Monday, July 29, 2013

Real Questions

They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

-- W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

This week everybody was talking about the royal baby, Anthony Weiner's sexting, and other stuff I don't care about

I don't really get the monarchy, and (like the NYT editorial board) I'm wishing Weiner would just go away. I blame Weiner for the fact that Steely Dan's "Do it Again" was in my head all week. But Slate's sexting pseudonym generator was fun. It dealt me "Bernardo Death", a name that's yours if you want it, since I don't plan to use it anytime soon.

Speaking of over-sharing online, everybody was also talking about Geraldo Rivera's almost-naked tweet, accompanied by the comment "70 is the new 50." The most charitable response came from the ever-upbeat Chris Hayes:
I am on Team Geraldo on this one. I mean, if I look like this at 70, I will be sure as heck tweeting out shirtless selfies every single day. That's a promise America.

Chris will turn 70 on February 28, 2049, in case that affects your plans.

and maneuvering in anticipation of this Fall's apocalyptic budget battle

ObamaCare is about to go into full operation, and so far the indications are that it's going to work fine -- low premiums, few unintended effects -- making liars out of all the death-panel panic-mongers. That looming disaster (for them, not for the country) has Republicans planning a last-ditch defense: Shut the government down if Democrats won't agree to defund the program.

Even a lot of Republicans (i.e., Tom Coburn) think that's a losing confrontation, so it will be interesting to see if the Tea Party radicals can push it through the House. Liberals seem to be looking forward to the fight.

An interesting bit of word-watch: More and more people are using the word sabotage to describe Republican anti-Obamacare tactics. What they're doing is unprecedented and way past any notion of a loyal opposition.

but I tried to further the national conversation on race

This week's featured article is Sadly, the national conversation about race has to start here. A number of conservatives had an in-your-face response to President Obama's call for dialog. But they did lay out a point of view that probably sounds sensible to a lot of their white-conservative audience. If we want to move those people, I think we have to start where they are.

and you also might be interested in ...

Remember ALEC, the corporate shadow government that authored so many of the state laws on union busting and voter suppression? Well, they've also got a set of proposals to replace public schools with for-profit schools. It's all well designed to look like it benefits kids and parents, but the real plums go to the corporations that fund ALEC.

Whatever it is that's killing bees may be more complicated than we thought.

and let's close with something awe-inspiring

Monday, July 22, 2013

Just Us

Only white people think the opposite of racism is “race-blind.”

– Jack Cheng, Trying Not to See Race Means Closing Your Eyes to Reality

How could I make her conscious of the racialization process to which her own Euro-American community had subjected her? I invented the Race Game and invited her to play it. For the next seven days, she must use the descriptive term white whenever she mentioned the name of one of her Euro-American cohorts. She must say, for example, "My white husband Phil," or "my white friend Julie," or "my lovely white child Jackie." I guaranteed her that if she did this and then met me for lunch, I could answer her question. We never had lunch together again.

-- Thandeka, Learning to be White (1999)

This week everybody was talking about topics that spin out of the Zimmerman case

like race

The most-discussed statement came from President Obama.

Obama did a subtle piece of framing here that is key in understanding the way the conversation has been going. The initial reactions to the verdict were to re-argue the evidence and the law, claiming that the jury got it wrong or that the prosecution or the judge botched the case. Obama doesn't do that, and neither have most of the other commenters after the first day or two.

Later commenters have moved past that, largely because it's a done deal. Like arguing umpire calls in baseball, it's not going to change anything. Instead, they want to argue the justice issue rather than the legal issue. Forget whether the verdict is correct in a narrow legal sense; is it just? Is this what we want our laws to say and how we want our system to work?

Conservatives went both ways on Obama's remarks, some polite, others not so much.

I channel-scanned through this large-panel discussion on Sean Hannity's show (where Sean did his best to frame the discussion away from the justice issue) and felt like I was in some parallel universe. There is an odd notion on the Right that America's race problem is created by people talking about America's race problem. The last word in this segment goes to talk-radio's Monica Crowley:
What [the race hustlers] have done is what the Left has done for decades, which is that they need the division. They have divided us by race, class, gender, ethnic group, age. They continue to do it because they need the divisions in order to divide and conquer. It isn't about bringing America together, it's about dividing us.

To me, the most striking thing about the pro-Zimmerman commentary (and Anderson Cooper's interview with a juror) is how easily whites enter Zimmerman's point of view and repeat his claims as facts (rather than treating them with the suspicion due someone trying to justify killing an unarmed teen), while Martin remains an Other; his point of view is not imagined and everything about him is open to suspicious interpretation, if not outright misrepresentation.

By contrast, the most effective liberal commentary brought Martin's point of view back into the case. The New Yorker's Amy Davidson wrote "I still don’t understand what Trayvon Martin was supposed to do."

MSNBC's Melissa Harris Perry raised the point of view of black parents: Where is a safe place to raise your kids? You leave the majority-black inner city to escape crime, but in the supposedly safe white suburbs your kids are under constant suspicion that can turn violent.

And the NYT's Charles Blow raised another parental question:
We used to say not to run in public because that might be seen as suspicious, like they’d stolen something. But according to Zimmerman, Martin drew his suspicion at least in part because he was walking too slowly.

So what do I tell my boys now? At what precise pace should a black man walk to avoid suspicion?

And lest you think that black people had all the good insights, listen to 13emcha explain why she's not Trayvon Martin.

and stand-your-ground laws

It's nutty: With lax concealed-carry laws, you never know who might be armed, so it's reasonable to be afraid of almost everybody. If you're afraid enough of somebody, shooting him is self-defense. Which means the other guy has reason to be afraid of you and shoot first.

President Obama was pointing in that direction with these comments:
I'd just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?  And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened?  And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.
Mark Fiore made a biting animation about Stand Your Ground, the Daily Show's John Oliver blasted Florida for having it, and The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik wrote a fascinating piece on its deep roots in American culture, going back to dueling and a speech about armed violence that Abraham Lincoln gave near the beginning of his career; we tolerate vigilante and other outside-the-law violence
because the symbolic identity that guns provide matters more than the rational calculation of the harm that they do. When, Lincoln wondered, would Americans outgrow this feeling? In 1838, he thought it would happen soon. And here we are, still wondering.

I think irrational laws of any kind give more power to prejudice, because they rationalize multiple outcomes. In Stand Your Ground cases, for example, a jury could interpret the law strictly (giving the prosecution the impossible job to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the shooter wasn't afraid for his life) and not convict, or it could fall back on the common sense that the law violates: "Come on! He provoked a confrontation with an unarmed teen and then shot him. Of course he's guilty." Either position can seem rational, but which one your mind drifts to depends largely on the prejudices you start with.

That's why George Zimmerman is free and Marissa Alexander got 20 years.

and profiling

Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf points to the most disturbing thing about President Obama nominating Ray Kelly to head the Homeland Security Department: He's an open proponent and practitioner of racial, ethnic, and religious profiling. If profiling is bad when George Zimmerman does it, why is it OK when the NYPD does it?

But also non-Zimmerman issues like the filibuster

Senate Democrats agreed (for now) not to eliminate the filibuster on executive appointments, while Republicans agreed to allow confirmation votes on seven Obama appointees. Republicans had been using the filibuster in an unprecedented way: to hobble agencies they don't like rather than object to individual appointees. As a result of the agreement, the National Labor Relations Board will not have to shut down in August and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will get its first confirmed head.

But if you're thinking Congress might be getting its act together to govern rather than just block everything Obama proposes, there's still the House. Sunday Speaker Boehner brushed off the current session's lack of accomplishments: "We should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal."

and Detroit's possible bankruptcy

Atlantic has it covered. Salon points out that a Detroit bankruptcy will raise borrowing costs for all cities.

There are two main angles to consider this from: First, an accounting angle that identifies the specific bad decisions or mismanagement got the city in trouble. The final straw is a revision in the formula for computing pension liabilities, which could bite a lot of city and state governments.

Second, the larger story of the local economy's death-spiral. The population is down 26% since 2000 and is less than half of its size in 1950. And there aren't jobs for the people who are stayed: Detroit has an 18% unemployment rate. Even if you could install brilliant, impeccable management, it's hard to know what to do with a city that was built for a larger, richer population.

and yet another example of conservative pundit profiteering

Erick Erickson is the latest to get caught, show no shame, and pay no price. I review the history and some of the logic behind it in Keeping the Con in Conservatism.

and you also might be interested in ...

The Koch brothers are spending a lot of money airing an ad to raise fear, uncertainty, and doubt about ObamaCare. Dr. Sanjeev Sriram -- a real pediatrician, not an actor -- goes through it point by point.

In general, you should be suspicious of any political ad that just raises questions. If you've got the resources to make an ad and put it on TV, couldn't you have found some answers for us? If some particular person or agency has specific answers but is refusing to release them (like some of the Justice Department memos that justify drone strikes on countries where we aren't at war), an honest ad will say that in so many words. But this kind of ad -- one that implies questions aren't being answered without actually saying that -- is almost always dishonest.

At the height of the crack-cocaine epidemic in 1989, doctors in Philadelphia started a long-term study on the effects of cocaine on fetal development, expecting the so-called "crack babies" to have developmental and emotional problems that would follow them through the course of their lives.

Results are in now, and the kids did have problems. But it turns out that the control group -- babies born in the same hospitals in the same time period to women of similar socio-economic profiles who tested negative for cocaine use -- had almost all the same problems.
At age 4, for instance, the average IQ of the cocaine-exposed children was 79.0 and the average IQ for the nonexposed children was 81.9. Both numbers are well below the average of 90 to 109 for U.S. children in the same age group. When it came to school readiness at age 6, about 25 percent of children in each group scored in the abnormal range on tests for math and letter and word recognition.

The similarities persisted through adolescence and into early adulthood. Explanation:
The years of tracking kids have led [Dr. Hallam] Hurt to a conclusion she didn't see coming.

"Poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine," Hurt said at her May lecture.

This points to a larger problem: American society's state of denial about the effects of poverty makes us cast blame all sorts of places where it doesn't belong -- for example, on our schools and our teachers.

Having passed a ban on abortion at 20 weeks, Texas Republicans are now going for six weeks, which is claimed to be the earliest point at which a fetal heartbeat can be detected. 20 weeks was supposedly when fetus begin showing signs of pain, though that is disputed.

The Right focuses on these thresholds-of-unacceptability because they can't convince people that a single-celled organism with human DNA has the moral heft of a human being. Neither of these thresholds impresses me because we ignore them in animals: Cows feel pain and have heartbeats, but nobody's proposing to ban steak.

Here's a threshold that seems more meaningful: the point at which an ordinary person can look at a fetal ultrasound and reliably tell the difference between human and chimp. I have no idea when that would be, but I'll bet it's quite a bit later than six weeks. (The Elephant Fetus Project was fooling pro-lifers at 11 weeks. Elephants.)

While we're on the absurdities of pro-lifers, Alternet's Adam Lee notes that the Bible says nothing about abortion directly, in spite of the fact that ancient folklore is full of miscarriage-inducing practices. And when the Old Testament legal code does discuss miscarriages, it clearly is not attributing to the fetus the full value of a human being.

If you want to be Biblical about it, the soul enters the body with the first breath, not at conception. Genesis 2:7. "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." That's not where I would draw the line, but if you really want to follow the Bible that's where it should be.

A Tennessee high school had a pro-abstinence assembly, which was filled (as these things usually are) with scary misinformation about sex, STDs, and contraception. What was even more disturbing, though, was the principal's lack of concern when the inaccuracies were brought to his attention:
Fortunately, I believe the Hillsboro High School kids are smart enough to separate fact from fiction and that some of the opinions and scare tactics used in the presentation they will know are incorrect.

Know how? By trial and error? Locker room rumor? What's the point of having schools at all, when we could just let kids "separate fact from fiction" for themselves? Anyway, Martha Kempner debunks.

What if we applied abstinence-only logic to the other kinds of trouble kids might get into?

Slate wonders "Why Don't Farmers Believe in Climate Change?" and never comes up with an answer, but decides it doesn't matter because farmers are cutting their fossil fuel use for other reasons.

Having just sold a 160-acre Illinois farm for almost 50 times what my grandfather paid in the 1920s, I think I can answer: Like most of the Midwest, Illinois had a major heat wave and drought last summer. If that's just weather, no big deal. But if it's a sign of things to come, then the land isn't worth its current price and farmers who borrowed to expand (i.e. most of them) are going to be in trouble. That's plenty of motive for denial.

Elizabeth Warren went on CNBC to promote her 21st-Century Glass-Steagal Act. Predictably, the hosts went after her, and she totally ate their lunch.

and let's end with something fun

A long time ago we used to be friends, but I hadn't thought of you lately at all ... until Friday.

Monday, July 15, 2013

License to Kill

Carrying a deadly weapon in public should carry unique responsibilities. In most cases someone with a gun should not be able to escape culpability if he initiates a conflict with someone unarmed and the other party ends up getting shot and killed. Under the current law in many states, people threatened by armed people have few good options, because fighting back might create a license to kill.

-- Scott Lemieux

This week everybody was talking about the Zimmerman verdict

Back when I was refusing to pay attention to the trial, I wrote that everyone who doesn't have a personal stake in trials "should just wait to see how they come out."

Well, it came out. Zimmerman was acquitted.Slate's Emily Bazelon, the trial-watcher whose reaction is closest to mine, finds fault with Florida's legal code:
Maybe people like George Zimmerman should be held responsible for provoking the fight that they then fear they’ll lose. ... But you can see the box the jurors might have felt they were in. Even if they didn’t like George Zimmerman—even if they believed only part of what he told the police—they didn’t have a charge under Florida law that was a clear fit for what he did that night.

Here's what seems clearest to me about the killing: George Zimmerman was looking for trouble that night and Trayvon Martin wasn't. I'm not sure exactly how the law should account for that, but I have a hard time believing that if Martin had killed somebody under similar circumstances, he wouldn't be convicted of something. Various cases have been proposed as analogs, like this one.

Weaponry and the law. At the American Prospect, Scott Lemieux points out widespread concealed-carry of weapons combines very badly with stand-your-ground laws. A person with a concealed weapon should bear a special responsibility to avoid violent confrontations, knowing that such a confrontation may well lead to someone's death.

Race. A year ago, Frontline ran some numbers about homicides. Juries are more likely to believe white-on-black killings are justified, particularly in stand-your-ground states.

[As much as I suspect the overall impression created by the graph is correct -- background story here -- the mathematician in me has to point out that the white-on-black color breakdown can't be right. The "All" percentage ought to be somewhere between the SYG and non-SYG percentages, not lower than both.]

Zimmerman's future. Zimmerman's attorney is pushing the notion that his client has suffered a great wrong, and faces a difficult future.

Seriously? If he wants to, Zimmerman can have a lucrative career as a symbol for the NRA and other conservative groups. I'd be amazed if a book wasn't already being ghost-written for him. I wonder who will play Zimmerman in the movie of his persecution by scary black people.

Fearmongering. Again and again, right-wing pundits have raised the specter of a violent black response, but Trayvon Martin continues to be the only casualty here. Post-verdict demonstrations across the country were peaceful, with the lone exception of Oakland, where some windows were broken but no one hurt.

I noted the same pattern in the weeks after the killing: Conservative sites like Glenn Beck's The Blaze devoted article after article to speculation about black violence, while showing little empathy for the only person who actually died.

In short, the conservative media has presented the killing of a black teen-ager primarily as a reason for whites to be afraid.

but I wrote about zombie voters and how to change conventional wisdom

or, more accurately, The Myth of the Zombie Voter and To Succeed, Fail Boldly.

and you also might be interested in

Last week I denounced the Religious Right misusing "religious freedom" as an excuse to control other people. Well, this week there's more.

The House has attached a Religious Liberty amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act, one of those omnibus bills that has to go through somehow. It extends protection of soldiers religious "beliefs" to "beliefs, actions, and speech" and restricts commanding officers' options for avoiding religious conflicts within their units.

Chris Rodda sums up:
No longer will name-calling and harassment be prohibited if these "sticks and stones" merely pose a threat to good order and discipline; they will have to result in actual harm to good order and discipline. In other words, a commander will no longer be able to head off a potential breach of good order and discipline in their unit ... they will have to wait until such name-calling escalates to a point where ... the unit cannot function efficiently.

The foreign press continues to spank the American press for its lapdog coverage of the NSA scandal. Germany's Spiegel throws a spotlight on a false Walter Pincus column that embarrassed the Washington Post.

Here's why you need to have a woman in the room when important decisions are being made: The seven guys on the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that it wasn't gender discrimination when a dentist fired his assistant for being so irresistibly attractive that his wife got jealous. (The link includes video of an interview. She's cute, but give me a break. Men need to be able to function in the presence of cuteness.)

The 32-page opinion is full of legal precedents and so forth, and without a whole more study I can't offer an opinion on whether the judges got the law right. (The outcome is unjust, but maybe the law is unjust and the Court's hands are tied. As Oliver Wendall Holmes is supposed to have said: "This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice.") But wouldn't this decision be a whole lot more credible if there were at least one woman on the Court?

Here's something I can say without further study: The dentist is a jerk. Not only did he fire this 10-year employee without warning for no fault of her own, but he gave her only one month's severance, which even the Court called "rather ungenerous".

A bipartisan coalition of senators have introduced "The 21st Century Glass Steagall Act". It would restore the New Deal's separation between commercial banks (which ordinary people count on to store their money safely) and investment banks (which can deal in complex derivatives that nobody really understands). "Banking should be boring," Elizabeth Warren explains.
Coming out of the Great Depression, Congress passed the Glass Steagall Act to separate risky investment banking from ordinary commercial banking. And for half a century, the banking system was stable and our middle class grew stronger. As our economy grew, the memory of the regular financial crises we experienced before Glass-Steagall faded away.

But in the 1980s, the federal regulators started reinterpreting the laws to break down the divide between regular banking and Wall Street risk-taking, and in 1999, Congress repealed Glass Steagall altogether. Wall Street had spent 66 years and millions of dollars lobbying for repeal, and, eventually, the big banks won.

Our new 21st Century Glass Steagall Act once again separates traditional banks from riskier financial services.

The symbol of Glass Steagall's success was the separation of the Morgan Bank (now J. P. Morgan Chase) from the Morgan-Stanley Investment Bank in 1935. But today J. P. Morgan Chase owns Bear Stearns, and Bank of America owns Merrill Lynch, just to name two obvious examples.

Of all the bad abortion bills going through state legislatures lately, Ohio's takes the cake. It doesn't just humiliate women seeking an abortion and impose restrictions that will close abortion clinics. It also cuts funds for contraception services in family-planning clinics that merely inform women about abortions. And welfare cuts will make it harder for poor women to keep the babies that the state is making them give birth to. What gets more funding? Services that encourage pregnant women to give their babies up for adoption. Slate's Amanda Marcotte pulls it together:
Taken together, the cuts to contraception funding, the cuts to welfare, the restrictions on abortion, and the money flowing to crisis pregnancy centers paint a very grim view of how Ohio Republicans see women—and low-income women especially: as baby factories that need to dramatically increase production. You can call that "pro-life" if you want, but it's increasingly clear that it's just anti-woman.

Why oh why do Ron and Rand Paul keep running into these problems with their Neo-Confederate and white supremacist associations? Josh Marshall has an irreverent answer.

and let's end with something fun

Everybody knows that different parts of the country speak have different words for things and pronounce them differently, but it's fun to see where the boundaries are. So how come St. Louis and Milwaukee are little islands of red in this map, but nearby Chicago and Des Moines aren't?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Turning Pages

The first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move. So when we said that the revolution would not be televised, we were saying that the thing that's going to change people is something that nobody will ever be able to capture on film. It'll just be something that you see, and then all of a sudden you realize "I'm on the wrong page."

-- Gil Scott Heron

This week everybody was talking about Egypt

and nobody knew what to think. Was it a revolution? A coup? The start of a civil war? Should we be happy because a popular movement for democracy succeeded in getting rid of an unresponsive government, or is that mob rule? Unhappy because the trash-canned government had been elected and was not replaced by constitutional means? Happy/unhappy because we fear/like the Muslim Brotherhood that won the election that formed the government? Unhappy/happy because we distrust/trust the Egyptian military that is setting up the provisional government? At times it's best just to admit that you don't understand and keep watching.

and the San Francisco plane crash

which is the kind of breaking news the Sift doesn't cover very well. Turn on your TV.

and the 4th of July

Some patriotic videos never get old. I enjoy this 2002 celebration of the Declaration of Independence by Morgan Freeman and an all-star cast.

and a lot of stuff I'm studiously not paying attention to

like the Zimmerman trial and the chase after Snowden. I explained why last week.

because other stuff deserves a lot more attention than it's getting

Some establishment liberals haven't been taking the NSA leaks seriously, because who is this Snowden guy and why did he leak through Glenn Greenwald, who isn't a "serious" journalist anyway. Well, the NYT's Pulitzer-winning Eric Lichtblau has a new set of revelations. Listening yet?

Lichtblau has gotten access to classified documents from the secret FISA Court, and finds that it's doing a lot more than just signing search warrants. It's issuing sweeping legal opinions about the meaning of the Fourth Amendment (which protects us from "unreasonable searches and seizures"). Those opinions come out of a star-chamber process which only hears the government's side of a case. The judges themselves are appointed by Chief Justice Roberts, and almost all were originally appointed to the judiciary by Republican presidents.

The FISA Court's opinions have the force of law for the people who are cleared to read them -- mostly the NSA, CIA, and others who would like to know what you're doing. Its interpretation of the Fourth Amendment could be overruled by the Supreme Court, but since the unrepresented non-government side never finds out that it lost, who is going to appeal the case?

So in summary, your constitutional rights are at the mercy of a secret court that is far more authoritarian than the American judiciary as a whole. And you have no right to know what that court is doing to your rights, because Catch-22 says they don't have to tell you what Catch-22 says.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are working on their ransom letter for the fall, when they once again plan to take the full-faith-and-credit of the United States hostage by provoking a debt-ceiling crisis. ("Nice country you've got there. It'd be a shame if something happened to it.") The National Journal says they're willing to extend the debt ceiling for the rest of Obama's term in exchange for, say, privatizing Medicare -- a highly unpopular concession they could never get through any legitimate democratic process.

The debt ceiling, you may recall, didn't exist until 1917, and while extending it has often been an occasion for the out-of-power party to make pious speeches about fiscal responsibility, never in history had it been used to extract concessions until 2011. Until the Tea Party, nobody was so committed to an unpopular agenda that it was willing to threaten that much damage to the country.

and I wrote about the misuse of "religious freedom"

in "Religious Freedom" Means Christian Passive-Aggressive Domination.

and you also might be interested in ...

Bill Keller explains why liberals should be happy with the Senate immigration bill. Not that it matters, because that bill has washed up on the rocky shore of the House.

In related news: Remember November, when Republicans had learned the importance of the Hispanic vote and figured they had to do something to appeal to it? Never mind about that. The new line coming out of conservatives is that they just need to do a better job appealing to whites.

At some point, the Republican efforts to sabotage ObamaCare turn into active disloyalty. For example, interfering with the administration's efforts to tell the public how to use the new program. Democrats didn't like Bush's Medicare Part D, or the strong-arm tactics used to pass it, but they didn't try to make it not work.

More debunking of the IRS "scandal".

What if gun rights were treated the way abortion rights are?

Or if we thought about mass shootings the way we think about terrorist attacks?

Here's another great visual of Republican men signing away women's rights. After all, why should there be any women in the room?

I don't know whether this guy scares the government or not, but he scares me.

And I guess it really shouldn't be surprising that the KKK has a show for (white) kids.

or that Colorado preachers are blaming local wildfires on abortion, civil unions, and women's breasts.

Student loan interest rates doubled on July 1. But don't worry. Congress will get to it sometime. It's not like the issue affects people's lives or anything..

Now that there's practically no competition, Amazon isn't discounting books like it used to. Who could have foreseen that? I wonder what will happen when all of retail comes down to Amazon or WalMart?

Gil Scott Heron explains what "The revolution will not be televised" meant.

And something fun to end with:

If you've ever envied those fantasy worlds where place-names actually mean something, take a look at this real-world map, which traces current names back to their linguistic roots, like "Navel of the Moon" and "Abundance of Fish".

Monday, July 1, 2013

Making Lives Better

You guys for a generation have argued that public policy ought to demean gay people as a way of expressing disapproval of the fact that we exist. But you don’t make any less of us exist, you are just arguing for more discrimination. And more discrimination doesn’t make straight people’s lives any better.

-- Rachel Maddow to Jim DeMint on Meet the Press yesterday

This week everybody was talking about the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is like a college student who gets his term papers done at the last minute. The Court's term ended this week, so Tuesday it overturned the part of the Voting Rights Act that forces states with a history of discrimination to pre-clear their voting laws with the Justice Department, and Wednesday it released two major same-sex-marriage decisions: The federal government has to recognize all marriages blessed by the states, even the same-sex marriages DOMA was designed not to recognize; and same-sex marriages can be performed again in California, because a lower court ruling overturning Proposition 8 stands.

The texts of the decisions are here: Voting Rights Act, DOMA, Prop 8.

Because I agreed with the DOMA decision and disagreed with VRA, reading them back-to-back put me in a good position to write a calm, thoughtful analysis of the quality of the Roberts Court's jurisprudence: This Court Sucks.

Within 48 hours of the VRA decision, Republicans in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Virginia all moved forward with plans designed to make it harder for blacks, Hispanics, and college students to vote. This tactic backfired on Republicans in 2012, and I think it will continue to backfire. Why? Seeing how hard it is for people-like-you to vote really convinces you that people-like-you need to vote. And Republican outreach to youth or Hispanics is doomed as long as the GOP targets those voting blocs as the Enemy.

The Prop 8 decision also had immediate effects: Plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier got married Friday.

As a liberal, I love the optics of all this. Conservative decisions lead to angry people stopping other people from voting. Liberal decisions lead to happy people celebrating a new chapter in their lives.

BTW, those anti-same-sex-marriage arguments you've been hearing on the talk shows are all bogus. ThinkProgress goes through them one-by-one so I don't have to.

and immigration reform

The Senate passed a bill. Unfortunately, we have a bicameral system and the dysfunctional House still has to weigh in, so what happens next is anybody's guess.

and massive demonstrations overseas

Egypt is the latest, but it's not over yet in Brazil or Turkey either. In each country the demonstrations seem to be about something different, but the similarities of form are striking.

When I reviewed David Graeber's The Democracy Project in the previous Sift, I was impressed by his observation that revolutions should be judged as "planetwide transformations of political common sense", not by whether or not they take over the government. I wonder if that's what we're seeing here. If so, the first people to grasp the new common sense will have a huge advantage.

and a lot of stuff that wasn't worth your time

These last two weeks had such a large concentration of addictive stories-that-aren't-really-news that simply ignoring them (as I usually do) didn't seem sufficient. Instead, in Are You a "News" Addict? I explain why you shouldn't waste your time on the Zimmerman trial, the search for Edward Snowden, Paula Deen, or Aaron Hernandez.

More people should have been talking about President Obama's climate speech


Like so many things President Obama does, it was half a loaf. You could hope for more, but thank God we're at least getting this much: He said clearly that climate change is happening and it's time to act rather than argue with deniers. ("We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.") He instructed the EPA to regulate the carbon pollution from existing power plants, rather than just new ones. (The Devil's in the details there: What will the new regulations say?) He hinted something about the Keystone Pipeline, but didn't say anything you could take to the bank. And he announced a number of smaller initiatives that look really good, but (you know) they're small.

The text of the speech is here. Slate has a good article laying out what it means.

and this stuff is also worth a look

The IRS "scandal" isn't quite dead yet, but it's definitely on life support. The Benghazi "stand down" myth is also pretty well debunked at this point.

A fascinating study shows that when people are shown another person's picture and asked to estimate how much pain that person would feel from a variety of mishaps (getting shampoo in their eyes, stubbing their toes, etc.) they consistently estimate black people's pain lower than white people's.

Why? First guess was racism, but then it turned out that blacks also imagine whites suffer more from similar events.

A better explanation seems to be a princess-and-the-pea theory: If you think someone has had a hard life, you believe they can "take it", while more privileged people are seen as more sensitive. It's like: "You've suffered? Then it's no big deal if you suffer some more."

Things I learned while driving from New Hampshire to Kentucky/Tennessee/North Carolina and back during my week off:
  • Louisville is a way cooler, more cosmopolitan city than my New-England-centered worldview had led me to believe. Check out the museum-hotel 21C or the NuLu district. (The 21C souvenir t-shirt says "I Slept With Art".)
  • Another surprise about the upper South: good local Mexican restaurants close to the interstates. I never had to resort to McDonalds or Cracker Barrel.
  • The absolute best way to avoid boredom on a long drive is Public Radio Remix, which collects quirky human-interest stories (like this one) from public radio stations all over the country. XM channel 123, and also available on the web.

Let's end with something fun

This online test measures how well you see color. I got a 15.