Monday, May 25, 2015

Buying and Owning

Remember, ladies and gentlemen, there is no background check if you want to buy a senator.

-- David Letterman

I don’t believe that the men and women who defended American democracy fought to create a situation where American billionaires own the political process.

-- Bernie Sanders


This week's featured posts are "Turning the Theocracy Against Itself" and "The 2016 Stump Speeches: Bernie Sanders".

This week everybody was talking about Ireland



Friday, the Irish voted to legalize same-sex marriage by a whopping 62%-38% margin. Turnout was impressive: 61% of the electorate. This is the first time a country has legalized same-sex marriage by a national referendum, and points out just how fast public opinion has been changing: Homosexual acts were illegal in Ireland just 22 years ago.

From The Guardian:
All but one of the republic’s 43 parliamentary constituencies voted Yes to same-sex marriage. And fears of an urban-rural, Yes/No split were not realised either. Constituencies such as Donegal South West, which in the past voted against divorce and abortion reform, backed the Yes side.

There's some debate about whether a referendum is proper when we're talking about a basic right. (I've seen a t-shirt that says "How about we vote on your marriage?") But when the result comes in clear and strong like this, it's the most satisfying way to establish marriage equality. Nobody can argue that out-of-touch elitists forced this change on a silent majority.

And so the Archbishop of Dublin reacted like this:
I ask myself, most of these young people who voted yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years. I’m saying there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the church.



Here's what I don't understand about the Catholic Church and all the other religious groups who are dead-set against marriage equality: Compare to divorce. A web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says:
The Church does not recognize a civil divorce because the State cannot dissolve what is indissoluble.

Or, as Catholics sometimes put it, the couple is still married "in the eyes of God". If a person who gets a civil divorce then marries someone else, those marriages aren't valid "in the eyes of God", who sees the sex in those second marriages as adulterous and sinful.

And yet, Catholic politicians like Rick Santorum aren't campaigning to make second marriages illegal. Bakers and caterers aren't asserting their "religious freedom" to deny service to the receptions after second marriages -- which, just like same-sex marriages, are public announcements of the couple's intention to sin.

In short, American Catholics long ago made peace with the notion that civil marriage and sacramental marriage are different things. Why isn't a similar outcome sufficient here, for all the conservative religious groups? Why not accept that same-sex couples can be married under the law, with all the legal rights and privileges civil marriage offers, but go on teaching that they aren't married in the eyes of the Deity? Like taxes and currency, the civil code is a thing of Caesar, not of God.

and the coverage of the Waco shoot-out


A week ago yesterday, nine people died in a shoot-out between biker gangs at a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas. A large number of liberal pundits have noticed how this has been covered compared to, say, the violence in Baltimore or Ferguson.

The apparent difference is the number of white people involved. Violence among whites is covered as some bizarre exception -- crazy people do crazy things -- while black violence is presented as an indictment of the whole community. Charles Blow comments:

Does the violence in Waco say something universal about white culture or Hispanic culture? Even the question sounds ridiculous — and yet we don’t hesitate to ask such questions around black violence, and to answer it, in the affirmative. And invariably, the single-mother, absent-father trope is dragged out.

But a father in the home is no guarantor against violence. By the way, is anyone asking about the family makeup of the bikers in Waco?

No? Exactly.


The shooting also drew attention to Twin Peaks, a racier version of Hooters that was the fastest-growing restaurant chain of 2013. Some of that attention has exposed TP's demeaning image of its customers. "Men are simple creatures," TP's director of marketing (a woman) told Huffington Post in January. A leaked internal memo says the restaurant targets men who "love to have their ego stroked by beautiful girls." Especially beautiful girls who are paid, I guess. Simple creatures crave simple relationships.

and the Santa Barbara oil spill


A pipe owned by Plains All-American Pipeline broke Tuesday, spilling oil into the waters near Santa Barbara and sludging about nine miles of previously beautiful beach. The exact whys and wherefores are still under investigation, but The LA Times reports that Plains has had a "long record of problems".




For me, the oil spill has a personal angle: To what extent am I responsible for it?

You see, when my Dad died, I inherited half his shares in Plains. I still have them. So while the rest of you look at Plains spokemen on TV and think "those evil bastards", I'm thinking "they believe they represent me".

And that raises an issue that I seldom write about, but think about quite a bit: I've never come up with a theory of socially responsible investing I like. Occasionally I make a decision to avoid companies out of sheer moral repugnance -- tobacco companies, for example. After the 2008 crash, I sold my Citicorp shares at a huge loss without waiting to see if the bank could cash in on this government-bailout thing. But this is always an emotional response rather than a thought-out principle. I'm trying to soothe my conscience, not improve the world.

Other times, I invest in something socially responsible because I believe the world will eventually see its potential the way I do. (Sometimes it does. A year or so ago I mentioned Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure, which provides capital for sustainable-energy projects. Its shares were around 14 then and are near 20 now.)

But divestment movements in general leave me scratching my head. Me selling a stock drives the price down (by a miniscule amount, given the quantities I trade in) and makes it a better deal for somebody else. (Thursday, when I asked my broker what he knew about the oil spill, he opined that this price dip might be a good time to buy more of Plains. That's how the investment community thinks.) No matter what socially responsible investors do with their money, we're still going to live in a fossil fuel economy. There are still going to be oil wells and pipelines -- partly to service customers like me, who drive cars.

So anyway, I'm feeling an emotional repugnance towards Plains right now -- not because they're a pipeline company, but because it looks like they're a bad pipeline company (rather than a decent company that had the kind of accident that could happen to anybody). I'm watching the news to see if their/our actions have really been as negligent/corrupt as I suspect.

But I'm still no closer to a principle. If you have one you're happy with, please talk about it in the comments.

and you also might be interested in ...


Republicans and 14 Democrats in the Senate voted to give President Obama and the next president "trade promotion authority" to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The bill requires an up-or-down vote on the treaty as the president signs it, with no amendments of filibusters. The bill goes to the House now, where the vote should be close. Few Democrats currently support it, while far-right Republicans are balking. Rush Limbaugh has announced his opposition, on the general principle that Obama should not be given more authority to do anything.




David Letterman signed off. The tributes were so glowing that he admonished well-wishers to "save a little for my funeral".




An Atlanta TV station shines a light on the secretive ALEC meetings.


Robert Reich points to an interesting political fault line that someday -- but probably no time soon -- will cause an earthquake: the uneasy juncture between small business owners and giant corporations. Currently it's having a tiny rumble over the push to lower the corporate tax rate. Small business associations aren't supporting that push, because the majority of small businesspeople don't pay the corporate tax rate. (Their profits show up on Schedule C or some other part of their individual 1040s.) So lowering the corporate rate while leaving individual rates fixed would shift the balance in favor of big business and against small business.

In general, small businesses provide political cover for big businesses and get little in return. Whenever some proposal would hurt Citicorp or Walmart, their PR flacks want you to focus instead on your favorite chef-owned restaurant or your cousin's hardware store. And they want the chef and your cousin to identify with them and support their full political agenda, even as that agenda favors the banks who won't loan small businesses money or the big chains that are squeezing individual proprietors out of the market. They want the 600-acre farmer to blame government regulations for his problems, and not the monopolistic power of the Monsantos who supply him or the Cargills he has to sell to.

There's room for a psychological study here, and a polemic along the lines of What's the Matter With Kansas?. What's the matter with small businesspeople? When the mega-corps completely take over, they'll be peons just like the rest of us. Why can't they see that their best allies are below them on the economic scale, not above?




It took a while, but Prime Minister Netanyahu has put together a new government following the recent Israeli elections. He himself is the acting foreign minister, so the deputy foreign minister is the country's top full-time diplomat.

That would be Tzipi Hotovely, who gave a speech Thursday re-orienting Israel's diplomatic rhetoric. Those who speak for Israel abroad, she said, need to start talking about the morality of Israel's domination of the occupied territories, not just Israel's practical need for security.
It’s important to say [that] this land is ours. All of it is ours. We didn’t come here to apologize for that.

She referenced a great medieval Jewish scholar:
Rashi says the Torah opens with the story of the creation of the world so that if the nations of the world come and tell you that you are occupiers, you must respond that all of the land belonged to the creator of world and when he wanted to, he took from them and gave to us.

In short, the religious fanatics in the Middle East aren't all on one side.

and this week, let's do a double closing


I mean, I've already blown away my weekly word limit, so why not?

First, this cartoon is supposed to encourage people to travel in groups, but I find a political message here too.

and then there's Coldplay's idea to do a Game of Thrones musical with the original cast. What could go wrong?

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Memory Hole

The official forgetting we are supposed to do will not produce the desired result.
[Eventually] people forget why they are supposed to forget, and then they start to remember.

-- an anonymous Chinese man commenting on the Cultural Revolution,
quoted in Patrick Smith's Somebody Else's Century.

This week's featured posts are "2016's Mission Impossible: Support Jeb While Forgetting George" and "Civics for Dummies: Judicial Review", where I explain why Mike Huckabee should have flunked 9th grade.

This week everybody was talking about the Amtrak accident

A derailment in Philadelphia killed 8 and injured 200. It's still not clear whether bad track played any role, or if better tech would have avoided the accident, but the incident did provide an opening to discuss our generally crumbling infrastructure.

Whatever caused this week's derailment, it's crazy that we just went through years of high unemployment and low interest rates, but we didn't borrow money to hire people to fix our at-risk bridges, build a 21st-century power grid, and upgrade our railroads.

and the Boston Marathon Bomber


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving brother of the pair who planted the bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013, was sentenced to death on Friday. Three died in the bombing and at least 260 were injured. The brothers also killed an MIT policeman while trying to escape.

Several factors weighed against a death sentence: His age (19 at the time of the bombing), the possibly dominating influence of his older brother (who died in the shoot-out with police), and a plea from the parents of an 8-year-old victim that the state settle for life imprisonment in order to get the case completed. (If this case follows the usual pattern, appeals could continue for a decade or more before Tsarnaev is executed.) A Boston Globe poll showed that 57% of Bostonians favored life without parole, against only 33% who wanted death. (Death is a possibility only because Tsarnaev's case is federal; Massachusetts has no death penalty.)

I seldom discuss the death penalty on this blog, because my position is mushy. I'm against the vast majority of executions, but I don't have a clear set of principles to put forward, and I would rather save my effort for injustices with more deserving victims.

A thought-provoking book on the death penalty is Debbie Morris' Forgiving the Dead Man Walking. Morris is a surviving victim of Robert Willie, whose execution inspired the book and movie Dead Man Walking. Willie kidnapped and raped Morris, but she managed to escape before being murdered like Willie's other victims.

Morris became an anti-death-penalty activist, and her book describes the sense of peace she found after she "forgave" Willie, an event of mostly spiritual/psychological significance, because it happened only after Willie's execution. To me, that's what makes the book so thought-provoking: I wonder if Willie being dead played a role in the peace Morris reached, even if she doesn't see it that way.

Morris' situation is one of the rare examples in which I could support the death penalty: when there are traumatized surviving victims who will always be looking over their shoulders as long as the murderer is alive. (Morris testified against Willie, and the one time he briefly escaped from prison, he might have been headed in her direction.)

But the simple desire of surviving friends and relatives for revenge doesn't move me. And I don't think national trauma justifies executions either: Robert Kennedy's assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, is serving Year 47 of his life sentence, and I'm fine with that. I'd be fine with Tsarnaev in prison for the next half-century too.

and Jeb Bush's bad week


He had trouble fielding one of the campaign's most predictable questions: "On the subject of Iraq, knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?" After four days with four different answers, he finally found the one he should have been practicing in front of a mirror for months: "I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq." I discuss all this in detail in one of the featured posts: "2016's Mission Impossible: Support Jeb While Forgetting George".




This week's other 2016 news was best expressed by Gail Collins:
Former ambassador John Bolton announced he would not be running this week, stunning many Americans who had no idea former ambassador John Bolton even existed.

If Donald Trump runs, that will stun many other people who believe he's a fictional TV character.




Also, Marco Rubio spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations on the "three pillars" of his foreign policy:
  • American strength. He called for higher defense spending and making the domestic-spying part of the Patriot Act (Section 215) permanent. I found this statement a bit chilling: "We must never find ourselves looking back after a terrorist attack and saying we could have done more to save American lives." As long as we're not a completely totalitarian state, we could always do more to save American lives.
  • "Protect the economy" through free trade. Rubio inverted the typical usage of the word protect, which usually means protecting American industries from foreign competition. He endorsed TPP and similar trade agreements, and pledged to "use American power to oppose any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace, or outer space."
  • Moral clarity regarding America's core values. He defined those values as: "a passionate defense of human rights, the strong support of democratic principles, and the protection of the sovereignty of our allies". But this is just rhetoric unless he gets down to cases, because those principles are often in conflict. Take the overthrow of Muburak's regime in Egypt, for example. Should we have supported human rights or protected our ally? What if the sexist, autocratic Saudi monarchy faces a revolution?



One piece of Rubio's "moral clarity" is a point that virtually every Republican candidate has voiced: We should not "hesitate in calling the source of atrocities in the Middle East by its real name — radical Islam."

I don't think the Obama administration or its defenders have done a good job explaining why this is such a bad idea. So let me give it a try.

The most important battlefield of the current struggle is inside the minds of Muslim teen-agers, particularly the talented ones who have opportunities in their personal lives. (Anwar al-Awlaki comes to mind. His formative years are recounted in some early chapters of Jeremy Scahill's book Dirty Wars.) They could go to college and become engineers or dentists or something. On the other hand, they could join ISIS or al Qaeda, or do some lone-wolf terrorism wherever they happen to live, like the Tsarnaev brothers.

I know radical Islam sounds terrifying to many Americans, but how does it sound to those kids? For comparison, imagine how radical Christianity sounds to kids growing up Baptist in Georgia or Catholic in Boston. I suspect it sounds like something they should aspire to. So wouldn't it be a huge mistake to tell those Baptist or Catholic kids that the way to be a "radical Christian" is to assassinate doctors and blow up abortion clinics?

Similarly, ISIS recruiters would love to convince Muslim teens around the world that the way to practice radical Islam is to join them. Radical Islam is a term of strategic importance. We should fight ISIS for it, not surrender it to them.

[Slate's William Saletan details how Republican rhetoric about Islam echoes ISIS rhetoric, then comments: "Remind me again who’s na├»ve."]


Josh Marshall's hindsight on Iraq is more interesting than Jeb Bush's.

and you also might be interested in ...


In a current article in The Atlantic, Ta-Nahisi Coates points out a double-standard in President Obama's rhetoric: He's willing to single out the black community for moral lectures, but
[Y]ou will hear no policy targeted toward black people coming out of the Obama White House, or probably any White House in the near future. That is because the standard progressive approach of the moment is to mix color-conscious moral invective with color-blind public policy. It is not hard to see why that might be the case. Asserting the moral faults of black people tend to gain votes. Asserting the moral faults of their government, not so much. I am sure Obama sincerely believes in the moral invective he offers. But I suspect he believes a lot more about his country which he chooses not to share.

Coates has long argued that since the oppression of black people was very color-conscious, helping them overcome that oppression needs to be color-conscious too (rather than relying on generic anti-poverty programs like Food Stamps). Last year he wrote "The Case for Reparations", which I reviewed.

The current article's most striking quote:
In a country where Walter Scott was shot in the back, where Eric Garner was choked to death, where whole municipalities are—at this very hour — funding themselves through racist plunder, fleeting references to “past injustice” will not do.



Can anybody spot what's wrong with this tweet from the Texas Senate Republican Caucus?



Yes, it's the cross. Apparently, only Christian religious freedom is protected in Texas. But why would anybody outside the majority religion need protection, anyway?




Remember the 20-week abortion ban the House almost passed last January, but pulled after the female representatives they need for cover balked? It's back, and this time it passed.

and let's close with something enviable


Those of us who don't own dogs never get greeted like this.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sure Signs

The complete lack of evidence is the surest sign that the conspiracy is working.

-- Anonymous (or maybe they just don't want us to know who said it)


This week's featured post is "Rating This Week's Craziness". It introduces the Weekly Sift's Crazy Scale, for rating the relative danger posed by the sheer insanity of stories and events that need more than just a debunking.

If you're wondering what I was up to last week when I didn't put out a Sift. I was telling a Unitarian Universalist congregation how Universalism provides a religious unification of a bunch of positions that often get dismissed as "politically correct".

This week everybody was talking about crazy stuff


In addition to the stuff that made it into the featured article, this NYT cartoon summarized a bunch of other crazy-sounding things that are really happening:

and Baltimore


The riots are over and the National Guard is packing up, but Baltimore gave rise to a lot of interesting public discussion (as well as a lot of complete crap).

For one thing, who knew street gangs were this articulate?

The NYT Magazine's "Our Demand is Simple: Stop Killing Us" is well worth your time. So is Ta-Nehisi Coates' "The Clock Didn't Start With the Riots", which makes this excellent point:
I read the governor in the New York Times today and he was saying in the paper that—you know, because it’s going to be a big day tomorrow—he was saying “violence will not be tolerated.” And I thought about that as a young man who’s from West Baltimore and grew up in West Baltimore and I thought about how violence was tolerated for all of my life here in West Baltimore. ...

I don’t want to come off as if I’m sympathizing or saying that it is necessarily okay, to inflict violence just out of anger, no matter how legitimate that anger is. But I have a problem when you begin the clock with the violence on Tuesday. Because the fact of the matter is that the lives of black people in this city, the lives of black people in this country have been violent for a long time.

There's a similar problem with all those columns about how street violence is the wrong way to make the point that police violence against already-subdued black men has got to stop. If we call for communities like Baltimore and Ferguson to quiet down, that's got to be coupled with a commitment to start listening when they speak in softer voices. Otherwise we're just saying: "Pipe down to make it easier for me to ignore you."

Larry Wilmore makes this point humorously but effectively in his "Justice for Tamir Rice" piece. Tamar Rice is the 12-year-old who was playing with a toy gun in a public park near his home, when Cleveland police rolled up and killed him within seconds, all of which was captured on video. Cleveland has been peacefully waiting for some kind of resolution in this case for five months. With a Comedy Central lawyer standing over his shoulder to make sure he doesn't actually call for violence, Wilmore observes that non-confrontation isn't getting anything done.

There's a self-fulfilling pattern here: If violence is the only kind of speech you'll pay attention to, then sooner or later you'll get violence.



Finally, there are all the white pundits saying or writing something along the lines of: We elected Obama to make race relations better, and they've gotten worse. Elspeth Reeve answers that point in The New Republic with "The White Man's Bargain". She starts with an NYT report quoting Republican strategist Rick Wilson:
A number of people “crafted this tacit bargain in their heads,” he said, speaking of Mr. Obama’s election. “This is going to be the end of the ugly parts of racial division in American.”

Reeve then raises this question about the "tacit bargain":
What is being exchanged? Wilson is probably not saying people thought police would stop killing unarmed black kids because Obama was elected. Perhaps instead he is saying people thought black people would stop getting so mad when it happened. What he means is that people (and, let's say this right here: white people) are eager to pay off the whole legacy-of-slavery-and-systemic-racism tab, to finally settle up and not have to think about social justice anymore. Wasn't making a black guy president enough?

She goes through the long history of whites making imaginary bargains, which goes all the way back to slavery. She concludes:
What tacit bargainers have always been asking is: Isn't there something else we can substitute for true equality? The answer is no.

and new presidential candidates


The big political news since the last Sift is that Bernie Sanders is running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. So Hillary won't simply be coronated, and somebody will make the case for real liberalism in this cycle.

I'm trying not to make the Sift all-2016 all-the-time, so I won't get to Bernie's announcement speech until next week. My snap reaction is that everybody left of Hillary should be happy that the primary campaign will keep her from drifting too far right. Beyond that, I need to decide how far my enthusiasm for Bernie should go: Will I vote for him in the New Hampshire primary? If do, is that because I'm making a statement or because I want him to get the nomination? If he did get nominated, would he stand a chance in the general election against, say, Jeb Bush or Scott Walker? Give me another week to think it through.

On the Republican side, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Mike Huckabee all joined the race, which is getting unusually crowded. Rick Santorum announced a date for his announcement: May 27. (I don't know why he hadn't previously announced that he was going to announce the date of his announcement. It just came totally out of the blue.)

Again, it will take some time for me to add these candidates to my 2016 speech series. I do have a snap reaction to Carson: I'm not sure he understands his role in the Republican Party, which is to provide cover against accusations of racism, as Herman Cain did in 2012. White audiences can cheer Carson's aggressive and disrespectful criticisms of President Obama without worrying about being called racists.

But as Obama starts to fade from the scene, that role becomes less important. If Carson wants to stay relevant, he'll have to move on to providing cover for more general I'm-not-a-racist-but criticisms of the black community. His path forward is to say things about Baltimore that are more extreme than a white candidate can get away with. I'm not sure he realizes he signed up for that.

Fiorina, meanwhile, is well set up to provide the same service for sexist Republicans who need to trash Hillary. She could easily wind up with the VP nomination.




The religious right has Huckabee, Santorum, and Cruz to choose from. But in view of the bad advice God has given his family in the past, it's Jeb Bush who should be pushed to spell out exactly what role God will play in his administration.

and you also might be interested in ...


We're about six weeks from a Supreme Court decision on King v. Burwell, the suit that might make ObamaCare subsidies illegal in about half the country. Congressional Republicans have written in the WaPo "Republicans have a plan to create a bridge away from Obamacare" so that millions of people would not instantly lose health insurance.

Unfortunately, only one relatively unimportant committee in the Senate and none in the House have held any public hearings about this plan. As for assembling a coalition in the House to pass it -- the kind of thing John Boehner has not been particularly good at -- there seems to be no motion at all. HuffPost's Jonathan Cohn says what I've been thinking:
the absence of a public effort to match the public rhetoric matters only if Republicans are actually serious about passing a plan. They may not be. Their real goals may be purely cosmetic -- to insulate the party from a political backlash should millions of people suddenly lose health insurance and, more immediately, to ease the anxiety of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, either of whom might hesitate to issue a ruling with such potentially devastating consequences to so many people.

Two weeks ago, I told you about a poll that showed how sensitive opinions on abortion are to how the question is phrased. (You get a more pro-life response if you phrase the question in terms of abstract right-and-wrong, and a more pro-choice response if you phrase it in terms of women's rights.) Wednesday, the NYT's Upshot blog described how poll results about abortion get less polarized as the questions focus on specific cases: Many people who say that abortion should be "illegal in all cases" will nonetheless say it should be legal if the mother will die. Conversely, many people who say it should be "legal in all cases" still think it should be illegal to abort a healthy fetus ready to be born.

That's the extreme edge of a more general phenomenon: People who think they are diametrically opposed to each other on abortion often agree on a lot of specific cases. Apparently, much of the polarization centers on what comes to mind when you hear the word abortion. Do you think of a promiscuous woman who couldn't be bothered to use birth control, and now wants to get rid of a problem-free pregnancy rather than offer a healthy baby to a couple who would give it a good life? Or do you think of woman carrying a child for her rapist, or facing serious health issues?

I think the winning choice-leaning argument goes something like this: Every woman, every family, and every pregnancy is different, so ideally the decision to carry a fetus to term would be made by the people involved, and not by a legislature or a court or a bureaucrat. But the decision to abort becomes more morally weighty the longer the fetus develops, so the law should push women to decide promptly, and demand higher levels of justification for later-term abortions.

Sweden seems to have it about right, in my opinion:
The current legislation is the Abortion Act of 1974 (SFS 1974:595). This states that up until the end of the eighteenth week of the pregnancy the choice of an abortion is entirely up to the woman, for any reason whatsoever. After the 18th a woman needs a permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) to have an abortion. Permission for these late abortions is usually granted for cases in which the fetus or mother are unhealthy. Abortion is not allowed if the fetus is viable, which generally means that abortions after the 22nd week are not allowed. However, abortions after the 22nd week may be allowed in the rare cases where the fetus can not survive outside the womb even if it is carried to term.

Wikipedia adds:
The issue is largely settled in Sweden and the question of the legality of abortion is not a highly controversial political issue. ... Consensus in Sweden is in favour of preventing unwanted pregnancies by the use of birth control and the primary goal is not to lower the amount of abortions, but rather the goal is that all children that are born should be wanted.



In the Republican-controlled Congress, climate-change denial is a two-step dance:
  1. Claim that the science isn't settled yet, so more research is necessary before we take any action.
  2. Defund that research.

and let's close with something fantastic

like Key & Peele's musical trip to Negrotown, where you can wear your hoodie and not get shot.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Horror

Cruz, Paul and Rubio, all running for President. Hey, I thought I was supposed to write the horror stories.

-- Stephen King

This week's featured post is "The New Clinton Allegations: Fog or Smoke?"

No Sift next week


I've learned I don't have it in me to do a Sift on Monday if I've led a church service on Sunday. Next Sunday I'll be at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois (my hometown), talking about "Universalism, Politics, and Evil". The text of that talk will eventually show up on my religious blog, Free and Responsible Search.

This week everybody was talking about the environment


It was Earth Day, after all, which is a good time to consider how we're doing. It's a mixed bag. The disaster scenarios where the average global temperature goes up by 4 degrees or more are still out there. But -- in spite of just finishing the hottest March ever -- some observers are starting to see evidence of a turn-around.

The best news is the rapid growth of solar and wind energy. They still produce a tiny amount of the world's power or the United States' power, but the trend lines look really good. Coupled with the fact that electricity usage in the U.S. has been flat since the popping of the real estate bubble in 2008 -- a mixed blessing, because slow economic growth is part of that story -- we see charts like his one, in which the U.S.'s non-sustainable power production (in green) has been trending down. (Notice, though, that the vertical scale doesn't go to zero, so the percentage of solar and wind looks bigger than it actually is.)



TPM is in the middle of a five-part series about these trends, called "The Renewables". It calls attention to the fact that many of our worst carbon-producers -- coal-fired power plants -- are wearing out. The wind-and-solar uptick isn't Mitch McConnell's imaginary "war on coal", it's just the ordinary replacement cycle, where worn-out plants cycle off and the cheapest and most efficient sources are used for new production.

Informed Comment goes out on a speculative limb with this prediction:
future historians may look back on 2015 as the year that the renewable energy ascendancy began, the moment when the world started to move decisively away from its reliance on fossil fuels.

Climate Denial 2.0, as presented by Jeb Bush: Yes, we're causing global warming, but all we should do about it is keep fracking.

The essence of the position is that curbing carbon emissions involves wrecking the economy, which demonstrates a common fallacy about long-term externalities: If what we're doing is headed towards a long-term disaster, then it's not economical. If your economic calculations don't show that, then you've left something out. It's like saying you can't afford to change the oil in your car or fix the leak in your house's roof.

Just to give one example: Humanity has a lot invested in our coastal cities. As sea levels rise, we'll either have to move those cities or build expensive floodwalls around them (and deal with the costs of disasters that breach those walls, as happened in New Orleans). A truly accurate economic calculation would attach some of those costs to each unit of fossil fuel we burn. If we made those kinds of calculations, we might find that fossil fuels are a very expensive way to get energy.

Another example: the California drought. What if climate change ultimately makes large-scale agriculture infeasible in California, which currently has a bigger farming industry than any other state? What's the economic cost of that? Where does that figure in Bush's understanding of what is or isn't economical?

Still, the upside of Denial 2.0 is the recognition that flat-out denial -- the conspiracy of liberal scientists theory -- isn't working any more.




What's the "greenest" way to read a book, the one that puts the least pressure on the environment? Get it from the library, Grist says. Obviously, if you already have some device that lets you read e-books, downloading and reading additional books on it is greener than buying printed books. In terms of carbon footprint, the break-even point of a dedicated e-book reader vs. printed books that you keep in your personal library (rather than spread the environmental impact by passing them on to other people) is about 20-25 books.

The article leaves out an environmental advantage that I see in my life: The space I save by not storing all those books is one important factor that allows me to stay in an apartment within walking distance of the library. Otherwise I might need a house, with all the environmental costs that involves.




Public transportation has to be part of the conservation picture, but even in big cities there's a last-mile problem (or maybe a last-few-miles problem): How do you get to public transit, or to where you want to go from where public transit leaves you? With that in mind Slate's Seth Stevenson surveyed the current range of motorized devices that you might reasonably carry onto a crowded subway car. He finds a couple of foldable motorized scooters to be both fun and practical.

A little less practical -- because it's so hard to learn -- is the Solowheel, which a Grist reporter describes as what you'd get if "a unicycle had sex with a Segway". It may not be "the future of urban transportation", but it sure looks fun for the people who master it. You just have to see it.

and a trade deal


The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a 12-nation trade agreement that doesn't exist in final form yet, though apparently there is a secret draft. So in spite of the headlines you might be seeing, nobody is being asked to ratify the agreement just yet.

The current issue is whether the Obama administration will get "fast track authority" for the final round of negotiations. This is something past presidents have had for trade agreements like NAFTA. It means that when the treaty is complete, the Senate will have a simple yes-or-no ratification vote and won't be able to demand changes. Multi-nation trade deals are almost impossible to negotiate if other nations don't believe we are agreeing to the final text, so not granting such authority virtually kills U.S. participation in the treaty.

Unlike most issues, this isn't a Democrat vs. Republican thing. Republicans like lowering tariff barriers, and aren't usually disturbed by the idea that our government might be signing away its ability to regulate multinational corporations. Instead, this battle is between President Obama and Democrats like Elizabeth Warren.

I like to agree with both of those people -- Warren somewhat more often than Obama -- and the issues involved are complicated, so I'm not going to take a side until I've done more research. To get the flavor of the dispute: here's Warren's WaPo op-ed from February, and President Obama's radio address promoting the TPP.

and drones


Thursday, President Obama acknowledged that a drone strike in January against an Al Qaeda compound near the Afghan-Pakistan border unintentionally killed two western hostages, one American and one Italian. In a separate strike, an American citizen believed to be working with Al Qaeda was killed. From the NYT:

Micah Zenko, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations and lead author of a 2013 study of drones, said the president’s statement “highlights what we’ve sort of known: that most individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the government does not know their names.”

Mr. Zenko noted that with the new disclosures, a total of eight Americans have been killed in drone strikes. Of those, only one, the American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who joined Al Qaeda in Yemen and was killed in 2011, was identified and deliberately targeted. The rest were killed in strikes aimed at other militants, or in so-called signature strikes based on indications that people on the ground were likely with Al Qaeda or allied militant groups.


The incident called attention to the intentional blindness the American public has maintained regarding warfare: As long as our troops aren't being killed in some country, we pretend we're not at war there. But a drone strike is an act of war. We're at war in Pakistan and Yemen and Syria and several other countries.

And I'm sure Obama's apology to the families of the two hostages has rankled people in those war-torn countries. How many innocent civilians have we killed with drones, but their families didn't get presidential apologies because they weren't Americans or Europeans?

and money in our presidential politics


The featured article "The New Clinton Allegations: Smoke or Fog?" focuses on the charges that there was some kind of corruption involving the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton's decisions as Secretary of State. But this is also a good time to take a look back at the "vast right-wing conspiracy" against Bill Clinton, which turned out to really exist.




We have a result in the Koch Primary: Scott Walker wins. Or at least that was the initial indication; apparently a recount is happening. And recent polls say that Marco Rubio is leading in the Adelson Primary., while other billionaires are backing Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum. If the billionaires can't find consensus soon, eventually the Republican Party might have to consult some voters.




Included in NRA President Wayne LaPierre's denunciation of Hillary Clinton was the line "Eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough." Because 43 consecutive white male presidents didn't symbolize anything. If in 2007 some black girl looked at a row of presidential portraits and saw 43 white men, she shouldn't have read anything into that at all.

That's privilege in a nutshell: When the privileged group runs things, that's just normal; it means nothing and is not worth talking about. So when President Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court, the headlines were all about the first female justice. But when President Ford appointed the previous justice (John Paul Stevens), nobody remarked on symbolic significance of the 101st consecutive male.




Over at the conservative Weekly Standard, Jay Cost is asking "So What About Money in Politics?" He spends the first half of the article establishing his conservative bona fides: trashing the Clintons, denouncing "identity politics", accusing liberals of hypocrisy, and making the ridiculous claim that "complaints about Citizens United itself are mostly a red herring". But ignore that part: It's ideological boilerplate, similar to the way that Soviet research articles all had to start with a paragraph about how this wonderful breakthrough would have been impossible without the genius of Marx, Lenin, and whoever the current leader happened to be.

Keep reading, because eventually Cost gets around to saying something important:
[Y]ou can’t beat something with nothing. Where is the anti-corruption agenda of the right? Where are the counterparts to the good-government organizations spearheaded by Ralph Nader? Other than the Center for Competitive Politics, helmed by former Federal Election Commission chairman Bradley Smith, and Take Back Our Republic, a new organization founded by those who helped Dave Brat take down Eric Cantor last year, one is hardpressed to think of conservative entities promoting a vision of good government. Conservatives have spent enormous intellectual capital on issues like education, health care, and taxes—but what about corruption? When Democratic pols rail against Citizens United, what reforms can Republicans counter with?

None. And if you want to know why, just look at the Republican presidential nomination process, where everyone is competing to curry favor with the Kochs, Sheldon Adelson, and a handful of other billionaires. This is how the perfectly legal corruption of our political system happens: not through quid-pro-quo deals (where you make a donation and then the Justice Department to drops your antitrust case or something), but through control of the agenda. You can't get elected without going to the billionaires, and you just can't tell them that they already have too much power, even if most voters agree with you.

and you also might be interested in ...


Fascinating article over at ThinkProgress about a poll Tresa Undem did for Vox about abortion. Polls typically ask people to choose among abstract legal question like: "Abortion should be legal in almost all cases; abortion should be legal in most cases; abortion should be illegal in most cases; or abortion should be illegal in all cases."

Undem split her sample in two, gave half the usual list of options, and gave the other half the same options rephrased in terms of women's rights: "Women should have a legal right to a safe and accessible abortion in almost all cases. ... Women should not have a legal right to any kind of abortion."

That simple change made a big difference in the results. The most pro-choice option went from 27% to 38%, while the most pro-life option went from 16% to 11%. The poll goes on to ask more detailed questions, phrasing them to draw the respondent into a woman's experience rather than picture himself/herself as an abstract rule-maker. The answers show large majorities (70% or so) consistently supporting the idea that once a woman has decided to have an abortion, she shouldn't be harassed about it or made to jump through unnecessary hoops.

Here's an example I found striking: "Would you want a woman who has had an abortion to feel shame, or not?" The responses split 67%-26% against shame. I'll bet if you wrote the woman out of the question -- "Is an abortion something to be ashamed of?" -- you'd get a different split.




Another interesting result from the same poll: Asking "Do you consider yourself a feminist or not?" gets a resounding No (52%-18%). But asking half the respondents "Do you believe in social, legal, and economic equality of the sexes?" gets a Yes (78%-6%), and asking the other half "Do you believe in equality for women?" garners even more approval (85%-3%).

So apparently more than half the population believes feminism means something else.




Also at Vox, this brilliant visualization of the gradual polarization of Congress. Maybe I'm biased, this doesn't look to me like a symmetric process; it looks like a red dot solidifies, pulls away from the mass, and then grows.




Sometimes I think I'm getting an exaggerated notion of the shear craziness that's out there, and then I read a direct quote like this one from former House majority leader Tom Delay:
I think we got off the track when we allowed our government to become a secular government. When we stopped realizing that God created this nation, that he wrote the Constitution, that it’s based on biblical principles.

I would love to know when Delay thinks "we allowed our government to become a secular government". In actual history, the Founders very intentionally created a secular government by writing the Constitution. The Constitution was virtually unique among the political documents of its day because it didn't invoke God.




It's hard to do a better takedown of Bobby Jindal's NYT op-ed "I'm Holding Firm Against Gay Marriage" than the Human Rights Campaign's red-pencil markup, which begins by editing the title to: "I'm Losing the Fight Against Marriage Equality".




A win in the struggle against monopoly: The Comcast merger with Time Warner Cable seems to be off.




Recent stories from Missouri point out that we still have a long way to go on race:
  • Tyrus Byrd will be Parma's first black mayor and first female mayor, after winning the election 122-84 in a town with 700 residents. Within a week, five of the town's six police officers had resigned, along with the city attorney, the clerk, and the manager of the water department.
  • A day after a memorial tree for Michael Brown was planted in a Ferguson park, it was cut down by vandals. (And later replaced.)

I'm not sure whether the vandalism counts as a hate crime under the law, but it certainly illustrates the concept of a hate crime: This was not just a crime against a tree or a park; it was an attempt to demoralize Ferguson's black community and to remind them of their inferior and vulnerable status. It deserves a more serious punishment than ordinary vandalism.




Amy Schumer's parody of Friday Night Lights connects some dots about the football culture and rape. As the coach says:
How do I get through to you boys that football isn’t about rape? It’s about violently dominating anyone that stands between you and what you want!



It's not what you do, it's who you are. Give classified information to unauthorized people, then lie to the FBI about it, and you'll go to jail. Unless you're a general, of course.

and let's close with something fun


like what toddlers are doing when you're not looking.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Caught In Between

Republicans think I’m too old to be president but not old enough for Social Security.

– a line suggested for Hillary Clinton


This week's featured posts are "Death, Taxes, and the American Dream" and "The 2016 Stump Speeches: Marco Rubio".

This week everybody was talking about Social Security


This week Chris Christie walked into one of the most dangerous gaps in politics: Among Republicans, it's common to raise the specter of Social Security or Medicare going bankrupt soon. That gets you high marks from the Commentariat for being realistic.

But saying what you want to do about that envisioned bankruptcy is another matter. Because once you accept that dogma that no tax can be raised under any circumstances, the only alternative is to make significant cuts in benefits. The more specific you get about those cuts, the less likely anyone is to applaud.

I haven't read Christie's plan, but U. S. News summarized it like this:
Christie proposed increasing the retirement age for Social Security to 69, beginning with gradual increases in 2022, as well as raising the early retirement age to 64 from 62, and changing the way cost-of-living increases are calculated for Social Security and other benefit programs, an adjustment that would mean smaller increases in the future.

He'd also increase the Medicare eligibility age gradually to 67 by 2040 — and turn Medicaid into a block grant program to the states, which Republicans have long proposed and critics say could mean reduced benefits over time. ... the New Jersey governor also proposed reducing Social Security benefits in the future for retirees earning more than $80,000 a year and eliminating them for those with annual incomes of $200,000 or more.

I have two snap reactions:
  1. There's a hidden class issue in raising the age limits. If you look at the population as a whole, people are living longer, so it makes sense to gradually raise the ages. But that increase in life expectancy is much smaller for the poor, and to keep working past 65 is much harder if you do manual labor than if you have a desk job.
  2. When you eliminate benefits for those who don't need them, you're implicitly turning Social Security and Medicare into welfare programs. The next step is for conservatives to start squeezing those programs the way they squeeze all welfare programs, making those who continue to benefit seem like losers and moochers.

Still, if this plan forces all the other candidates to get specific, that would raise the quality of discussion.

and more about 2016


This week my 2016 speeches series discusses Marco Rubio's announcement speech on Monday. I stayed serious in that article, so I didn't get around to mentioning this line from Monday's Conan O'Brien monologue:
A little fun fact: Marco Rubio's wife is a former Miami Dolphin cheerleader. In other words, she knows how to generate fake enthusiasm for someone who's not going to win.



I haven't included Hillary Clinton's announcement video in my 2016 Speeches series because there just isn't enough content there to talk about. It's well designed, and does a good job of identifying her with Americans who are working towards better things in their lives, but it doesn't try to answer the basic questions my series is focused on: "Where does America need to go and why am I the person to lead it there?" Presumably she'll develop a stump speech later on, and then I'll cover it.

Meanwhile, Hillary's poll numbers look great: She's beating Rubio by 14 points nationally, and every other potential Republican opponent by more. The CNN commentary on the poll shows just how far you have to go to spin something against Clinton.
One area where Clinton's numbers wilt: Only about half of Democratic men (49%) say they would be enthusiastic about having Clinton atop the Democratic ticket, compared with nearly two-thirds of Democratic women (65%).

Think about it: Half the people who are different from you in some key demographic describe themselves as enthusiastic about nominating you for president. And that's the bad news.

The basic problem all the Republicans face is that they're either unknown or unpopular. I believe that's because the Republican worldview is unpopular. Once the public understands what a Republican candidate wants to do, they don't like him.




I went to a Martin O'Malley event in Nashua (walking distance from my apartment) a couple weeks ago, but I haven't covered it either. He was speaking to a local Young Democrats meeting. (I do a really bad impersonation of a young Democrat.)

He sounded some basic progressive themes about the destruction of the middle class since the 1970s (i.e., before Reagan took office), and pointed to his own accomplishments as governor of Maryland, but the talk was short and lacked specifics. He didn't take questions. Like Hillary, he'll probably flesh out that speech later in the campaign (if he's really running).

Fun personal facts about O'Malley: He's a perform-in-public guitar player and led us in singing "This Land is Your Land". Also, O'Malley is often cited as the model for the Tommy Carcetti character on The Wire. (David Simon says not exactly, but admits O'Malley is one of several inspirations.)

Carcetti is a young white mayor of Baltimore whose ambition ultimately overcomes his idealism. No doubt O'Malley would reject that characterization of his two terms as mayor (1999-2007), which coincidentally overlapped the run of The Wire (2002-2008). Wikipedia says:
During his first mayoral campaign, O'Malley focused on a message of reducing crime. In his first year in office, O'Malley adopted a statistics-based tracking system called CitiStat

which does sound a lot like Carcetti. One persistent theme of The Wire is that statistics-based anything just tempts a bureaucracy to corrupt the data it reports. (When one police detective deduces where the bodies of dozens of missing mobsters must be hidden, his superiors don't want to look. "You're talking about raising the murder rate," one tells him.)




Wednesday, I was at Chris Christie's town hall meeting in Londonderry (about ten miles down the road). I may get around to describing that in detail in later weeks, but this week I'll just observe that Christie does an A+ town hall meeting.

A town hall meeting is like an oral exam on public policy, because the candidate can't predict what people are going to ask. It's a high-risk situation: If all you know are a few talking points, that quickly becomes obvious, and any mistake you make could be the lead story on the evening news.

But the upside is that if you do a town hall well, the hundreds of people in the room come away far more impressed than if you just gave a good speech. In the 2000 New Hampshire campaign, front-runner George W. Bush avoided town halls (probably because he would have made a fool of himself) while John McCain sometimes did four or five in a day, and was still sharp for the last one. McCain upset Bush in the primary by a wide margin.

Christie's Londonderry town hall was at a McCain level. (His opening remarks are on YouTube, but that's the least impressive part. I'm just out of the picture to the left.) He demonstrated a broad and deep understanding of the issues, even to someone like me who disagrees with his answers. He's nowhere in the polls right now, and I'm not saying he'll win New Hampshire. But I think he'll do better than the pundits are predicting.

and you also might be interested in ...


Every change is bad for somebody. As solar energy gets cheaper, that's good for the environment, good for homeowners and businesses, and good for the people who install solar panels.

Who's it bad for? Utilities. Not only do they sell less power to homes with solar panels, but many states force them to buy the excess power the homes generate on sunny days. They don't know how to predict the surges, and the transmission system wasn't built for that.

Don't get me started on upgrading the electrical grid. That was the project I wanted the Stimulus to focus on in 2009, and it's even more needed now. But instead we can watch utilities try to use their lobbyists to torpedo the growth of solar.

The NYT article I linked to mentions one small-scale solution: more expensive solar installations that include batteries, so that you can store your own power and don't rely on the grid buying it from you. One cool two-birds-with-one-stone idea is to repurpose the batteries from worn-out hybrid cars, which there should be more and more of in the coming years.




If you're wondering what happens in abstinence-based sex education, this Michigan mom (and medical ethics professor) sat in on her son's class. If anybody in the state legislatures are looking for wastes of tax money, abstinence programs are a place to start.

On the other hand, if you want your kid to get accurate, realistic information about sex and you live anywhere near a Unitarian church, ask if they'll let him/her into their OWL class. Increasingly, this is what we're coming to: you have to go to a liberal church to overcome the religion-based crap you learn in the public schools.




The North Carolina legislature is considering destroying two of the universities that define the Research Triangle by mandating a four-courses-a-semester teaching load on all professors at state universities. The head of UNC's history department told The Daily Tarheel: "There is no major research university in the U.S. that has a four-four teaching load. I think faculty would leave."Slate's Rebecca Shuman calls the bill: "a “solution' that could only be proposed by someone who either doesn’t know how research works or hates it."

Half a century ago, the ideal state university was a world-class institution where tuition was so low (zero at Berkeley until Reagan fixed that "problem") that any qualified student could afford to go there. Since then, states have been gradually getting out of the great-education-at-low-cost business, slashing their subsidies to the point that tuition at a top state university (not to mention fees and housing) can run more than $16K a year for in-state students and nearly as much as an elite private university for out-of-state students.

It only makes sense that the next step is to get rid of the idea of being a world-class institution. Why do people who can't afford Yale need a great education anyway? Why do they need professors on the cutting edge, or the chance to work on the frontiers of knowledge? Leave that for the rich kids.




While we're discussing ways to make the ruling class more hereditary than it already is, this week's other featured article is "Death, Taxes, and the American Dream". It's my response to the House's attempt to eliminate the estate tax, which already only applies to estates worth more than $5 million.




Here's how desperate the anti-marriage-equality folks are for a new argument:
A reduction in the opposite-sex marriage rate means an increase in the percentage of women who are unmarried and who, according to all available data, have much higher abortion rates than married women.

and let's close with something unexpected

Headis. It seems to be a thing in Germany.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Equality on Earth

It is easy to proclaim all souls equal in the sight of God. It is hard to make men equal on earth in the sight of men.
This week's featured post is "The 2016 Stump Speeches: Rand Paul".

This week everybody was talking about another police shooting

The initial report was very familiar: Sure, it was only a stop for a busted taillight, but the subject was a bad guy and he went for the policeman's weapon. The cop had no choice but to shoot him, and he died in spite of everything the cops did to save him.

Then it turned out that somebody had a video. (Huffington Post imagines the news report we'd be reading otherwise: another justified shooting.) The policeman was in no danger, and after calmly gunning down the fleeing Walter Scott ("like he was trying to kill a deer" as Scott's father put it), he makes no effort to revive him, but drops the taser Scott had supposedly grabbed next to the body.

So this time, it looks like justice is being done: the cop has been charged with murder. But doesn't it make you wonder about all the other times a white cop killed a black suspect and there wasn't a video? (In the last five years, police in South Carolina have fired at people 209 times, resulting in a handful of official charges and no convictions.)

ThinkProgress collects what the local police department said before they knew about the video: It's eerily similar to what the police have said in a lot of other shootings that ultimately were judged to be justified. The Week concludes: Without the video "he probably would have gotten away with it."
How many other cops have?

 

and 2016

After Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy on YouTube yesterday, it's hard to remember that Rand Paul just announced on Tuesday. But Paul is an interesting candidate that some liberals are tempted to support, given his strong positions on civil liberties. However, Paul also carries a lot of baggage. I try to collect the good and the bad as I annotate his announcement speech.

One thing I will point out about Hillary's video: Notice how deep into it you have to go before a straight white man shows up.

and the 150th anniversary of Appomattox

I've been pleased by how many historians have written anniversary articles agreeing with the point I laid out last summer in "Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party": the Civil War didn't end at Appomattox; the planter aristocracy continued fighting a guerrilla war until the North finally withdrew its troops and let white supremacy resume. See, for example, Gregory Downs' NYT article "The Dangerous Myth of Appomattox".

Other articles have supported "Not a Tea Party's" other main point: that the right-wing surge we are seeing today is a continuation of the Confederate worldview. For example: "Why the Confederacy Lives" by Euan Hague in Politico. And WaPo's Harold Meyerson writes:
Today's Republican Party is not just far from being the party of Lincoln: It’s really the party of Jefferson Davis. It suppresses black voting; it opposes federal efforts to mitigate poverty; it objects to federal investment in infrastructure and education just as the antebellum South opposed internal improvements and rejected public education; it scorns compromise. It is nearly all white. It is the lineal descendant of Lee’s army, and the descendants of Grant’s have yet to subdue it.

In "Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party" I described the Confederacy as a worldview:
The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries. ... The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.
For a contemporary example of the Confederate mindset at work, listen to a recent interview with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson:
I really believe if what the Supreme Court is about to do [i.e. legalize same-sex marriage nationwide] is carried through with, and it looks like it will be, then we’re going to see a general collapse in the next decade or two. I just am convinced of that. So we need to do everything we can to try to hold it back and to preserve the institution of marriage.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for nearly a dozen years, and for almost a decade in Canada, with no visible evidence of any ill effects on society. You've got to wonder when Dobson and his ilk will start seeing facts and reality rather than their own apocalyptic nightmares. Probably never. If Dobson is still around twenty years from now, I imagine he'll have rolled his disaster prediction forward to "in the next century or two".

And what does "do everything we can" mean? Get violent, apparently.
Talk about a Civil War, we could have another one over this.
Because accepting social change is impossible. All forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified.

but I was reading two unrelated books


In the past I've reviewed the books Merchants of Doubt and Doubt Is Their Product, which describe the tactics by which corporations keep selling a product long after people start dropping dead from it. I found those to be very radicalizing books, but I doubt that many of my readers managed to finish either one. They're each a slog, and they're depressing.

Well, sometimes fiction can get ideas across more effectively than factual reporting (i.e., Uncle Tom's Cabin). Paolo Bacigalupi is a post-apocalyptic young-adult sci-fi writer, known for The Wind-Up Girl, Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities. (They're good.) His new novel The Doubt Factory is set in the present and covers a lot of the same ground as the factual doubt books, but does it with action and characters.

The main character of The Doubt Factory is a high-achieving senior at an exclusive prep school who knows her Dad runs a public relations firm, but has never paid much attention to the specifics. Then she is kidnapped by a skilled gang of teens who have been orphaned by products that her Dad helped keep on the market. They release her, believing they have turned her to their side. But have they?

The plot raises issues about how you know what's true and where your loyalties should lie. In the background are broader issues of privilege: How much should it bother you if your lifestyle depends on a corrupt system?

As a young-adult novel with political content, The Doubt Factory in a class with Cory Doctorow's Little Brother and Homeland, which center on surveillance and privacy. In order to follow the story, you need to learn some facts about product safety and the ways corporations manipulate science and the media. But the book is a page-turner; like Doctorow, Bacigalupi never sacrifices the integrity of the story for political polemic.


I finally got around to reading Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven Davis. It's a well-researched month-by-month political history of Dallas from January, 1960 to the day JFK was killed.

Not a Kennedy-assassination book per se, it's more about the rising tide of anti-Kennedy feeling in Dallas that culminates in the assassination. In some ways it resembles the movie Crash, where a swirl of loosely-connected tension seems fated to result in something bad, even if none of the characters can predict what it will be or who will do it. In the end (unless you buy one of the conspiracy theories) it was a left-winger who killed Kennedy, but afterward "Distraught women from all over Dallas are on the phones lines [to police headquarters]. Each one is sobbing, confessing to police that she is certain that it must have been her husband who shot the president."

The striking thing about Dallas during the Kennedy years is how closely it parallels America as a whole during the Obama years: Instead of Obama, there's Kennedy. He's not a "real American" because he's Catholic rather than black. Where Obama is supposed to be a secret Muslim who's betraying America with his Iranian nuclear deal, Kennedy is supposedly a secret Communist who is betraying America to the Soviet Union in the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Instead of the billionaire Koch Brothers, 1963 has billionaire H. L. Hunt. Instead of ObamaCare, there's Medicare, which a Hunt-funded radio program says "would literally make the President of the United States a medical czar with potential life-or-death power over every man, woman, and child in the country." (It fails in the Senate by two votes; LBJ passes it after Kennedy's death.)

Rather than Louis Gohmert, Texas of 1963 has Congressman Bruce Alger, who says more-or-less the same things: "Kennedy is operating as chief executive without regard to the rule of law and is, indeed, substituting his own judgment and will for the exercise of the constitutional powers by the Congress and the people." And right-wing author Dan Smoot echoes: "Kennedy, by Executive Orders which bypass Congress, has already created a body of 'laws' to transform our Republic into a dictatorship."

There's even an imaginary secret-in-Kennedy's-past parallel to the Birther theory: a failed secret marriage before Jackie.

I come away with the impression that today's political controversies really have more to do with right-wing pathologies than with anything President Obama has done. The Right has projected its hate and fear onto Obama the same way it projected onto JFK half a century ago.

Let's hope Obama lives to tell the tale.

You'll never catch up: The Oyster Review has its list of the 100 best books of the decade so far. How many books do these people read? I've read just six of the 100; at this rate there are 16 more every year.

and you also might be interested in ...

Michael Brown's legacy: Voter turnout in Ferguson's municipal elections more than doubled, from 12% to 30%. The City Council is now half black.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas says President Obama is exaggerating when he says that scrapping the nuclear deal with Iran risks another Iraq War (only worse, because Iran is three times bigger). An attack against Iran's nuclear facilities would be simple.
It would be something more along the lines of what President Clinton did in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox: several days’ air and naval bombing against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior.
And then Iran will do what? This is the kind of logic we often hear from fans of military action: We'll hit them, and then that will be the end of it. Cotton is like the guy who has no intention of starting a bar fight, he just wants to punch that other guy in the nose.

Imagine instead that Iran surveys the world, picks out an American vulnerability somewhere, and hits back hard. Won't Cotton be the first to say that we can't let this stand and have to hit back harder yet? How many rounds of attack-and-retaliation will have to happen before he decides that only boots-on-the-ground regime change will end this threat?

A tangential thought about the CNN reporter who interviewed rural Georgia florists about whether they'd sell flowers for a same-sex wedding: There's a class issue the reporter doesn't see. When you ask professional-class people an abstract question, they usually picture themselves being nicer than they actually are. But working-class people generally imagine they'd be more rule-abiding.

So the florists say they'd have nothing to do with a same-sex wedding, because that's the set of rules they were brought up with. If an actual same-sex couple came through the door, though, things might turn out differently. "Normally I'm against this kind of thing, but you seem like nice folks."

Thursday, a Unitarian Universalist woman led a pagan prayer to open a session of the Iowa legislature. Some Christian legislators boycotted, while others turned their back on her.

The invocation is given in full at the Progressive Secular Humanist blog; it's pretty benign other than calling on "god, goddess, universe, that which is greater than ourselves" rather than just the Christian God.

Don't be fooled by the Religious Right types who say they just want government to respect religion. They have no respect for anybody else's religion. They want their religion to dominate.

If you've been curious about the Apple Watch, The Verge has it covered.

WaPo's Dana Milbank collects a number of recent red-state efforts "to dehumanize and even criminalize the poor". Kansas, for example, has specifically banned the poor from using their benefits on cruise ships. Because, I guess, that was a common problem, and it wasn't already covered by bans against using benefits out of state.

and let's close with Mary Poppins

or at least, with Kristen Bell's version of Mary campaigning for a higher minimum wage.