Now, the engineers and managers believe with all their hearts the glorious things their forebears hired people to say about them. Yesterday's snow job becomes today's sermon.
– Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano (1952)
This week's featured post is "ISIS is losing, but what happens next?"
This week everybody was talking about where President Obama was born
Donald Trump's first foray into national politics was in 2011, when he was the leading voice in the Birther movement, which charged that President Obama was an illegitimate president, because he wasn't actually born in the United States. Trump often went even further, implying Obama's whole history was phony.
Our current president came out of nowhere. Came out of nowhere. In fact, I'll go a step further: the people that went to school with him, they never saw him, they don't know who he is. It's crazy.
As recently as Thursday, Trump still wouldn't admit that President Obama was born in the United States, but his campaign issued a statement giving him credit for
bring[ing] this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate. Mr. Trump did a great service to the President and the country by bringing closure to the issue that Hillary Clinton and her team first raised.
But Friday, Trump embraced that position himself:
President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. ... Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it.
In other words, he withdrew his lie about Obama (without apology), and substituted a new lie about Clinton: She started it.
Neither Clinton herself or anyone connected with her campaign ever raised the issue in public (unlike Trump who talked about virtually nothing else for six weeks in 2011). Some 2008 Clinton supporters discussed it on the internet, but this was a far more tenuous connection than the current one between Trump and white supremacists like David Duke; you can't control who supports you or what they say. (Though you don't have to retweet their racist comments.)
The birther issue is -- rightly, I believe -- characterized as racist, because there was never any reason to raise it other than a desire to disqualify Obama. This tactic has a long history: As soon as blacks start applying for a position, qualifications that had never before been an issue require documentation that whites have never needed to produce, and whatever documentation blacks produce is always deemed suspicious or unacceptable for some invented reason.
It's disingenuous of Trump to take credit for the "closure" of Obama producing his birth certificate, when Trump himself continued to raise doubts after that. AP reports:
Trump repeatedly continued to question Obama's birth in the years after the president released his birth certificate. In August 2012, for example, Trump was pushing the issue on Twitter.
"An 'extremely credible source' has called my office and told me that @BarackObama's birth certificate is a fraud," he wrote.
Even in January of this year, Trump sounded skeptical when asked whether he now believed the president was a natural-born citizen.
"Who knows? Who cares right now? We're talking about something else, OK?" Trump said in a CNN interview. "I mean, I have my own theory on Obama. Someday I'll write a book."
This often-repeated lie has had its effect: An August poll showed that 72% of Republicans still either denied that Obama was born in America or refused to take a position. Previous polls had shown that Trump supporters were more likely to be birthers than other Republicans.
and the presidential race seems about even
Recent polls have Trump ahead in Ohio and Florida, and Nate Silver places Clinton's odds of victory at 60%, as low as that number has been since the conventions.
I wonder how many of you are experiencing the same psychological symptom I've noticed in myself. Sometimes when people repress an emotion, they start experiencing themselves as the object of the emotion rather than the subject. So if you're angry with somebody you don't want to be angry with, like a boss or spouse, you instead believe that they're angry with you. Jealous people imagine others are jealous of them, and so on. (The psychologists call this projection.)
The election is causing something similar in me: When I see evidence that large numbers of people are willing to make Trump our president, I feel deeply ashamed of my country and my fellow voters. But I try not to dwell on that, because what's the point? Later on, though, I'll notice that I'm feeling an excessive amount of shame for some comparatively trivial mistake of my own.
Anybody else noticing this? What kind of personal effect is the election having on you?
The first debate is just a week away. It will just be Clinton and Trump, since Jill Stein and Gary Johnson didn't qualify. The moderator will be Lester Holt of NBC. Here's the full calendar, with moderators.
This is not the time for a protest vote, in terms of a presidential campaign. I ran as a third-party candidate. I'm the longest-serving independent in the history of the United States Congress. I know more about third-party politics than anyone else in the Congress, okay? And if people want to run as third-party candidates, God bless them! Run for Congress. Run for governor. Run for state legislature. When we're talking about president of the United States, in my own personal view, this is not time for a protest vote. This is time to elect Hillary Clinton and then work after the election to mobilize millions of people to make sure she can be the most progressive president she can be.
Vox' Dara Lind describes how sexism impacts the Clinton campaign in "Nobody ever tells Donald Trump to smile".
For most of her career, Hillary Clinton’s been measured in comparison to men. She is less warm and authentic than her husband Bill Clinton or her 2016 opponent Bernie Sanders; she is less eloquent and transcendent than her 2008 opponent Barack Obama.But in what way, precisely, is Hillary Clinton "less" than Donald Trump?
He frequently looks gruff and mean. He barely laughs at all, and never at himself. His speeches are frequently dark and angry. He shouts. He's condescending and never uplifting or inspirational. He brags.
If you actually subject Donald Trump to the same scrutiny Clinton receives, you’ll see that he doesn’t show any of the qualities that other politicians — and especially female politicians — are criticized for lacking.
And yet, while the content of his remarks is sometimes criticized, he escapes the constant style-heckling directed at Clinton.
The NYT's Timothy Egan comments on the vast public under-reaction to Trump's statement that we should have kept Iraq's oil, because "to the victor belong the spoils".
As with everything in Trump’s world, his solution is simple: loot and pilfer. “Take the oil,” said Trump. He was referring to Iraq, post-invasion. And how would he do this? There would be an open-ended occupation, as a sovereign nation’s oil was stolen from it. Of course, “you’d leave a certain group behind,” he said, to protect the petro thieves.
A certain group. Let’s be clear what he’s talking about: Under Trump’s plan, American men and women would die for oil, victims of endless rounds of lethal sabotage and terror strikes. That’s your certain group.
Another detail left out of Trump's idea: It's useless to take the oil unless you also control a corridor to the sea, so that you can export it. How big and how vulnerable would that occupation force be?
The story that Melania Trump came to America illegally seems to be based on bad reporting. I'm going to stop repeating it unless somebody comes up with better evidence, and I recommend the rest of you do the same.
but I decided to check in on the Islamic State
The featured post "ISIS is losing but what happens next?" reviews the military situation of the Islamic State, which is looking bad for them. But it also points out the limited goals that a military victory can win for us: As long as a disgruntled population feels alienated from a political solution, some of them are going to try force.
and the upbeat census report on income
For years, the story has been the same: The economy was growing, but wages -- and particularly wages for the poor and working class -- weren't budging. But Tuesday, the Census Bureau released its annual report on income and poverty, updating its numbers for 2015. NPR summarizes:
after a brutal economic recession and years of stagnation, real median household incomes rose from $53,718 in 2014 to $56,516 last year. That's a 5.2 percent rise — the first statistically significant increase since 2007.
That income statistic is still lower than it was in 2007, before the Great Recession, and its peak came in 1999, just before the Internet Bubble popped. But it least it seems headed in the right direction now. Also, poverty is down and more people have health insurance, particularly in the states that have expanded Medicaid the way the Affordable Care Act intended (until the Supreme Court struck that part down and gave states the option not to participate).
Matt Yglesias describes why he thinks the Census Bureau is measuring the wrong things, but thinks the ultimate result is that its report might be too pessimistic.
The ways in which the census’s data sets are flawed suggests the underlying reality might be even better than Tuesday’s rosy report suggested. But the uncertainty here should be acknowledged when we discuss the report.
Two of the flaws: Households are shrinking as more people live alone and there are fewer big families. So even a smaller household income might mean that individuals are doing better. (OTOH, if people want more children but can't afford them, per capita numbers might make them look more prosperous than they feel.) Also, the Census Bureau focuses on income as cash before taxes. So changes in your non-cash benefits or your taxes don't show up.
One resulting anomaly has been with us for decades: As the cost of health care rises, employers that provide health insurance see their cost-per-employee rise, but the employees don't see any comparable increase in income.
and you also might be interested in
Nearly three months after the Brexit vote, what it means is still unclear. The UK still hasn't invoked Article 50 of the EU charter, which would formally start a divorce process that must be over within two years. Prime Minister Theresa May -- remember, she took office after David Cameron staked his career on the Brexit vote and lost -- says that won't happen at least until after the new year.
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is using its subpoena power to harass scientists whose results the Committee's Republican majority and Republican chairman don't like.
[Chairman Lamar] Smith’s subpoena-happy chairmanship hasn’t come out of nowhere. It apparently depends upon a conviction that the scientific community has a liberal agenda and that, if scientific results conflict with right-wing ideas, the scientists must be lying.
The new rules about House committees issuing subpoenas -- written by the Republican majority in 2015 -- make this kind of harassment easier.
The NRA is celebrating "a great day for freedom in Missouri": a new gun law, passed over Governor Nixon's veto, removes even the most common-sense restrictions:
- Gun owners can carry concealed weapons anywhere that isn't specifically restricted, like court houses and jails. No permits or training programs will be necessary. Just buy your gun (federal background checks still apply), put it in your pocket, and go on with your day.
- Local police lose much of their ability to deny gun permits to high-risk individuals, like, say, people with a long history of domestic violence or suicide attempts.
- A new stand-your-ground provision applies in public places like parking lots. If you feel threatened, you don't have to retreat or otherwise avoid a confrontation. Just shoot your way out.
Kevin Ahlbrand, legislative director for the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, raises a good question:
Our biggest fear is criminals who have not been convicted of a felony but are engaged in criminal activity will be legally carrying guns, and we’re now going to have to assume everyone is armed. When we show up to a scene and there are five guys with their guns out, what do we do?
An affordable medium-range electric car will be out later this year. It comes from one of those nimble, far-sighted little car companies -- General Motors.
"Affordable" in this case is relative, of course. The Chevy Bolt EV (not to be confused with the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid that been around since 2011), will sell for $30,000 or so after a federal rebate and go 238 miles on a charge. That's still a significant chunk of change, but plug-in power is cheaper than gasoline, so the Bolt becomes a more reasonable investment after you factor in operating costs.
Electric-car pioneer Tesla also has a car coming out in the same cost range. It goes almost as far on a charge, but Tesla probably won't be able to make enough of them to satisfy demand. GM will.
200 miles has long been considered a breakthrough point on electric cars, because that range wouldn't crimp the style of the average American in day-to-day life. You're still not going to take a Bolt on a cross-country road trip, but you should be able to commute to work, go out to lunch, and run errands after you get home without worrying about how much charge you have left.
In other car-tech news, Uber is testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh. A NYT reporter tells of his ride.
If driverless vehicles get perfected and accepted, we'll see a new round of technological unemployment. I added up the employment numbers for the different types of drivers tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and got about 3.8 million. The total number of people employed in the U.S. is around 151 million. So we're talking about 2.5% or so of all jobs. If you start thinking about people whose jobs depend on human drivers -- say they work at truck stops or at motels in the middle of nowhere -- the total goes higher.
That prospect got me reading Kurt Vonnegut's first novel, Player Piano, a 1952 dystopian vision of a low-employment society. That's where I found this week's opening quote.
and let's close with a sharp contrast
Here's Little Miss Flint's reaction to meeting President Obama.
And here's her reaction to meeting Donald Trump.