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 Gülenist movement and the coup plotters.

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

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


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

And apparently the problem is bigger than just Ailes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

 

 

 [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.

 

 
 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dogma and Storm

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

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

- President Abraham Lincoln (1862)

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

- President Ulysses Grant (1885)

This week's featured post is "Are we overdoing the Founding Fathers?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: FBI says no charges.

and the Supreme Court's abortion decision

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

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

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

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

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

and Elie Wiesel

who died Saturday.

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

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

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


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

but not enough people are paying attention to this article

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

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

and you might also be interested in

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


draft of the Democratic Platform is out.


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


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

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

That doesn't sound much like vindication.

and let's close with something awesome

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

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

Monday, June 27, 2016

No Island is an Island

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

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

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

This week's featured post is "What's Up With Congressional Democrats?"

This week everybody was talking about Brexit

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

and what it implies for American politics

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

and the Supreme Court

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

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

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

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

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

The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.

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

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

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

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

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

and the House sit-in for gun control

I cover this in "What's Up With Congressional Democrats?"

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

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

and the Trump campaign's finances

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

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

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

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

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


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

and you may also be interested in

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


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

 

 

 

and let's close with John Oliver

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