Monday, August 22, 2016

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".

Monday, August 15, 2016

From the Beginning

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

and another attempt at a Clinton email scandal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

That gets discussed in "It's not just Freddie Gray".

and you might also be interested in

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

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

and let's close with an endorsement of cosmic significance

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

 

 
 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Non-interference

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

attributed to Napoleon

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

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

This week everybody was talking about Trump's downward spiral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and I thought I was on vacation when ...

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

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

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

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

To which the Portland Press Herald responded:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

and my church is also in the news

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

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

and you might also be interested in

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

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


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

 

 

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

and let's close with some Trump songs

Here a busker redoes "The Boxer":

 

 

 

And Dennis Leary and James Corden put a Trump twist into Leary's "I'm an Asshole".

 

 
 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Resolve over Fear

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

- Kareem Abdul-Jabar at the 2016 Democratic Convention

This week's featured posts are "Why Bernie Backed Hillary" and "Disbanding NATO: Why Vlad Loves Donnie".

This week everybody was talking about the Democratic Convention

Nate Silver summarized it pretty well:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have sacrificed nothing and no one.

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

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

And he defended his own "sacrifices".

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

Ghazala Khan replied in The Washington Post:

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

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

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


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

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

and its result

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

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

and the Trump/Putin connection

which I discuss in the other featured post.

but you should notice the victories against voter suppression

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

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

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

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


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

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

and you might also be interested in

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


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

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

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

Monday, July 25, 2016

Better in Russian

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

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

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

Tim Kaine, quoting Harry Truman
7-23-2016

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

This week everybody was talking about the Republican Convention

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Charles Pierce:

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

This was a gathering of subjects thirsting for a king.


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

and Tim Kaine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

and the Democratic Convention

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you might also be interested in

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



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

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

 

 

 


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

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

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

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


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

And apparently the problem is bigger than just Ailes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

 

 

 [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ln3wAdRAim4[/embed] 

and let's close with something awesome

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Call Remains

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

DeRay McKesson, a Black Lives Matter activist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

and the Nice attack

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

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

and Hillary and Bernie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

and Trump's upcoming convention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the UK's assessment of the Iraq War

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

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

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

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

and one thing Trump said

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josh Marshall comments:

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

and you might also be interested in

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

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

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


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


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

 

 

 

and let's close with something awe-inspiring

Time-lapse video of how storms form and move.