlier.

– David Roberts “The question of what Donald Trump ‘really believes’ has no answer

This week’s featured post is “Investigative Reporters and Donald Trump: The 9 Best Articles“.

This week everybody was talking about the Clinton/Trump debate (and Miss Universe 1996)

A week ago, the polls looked like a dead heat, and the momentum was still with Trump. Last Monday’s debate seems to have changed that dynamic. But not because we learned anything new about the candidates’ philosophies or programs.

I’m not even sure it was the debate itself that moved the polls. Sure, Clinton did look sharper and Trump made mistakes. But the more serious problem for Trump came afterwards. He spent the rest of the week off-message, overcome by his inability to let go of any argument that he’s not winning. All week he’s been proving the truth of what Clinton said in her convention speech:

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

First, there was the Miss Universe flap. Josh Marshall pointed out how easily Trump could have stepped around the whole issue.

Anyone with the most basic communications experience or simply a conscience knows there’s a simple and solitary way to deal with something like this: “We quarreled years ago. I’m sorry we did. That’s a long time ago. I wish her the best.” Done and done.

But no. As with the Khan family, Trump took the attack personally and couldn’t let it go. Someone had implied he did something wrong, and he never does anything wrong.

He was still fuming in the wee hours of Friday morning. Clinton described this as “unhinged, even for him. Really, who gets up at 3 o’clock in the morning to engage in a Twitter attack against a former Miss Universe?” And Elizabeth Warren chimed in, tweeting at Trump: “You never tweet at 3am with ways to create new jobs for workers or hold Wall Street accountable.”

So does insulting a young woman 20 years ago mean Trump should never be president? No. It may not cast him in a positive light, but it’s a minor event far in the past. Does his reaction this week prove Clinton’s point that he is “temperamentally unfit” for the presidency? Yes it does. Ezra Klein did the best job of explaining why: Hillary set a trap for him and he has spent a week flailing in it. If he were president, ISIS and Russia and China could do the same thing.

The problem is that Trump is predictable and controllable. … As unpredictable and uncontrollable as he is to his allies, he is exactly that predictable and controllable to his enemies, and to America’s enemies.

Trump made two other unforced errors: He said “That makes me smart” when Clinton suggested he hadn’t paid any income tax. Ross Rosenfeld responded in The Hill:

I guess the rest of us are just stupid because we have to pay taxes. If only my daddy had left me a real estate empire, a host of political and financial connections, and no morals whatsoever — then I, too, could be “smart” like Donald Trump.

And on his own, Trump brought up his insults directed at Rosie O’Donnell, saying:

Somebody who’s been very vicious to me, Rosie O’Donnell, I said very tough things to her, and I think everybody would agree that she deserves it, and nobody feels sorry for her.

Lawrence O’Donnell said what I was thinking: “She deserves it. That is what every man guilty of spousal abuse always thinks.” So what exactly did Rosie do to deserve being called “disgusting” and “a fat pig”? She made fun of Trump on TV ten years ago. He can’t let it go.

The claim that Trump pays no taxes might be true, at least for a long stretch of years. The New York Times got hold of a few pages of Trump’s state and local income tax returns from 1995. They show Trump declared a huge loss, presumably on the collapse of his Atlantic City casinos.

Tax experts hired by The Times to analyze Mr. Trump’s 1995 records said that tax rules especially advantageous to wealthy filers would have allowed Mr. Trump to use his $916 million loss to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income over an 18-year period.

I feel like this is half a story, and I hope we see the other half before we vote. Unanswered questions: Is that loss real, or the product of creative tax accounting? Did he in fact use it to pay no taxes in subsequent years?

Trump once again used that I-could-talk-about-your-mama-but-I-won’t tactic that we all remember from fourth-grade recess. (Build your vocabulary: The technical name for this is apophasis.) Even more immature is that both he and his son Eric expect credit for not bringing up what they just brought up by talking about how they weren’t going to bring it up.

If Trump starts the conversation about Bill Clinton’s infidelity, here’s how it ends: Chelsea Clinton explains on TV how grateful she is that her parents held their marriage together, so she didn’t have to go through a divorce at age 7 like poor Eric Trump did.

and there were some unusual newspaper endorsements

The New York Timesendorsement of Clinton and denunciation of Trump really shouldn’t have surprised anyone. That The Washington Post also dislikes Trump wasn’t that big a shock either.

But The Arizona Republic had never endorsed a Democrat in its 126-year history, until Tuesday.

Clinton has the temperament and experience to be president. Donald Trump does not.

USA Today also has never endorsed a presidential candidate, and it still hasn’t, exactly. But it did take a side. Its Editorial Board “does not have a consensus for a Clinton endorsement.” But the Board could agree on this:

This year, the choice isn’t between two capable major party nominees who happen to have significant ideological differences. This year, one of the candidates — Republican nominee Donald Trump — is, by unanimous consensus of the Editorial Board, unfit for the presidency.

The Cincinnati Enquirer has “supported Republicans for president for almost a century”, but this time it says

Clinton is a known commodity with a proven track record of governing. … Trump is a clear and present danger to our country.

The Dallas Morning News last endorsed a Democrat for president “before World War II”, but this time it says

There is only one serious candidate on the presidential ballot in November. We recommend Hillary Clinton.

Trump has not managed to get a single major newspaper endorsement (though the conservative Washington Times and Wall Street Journal have yet to commit themselves, and it’s not hard to tell who The National Enquirer is rooting for). Even New Hampshire’s conservative voice, The Union Leader, has defected to Libertarian Gary Johnson. So have The Chicago Tribune and The Detroit News (breaking a 143-year-old Republican tradition).

Along the same lines, the NYT’s Ross Douthat also makes the conservative case against Trump:

Set aside for a moment Trump’s low character, his penchant for inflaming racial tensions, his personal corruptions. Assume for the sake of argument that all that can be folded into a “lesser of two evils” case.

What remains is this question: Can Donald Trump actually execute the basic duties of the presidency? Is there any way that his administration won’t be a flaming train wreck from the start? Is there any possibility that he’ll be levelheaded in a crisis — be it another 9/11 or financial meltdown, or any of the lesser-but-still-severe challenges that presidents reliably face?

I think we have seen enough from his campaign — up to and including his wretchedly stupid conduct since the first debate — to answer confidently, “No.” Trump’s zest for self-sabotage, his wild swings, his inability to delegate or take advice, are not mere flaws; they are defining characteristics. The burdens of the presidency will leave him permanently maddened, perpetually undone.

and Congress avoided another government shutdown

The new federal fiscal year began Saturday. Wednesday, Congress avoided a shutdown by passing a bill to fund operations through December 9. Republicans gave in to Democratic spending requests on issues that really shouldn’t be controversial or partisan: Flint’s water crisis, the Zika virus, and opiod addiction. Money related to the Louisiana floods was also in the bill. Democrats didn’t get everything they wanted though: the SEC still can’t take “action to increase transparency in public companies’ political spending”.

Not so long ago, we all took for granted that Congress would figure out some way to keep the lights on. Now it’s considered an accomplishment.

but Obama suffered his first veto override

This is kind of an odd story. Some families of 9-11 victims would like to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in the attack. The problem is a legal principle known as sovereign immunity, which prevents people from suing foreign governments. Recently, Congress passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism bill to allow these suits. President Obama vetoed it, and Congress just overrode his veto, making the bill a law.

Overriding a veto takes a 2/3 votes in each house, so Republicans couldn’t do this by themselves. Apparently, congressional Democrats decided that opposing 9-11 victims right before an election was too politically dangerous, so most of them supported the override.

The problem is that when you take some action against a foreign government, it can respond. So Saudi Arabia, or maybe other countries, might start allowing their citizens to sue the U.S. for the damages we cause. This could result in the kind of huge mess that sovereign immunity is supposed to avoid.

So now congressional leaders are having second thoughts about what they’ve done, and Republicans are blaming President Obama for reasons that really defy analysis. Mitch McConnell said:

Because everyone was aware who the potential beneficiaries were, but nobody focused on the potential downside in terms of our international relationships. And I just think it was a ball dropped. I wish the President — and I hate to blame everything on him and I don’t — but it would have been helpful had … we had a discussion about this much earlier than the last week.

Because expecting Congress to do its own research into the consequences of its actions is setting the bar way too high. And McConnell listens so well when Obama tries to tell him something.

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Shimon Peres died. At 93, Peres was described as the “last link to Israel’s founding generation“. Because of that symbolic role, the articles this week about his death and career often say as much about the author’s attitude towards Israel and its current politics as about Peres.

David Roberts’ article in Vox, “The question of what Donald Trump ‘really believes’ has no answer” doesn’t meet the criteria for my “Investigative Reporters and Donald Trump: The 9 Best Articles” post, because it’s analysis rather than reporting. But it’s insightful and seems dead-on to me.

Roberts’ claim is that people use language in two sometimes-conflicting ways: to communicate ideas and to position themselves in the social hierarchy. But Trump is almost always focused on the second purpose. The reason it is so frustrating to discuss the content of Trump’s statements is that most of them were not intended to have content: They are pure maneuvers for dominance.

This point helps explain why Trump cannot ever admit a mistake or an error. He can only process accusations — of dishonesty, of cruelty — as social gambits, not as factual claims. To him, the demand that he apologize or admit error is nothing more than a dominance play. Apologizing is losing. …

It helps explain why Trump has such a long and rich history of defrauding investors, refusing to pay contractors, using his charitable foundation as a piggybank, and declaring bankruptcy to escape debt. Contracts and promises are just plays in the game, not words that carry meanings or create obligations. You sign them or say them when you need to, to win whatever negotiation you are in, and then they are gone like smoke.

Rush Limbaugh warns: “Don’t be fooled by fact-checkers.

Usually we only talk about needlessly aggressive police tactics when someone winds up dead, but here are two videos of the kinds of interactions that might be happening every day without making headlines.

Calling attention to stuff like this is sometimes labeled as “anti-police”. But that’s not it. There is good policing and bad policing. You can be against bad policing without being anti-police.

and believe it or not, I decided to cut Gary Johnson some slack

This week Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson had what he described as another “Aleppo moment“: asked by Chris Matthews to name a foreign leader he admired, he couldn’t come up with a name without the help of his VP, Bill Weld. It looked like he had no idea who else belongs to the world-leader club he wants to join.

I was ready to ridicule him over this, when I noticed that I can’t list a lot of world leaders either. What’s the name of the British woman who came into office after Brexit? Who’s leading France? Spain? Italy? India? China? Iran? Iraq? Anywhere in Africa? Who’s heads the junta that took over Egypt a few years ago? I’d have to look all that up.

If you’re under 30, or maybe 40, you’ve lived your adult life in an era when the news media doesn’t bother much with other countries, so you may take this kind of ignorance for granted. Maintaining a far-flung network of foreign correspondents is expensive, and the economics of the news business has gotten harsher, so for decades we’ve gradually gotten less and less international news. Most of the coverage we do get is shallower, the kind you can do by pulling video of some disaster off the internet and narrating it from New York or London.

It’s all happened so gradually that the result is hard to notice, until something like the Johnson incident happens. But I’m about to turn 60, so I remember an era when the leaders of major countries were household names: Maggie Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand, Indira Gandhi, Willy Brandt, King (not Saddam) Hussein, Franco, Begin, Sadat, and so on. When I was a kid, Mad Magazine sometimes made fun of French President Charles de Gaulle, because of course their core audience of teens and tweens would know enough about him to get the joke.

As a society, we never talked it over and decided to become this ignorant of foreign affairs. It’s just one of those self-reinforcing cycles market economies are prone to: The less you know, the less you wonder. It never occurs to us to ask why we don’t know what we don’t know.

and let’s close with an ordinary person’s act of kindness and courage

Would you pull a Coke can off the head of a skunk?

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 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.


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.

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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.