Monday, January 4, 2016

Breaking Barriers

I am tired of the stranglehold that women have had on the job of presidential spouse.

Bill Clinton

No Sift next week. The next new posts will appear on January 18.

This week's featured post is "Trump Supporters and Liberals: Why aren't we on the same side?".

This week everybody was talking about the old and new years

The New Yorker's John Cassidy picked out "Six Bits of Good News from 2015", starting with how international cooperation stopped the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. And the long-term downward trend in global poverty continued.

I find all those best-books-of-the-year lists intimidating, not to mention depressing: If the list has 100 books on it, I've usually read about one, and if it's just a top-ten list, I probably haven't read any. That's why I much prefer lists of what literate people (who aren't all book critics) actually read and liked this year, even if it wasn't new. Here are lists from the staff at Vox , The Week, and The Guardian.

My personal best reads of the year: The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist (nonfiction) and Forever by Pete Hamill (fiction). In teen/tween fiction, I'd pick Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi. Graphic novel: I agree with Alex Abad-Santos at Vox: Ms. Marvel. Best continuing comic-book series: Astro City. I also discovered the action/suspense novels of Greg Iles this year, and saw some surprising similarities between his old Southern riverport hometown of Natchez, Mississippi and my old Midwestern riverport hometown of Quincy, Illinois.

I saw so few movies this year that I can't judge best-movie lists. But Cinema Blend's list is an intriguing mix of indie-art-house stuff and blockbusters.

TPM has announced the winners of 2015's Golden Dukes, the annual awards given to "the year's best purveyors of public corruption, outlandish behavior, The Crazy and betrayals of the public trust". The grand prize winner is Dennis Hastert, for the revelation that all the while he was presiding over the House's impeachment of President Clinton, he was paying hush money to a male student he molested when he was a wrestling coach. Says one contest judge:

But the sheer depravity, the utter lack of a moral compass, and the misuse of moral authority of Hastert's pre-Congressional illegal acts, coupled with the hypocrisy of his work to end a presidency over consensual sex with an of-age partner and his efforts to deny rights to consensual partners of age who happen to be of the same sex, Hastert's your guy, apparently.

More pundits should follow Steve Benen's example: He rounds up his biggest mistakes of the year.

Science picks its top ten science images of 2015, including this shot of a new species of sea slug found on a reef in the Philippines.

Who can imagine, at this point, what wonders and blunders we'll see in 2016?

and Bill Cosby and the affluenza teen

CNN has been obsessing over these two cases, but you shouldn't. It's good that prosecutors are finally listening to women (at least in this one case). It's sad that a beloved cultural icon was such a sleaze in real life. But the Cosby case has very little impact on your life. The legal issues are kind of interesting, though.

The original affluenza defense was ridiculous; Ethan Couch was stupid to break the probation he was lucky to have in the first place; and what was his mom thinking in helping him run away to Mexico? But there are stories more deserving of your attention, like the next one:

and Tamir Rice

The Cleveland policeman who killed a 12-year-old boy playing with a pellet gun will face no charges. ThinkProgress identifies seven things everyone should know about the case.

Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses how police who kill citizens delegitimize police in general. If calling the police means that someone could wind up dead (with no one held accountable), then calling the police escalates conflict rather than leading to a resolution.

It will not do to note that 99 percent of the time the police mediate conflicts without killing people anymore than it will do for a restaurant to note that 99 percent of the time rats don’t run through the dining room. Nor will it do to point out that most black citizens are killed by other black citizens, not police officers, anymore than it will do to point out that most American citizens are killed by other American citizens, not terrorists. If officers cannot be expected to act any better than ordinary citizens, why call them in the first place? Why invest them with any more power?

I have a hard time apportioning the individual and collective responsibility in the Rice case. Obviously, Tamir Rice should not be dead and probably would not be dead if he were white. The officer who shot him at the very minimum should not be a cop any more, and probably should be convicted of something.

But I don't want to pin the whole responsibility on the individual cop who pulled the trigger. There is the larger cultural problem of a police department that doesn't value black lives. And beyond that, there's the structural racism in our whole society, which casts black males as inherently dangerous. To most American whites, things just look different when blacks do them, a problem I illustrated with a collection of reactions to President Obama and his family in "What Should 'Racism' Mean?".

I don't doubt that when Officer Loehman looked at Rice, he saw a dangerous thug with a gun, and believed that he had a shoot immediately to defend himself. But why did he see and believe that? Why didn't the possibility of a 12-year-old with a toy cross his mind? Or even the possibility that the "armed thug" might be talked down without violence?

Independent of what (if anything) happens to Loehman, Cleveland needs to take a hard look at how it trains its cops. All cities need to look at the us-against-them attitude within their police departments. (Why did Loehman's partner back his story of giving Rice multiple warnings, when the video shows only two seconds between opening the car door and the first shot?) And we all need to examine our perceptual filters, to understand how we see blacks and whites differently.

and the Oregon militia stand-off

The Bundy militia is back in the news. Bundy's son and some other armed yahoos have seized the headquarters of a national wildlife refuge in rural Oregon to protest something-or-other about land use. They have no hostages, but say they're willing to use violence if the government tries to evict them by force.

“We are not hurting anybody or damaging any property.,” Ammon Bundy told [Oregon Public Broadcasting]. “We would expect that they understand that we have given them no reason to use lethal force upon us or any other force.”

Yeah, that can work sometimes if you're white.

That Vox summary article includes the goodbye-to-my-family video of militiaman Jon Ritzheimer, who seems to think he's going to his death. To me, it resembles the videos that Palestinian suicide bombers record. I'm not the only one who sees the similarities between our homegrown extremists and foreign terrorists: the nickname "Y'all Qaeda" is catching on, though it seems a little unfair to non-terrorist Southerners. #yallqaeda

Ritzheimer waves a pocket edition of the Constitution around as if it were sacred writ, but doesn't say what it has to do with the issue at hand. I've read the Constitution too, and I don't see the connection. Part of the constitutional system is that we have courts where we resolve such questions. I don't recall any of the Founders saying that if my interpretation of the Constitution doesn't win out, I'll have to start shooting people.

Tempting as it is to imagine the government taking these guys by force, I'm applying the same frame I do to Al Qaeda or ISIS terrorism: The terrorists have a narrative, and we don't want to play into it. I want them punished in a really boring and bureaucratic way that allows them no moment of glory whatsoever.

and the presidential campaign

Now that Donald Trump is promising to make Bill Clinton's infidelities an issue in his campaign against Hillary, the next question is: What ever happened to Monica Lewinsky? Well, she's become an activist against cyber-bullying, using her own experience to identify with young people who are being humiliated online. Here's a TED talk she gave in March.

A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry. ... The more shame, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more advertising dollars.

OK, maybe that's the second-to-next question. The next question ought to be: How is this a reason to vote against Hillary? That's what has Paul Waldman scratching his head:

What's much harder to figure out is why Bill Clinton's behavior provides a reason to vote against his wife. That's the substance of the question, which still awaits an explanation.

I'm with Josh Marshall:

At the risk of stating the obvious, this is a tactic that may work great for Trump in a Republican primary - particularly with the people who make up Trump's core constituency. But in a general election, with an electorate not driven by the things that drive Trump supporters, having a thrice married, philandering blowhard like Trump trying to beat up on a woman over her husband's philandering, about which she is if anything the victim rather than the perpetrator, is almost comically self-destructive on Trump's part.

Hillary's charge that terrorist groups were using Trump's anti-Muslim statements as recruiting tools apparently was based more on intuition than evidence (unless the testimony of these experts counts). Consequently, it was premature: At that time she said it, no one could find any examples of Trump appearing in terrorist recruiting videos (which isn't exactly what Clinton charged anyway). But now they can.

It stands to reason. ISIS' main message to Muslim youth is: There is no place for you in a world dominated by the West. Who makes that point better than Donald Trump?

and you might also be interested in

This week's guns-make-us-safer story: Wednesday night, a Florida woman killed her 27-year-old daughter after mistaking her for an intruder. Now apply the guns-everywhere theory and imagine that the daughter had been armed and ready to shoot back when she saw a muzzle-flash in the dark. (She wasn't.)

The Oregon bakers (the ones who think that discriminating against gays is part of their religious freedom) have finally paid their $135K fine plus interest. It wasn't hard, because fans have sent them $515K, and the money is still coming in. Fox News' Todd Starnes calls this "the price the Kleins had to pay for following the teachings of Jesus Christ." I'm still searching for whatever teaching that is and where in the Bible Jesus taught it. If you know, please comment.

Steve Benen shares my view of the spying-on-Israel flap. Israel had somehow acquired inside information about our nuclear-weapons-development negotiations with Iran, and was feeding them to Republican congressmen to undermine the chances of reaching an agreement. You can say that we shouldn't spy on our allies, but Israel wasn't acting as an ally in this situation.

Netanyahu and his team tried and failed to derail the diplomatic efforts, but they still had hopes of sabotaging American foreign policy through Congress. For intelligence agencies, this created a real dilemma. On the one hand, the very idea of U.S. intelligence agencies spying on members of the U.S. Congress is a major problem. On the other hand, U.S. intelligence agencies spying on a foreign government actively trying to subvert American policy is about as common as a sunrise.

The tricky part, obviously, is the challenge facing intelligence officials when it’s American members of Congress who are coordinating – and to a degree, partnering – with a foreign government to undermine the foreign policy of the United States. Such a dynamic has no real precedent in the American tradition, but in the Obama era, radicalized congressional Republicans have made this rather commonplace.

BTW: about that agreement. Monday, Iran took one of the major steps towards implementation when it shipped 25,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Russia. According to Secretary Kerry, the "breakout time" Iran would need to construct a nuclear weapon has already tripled, from 2-3 months to 6-9 months.

As I pointed out at the time, we gave up nothing of ours to get that result. After it jumps through a few more hoops, Iran will get some of its own money back.

Paul Krugman points out that Obama's re-election had other important consequences: Rich people paid more tax and more people had health insurance.

and let's close with some New Year's resolutions

AJ+ offers ten resolutions to actually make America great. She starts in a good place: If you want to "make America great again", you should define great and again. Are we talking about when black people couldn't vote? When women weren't in the workforce? When?

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