Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dogma and Storm

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

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

- President Abraham Lincoln (1862)

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

- President Ulysses Grant (1885)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: FBI says no charges.

and the Supreme Court's abortion decision

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

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

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

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

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

and Elie Wiesel

who died Saturday.

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

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

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


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

but not enough people are paying attention to this article

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

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

and you might also be interested in

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


draft of the Democratic Platform is out.


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


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

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

That doesn't sound much like vindication.

and let's close with something awesome

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

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

2 comments:

Michael Fessler said...

Doug - I thought this piece on Elie Wiesel perfectly captured the generous approach that you found lacking in Avishai's piece:

http://religiondispatches.org/searching-in-vain-for-a-pure-elie-wiesel/

From the closing passage:

To search for a pure Wiesel is to search for a world in which humans do not err, in which they are politically consistent and correct in every way. That search repeats the sin of Oprah, the sin that expects redemption in just a few moments. It leads to the self-aggrandizing bemoaning of others’ faults, the hasty demand that others agree with me now because I have the answer, the quick naming of holy men and women who might free us from our own burden of making difficult decisions, and the premature end of deliberation.

If we were to truly defer redemption, as Wiesel did with Oprah, we would not cease to call one another to task. But we would expect all of us (including Wiesel!) to betray our better selves on a regular basis. For those of us who are humanists or social scientists, we might research how such betrayals—or, for those of us who love jargon, “dialectical reversals”—occur as a matter of course when we live out our commitments among people who disagree with us.

And all of us might come to realize that our acts of solidarity, whether with some of the living or with some of the dead, are not innocent. They all cause pain to someone, somewhere. Perhaps that pain can be minimized over time, but the magnitude of the labor needed is far more immense than we might suspect. It was at times too immense for Wiesel. Yet if we read him again, perhaps it will not be too immense for us.

Romilda Gareth said...

Thanks