Monday, December 26, 2011

The Yearly Sift of 2011

What's past is prologue.

-- William Shakespeare, The Tempest

In this week's sift:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pressures From Below

Silence never won rights. They are not handed down from above; they are forced by pressures from below.

-- Roger Baldwin

In this week's sift:

  • Detention Without Trial. President Obama isn't going to veto the NDAA after all. How big a problem is that?
  • Christopher Hitchens and the Politics of Atheism. I come to bury Hitchens, not to praise him. But all the same, there are some things you have to give him credit for.
  • Victoryish, and other short notes. What's the right way to mark the end of the Iraq War? NPR can't find the jobs that a millionaires' tax would kill. Are co-ops the future? More Rick Perry parodies. Links to my holiday stories. And more.
  • Last week's most popular post. In an extraordinarily slow week on the Sift, Perry and Parody was the most popular post with 107 views. (Whenever I have a low number to report, somebody always reminds me that around 300 people access the Sift in ways that don't show up in these statistics.)
  • This week's challenge. As you plan your holiday donations to charity, check out the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania. Don't just give your money away, give it away as effectively as possible.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Campaign Update

It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.

-- attributed to just about everybody

In this week's sift:

  • Your 2012 Deep Background Briefing. Forget the day-to-day of who's up and who's down. What's this campaign going to be about?
  • Evangelicals and the New Newt. Mainstream pundits are puzzled by how the religious right can rally to a morally challenged Newt Gingrich. It's really not that mysterious.
  • Perry and Parody. Rick Perry's "Strong" is the most disliked and most parodied political ad ever.
  • Hallelujah and other short notes. Now that corporations are people, they have reason to sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Not even rats are so ratty that they don't have empathy. What "freedom" means to MasterCard. Jon Stewart declares war on Christmas. The Santa Venn diagram. And more on news deserts.
  • Last week's most popular post. Liberal Media, Conservative Manipulation was the most popular post for the second week in a row.

Have an unchallenging week, everybody.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bird's Eye View

I will ascend above the tops of the clouds. I will be like the Most High.

-- Isaiah 14:14

In this week's sift:

  • Forgive Us Our Debts. Some large percentage of the major news stories are tied somehow to the issue of debt. Each one has its labyrinth of details, into which your attention can vanish and never return. But let's go the other way and try to look at the big picture: This is bigger than economics. It's about democracy and how we even start to think about morality.
  • Bankers' Law and other short notes. A judge rejects a sweetheart deal between the SEC and Citi. TARP was only a small part of the bailout. Illegal foreclosures. Congress approves detention-without-trial. 100 notable books. Inoculations against Ron Paul fever.  Marxist Muppets. Perry, Cain, Romney. Gas leases say more than farmers realize. And stop blaming Barney Frank.
  • Last week's most popular post. Liberal Media, Conservative Manipulation was the most popular post in nearly two months. It's the fifth post in history to get more than 2000 views. Last count: 2328.
  • Expand your vocabulary: news desert. A news desert is any segment of society so invisible to mainstream media that it's hard for the desert-dwellers to keep track of what's going on in their own community.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mildly Revolutionary

I've laid down in the rain before
hoping I would drown and wake up upon your shore.
But even God can't hire everyone any more.
Even God can't hire everyone any more.

-- The Mild Revolution "Working Man Blues"

In this week's sift:

  • Liberal Media, Conservative Manipulation. Everybody knows that journalists are (sort of) liberal. So why does so much coverage slant to the right?
  • Where Occupy Goes Next and other short notes. Should Occupy Wall Street support a legislative agenda and candidates to carry it out, or would that just corrupt and co-opt the movement? Plus: The pepper-spraying cop becomes iconic. The world's lightest material. Do conservative policies promote conservative values? And Mitt Romney gets a taste of his own medicine.
  • Last week's most popular post. At last count, Now Look What You Made Me Do had 699 views, making it the sixth most popular post since the Sift moved to in July.
  • This week's challenge: Listen Local. If you're trying to eat local and shop local, you really ought to check out your local music scene too. (That's where I picked up this week's quote.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Refraining From Violence

I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters. The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere.

-- President Barack Obama,
January 28, 2011

In this week's sift:

  • Now Look What You Made Me Do. When police attacked peaceful protesters in cities around the country this week, the media's unwillingness to "take sides" insured that Middle America would blame the protesters.
  • Will the Court Throw Out Obamacare?The Supremes will rule on the Affordable Care Act's constitutionality sometime between now and June. Two conservative appellate judges just gave us a preview of what they might do.
  • Paterno and the Bishops. Comparing the Penn State scandal to the Catholic Church scandal, it's clear that the public attitude towards sexual abuse has changed.
  • Last (two) week's most popular post. Jobless Recoveries Are Normal Now had 322 views.
  • This week's challenge. At your church, business, club, or other institutions, raise this question: Where do we do our banking? Many institutional accounts might be ineligible for credit unions, but could your institution move to a local bank more likely to keep your money in the community?

The length of this week's main articles crowded out Short Notes. As compensation, I offer this amazing photo from Iceland: The full moon illuminates a waterfall, the moonlight creates a rainbow in the spray, and between the foreground of the bow and the background of the starry night sky shine the Northern Lights.

As the Christmas carol says: "O, that we were there."

Monday, November 7, 2011

Seemingly Moral

No Sift next week. The Weekly Sift returns on November 21st.

There's no better way to justify relations founded on violence, to make such relations seem moral, than by reframing them in the language of debt -- above all, because it immediately makes it seem like it's the victim who's doing something wrong.

-- David Graeber
Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011)

In this week's sift:

  • Jobless Recoveries are Normal Now. One very instructive graph and the disturbing conclusion you can draw from it: The fundamental nature of recessions has changed, and most of the policies we fight over have nothing to do with it.
  • The Cain Scandal After a Week. Scandals just have entertainment value until they start driving your supporters away. So far that's not happening.
  • The Death of the Follow-up Question and other short notes. Herman Cain's China problem, a food-industry insider defects, a true blue supporter of the family is a deadbeat dad, the iPod of government, SB-5 is going down tomorrow, the importance of the smart grid, a couple particularly stunning scenes from nature, and more.
  • Last week's most popular post. Nonviolence and the Police, with 329 views.
  • This week's challenge. Remember to vote in your local elections tomorrow. Also, Saturday was Bank Transfer Day, when people all over the country closed their accounts at too-big-to-fail banks and moved their money to community banks or credit unions. If you missed, it's not too late. AlterNet's Lynn Parramore gives a step-by-step.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The System's Game

When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system's game. The establishment will irritate you: pull your beard, flick your face to make you fight. Because once they've got you violent then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don't know how to handle is nonviolence and humor.

-- John Lennon
[it took me forever to source this;
for the longest time I thought it must be misattributed]

In this week's sift:

  • Nonviolence and the Police. If the recent police attacks on Occupy protesters either enrage or discourage you, take some time to remember how nonviolence works, and the important roles the police play in that strategy.
  • It's Mitt Romney's Economy. Vast inequality? Paper profits and no jobs? It's all part of a revolution in corporate behavior that started in the 70s. And one of the major revolutionaries was Mitt Romney.
  • Three-eyed Fish and other short notes. Somebody really did catch a three-eyed fish near a nuclear power plant. My Halloween column. Occupy Mordor's statement. Perry's flat tax. Some very pretty pictures of the northern lights. Bad Lip Reading does Herman Cain. And more.
  • Last week's most popular post. For the third week in a row, Turn the Shame Around, with 352 views (7400 total). The most-viewed new post was Eliminate the Work Penalty(183). (Whenever I report such a low number, somebody reminds me that the blog page views don't count the readers who get the Sift via email or RSS feeds. That's around 300 people total, as best I can figure.)
  • This week's challenge. Lots of state and local elections are happening a week from tomorrow. These elections are won on turnout, so make sure to turn out. The headline vote is in Ohio, where a No on Issue 2 will repeal the anti-union bill passed by the legislature. They could still use your help.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.

-- Karl Marx

In this week's sift:

  • Eliminate the Work Penalty. I don't know why liberals let conservatives dominate the tax-simplification issue. The Right's regressive flat-tax idea doesn't simplify anything. But there's an obvious progressive reform that would.
  • Koch-Funded Study: "Global Warming is Real". Climate-change deniers expected a new study by a blue-ribbon group of scientists from outside the usual climate-science circles to show that global-warming statistics were either a mistake or a fraud. Instead, it provided independent verification of their accuracy.
  • Shoot-out at the MSNBC Corral. Friday, Rachel Maddow looked straight into the camera, addressed the Koch brothers by name, and told them to "man up" and face her rather than go after her staff.
  • Gracious Statesmanship and other short notes. Why can't Republicans be as gracious about President Obama's successes as Democrats were in 2003? We have Blackwater to thank for getting our troops out of Iraq. Meteor Blades says that the Iraq War was a crime, not a mistake. Still no End of the World. A vertical forest in Milan. Bra-burning in Japan. Where Occupy Wall Street has already succeeded. OWS humor. And Bad Lip Reading's Mitt Romney video.
  • Last week's most popular post. For the second week in a row, Turn the Shame Aroundgot the most views (1400 last week, 7000 total). The most popular new post was Suck It Up, with around 350 views.
  • Expand Your Vocabulary: metaphor shear. It's the moment when a sudden confrontation with reality makes you realize that you've been thinking inside a bogus metaphor. Anybody who takes a serious look at economics is going to experience a lot of metaphor shears.

Monday, October 17, 2011


You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.

– Eric Hoffer

In this week's sift:

  • Suck It Up: Using Our Pride Against Us. Last week I talked about how the economic system uses our shame against us. This week I focus on the flip side of that phenomenon: pride.
  • A View From Dewey Square. I visited Occupy Boston the afternoon after the police had dropped by. Too bad we missed each other.
  • Blood and Teeth on the Floor and other short notes. Molly Erdman's parody captures everything I love about Elizabeth Warren. I couldn't make myself watch the Republican debate, so I let other people fact-check it. Plus, I whole bunch of other fact-checking and lie-exposing about Occupy Wall Street and the economy.
  • Last week's most popular post. Turn the Shame Around (5700 views at last count) had the second most popular first week in history.
  • This week's challenge.Woody Tasch presents an interesting challenge: What if ordinary people who were doing well enough to have savings stopped investing it all in financial institutions and instead invested in local businesses they can see and use and understand? Especially in local food enterprises: "I'm talking about investing with your friends and neighbors in small organic farms, grain mills, creameries, small slaughterhouses, seed companies, compost companies, restaurants that source locally, butchers and bakers and, sure, a bee's-wax candlemaker or two. Take 1 percent of your money out of the stock market and put it into food hubs, community kitchens, community markets, school gardens, niche organic brands, makers of sustainable agricultural inputs, and more." Doing this right is more than a one-week challenge, but how would you start?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Public Shamelessness

The Weekly Sift has moved to

Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it, is.

-- Benjamin Franklin, Sayings of Poor Richard

In this week's sift:

  • Turn the Shame Around. It took Herman Cain to teach me what Occupy Wall Street is about: casting off shame and putting it where it belongs. The Powers That Be would have us be ashamed that we weren't good enough to crack the top 1%. But what is really shameful is an economy that only works for the top 1%.
  • What Kind of King Do You Want To Be? Wednesday I had to explain to a teen-ager why the news is important. I told him that in a democracy the People are King, and the children are in training to be King. Whatever we need to know to be a good King, that defines what news is. And when we're a bad King, people die.
  • Palin's Big Con and other short notes. Did Sarah Palin bluff running for president just to con money out of her fans? Jon Stewart thinks so. Stephen Colbert apologizes to a ham that looks like Karl Rove. The secret "kill list" for American citizens. Hank Williams Jr., Scott Brown, and Rick Perry deal with PR problems. Occupy Sesame Street. And more.
  • Last week's most popular post. It was a slow week. For the second week in a row, the short notes were the top new post. The Brilliance/Pointlessness of Occupying Wall Street and other short notes garnered 127 views. Meanwhile, Six True Things Politicians Can't Say (from September 19) got 193 views. At 67K, it has accounted for about half of the page views since this blog moved to in July.
  • Expand Your Vocabulary. A new feature, which will alternate with This Week's Challenge. This week I want to call your attention to the term composition fallacy: assuming that what works for one person will work if everybody does it. (The classic example is standing up to get a better view at a football game.) In politics, composition fallacies are used to make structural problems in the economy look like individual moral failings. One unemployed person can network and pound the pavement and retrain until he finds a new job. Does it follow that unemployment would go away if all the unemployed tried harder? No.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Changing the System

The Weekly Sift has moved. Check out the new site at

If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal.

-- attributed to Emma Goldman (but I'm having a hard time sourcing it)

In this week's Sift:

  • ConConCon: Can the Grass Roots Find Common Ground? In the current money-dominated system, neither the liberal nor the conservative grass roots can pass any kind of fundamental change through the bottleneck of Congress. What if the two sides could trust each other long enough to reform our democracy, and then have the kind of democratic struggle the Founders envisioned?
  • Execution Without Trial. Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen who supported al Qaeda and may have been actively plotting to kill Americans. Friday he was killed by a drone missile, despite never having been indicted or convicted of any crime. How should we feel about that?
  • The Brilliance/Pointlessness of Occupying Wall Street, and other short notes. Does it make sense to have a protest movement but no demands? More poor, poor bigots. You still don't know how bad paperless voting machines are. 85K Americans died last year because they weren't French. Christians face the failure of abstinence. Plus more depressing stuff, leading to baby pandas. Because who doesn't like baby pandas?
  • Last Week's Most Popular Post. At 146 views, Poor, Poor Bigots and other short notes was the first short-notes post ever to out-draw the week's longer articles. Everything I posted last week ran well behind Six True Things Politicians Can't Say from September 12 (438 views last week, 67,000 total).
  • This Week's Challenge. A college teacher says civics education has gotten so bad we all need to work on it: "Each one of us who does know how the system works, who votes, who has strong feelings about democracy and justice, has a responsibility to teach someone who as of yet doesn't know this." That means you, right?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tinkering With Death

The Weekly Sift has moved. Check out the new site at

From this day forward, I shall no longer tinker with the machinery of death.

Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun
dissenting opinion in the capital punishment case Callins v Collins (1994)

In this week's sift:

  • Talking About Killing.Troy Davis' execution galvanized death-penalty opponents. But they're still talking past (not to) death-penalty advocates.
  • The Sifted Bookshelf: The Hour of Sunlight.How Israeli prison made a peace activist out of Sami al Jundi.
  • Poor, Poor Bigots and other short notes. Why military chaplains are not the victims of DADT repeal. The Republican debates are making the party "sound like crazy people" and hurting Rick Perry. The outrageous lie that put Herman Cain's campaign back on the map. Amusing political images. Elizabeth Warren goes viral. And more.
  • The previous Sift's most popular post. Six True Things Politicians Can't Say was on its way to a respectable showing when it suddenly took off last Monday, got 8000 hits in an hour, and set a Weekly Sift record with (so far) 66,000 views. Economics Works Backwards Now got over 400 views, which would have made it the top post of a typical week. Both were voted onto the recommended list when reposted to Daily Kos -- the first time I ever hit that list two days in a row. Meanwhile, One Word Turns the Tea Party Around was having a third burst of popularity, and is now up to 17,000 views. I don't know how long I can resist the Hollywood urge to write "Six More True Things Politicians Can't Say" or "Another Word Turns the Tea Party Around".
  • This week's challenge. Check out a couple of proposals that could use your support: The People's Rights Amendment declares that only "natural persons" (not corporations) have constitutional rights. And the National Popular Vote Bill circumvents the Electoral College through a compact among the states.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Turn the Crank

The Weekly Sift has moved. Check out the new site at

No Sift next week. The Weekly Sift returns on September 26.

In truth then, there is nothing more to wish for than that the king, remaining alone on the island, by constantly turning a crank, might produce, through automata, all the output of England.

-- Jean-Charles-LĂ©onard Simonde Sismondi
New Principles of Political Economy (1819)

In this week's sift:

Monday, September 5, 2011


The Weekly Sift has moved. Check our our new digs at

Undermining Americans' belief in their own institutions of self-government remains a prime GOP electoral strategy.

– Mike Lofgren, retired Republican Congressional staffer
"Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult"

In this week's sift:

  • Rootworms, Monsanto, and the Unity of Existence. Liberals like to use the word holistic, but conservatives are the ones whose ideology connects everything. Why a down-on-the-farm issue like Bt-resistant rootworms has larger lessons to teach.
  • Blowing Smoke About Clouds. If you have enough media power, you can hijack the prestige of the biggest names in science and use it for your own purposes. Witness how climate deniers just hijacked the coverage of an article in Nature by researchers at CERN.
  • A ConConCon and other short notes. Lawrence Lessig tries to make common cause with the Tea Party. Cheney's book tour. Geo-engineering. Rolling Stone covers voter suppression. Convoluted music copyrights. Relative costs of the Libyan and Iraq interventions. More on Libertarians.
  • Last week's most popular post. Traffic mostly went back to normal last week, except for continuing interest in Why I Am Not a Libertarian (18K total views) andOne Word Turns Around the Tea Party (7K). (Between them they're still accounting for more than half the blog's traffic.) Last week's Barack, Can We Talk? got a more typical 450 views. However, it took off when I reposted it to Daily Kos, where it went to the top of the recommended list (800 recommendations, 800 comments).
  • This week's challenge. Try to put words around the political message you're waiting to hear. What could a politician say or do that would give you a surprised reaction of "This person really gets it!"?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Truth Among Friends

The Weekly Sift has moved. Check our our new digs at

Though we love both the truth and our friends, piety requires us to honor the truth first.

-- Aristotle

In this week's sift:

  • Barack, Can We Talk? I can live with the budget compromises, even if I don't like them. But we need you to build a Democratic brand and defend a progressive view of reality. When you start repeating deceptive Republican rhetoric -- that's just wrong.
  • A Primary Issues Guide. As the Republican presidential campaign gets national attention, any misinformation the major candidates agree on is going to get a big boost. Let's try to head that off.
  • Irene and Uncle Sam, and other short notes. Natural disasters underline the importance of government, unless you're Ron Paul.
  • Last week's most popular post. Traffic went crazy last week. Why I Am Not a Libertarian is about to pass 17,000 hits. The previous week's One Word Turns the Tea Party Around picked up a second wind on Thursday and had over 4,000 hits this week, pushing it above 6,000. (About 400 came from a link on this knitting blog. Thanks, Norma.) Both totals are higher than any previous post in the Weekly Sift's 3 1/2 year history.
  • This week's challenge. Add a comment to an article on a news web site. (At some sites you might have to register, but it's easy and free.) Short comments hit hardest, and there are some simple comparisons worth making: Our Libya intervention was so much smarter than our Iraq intervention. And Irene got handled a lot better than Katrina.

Monday, August 22, 2011


As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.

-- Clarence Darrow

In this week's Sift:

  • Why I Am Not a Libertarian. I still remember the points I found so convincing when I was a 19-year-old Libertarian. But 35 years later the world looks very different to me.
  • Horse Race 2012. In general the corporate media over-covers the presidential horserace, and I hate to compound the problem. But they also cover it badly, so now-and-then I feel like I have to comment.
  • The Great Flabbergasting and other short notes. Rachel Maddow coined an amusing term for a head-shaking phenomenon: Republicans turn against their own ideas as soon as President Obama adopts them. Meanwhile, Jon Stewart confronts ideas that billionaire Warren Buffett is a socialist and that the poor should have their taxes raised before the rich.
  • Last week's most popular post. Last week was something of a break-out for the Weekly Sift. One Word Turns the Tea Party Around just passed 1900 hits on the blog, in addition to the via email or RSS. And when I cross-posted it on Daily Kos, it drew over 800 recommendations and 224 comments. What's more, these blog visitors showed some signs of hanging around: The second-most-popular post last week was the Who Am I and Why I Started the Weekly Sift post that is always up. The popular posts of previous weeks have been driven by Reddit; One Word was driven by Facebook. Thanks to all of you who linked and liked and otherwise helped get it out there.
  • This week's challenge. When you hand your money to a big corporation, chances are a slice of it will go to ALEC or the Chamber of Commerce and be used to promote corporate rights over human rights. In the economy as it currently exists, you can't avoid corporations completely unless you're ready to live like the Amish. But chances are you can find some way to give them less of your money. This week, investigate whether a credit union could serve you better than a bank. Or patronize a locally-owned shop or restaurant, a farmer's market, or some other human-scale business rather than a national chain.

The Weekly Sift has moved to

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    Turn Back

    Turn back, O Man.
    Forswear thy foolish ways

    Clifford Bax (1919)

    In this week's Sift:

    • One Word Turns the Tea Party Around. Want to transform annoying Tea Party rhetoric into motivating Progressive rhetoric? It's easy: Just replace all occurrences of government withcorporations. Who knew that Rand Paul, Ayn Rand, and Ronald Reagan could make so much sense?
    • Building the Rioters of the Future. Pundits tried very hard to stuff the British riots into some simple box: a crime spree, a revolution, bad parenting, mass insanity. When that failed, they proclaimed the violence a great mystery. But is it really so hard to understand why people with little to lose would loot or burn?
    • After Wisconsin. Tuesday, Wisconsin Democrats picked up two seats in staunch Republican districts, but fell short of re-taking the state senate. So was that a win or a loss? And now we move on to Ohio.
    • Noah's Dinosaurs and other short notes. Should a Bible theme park get tax breaks? Is it OK for a county board to begin its meetings by praying to Jesus? How the Republican 2012 field looks after the Ames Straw poll. Global warming in one graphic. Mitt Romney embraces corporate personhood, and the DNC strikes back. What countries are still AAA? Socialist ones, mostly.
    • Last week's most popular post.Voter Suppression 101 had 464 views at last count. Last week's most-clicked link backed up my claim (in Voter Suppression) that the League of Women Voters has stopped registering voters in Florida in response to a voter-suppression law there.
    • This Week's Challenge is only a little self-serving: Figure out how you can draw more attention to the kinds of things you like. If you've mostly been a passive user of social media, figure out how to Like or Link or Retweet. Or sign up at Reddit or Digg or StumbleUpon and start trying to influence the wisdom of crowds.


    The Weekly Sift has moved to

      Monday, August 8, 2011

      The People Repelled

      The discussion shows that are supposed to add to public understanding may actually reduce it, by hammering home the message that "issues" don't matter except as items for politicians to squabble about. ... The press, which in the long run cannot survive if people lose interest in politics, is acting as if its purpose was to guarantee that people are repelled by public life.

      James Fallows, Breaking the News (1995)

      In this week's sift:

      • Voter Suppression 101. Imagine you are a politician who serves only the top 1%. What's your plan for getting enough votes to win?
      • Tea By Any Other Name. After the disastrous end of the Bush administration, conservatives used their money and media power to ditch the wounded Republican label and rebrand themselves as the new (and therefore blameless) Tea Party. Now that the Tea Party's public image is tanking, how long before they try the same trick again?
      • A Week of Down. Bad as it looked, the debt-ceiling deal was supposed to keep the stock market from crashing and the ratings agencies from downgrading our bonds. Funny how that worked out.
      • The Solar Oil Field and Other Short Notes. Oman uses solar to bring up more oil. Protesting Obama's 50th birthday. Sponge Bob, propagandist. The E-Trade baby loses everything. Matt Damon sticks up for teachers. The EPA saves money. And a manufactured snub of Easter.
      • Last week's most popular post. At last count Confessions of a Centrist in Exile had received 240 views on the blog. The most-clicked-link was the solar-powered bikini.
      • This week's challenge. Six Republican state senators face recall elections in Wisconsin tomorrow. If three of them lose, the state Senate flips to the Democrats. This would send a powerful message to state governments around the country about union-busting and favoring corporations over people. It's too late for your money to do much good, but they need people to make get-out-the-vote phone calls and you can do it from home.

      A special note to RSS subscribers. If you read the Sift via Google Reader or some other RSS reader, you've probably noticed all the out-of-date posts you're getting. Here's what's happening: When I moved the Sift to a few weeks ago, the archived posts didn't transfer perfectly. So I've been fixing them little by little. Unfortunately, those fixes have been showing up in the RSS feed as if they were "updates". I'm not sure what to do about this other than just get the fixes done as fast as possible. Any Weekly Sift post that shows up on anything other than a Monday is the result of this glitch. My apologies.

      Monday, August 1, 2011

      Not Going Home

      The Weekly Sift has moved to
      You should adjust your bookmarks and RSS subscriptions accordingly.
      In the meantime, I'll continue posting weekly summaries here that will link to the new blog.

      Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.

      -- Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit (1844)

      In this week's Sift:

      • Confessions of a Centrist in Exile. My natural home is in the Center, not the Left. But I can't go back there now, and I don't know if I ever will.
      • The Mosler Proposals. If you believed (as Warren Mosler does) that in the current economy government spending cannot create any kind of problem -- short term or long -- what would you do?
      • Short Notes. Obama surrenders to the Tea Party. Even the Tooth Fairy is cutting benefits. Solar-powered bikinis. Apple is the new boss, same as the old boss. How much of a nuisance is it to get a voter ID? Southampton University prints an airplane. Why not let environmentalists bid on oil rights? Good ratings didn't save Cenk Uygur. If the victim is Planned Parenthood, it's not terrorism. Perry is the new Republican favorite. And Jon Stewart takes on conservative delusions of victimization.
      • Last week's most popular post. The Dog Whistle Defined got 360 views.
      • This week's challenge. This week's challenge is to keep your spirits up. The news has been relentlessly negative for some while, and that's probably going to continue this week. Breathe. Look at the sky. Find somebody young enough to get excited when you propose playing a silly game. Things change, and it won't be long until you feel like changing them yourself.

      Tuesday, July 26, 2011

      "Hear that, Fido?"

      The Weekly Sift has moved to
      You should adjust your bookmarks and RSS subscriptions accordingly.
      In the meantime, I'll continue posting weekly summaries here that will link to the new blog.

      We did not call it propaganda, for that word, in German hands, had come to be associated with deceit and corruption.
      -- George Creel, How We Advertised America (1920)
      In this week's Sift:
      • The Dog Whistle Defined. How Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry send messages to the Religious Right that they don't want you to hear.
      • Digging Into the Deficit. When you gather together the rights charts and graphs, the deficit isn't that complicated: We cut taxes too far, and healthcare costs are rising exponentially.
      • Short notes. If you're not Muslim, it's not terrorism. The debt ceiling comes down to the wire. Yesterday's talking points are today's deadbeats. The hazards of lying to Al Franken. Dogs and smurfs. And the week's most interesting question: Did communists raise Captain America?
      • Last week's most popular post. Hands down it was Meet ALEC, which at last count had 878 views (most of which came through Reddit, if I'm reading the stats right). That's part of a national wave of attention to the secretive American Legislative Executive Council. This week the story escaped the liberal blogosphere and made it to Bloomberg News and NPR. A good way to go deeper is to look at one state in detail: ALEC Bills in Wisconsin.
      • This week's challenge. Sign a petition to make corporations impersonal again. If it takes a constitutional amendment, let's get one started.
      I promised a follow-up on last week's review of Warren Mosler's Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy, where I would describe his proposals. But I ran over my 3000-word weekly limit, so I'll put that off to next week.

      Monday, July 18, 2011


      The Weekly Sift has moved to
      You should adjust your bookmarks and RSS subscriptions accordingly.
      In the meantime, I'll continue posting weekly summaries here that will link to the new blog.

      This week's summary is on the new blog at:

      BOY: Do not try to bend the spoon. That is impossible.
      Instead, only try to realize the Truth.
      NEO: What truth?
      BOY: There is no spoon.

      -- The Matrix

      In this week's Sift:

      • Welcome to the new This week the Weekly Sift moves to Simultaneously, I've changed (and, I hope, improved) the design of the blog. But the content, philosophy, and purpose of the Weekly Sift is not changing.
      • The Sifted Bookshelf: The Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy.Warren Mosler's short, free, and very readable book explains why all the common-sense things you know about the economy are wrong. In particular, dollars (like Neo's spoon) are just patterns of data.
      • Meet ALEC.How did those new conservative governors all suddenly come up with the same detailed agenda after they took office? By using the model laws that the corporations who run the American Legislative Executive Council had already written behind closed doors. Now those model laws have all been leaked.
      • Short Notes.Will 3-D printers someday kill the last of the manufacturing jobs? Nobody but a reporter comes to Sarah's premier. Krugman, Mahr: If you just noticed how crazy the Republicans are acting, where have you been? Fox forgets 9-11. A song explains fracking. Stephen Colbert explains the Rupert Murdoch scandal. And more.
      • This Week's Challenge.The Wisconsin recall elections are mere weeks away, and the good guys are being outspent.

      Monday, July 11, 2011

      Trimming the Fat

      Welcome to Austerity in America. We can afford tax breaks for millionaires, but can’t afford five-day school weeks.

      -- Steve Benen, The Washington Monthly

      In this week's Sift:

      • Is Obama on Our Side? What if President Obama isn't being out-negotiated by Republicans? What if he's getting what he wants?
      • The Hard Line. The Republican inclination not to compromise goes all the way down to the grass roots, where three kinds of fundamentalism are replacing the 20th-century conservative's respect for the status quo.
      • What "Spending" Really Means. Cutting government spending sounds good until you have to get specific. Do we want safe food and fire engines that work?
      • Short Notes. Fiore's biting animations. We had a revenue crash, not a spending orgy. New light bulbs and solar panels. The debt ceiling is constitutional. And Ohio says that poll workers don't have to be helpful.
      • This Week's Challenge. As I redesign the Weekly Sift blog, now is a good time to make your suggestions.

      Is Obama on Our Side?

      When Barack Obama's 2008 landslide carried such unlikely states as North Carolina and Indiana, and swept in large majorities in Congress, many progressives imagined a transformational presidency like FDR's. Katrina Vanden Heuval wrote:

      [F]uture historians may well view Barack Obama's victory as the end of the age of Reagan and the beginning of something substantially new.

      So far, it hasn't worked out that way.

      Not that President Obama hasn't had accomplishments. The Bush economic crisis did not become a second Great Depression, as it threatened to do. With all its compromises, the Affordable Care Act is still a historic step in the right direction. Obama's two appointments have slowed down the rightward drift of the Supreme Court. In thousands of ways that don't make headlines, regulatory agencies have gone back to protecting the American people. On gay rights, President Obama has not led, but at least he has not stood in the way. The Iraq War has continued to wind down, our relations with other nations in general are less belligerent, and we finally nailed Osama Bin Laden.

      That's not nothing. But by now the list of liberal disappointments has gotten long.

      What haunts the Obama administration is what still haunts the country: the stunning lack of accountability for the greed and misdeeds that brought America to its gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression. There has been no legal, moral, or financial reckoning for the most powerful wrongdoers. Nor have there been meaningful reforms that might prevent a repeat catastrophe.
      • No public option. Given the public option's popularity, a great speech might have made a difference to wavering Democrats in the Senate, but Obama didn't give one.
      • Ratifying Bush's power grabs. On Inauguration Day, the new president had a chance to define the Bush administration as an aberration and turn the corner. Obama could even have enforced the law and prosecuted Bush officials for ordering torture. Instead, he let his initial effort to close Guantanamo fail, and has continued to practice and has systematically defended in court many of the Bush administration abuses of power.
      • Afghanistan. To be fair, Candidate Obama portrayed Afghanistan as the good war that got ignored because we fought the bad war in Iraq. So Afghan escalation shouldn't have been a surprise. But we still have no coherent goal or exit strategy.
      • Libya. Again: goal? exit strategy? By ignoring the War Powers Act -- in defiance of the advice of his own top lawyers -- he's expanded executive power beyond even Bush.
      • Global warming. In a recent article in Rolling Stone, Al Gore credits Obama for at least starting to take action, but then says:
      President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change. After successfully passing his green stimulus package, he did nothing to defend it when Congress decimated its funding. After the House passed cap and trade, he did little to make passage in the Senate a priority. Senate advocates — including one Republican — felt abandoned when the president made concessions to oil and coal companies without asking for anything in return. He has also called for a massive expansion of oil drilling in the United States, apparently in an effort to defuse criticism from those who argue speciously that "drill, baby, drill" is the answer to our growing dependence on foreign oil.
      • Taxes. When Republicans wouldn't extend the Bush tax cuts just for the middle class, Obama had a perfect place to make a popular stand. Imagine: "I wanted to keep your taxes low, but the Republicans blocked me to protect the millionaires." Instead he agreed to extend all the Bush cuts -- and didn't even get a debt-ceiling increase written into the deal.

      And now, he seems ready to make significant concessions on Social Security and Medicare in those debt-ceiling negotiations he might have avoided. Like the public option only moreso, Social Security and Medicare are popular. There's a significant rabble waiting to be roused, if a silver-tongued president were so inclined. So far, nothing.

      Explanations. In the beginning, progressives explained these disappointments with some combination of 1) He's doing the best he can given political reality and the power of the special interests and 2) He's a bad negotiator who compromises when he doesn't have to. Lately, though, a third explanation is getting louder and louder: 3) Maybe he's not really on our side.

      Bringing up Explanation 3 -- even to deny it -- is the surest way to start a blood feud on a liberal web site like Daily Kos. Emotions run high. Some liberals feel strongly that Obama has betrayed them, while others are just as strongly attached to him.

      The problem is: All three explanations work, and each explains things the others can't. For example, I think Obama was genuinely surprised by the popular resistance Republicans raised to closing Guantanamo. (Scary, scary terrorists were going to be housed in flimsy jails down the street from you.) Otherwise, why make a grand promise only to back off of it? And I believe he did (foolishly) expect Republicans to negotiate in good faith on vital issues like the debt ceiling.

      True intentions. In spite of all the socialist and Marxist and big spender rhetoric from the Right, what if Obama has always been a centrist? Left and Right alike imagined that the centrist positions he campaigned on were masking a deeper progressive agenda, but what if they weren't?

      From the beginning, the role Obama has written for himself has been to let liberals and conservatives fight it out in Congress, and then to come in at the end with a compromise. (The problem has been that liberals are largely shut out of the corporate media -- when was the last time you saw Dennis Kucinich on TV? -- so the public debate has been between the most moderate Democrats and the most conservative Republicans, with Obama coming in at the end to make a center-right compromise rather than a left-right compromise.)

      I think the way he has handled entitlement reform tells us a lot. The Simpson-Bowles Commission Obama appointed to study long-term deficit issues was stacked from the beginning. (Digby kept calling it "the Catfood Commission".) When the commission was appointed, Unsilent Generation posted:

      Despite protestations to the contrary, the commission exists primarily to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The commission’s slant is evident from the choice of its two co-chairs: former Wyoming Republican senator Alan Simpson, a long-time foe of entitlements, and Erskine Bowles, the middle-right former Clinton chief of staff.

      It should have surprised no one when Simpson called Social Security "a milk cow with 310 million tits". And it should have surprised no one that the Commission recommended Social Security and Medicare cuts.

      Presidents do this kind of spadework to cover unpopular actions they want to take later. It's where you can see presidential intention in its purest form. Obama has believed all along that Social Security and Medicare need to be cut. So while he's not likely to get on board with the Ryan privatization plan, he's also not likely to make a bold stand against cuts that he's been maneuvering towards from the beginning.

      Framing is another place you can see presidential intention at work. The other side can force you to accept deals you don't like, but they can't make you repeat their deceptive rhetoric. Recently, though, Obama has said things like:

      Government has to start living within its means, just like families do.  We have to cut the spending we can’t afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing, and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs

      Paul Krugman comments:

      That’s three of the right’s favorite economic fallacies in just two sentences. No, the government shouldn’t budget the way families do; on the contrary, trying to balance the budget in times of economic distress is a recipe for deepening the slump. Spending cuts right now wouldn’t “put the economy on sounder footing.” They would reduce growth and raise unemployment. And last but not least, businesses aren’t holding back because they lack confidence in government policies; they’re holding back because they don’t have enough customers — a problem that would be made worse, not better, by short-term spending cuts.

      My conclusion. Consider the possibility that Obama is a Clintonian centrist whose liberal actions have been forced on him by events. I don't think he's a bad guy or a traitor to the cause. I just don't think he's ever been a progressive.

      Deep down, I think Obama wants to be the president who steers the center course -- fixing the long-term growth in entitlement spending without gutting the safety net. The ACA is part of that vision, because health-care inflation is the main long-term fiscal threat, and the private sector is never going to stop it. The near-depression forced a half-hearted stimulus on him, but expanding government services is not his fundamental inclination.

      He never said it was.

      Conservative columnist Ross Douhat on the deficit negotiations: "The not-so-secret secret is that the White House has given ground on purpose."

      Rick Perlstein was all over this more than a year ago.

      The Hard Line

      Two articles this week explained why Republicans are (depending on your point of view) either (1) able to hold together on hardline positions, or (2) unable to compromise. Turns out, it's not just the party leadership or elected officials that are different, it's the rank-and-file:


      NYT blogger Nate Silver looks more deeply at the polling data and concludes that while polarization is hitting both parties, it has a more profound effect on the Republicans. Republican is becoming identical with conservative, while the Democrats remain a coalition of diverse philosophies. So Democrats worry about alienating their moderates, while Republicans focus on energizing their base.

      In The three fundamentalisms of the American right, Salon's Michael Lind notes a long-term philosophical shift in conservatism. William F. Buckley modeled the mid-20th-century conservative movement after 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke, who argued that people underestimate the values embedded in traditional practices, so change should be measured and thoughtful rather than sweeping and giddy.

      But increasingly, 21st-century conservatism is built around fundamentalist reaction rather than thoughtful prudence. Christian fundamentalism (the Bible), constitutional fundamentalism (the Constitution and carefully selected quotes from the Founders), and market fundamentalism (Atlas Shrugged) each have a holy scripture that teaches unquestionable Truth. And that creates a problem for democracy.

      Back when conservatism was orthodox and traditional, rather than fundamentalist and counter-revolutionary, conservatives could engage in friendly debates with liberals, and minds on both sides could now and then be changed. But if your sect alone understands the True Religion and the True Constitution and the Laws of the Market, then there is no point in debate. All those who disagree with you are heretics, to be defeated, whether or not they are converted.

      A Burke-Buckley conservative respects the status quo, but to a fundamentalist the status quo already represents a fall from a lost Golden Age -- often an imaginary one.

      It's tempting to respond to all three types of right-wing fundamentalist with scorn, especially when they make up facts about their respective Golden Ages. But in the long run scorn may be counterproductive. Fundamentalism is a reaction to a loss of identity and community. (No one who feels at home here and now pledges loyalty to a lost era or an ancient text.) Ultimately, fundamentalists need to be healed, not beaten down further. The candidate-Obama message of Hope and Yes We Can seems exactly right to me, if we can see it through.

      This move conflicts with my healing strategy, but I'll be interested to see if it works tactically: The American Values Network points out that two of the right-wing fundamentalisms contradict each other. Jesus and Ayn Rand are not at all on the same page.

      Less-extreme Republicans have finally started protesting against the hard line: David Brooks, David Frum, Kathleen Parker, Robert Samuelson.

      What "Spending" Really Means

      Cutting government spending always sounds good until you start looking at specifics. In Wilmington, NC, "cutting spending" specifically means not replacing an ancient fire engine that tends to die when the firefighters need water pressure. In California, Arizona, and Nevada it means a shorter school year. And in parts of Idaho and New Mexico it means a four-day school week -- not for any academic reason, but because (as Rachel Maddow summed up) "In America now, we can't afford to keep all our schools open five days a week."

      This 11-minute clip from Rachel's show on Wednesday is worth watching in its entirety, because it pulls together so much.

      For example: Alto, Texas has scrapped its police force -- not just furloughed a few officers, but padlocked the door and sent the whole force home for a minimum of six months. Not because they're not needed -- even when it had police, Alto's crime rate was higher than the Texas average -- but because Alto is out of money.

      On the federal level, the House has eliminated funding to test American vegetables for the E-coli strain that killed 50 people in Europe. Georgia Republican Rep. Jack Kingston isn't worried: "The food supply in America is very safe because the private sector self-polices." But whether we're talking food or crime, self-policing only works up to a point. Somehow, even before the testing cutbacks, 3000 Americans died each year from tainted food.

      State after state is laying off teachers -- not because they've found some better way to educate children, but because they can't afford to pay them. We're slashing transportation funding too, because high-speed trains belong in China, not America.

      But don't tax the rich. We are eliminating all this stuff rather than raise taxes on anybody, even the wealthiest Americans. Republicans claim they are taking this stand because, as John Boehner says, "The American people don't want us to raise taxes."

      Except that they do. Politifact did the research:

      we found a number of polls that indicate people do want the government to raise taxes. That was most clearly the case when it comes to raising taxes on the wealthy and on corporations.

      Like these polls. Rachel quotes a poll saying that 81% of Americans would accept higher taxes on millionaires to cut the deficit. 68% could support eliminating the Bush tax cuts for people earning more than $250,000 a year.

      The American people also want to protect Social Security, Medicare, and even Medicaid. By a 60-32 margin, they said that maintaining Social Security and Medicare benefits was more important than cutting the deficit. By 61-31 they said that Medicare recipients already pay enough of their medical costs. 58% think "Low income people should not have their Medicaid benefits taken away."

      And don't tax corporations. A significant majority of Americans (56% on Question 36) say that corporations are not paying their fair share of taxes. And the most stunning poll result is this (Question 40): 61% say that corporations use tax breaks to pay higher dividends and bonuses; only 4% say they use the money to create jobs.

      That jaundiced public perception is accurate. Rachel lists a number of large American corporations (Johnson & Johnson, General Electric, etc.) who pay significantly less than the official 35% corporate tax rate (GE: 7.4%) and have been cutting jobs rather than creating them. Moreover, American corporate taxes are low, not high: Compared to 25 other developed countries, only in Iceland are corporate taxes a smaller percentage of GDP than in the US.

      Rich people, poor country. Let me sum up: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says "the people that put us here" want to change "the way the system works so that we’re no longer spending money that we don’t have." The question that goes unasked is: Why don't we have that money?

      Is the United States a poor country now? Can we simply not afford to have police and full-time schools and safe food? Can we not afford to take care of Americans who are sick or old? To fix our potholes and keep our bridges from falling down?

      Other countries manage to pay for such things. They aren't richer than the United States. The difference is that in America, billionaires and corporations have become so powerful that they can dictate to the government how much tax they are willing to pay. And those dictates are put forward by the corporate media as "the will of the people", even if (when you ask them) the people say the exact opposite. So if the billionaires and corporations are only willing to pay for four days of school a week, that's what we'll get.

      At least as long as Eric Cantor believes that billionaires and corporate CEOs are the people that put him where he is.

      Short Notes

      Mark Fiore's animations are very sharp satires. Check out "Trickle Down Tales". And Tom Tomorrow is pretty good today too.

      Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee have put together a chart explaining what happened to the surplus in Clinton's final budget. It's mildly deceptive (everything except defense is adjusted for inflation and population growth), but ignoring the too-high defense number, it makes a great point: We had a revenue crash and the population got older, but there was no discretionary-spending orgy.

      Last week I mentioned the possibility of Obama invoking the 14th amendment to ignore the debt ceiling. Lawrence Tribe has convinced me that's not a legitimate option.

      Slate's tech reviewer loves the new LED light bulb. It lasts 20 years, uses about 1/5 the power, and emits the spectrum we expect from incandescents. The problem: They cost $20 each. Long-term it's a good deal, but people aren't used to thinking about light bulbs as investments.

      What if your windows could be solar panels?

      If Republican election-reform laws aren't about suppressing legitimate votes, then why does the new Ohio law say that poll workers don't have to direct confused voters to their correct polling places?

      This Week's Challenge

      I'm working on a redesign of the Weekly Sift blog, which I'll roll out on either next Monday or the one after. (Currently, is a bit of a mess, like any unfinished construction project.) If you have any suggestions for improving the blog, now is a good time to make them. Like: What do you think of this week's embedded chart and video? I'm thinking of doing a lot more of that.

      BTW, what do you think of this as a logo? If you've been getting the Sift via email, what do you think of the new MailChimp mailings? Have you noticed?

      The Weekly Sift appears every Monday afternoon. If you would like to receive it by email, write to WeeklySift at Or keep track of the Sift by following the Sift's Facebook page or the @weeklysift Twitter feed, where you get the Link of the Day.