Monday, November 2, 2015

Losing to Idiots

[Chess Grandmaster Aron] Nimzowitsch ... once missed first prize in a tournament in Berlin by losing to Sämisch, and when it became clear he was going to lose the game, Nimzowitsch stood up on the table and shouted, "Gegen diesen Idioten muss ich verlieren!" ('That I should lose to this idiot!")

-- Chess Review (1950), quoted by Wikipedia

I've about had it with these people. ... We've got one candidate that says that we ought to abolish Medicaid and Medicare. Have you ever heard of anything as crazy as that? ... We've got one person saying we ought to have a 10% flat tax that'll drive up the deficit in this country by trillions of dollars. ... We've got one guy that says we ought to take 10 or 11 million people ... and pick them up and take them to the border and scream at them to get out of our country. That's just crazy! ... We've got people proposing health care reform that's going to leave, I believe, millions of people without adequate health insurance. What has happened to our party? What has happened to the conservative movement?

-- John Kasich, 10-27-2015

Ben Carson 26%, Donald Trump 22% ... John Kasich 4%

-- CBS/NYT poll, 10-27-2015

This week's featured article is my attempt to explain Black Lives Matter to conservative Christians. It's called "Samaritan Lives Matter".

For months, July's post "You Don't Have to Hate Anybody to be a Bigot" has been asymptotically approaching 100,000 views. (Every week I've thought, "Two more weeks at this rate and it'll get there.") Well, it finally made it this morning. It's the Sift's third 100K post.

This week everybody was talking about Obama sending troops to Syria

So far he's not talking big numbers: less than 50, with a mission to "assist" groups fighting against ISIS and call in air strikes. I have four problems with this.

First, I haven't heard any explanation of exactly what the 50 are supposed to accomplish and why 50 is the right number to achieve that purpose. And that makes me wonder if in a month or two we'll need 100 or 500 troops to do something equally vague. DefenseOne describes

the beginning of this new strategy in the war against [ISIS], which will focus in Iraq on helping security forces retake Ramadi and Bayji and then eventually Mosul. In Syria, the immediate objective is to take and ultimately hold ISIS’s self-declared capital of Raqqa.

But what the final we-can-leave-now objective is, I have no idea.

Second, you know ISIS will put a high priority on capturing a few of those Americans and beheading them on YouTube. And you know what will happen then: Americans back home will start clamoring to "get the bastards", and it will be hard to resist mounting a full-scale invasion. Weirdly, that's what ISIS wants: It has an apocalyptic vision, and the apocalypse won't be complete until an American army arrives.

Third, I'm not sure who or what we're fighting for. I know ISIS is bad. The Assad regime is also bad, but maybe not as threatening to us or our regional allies as ISIS. Iran and Russia and Hezbollah are helping Assad, and we're happy about that when they attack ISIS, but not so happy when they attack other Syrian rebels. But even calling them "other Syrian rebels" makes the situation sound less chaotic than it is. Another DefenseOne article claims:

By one count from 2013, 13 “major” rebel groups were operating in Syria; counting smaller ones, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency puts the number of groups at 1,200.

Finally, Congress needs to authorize this. I know the Republican leadership doesn't want any responsibility for either endorsing or stopping Obama's moves against ISIS. But they're Congress, damn it. They do have responsibility, whether they want it or not. The country needs the kind of intelligent debate that we had before the Gulf War in 1991.

and the budget deal

John Boehner kept his promise: He got Paul Ryan elected Speaker, and "cleaned the barn" before Ryan picked up the gavel. The debt limit is suspended until March, 2017, and a new budget deal circumvents the sequester agreement of 2011 to increase both military and domestic spending. Rather than Boehner's barn-cleaning phrase, I would call it "releasing the hostages". I'm sure Tea Partiers will try to find something else they can shut down the government over, but for now it looks like we will avoid such artificial crises for a while.


Paul Ryan has promised to re-impose the Hastert Rule, which says that the Speaker won't bring a bill to the floor unless a majority of the Republican caucus supports it. Since there are 247 Republicans in the 435-member House, that means that 124 Republicans -- less than 30% of the total House -- can block any legislation. If Speaker Boehner had stuck to the Hastert Rule, the United States would be hitting its debt ceiling on Thursday, unleashing chaos in the global economy.

Here's what the Hastert Rule should mean to American voters: If you don't like the positions taken by most Republican congressmen, you should vote against the Republican in your district even if your local Republican candidate sounds reasonable. If your representative isn't in "the majority of the majority", his or her vote isn't going to count for much, other than to empower the more conservative Republicans who dominate the caucus.

and the third Republican debate

The thing to know about the third Republican debate [held Wednesday; here's the video and transcript] was that the candidates didn't debate each other, they debated the moderators and rebelled against the whole concept of facts or accountability. As in the second debate, the biggest applause came whenever a candidate clearly and boldly stated something that isn't true. (NowThis News made a video collecting some of the biggest lies.)

Slate's Jamelle Bouie:

The problem isn’t that CNBC engaged in “gotcha” questions meant to “embarrass” the Republican candidates. It’s that any serious look is a fatal blow to GOP plans and proposals, which don’t deliver on promised substance. Trump can’t deport millions of immigrants; Carson can’t raise enough revenue to fund the federal government; and the “middle-class” tax plans of Bush, Rubio, and others shower most of their benefits on the rich. And as long as this is true, GOP candidates will have a hard time with all but the most friendly moderators.

and William Saletan:

What happened in this debate wasn’t an attack by the press on the candidates. It was an attack by the candidates on the press. Harwood, Quick, and the other CNBC panelists were no harsher to the Republicans on Wednesday than CNN’s Anderson Cooper was to Clinton and other Democrats in their debate two weeks ago. What was different this time was the reaction. Presented with facts and figures that didn’t fit their story, the leading Republican candidates accused the moderators of malice and deceit.

and Ezra Klein:

the problem for Republicans is that substantive questions about their policy proposals end up sounding like hostile attacks — but that's because the policy proposals are ridiculous, not because the questions are actually unfair.

Here's the strangest thing about the objections to the "liberal media" in this debate: If you've ever watched CNBC, you know that it isn't liberal. Its target audience is the investing class, and it panders to them the same way that the Food Channel panders to foodies. In fact, the event usually cited as the beginning of the Tea Party was a Rick Santelli rant on CNBC in 2009. Santelli was one of the questioners Wednesday night. Not even Ann Coulter was buying that CNBC asked more hostile questions than Fox News did in the first debate.

What about Ted Cruz' claim that the Democrats got softball questions in their debate? Nope.


A few of the other falsehoods in the debate deserve special attention. Chris Christie's claims about Social Security were outrageous. First:

The government has lied to you and they have stolen from you. They told you that your Social Security money is in a trust fund. All that's in that trust fund is a pile of IOUs for money they spent on something else a long time ago.

What he means by "a pile of IOUs" is that the Social Security Trust Fund has invested its money in Treasury bonds. If a private pension fund did that, the only complaint auditors might make is that it is too conservative an investment strategy. If your IRA contains government bonds, or mutual funds that own government bonds, you also are basing your retirement plans on "a pile of IOUs".

And then he said:

Social Security is going to be insolvent in seven to eight years.

That claim is entirely baseless. The WaPo fact-checker: "Christie loves to say this but that doesn’t make it true." The Social Security Trustees Report says:

Interest income and redemption of trust fund assets from the General Fund of the Treasury will provide the resources needed to offset Social Security’s annual aggregate cash-flow deficits until 2034.

Candidates should be talking about what happens after 2034, but that's no excuse for Christie's scaremongering.


Ben Carson was asked about his involvement with the shady nutritional-supplement company Mannatech, which has claimed its products can cure autism and cancer. He said

I didn't have an involvement with them. That is total propaganda.

Jim Geraghty of National Review -- usually considered a key part of the conservative media -- recounted the Carson's history with Mannatech and commented:

Carson’s lack of due diligence before working with the company is forgivable. His blatant lying about it now is much harder to forgive.


The only "lie" the candidates wanted to discuss, though, was what Hillary Clinton said about Benghazi in 2012. Marco Rubio launched this attack:

Democrats have the ultimate SuperPac. It's called the mainstream media. ... Last week, Hillary Clinton went before a committee. She admitted she had sent e-mails to her family saying, "Hey, this attack at Benghazi was caused by Al Qaida-like elements." She spent over a week telling the families of those victims and the American people that it was because of a video. And yet the mainstream media is going around saying it was the greatest week in Hillary Clinton's campaign. It was the week she got exposed as a liar.

The truth, which is well known, is that while Clinton did offer different explanations of the Benghazi attack during that first week, she was also getting a changing story from intelligence sources. If you dislike her, you can decide to interpret those facts as her lying, but her "fog of war" explanation also fits the facts.

I'm puzzled by why Republicans see the possibility that Clinton might have lied as a moral disqualification, while Carson's Mannatech lie, or Christie's Social Security lie, or Carly Fiorina's claim to have watched a non-existent Planned Parenthood video (among other liberties she takes with the truth) aren't.


The root problem here is discussed in Mike Lofgren's "GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowledge".

Thanks to these overlapping and mutually reinforcing segments of the right-wing media-entertainment-“educational” complex, it is now possible for the true believer to sail on an ocean of political, historical, and scientific disinformation without ever sighting the dry land of empirical fact.

Ted Cruz solution to the debate "problem" is to take Republican debates entirely into the conservative news bubble. He'd like to see Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin moderate.

and meat

I had a hard time finding a good article about the International Agency for Research on Cancer's classification of processed meat as a "definite" cause of cancer and red meat as a "probable" cause. Lots of news sources sensationalized the story, like The Guardian's headline: Processed meats pose same cancer risk as smoking and asbestos, reports say.

Well, not exactly. The Cancer Research UK blog did much better.

As Professor Phillips explains, “IARC does ‘hazard identification’, not ‘risk assessment’. That sounds quite technical, but what it means is that IARC isn’t in the business of telling us how potent something is in causing cancer – only whether it does so or not."

So, yes, bacon and sausage are now in the same definite-cause category as tobacco, but that doesn't mean that Egg McMuffins are as dangerous as cigarettes. Cancer Research UK quantifies using a 2011 study from the World Cancer Research Fund:

We know that, out of every 1000 people in the UK, about 61 will develop bowel cancer at some point in their lives. Those who eat the lowest amount of processed meat are likely to have a lower lifetime risk than the rest of the population (about 56 cases per 1000 low meat-eaters).

If this is correct, the WCRF’s analysis suggests that, among 1000 people who eat the most processed meat, you’d expect 66 to develop bowel cancer at some point in their lives – 10 more than the group who eat the least processed meat.

If nobody smoked, the article estimates, there would be 64,500 fewer cancers per year in the United Kingdom. If nobody ate processed meat, 8,800 fewer cancers.

The upshot isn't that you should swear off hot dogs forever, but that if you eat a lot of them, you'd probably be healthier if you cut down. But you knew that already.


For balance, I have to link to this: "World Health Organization Warns that Consumption of Kale Leads to Arrogance".

A spokesperson for the WHO told The (un)Australian: “These findings though alarming are not surprising, I mean we’ve all been at a dinner party and had to endure the whining of a vegetarian or worse a vegan, talking about how superior they are to us carnivores. Until recently they merely whined, now with the introduction of kale and to a lesser extent quinoa their whining is now more boastful and confrontational.

and more police abuse

You've probably already seen the video: A police officer assigned to a South Carolina high school was called into a classroom to address what sounds like a fairly ordinary discipline problem. The teacher had asked a 15-year-old black girl to leave the class, and she wasn't going. When she also refused to cooperate with the cop, he flipped her desk over and threw her across the room. The student seems not to have posed any danger to the cop, the teacher, or any of the students.

The incident opened a larger debate on the role of "resource officers" assigned to schools. Originally, the idea was to humanize students' image of cops, but more and more they are being used to criminalize problems schools used to deal with in less confrontational ways.

South Carolina -- often a trail-blazer in bizarre laws -- has a law against "disturbing school". The first time I read it, I thought it was outlawing adults coming onto school property and making problems, which I guess it does. But apparently it applies to students too, who can be arrested for such vague things as "to act in an obnoxious manner" at school. (As I remember high school, I think we all could have been arrested for that at one time or another.)

As we saw in the recent it's-a-clock-not-a-bomb case, vague laws create openings for the unconscious prejudices of authorities, especially racial prejudices. One student carrying a baseball bat through the halls might look like he's taking a short cut to the playing field, while another -- doing exactly the same thing -- might look like a threat. One kid caught somewhere he shouldn't be looks lost, while another is interpreted as a criminal trespasser.


In other police-brutality news, NBA player Thebo Sefolosha had his leg broken by New York police in April, just as his Atlanta Hawks were about to enter the playoffs. The incident was caught on video, and the police don't look good. They charged Sefolosha with three misdemeanors, and apparently prosecutors thought they were being generous when they offered to let Sefolosha off with one day of community service.

He decided to go to trial, and was acquitted after less than an hour of jury deliberation. Now he's filing suit against the NYPD.

The NYPD had another athlete-related incident in September, when an officer misidentified retired tennis pro James Blake as a member of a fake credit-card ring and arrested him. Blake offered no resistance, but was violently wrestled to the ground anyway. Again, it was caught on video.

I think Stephen Judkins is on to something:

It's crazy that once personal video recorders became ubiquitous UFOs stopped visiting Earth and cops started brutalizing people all the time.

and you also might be interested in ...

There are two kinds of states in America: states that expanded Medicaid, and states that have a lot of uninsured people.


Here's why we need stronger anti-discrimination laws: A Michigan pediatrician refused to treat a six-day-old infant because she had two moms. He apologized in a note, saying: "I felt that I would not be able to develop the personal patient doctor relationship that I normally do with my patients."

I'm sure that back in the Jim Crow era, a lot of white doctors felt that way about black patients. Some probably still do, but today the law tells them "Get over it." It should say the same thing to homophobic doctors.


A few weeks ago, Donald Trump committed a Republican heresy when he challenged Jeb Bush's claim that his brother "kept us safe". (How safe were the three thousand people in the World Trade Center?) Last Monday, The Atlantic's Kathy Gilsinan took it a step further in "Is It Really Better That Saddam's Gone?", a question I've raised on this blog before.

Bad as he was, Saddam was a secular ruler who kept a lid on the Sunni/Shia conflict and religious extremists like the ones who eventually founded ISIS. His Iraq was a strong regional counterweight to Iran. Nobody wants to claim he was a good guy, but in certain ways he was useful. It should go without saying that replacing his repressive order with the current chaos wasn't worth losing over a trillion dollars, four thousand American soldiers, and countless Iraqis.


Here's how the Benghazi hearings are being spun now. In criticizing House Republicans' move Tuesday to impeach the IRS commissioner, Fox News' Charles Krauthammer said:

This is not going to end well. ... Republicans in Congress have shown that they have no ability to conduct successful investigations of this administration.

Implicit in this statement is that the Obama administration can never be cleared of a charge. If no wrongdoing is found, the investigation is just "unsuccessful". Maybe the next investigation will do better.

and let's close with some uncommon sense

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