Monday, May 26, 2014

Owning and Disowning

We inherit our ample patrimony with all its incumbrances; and are bound to pay the debts of our ancestors.

-- Timothy Dwight "The Charitable Blessed" (1810)

The last slaveholder has been dead for a very long time. The last soldier to endure Valley Forge has been dead much longer. To proudly claim the veteran and disown the slaveholder is patriotism à la carte.

-- Ta-Nehisi Coates "The Case for Reparations" (2014)

This week's featured article is "Ta-Nehisi Coates Goes There: Reparations".

This week everybody was talking about yet another mass shooting

Every mass shooting is stomach-turning, but this one has a special feature: the idea that men are entitled to female sexual partners we find attractive, and that if we don't get them we are justified in seeking revenge on the entire gender. I feel slimed. I can't imagine how women feel about it.

The guns-make-us-safer arguments of the NRA are almost believable if you picture home invaders who want something rational like jewelry or electronics. But when somebody wants to go out in a blaze of glory, more and bigger guns just make a bigger blaze.

and reparations for the oppression of blacks

Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic wrote the article of the year: "The Case for Reparations" and I wrote an almost-as-long article commenting, elaborating, and taking it personally. Centuries of public policy created the wealth gap between blacks and whites. Why is it unthinkable to use public policy to undo that?

and (still) the VA

This is going to go on for a while, because there's a genuine mystery here that may not have a simple resolution. Some of the basics: The VA gives veterans world-class care once they manage to get in the door. But there have been long-standing problems both with appointment backlogs and backlogs in processing claims. In recent years the VA established metrics to measure how well they were solving those problems, and reported that they were doing remarkably well.

Unfortunately, they were cooking the books. Somebody (or maybe a lot of somebodies) saw their mission as delivering good numbers, not delivering timely medical care. This is a common problem in our data-obsessed times. (See, for example, the Atlanta public schools, which decided its mission was to improve test scores, not education. Or watch just about any season of The Wire.) Of course all those somebodies at the VA need to be found and fired, and maybe some of them should go to jail. But that just gets us back to Square One with the problem of caring for our veterans.

Partly, the problem goes back to the cardinal sin of the Iraq War: The Bush administration refused to let anyone plan for the possibility that the war might be long and costly. Even after the wounded starting coming home, National Journal reports, the Defense Department was cooking the numbers:
Early on, the department was publicly counting only about a third of the casualties stemming from the War on Terror. That was because the Department was only counting servicemen and women immediately targeted in the department's wounded-in-action statistics. That accounting method left out those who were not targeted but were wounded nonetheless, such as troops injured when they were riding two trucks back from one that was hit by a roadside bomb, or those hurt in training or transportation.The underreporting made it more difficult for the VA to prepare for the coming influx of requests for help.

So the Obama administration knew there was a resource problem -- not enough money, facilities, doctors, etc. -- when they took office. And they thought they were solving it. Under Obama, the VA's budget has gone from $97.7 billion in FY 2009 to $153.8 billion in FY 2014.

But already a year ago, Huffington Post reported:
"We're glad to see the increase in the budget," said Paul Reickhoff, chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. But he was highly skeptical of the VA claims that it is making progress on reducing the backlog of veterans claims for benefits. "The customers on the ground, our members, don't see it," he said.

So where has the money been going? A piece of the mystery is that along with the new money came new responsibilities. National Journal says:
the Obama administration has also changed the rules to give more benefits to veterans. In 2010, the administration expanded coverage related to exposure to Agent Orange, a Vietnam War-era defoliant that has created a vast list of health problems. Veterans have long tied an assortment of illnesses to Agent Orange, and now more of those illnesses are covered. Additionally, the administration made it easier for veterans to get coverage for posttraumatic-stress disorder, a disease less easily diagnosed and adjudicated than physical injuries.

But that doesn't sound like the whole story, and nothing else I've heard so far does either. Nobody has a partisan motive to short-change our veterans. And so far there are no reports of sweetheart deals that sent billions to some favored contractor for nothing, or enormous bridge-to-nowhere facilities that sit empty. This situation calls for a real investigation that is neither a whitewash nor a witch hunt. It will interesting to see if our political system is capable of making that happen.

and another NBA owner talking about race

This time it's Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks. I find I'm willing to cut Cuban slack, though, because I think he's clumsily saying something more-or-less right. (In my terminologyprejudice is an unavoidable aspect of being human, while bigotry is something we should be trying to eradicate. I hear Cuban confessing that he has prejudices that he is trying to keep from becoming bigotry.) I agree with ESPN's Michael Wilbon:
If we're going to have honest conversations about race and bigotry and prejudice, then we're going have to have some uncomfortable moments. What's most important to me here is that clearly and without qualification, Mark Cuban condemns bigotry. ... This in no way, in my mind, comes into the area code of Donald Sterling's comments.

Whites have been denying our racial prejudices for a long, long time. (Wilbon again: "I hear people say, 'I don't see color.' And I say, 'Stop. Everybody sees color.'") So it's totally to be expected that when we finally begin to talk seriously about race, we're not going to phrase everything in the most sensitive way. By all means blacks (and whites with more experience discussing race) should point out to Cuban the ways that he's still invoking offensive stereotypes -- those "uncomfortable moments" Wilbon is talking about -- but also give him credit for what he's doing right.

That's more-or-less the approach that NYT columnist Charles Blow takes.
Cuban says in the interview, “I know that I’m not perfect.” None of us are, Mr. Cuban, and I applaud your candor even as I correct your assertions. That is how the race discussion must be conducted.

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Chris Hayes is doing a great series on the conservative heartland. This week the show focused on Kansas, which has become a laboratory for far-right policies. How's that working?

Update on last week's article "Climate Denial is a Sunday Truth" in which I argued that the business community -- especially the insurance industry -- is well aware that climate change is real. From ThinkProgress:
Last month, Farmers Insurance Co. filed nine class-action lawsuits arguing that local governments in the Chicago area are aware that climate change is leading to heavier rainfall but are failing to prepare accordingly. The suits allege that the localities did not do enough to prepare sewers and stormwater drains in the area during a two-day downpour last April.

And the NYT:
Most insurers, including the reinsurance companies that bear much of the ultimate risk in the industry, have little time for the arguments heard in some right-wing circles that climate change isn’t happening, and are quite comfortable with the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the main culprit of global warming.

“Insurance is heavily dependent on scientific thought,” Frank Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America, told me last week. “It is not as amenable to politicized scientific thought.”

Great article about diet: What if fat isn't just an issue of excess calories? What if the body is actively looking for foods it can easily turn into fat? When you eat them, you're still hungry, because they went straight to fat and didn't give your body any calories to run on.

When Sainsburys dressed a mannequin in a 12-Years-a-Slave outfit, they weren't really trying to sell their customers the runaway-slave look. Turns out, that was just a tasteless part of their buy-the-DVD display. But for a minute, it seemed like the "Derelicte" scene from Zoolander had burst into reality.

Authors need to slow down: Important books are piling up faster than I can read them. (Yes, Elizabeth Warren, I'm looking at you; or at least at your picture on the cover. Get in line behind Thomas Piketty.) So I haven't even picked up Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide about his role in the Snowden leaks.

But sometimes you don't have read a book to know that a criticism of it is off-base. In his review for the NYT, Michael Kinsley writes this about leaking government secrets:
The question is who decides. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.

If government officials have the final say on what information the voters are allowed to know before they pass judgment on those same government officials, then democracy is pretty much a sham: You get to judge me, but only based on the information I choose to tell you.

This situation calls for one of those marvelous Madisonian check-and-balance processes, but unfortunately there's no prospect of us getting one. So in a broken system, anyone who finds him/herself in a position to take action -- Snowden, Greenwald, Julian Assange, whoever -- has to use his/her own judgment. Nobody thinks this is ideal, but it's not Glenn Greenwald's fault. Glenn should not defer to the government until the improbable moment when the government unveils its ideal information-releasing process.

David Atkins reads the tea-leaves of the European Parliament elections: In hard economic times with a lot of immigrants still coming in, the most likely political beneficiaries are the fascists. Centrists preaching austerity have no defense against the far right.
The only possible way that a party of social tolerance survives for long in this sort of economic environment is if it goes hard after the plutocrats truly responsible for the economic malaise. The social liberal/economic conservative mold of Bloomberg is a recipe for political disaster.

Curing cervical cancer is one kind of problem. Curing cervical cancer in Haiti, using tech that a Haitian clinic might be able to afford, is a different problem entirely. The NYT Sunday Magazine recounts the fascinating story of "The MacGyver Cure for Cancer".

An illustration of what the book Cornered was about: Even when monopolistic power isn't being used to raise consumer prices, it's still not benign. Amazon is trying to squeeze book publishers, and those who don't go along are finding that their books are hard to buy and take forever to ship. Sure, you can distribute your books without Amazon. Good luck with that.

Today our anti-trust laws are only enforced against companies that use their market power directly against consumers. But it can be just as damaging to the economy for a near-monopoly to use its market power against producers, by re-organizing the market around its artificially constructed bottleneck. This is the main reason to oppose the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger, even if it's true that the two cable giants don't compete for the same customers.

and let's close with an amazing catch (sort of)

by the ball girl, not the outfielder.

Snopes says it never really happened, but why let reality stand in the way of a good video? And ball girls and ball boys really have made some outstanding catches. (I also tip my hat to several of the announcers, who were able to come up with their names without missing a beat.)

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Worth of Ice

We never know the worth of water, until the well is dry.

-- Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia #5451 (1732)

This week's featured article is "Climate Denial is a Sunday Truth".

This week everybody was talking about Antarctic ice

The apparently slow pace of climate change creates the comforting illusion that we have time to dawdle before we respond: The worst outcomes aren't due for a century or so, so surely it won't matter if we twiddle our thumbs for another few years.

But there's also a long lag time between action (burning fossil fuels) and response (higher temperatures). And so we can pass a tipping point without realizing it: The carbon already in the atmosphere may already make certain outcomes inevitable, even if they take decades to arrive.

Two recent reports say that the melting of the western Antarctic ice sheet has now passed such a tipping point. As NASA's press release puts it:
the glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica "have passed the point of no return," according to glaciologist and lead author Eric Rignot, of UC Irvine and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The new study has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. These glaciers already contribute significantly to sea level rise, releasing almost as much ice into the ocean annually as the entire Greenland Ice Sheet. They contain enough ice to raise global sea level by 4 feet (1.2 meters) and are melting faster than most scientists had expected.

In The Guardian, Rignot elaborated:
We announced that we had collected enough observations to conclude that the retreat of ice in the Amundsen sea sector of West Antarctica was unstoppable, with major consequences – it will mean that sea levels will rise one metre worldwide. What's more, its disappearance will likely trigger the collapse of the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which comes with a sea level rise of between three and five metres. Such an event will displace millions of people worldwide.

Two centuries – if that is what it takes – may seem like a long time, but there is no red button to stop this process.

Chris Mooney at Mother Jones called this "a holy shit moment for global warming". But it's also typical in this sense: The Amundsen ice looks more-or-less the same today as it did last week, when we didn't know it was doomed. Plus, it's metaphoric: The real damage is happening on the underside of the Antarctic glaciers, where we can't see. As the glaciers melt, they get lighter and their seaborne edges ride higher. That lets more water seep underneath, and lifts the glaciers away from insulating land, melting them faster.

These kinds of feedback loops are what tipping points are all about. (Another one that's in the offing, though nobody can date its arrival, is when methane trapped in the Siberian permafrost starts escaping into the atmosphere. Methane is itself a greenhouse gas, so once the escape starts it will warm the planet and accelerate the escape.)

Steven Colbert captured the moment's dark humor:
Unstoppable melting, it's out of our hands now. I mean, what a relief! I didn't think it would happen, but we finally ran the clock out on the possibility of my personal sacrifice making a difference.
The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert makes the connection to our dysfunctional political debate:
Of the many inane arguments that are made against taking action on climate change, perhaps the most fatuous is that the projections climate models offer about the future are too uncertain to justify taking steps that might inconvenience us in the present. The implicit assumption here is that the problem will turn out to be less serious than the models predict; thus, any carbon we have chosen to leave in the ground out of fear for the consequences of global warming will have gone uncombusted for nothing.

But the unfortunate fact about uncertainty is that the error bars always go in both directions. While it is possible that the problem could turn out to be less serious than the consensus forecast, it is equally likely to turn out to be more serious. In fact, it increasingly appears that, if there is any systemic bias in the climate models, it’s that they understate the gravity of the situation.

Try to think of any other risk we treat this way: We're going to do nothing about it until we're 100% sure that we're headed for disaster.

and the VA

VA hospitals have been making veterans wait ridiculously long for appointments, and then have falsified data to hide their systemic poor performance. So far, everyone from Congress to the president to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki claims to be "mad as hell" about the situation, but it's not clear what happens next.

Somebody who has been criticizing the VA for years is Rachel Maddow. She's the one I'll be watching

and the 60th anniversary of the Brown decision

Saturday was the 60th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that proclaimed the end of "separate but equal" as a defensible legal concept.

The best discussion of this I saw was on Chris Hayes' show, where he interviewed some surviving members of the Brown family.

and the apparent dwindling of the Tea Party

In case you missed it: Friday, tens of millions of "patriot" protesters descended on Washington for an "American Spring". They overthrew the federal government and sent former President Obama to Gitmo. Or at least that was the plan. The actual turnout was more like a few hundred -- far less than what liberal Moral Mondays can turn out in North Carolina. The government is intact and President Obama remains at large.

Chris Hayes interpreted this non-event as end of the Tea Party's ability to turn out big crowds: "As a grass roots movement, it is no more."

Similarly, the media narrative for this spring's round of Republican primaries has been the victory of the Republican establishment over Tea Party challengers. (Notable exception: Ben Sasse in Nebraska, who is being billed as "the next Ted Cruz".) Establishment figures like Mitch McConnell no longer need to quake in their boots over the prospect of a Tea Party primary opponent.

But while all this is true, one piece of the story is often left out: The Tea Party is vanishing because it won. The "establishment" candidates who are winning these primaries -- like North Carolina's Thom Tillis -- have done so by agreeing down-the-line with Tea Party positions on the issues. You'll know the Tea Party has actually lost if John Boehner brings the Senate's bipartisan immigration bill to the floor, or if Republicans work with President Obama to get the corporate tax reform both sides want. Don't hold your breath.

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Rockford, IL in 2009

Wednesday, Rachel Maddow did a marvelous piece on the history of tank-car explosions like the recent one in Lynchburg, VA, and the NTSB's decades-long unsuccessful battle to get safety upgrades to the DOT-111 car that is used for 70% of the energy industry's rail shipments. As I watched one scene after another of giants balls of flame erupting in various places around the country, I kept thinking: What if Al Qaeda were rolling tankers full of crude oil into our towns and cities, and blowing them up with the same frequency that these tankers are blowing up on their own? What would we be willing to spend to make that stop?

Poor, persecuted Tim Tebow

Remember that televised same-sex kiss (that I posted a picture of last week) after Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams? Well, it generated a new round of Christian persecution claims: The media has a double standard because Sam is getting positive coverage for being gay, while Tim Tebow got negative coverage for his conservative Christianity. (More accurately: Tebow got less than 100% positive coverage; a lot of Tebow-mania was downright worshipful. For a more balanced view of Tebow's image, listen to another outspoken Christian quarterback, Kurt Warner.)

Rachel191 explains the difference Sam and Tebow:
[T]here is a distinct difference between sharing a celebratory kiss during a special moment with a significant other, and Tebowing. Now, if Michael Sam somehow manages to turn every appearance on the field into a demonstration or endorsement of his sexuality, yeah, they'll be similar. But nothing of the sort has happened (or is even likely possible).

... Existing as a gay man, including having a family, is not "evangelizing" for homosexuality. It's just existing. And being uncomfortable at the sight of gay men existing is not evidence that homosexuality is being "forced" on you. It's evidence that you have issues you need to work through.

If during a blockbuster movie you ever find yourself wondering "How much of that is real and how much is computer generated?", listen to Godzilla director Gareth Edwards narrating one of his scenes.

Republicans warned you that ObamaCare would cause organizations to shut down. Finally we have an actual example: the Rotacare Free Clinic in Tacoma, Washington. It closed its doors because its volunteer doctors and nurses aren't needed now that its former patients have real insurance.
"It happened very quickly. We had to start telling our providers not to come because we didn't have enough patients," Mary Hoagland-Scher, a Tacoma family practitioner who served as the clinic's medical director, told TPM. "It just dried up. Poof."

Last Monday, a Republican Senate filibuster killed a bipartisan energy efficiency bill that the Republican House had previously passed. The Energy Efficiency Improvement Act was a baby-step forward: It raised efficiency requirements on government buildings, while creating a voluntary certification program for private buildings.

But even that was too much to ask. Senate Republicans wouldn't consider it without tying it to approval of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. Grist's Ben Adler elaborates:

When the bill passed the House, I concluded that energy-efficiency measures could win Republican support if they avoided any mandates on the private sector and any spending of government money. After all, there is nothing for conservatives to oppose about making government more efficient and offering voluntary programs to help companies save money.

Well, now you can add another condition to the list of Republican demands: Even a modest energy-efficiency measure cannot be passed without including unrelated giveaways to fossil-fuel industries.

And there's one other motive behind the filibuster: The names attached to the Senate version of the bill are Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Shaheen is running for re-election this year, and being challenged by Massachusetts import Scott Brown. Brown lobbied his former Republican colleagues in the Senate not to give Shaheen an accomplishment to run on.

and let's end with a big dream

What if the roads were paved with solar panels, creating a decentralized power grid?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Present Danger

Climate change is not a distant threat. It is affecting the American people already. On the whole, summers are longer and hotter, with longer periods of extended heat. Wildfires start earlier in the spring and continue later into the fall. Rain comes down in heavier downpours. People are experiencing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies. And climate disruptions to water resources and agriculture have been increasing.

-- Dr. John Holdren, presidential science advisor

This week's featured articles are "New Evidence that ObamaCare is Working" and "Privilege and the Bubble of Flattery".

This week everybody was talking about the kidnapped Nigerian girls

If you're like me and know next to nothing about the internal politics of most African nations, Vox's "Everything You Need To Know About Nigeria's Kidnapped Girls" is a good place to start. "Everything you need to know about ..." is a one of the standard formats on Vox (Ezra Klein's news start-up), and it's perfect for a story like this.

and Ukraine

Likewise, I can't claim any deep understanding of the Ukraine/Russia conflict. I'm following the day-by-day developments via the NYT and CNN, like everyone else.

In Foreign Policy, Peter Pomerantsev wonders if Putin has re-invented war for the 21st century, something he calls "non-linear war".

The NYT's Ukraine Crisis in Maps feature helps.

BBC compares the relative military strength of Russia and Ukraine: Ukraine has about half the troops of Russia, and the other numbers are far more lopsided. If it comes to war and Ukraine doesn't get NATO help, Russia will win on the battlefield. (As we saw in Iraq, whether it would be able to control the populace afterwards is a different matter.)

and the national climate assessment

The White House published the 2014 National Climate Assessment. The full report is enormous (841 pages), so I suspect most people will do better with the 148-page highlights. As in this week's Sift quote, it is emphasizing that the effects of climate change are already visible, and fighting the impression that climate change is some distant threat that may never arise.


and a privileged Princeton freshman

Tal Fortgang became something of a sensation when Time published his essay "Why I'll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege". On the Left, it seemed like everybody had to respond, including me. I thought Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams covered it pretty well:
Young man, if you honestly think this country doesn’t care about religion or race, then you are privileged. You have grown up in an America that has enabled you to not know otherwise. And I don’t need to you to be sorry about it, because you didn’t create that. I’d just love for you to someday understand it.

and separation of church and state

The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision (it's the usual 5 against the usual 4) in Greece v Galloway follows the same pattern we saw in the affirmative action case two weeks ago: If you're in the majority and you want to lord it over the minority, the Court thinks you should dot your i's and cross your t's first, but otherwise, go ahead.

In this case the majority is religious rather than racial. The town board of Greece, NY started opening its monthly meeting with prayer in 1999, each time inviting a different local minister to be "chaplain of the month". Except for a few months in 2008 when it was trying to avoid this lawsuit, all the chaplains have been Christian and many of them have delivered sectarian prayers. The town claims no malice towards non-Christian faiths and they haven't been barred from delivering prayers, but it just didn't make any particular effort to include them or let them know how they might volunteer to lead prayers.

The majority opinion makes all this sound perfectly reasonable and in line with precedents where the Court has given its blessing to Congress and the state legislatures opening with prayer, respecting a long tradition. (And as in the affirmative action case, it makes any alternative sound fraught with issues beyond the ken of any court: Somebody would have to specify prayers acceptable to everyone, or dictate codes of conduct for the invited clergy.) But Justice Kagan's dissent (beginning on page 56 of the 80-page PDF file) destroys that argument completely, pointing out two major differences:
  • Chaplains for Congress and the state legislatures lead prayers for the legislators who hire them, and citizens who attend the sessions are neither addressed nor expected to participate. By contrast, in Greece the chaplain stands with his back to the Board, facing the citizens, who the chaplain calls to stand and pray -- usually without any acknowledgment of their right to opt out.
  • The meetings are not just legislative; they are also a prime way that citizens bring their concerns to the Board. So the result of the practice is this: Before you can raise your concerns with the Board -- asking them, say, to put a crosswalk on a street your children use or repair the potholes in your neighborhood -- you either have to pray with them first or refuse their invitation to pray.

Kagan invites us to consider other public venues where it would clearly be wrong to ask you to pray a sectarian prayer: before a judge will hear your case, when you ask for a ballot, or before you are granted citizenship. You shouldn't have to jump a religious hurdle to exercise your rights.

That's not at all a difficult concept to understand or implement, if you really want to.

and the changing politics of ObamaCare

The longer ObamaCare is in place, the more evidence that it's working as designed, and the nightmare scenarios laid out by its opponents aren't coming to pass. (Has anybody you know faced a Death Panel yet?) In "New Evidence ObamaCare is Working" I sum up the most recent information.

It's happening slower than it ought to, but politicians on both sides are beginning to adjust to the changing politics of ObamaCare. The GOP had expected to turn the confirmation of HHS Secretary Katherine Sebelius' successor into an anti-ObamaCare show trial, but now that it's happening, they are becoming shy. Instead, incumbent North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan was on offense over the refusal of Republican legislatures to extend Medicaid.

On the campaign trail, it's often the Republican candidate who runs into difficult questions about ObamaCare.

which lead to new Benghazi hearings

The GOP was supposed to coast to a Senate majority this fall by talking about nothing but what a disaster ObamaCare is. But as more and more people get affordable health insurance and some already have ObamaCare-saved-my-life stories to tell their friends and relatives, that strategy looks increasingly suspect. What's a party to do? Tout the accomplishments of the Republican Congress? Run on a job-creation plan that is more than just the tax-cuts-will-solve-everything notion nobody believes any more? Come up with their own ObamaCare alternative?

Don't be silly. The new plan is to run on Benghazi, even though the questions they've been raising were answered a long time ago, and there is no new evidence -- or any evidence to speak of -- of wrong-doing. Meanwhile, Democrats have to decide whether they want to boycott the new House Select Committee on Benghazi. It's pretty clear the committee's Republican majority has no intention of running an impartial investigation -- Chairman Trey Gowdy has already slipped and called the hearing a "trial".

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To this New England Yankee, Georgia's new open carry law seems insane. One example: A man wandered around a public park in Forsyth County showing his gun to people at a Little League game. According to a local parent:
He's just walking around [saying] "See my gun? Look, I got a gun and there's nothing you can do about it." He knew he was frightening people. He knew exactly what he was doing.

I remember some of the weird guys who hung around Little League games when I was a kid. We could ignore them because they were no threat with our parents around. Of course, they weren't armed. But this guy caused Forsyth parents to halt the game because they didn't think their kids were safe. And guess what? He was right. When police came, there was nothing they could do.

In Texas, members of Open Carry Texas staged a demonstration in a plaza with a Home Depot and a Jack in the Box. When men came into their store with automatic weapons, the Jack in the Box workers got sufficiently scared that they locked themselves in the freezer. Digby comments:
All of this is allegedly being done to protect our freedoms. But it’s only the “freedom” of the person wearing a firearm that matters. Those parents who want their kids to feel safe in a public park aren’t free to tell a man waving a gun around to leave them alone, are they? Patrons and employees of Starbucks aren’t free to express their opinion of open carry laws when one of these demonstrations are taking place in the store. Those Jack in the Box employees aren’t free to refuse service to armed customers. Sure, they are all theoretically free to do those things. It’s their constitutional right just like it’s the constitutional right of these people to carry a gun. But in the real world, sane people do not confront armed men and women. They don’t argue with them over politics. They certainly do not put their kids in harm’s way in order to make a point. So when it comes right down to it, when you are in the presence of one of these armed citizens, you don’t really have any rights at all.

The Pope called for a redistribution of wealth. Sean Hannity seems shocked to discover that the Sermon on the Mount wasn't about abortion.

and let's end with something you wouldn't have seen last year

Openly gay football player Michael Sam got picked by the St. Louis Rams in the final round of the NFL draft (which, according to Nate Silver, is about where he should have been drafted, given that his size and skills are a difficult fit for a typical NFL defense). He reacted the way straight players have reacted for years, by kissing his sweetheart.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The New Black

These days the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me. Which means orange really is the new black.

-- President Barack Obama
Saturday night at the White House Correspondents Dinner

This week's featured posts are "Restoring the Constitution is Now a Liberal Issue" and "No, Donald Sterling Isn't the Victim".

This week everybody was talking about Donald Sterling

The media has already over-covered this -- Wikipedia's just-the-facts summary is here -- but one aspect of the story caught my eye: The impulse of conservatives to jump to paint Sterling as the victim, which I argued against in "No, Donald Sterling Isn't the Victim".

A commentary on this phenomenon that I like even better than my own is by Tod Kelly at the Ordinary Times group blog (a blog more people should read regularly). He points out that the Sterling incident is working out exactly the way conservatives always say racism should be fought: Government is taking a back seat to market pressures on the NBA owners. And yet -- and this is his key point -- conservative opinion leaders are unable to crow about this because their instincts pull them towards defending the racist billionaire. In a nutshell, this is why Republicans have so much trouble attracting minorities.
This, then, is the backdrop conservative pundits had to work with, less than a week after the anti-government rancher they had championed revealed himself to be (oops!)pro-slavery: A perfect, slow underhand lob of a pitch, right across the plate, begging to be knocked out of the park with declarations of how the Free Market won and defeated racism more completely than the government ever could — just like the GOP always promised it would. Frank Lutz couldn’t have come up with a better opportunity to reach out to minorities if he’d scripted the entire universe itself.

So, what did they do?

After a brief stint at condemning him when they mistakenly thought he was a registered Democrat, one of two things: They defended Donald Sterling, or they sat silent as their colleague defended him.

... That is why conservatives are always so successfully painted as bigots by their opponents. That is why the stink of Cliven Bundys sticks to them even when they try hard to separate themselves. That is why they can’t win a state or national election that requires a majority of non-white votes. That is why, when conservatives actually do throw “Minority Outreach Parties,” nobody shows up.

and (God help us) Benghazi

Even some Republicans are getting tired of the endless obsession with any trivia that can be twisted to stimulate the Republican base or make either President Obama or Hillary Clinton look bad. The head of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), issued a statement criticizing the testimony of this week's star witness, Brigadier General Robert Lovell.
The Armed Services Committee has interviewed more than a dozen witnesses in the operational chain of command that night, yielding thousands of pages of transcripts, e-mails, and other documents. We have no evidence that Department of State officials delayed the decision to deploy what few resources DoD had available to respond.

In the end, while BG Lovell did not further the investigation or reveal anything new, he was another painful reminder of the agony our military felt that night; wanting to respond but unable to do so.

The developments that provide an excuse for a new round of Benghazi stories are summarized by ThinkProgress in an article called "Please Don't Read This Benghazi Article".

Sean Hannity is asking his panels whether or not Benghazi is "worse than Watergate" because four Americans died at Benghazi as opposed to none at the Watergate. A more apt comparison might be the Lebanon bombing during the Reagan administration. 241 American servicemen died there, but I don't recall any comparisons to Watergate.

and John Kerry's apartheid comment

Secretary of State Kerry got into hot water this week when his comments in a closed-door meeting leaked. Kerry warned that if the two-state model for peace is abandoned, Israel risks becoming "an apartheid state".

Objections seem to center on the word apartheid, which comes from the old white-dominated South African government and suggests the South African solution of a boycott. But the gist of Kerry's point is hard to argue with: If the region currently governed by Israel remains under its control, and if current demographic trends continue, Jews will eventually become a minority in a Jewish-dominated state, while Palestinians in the occupied territories will continue to have limited rights defined by an Israeli government they can't vote on. You may or may not choose to call that apartheid, but it is what it is.

and the death penalty

Oklahoma botched an execution. The condemned man died, but it's not supposed to be like this.

Thoughtful people used this occasion to ask: Why exactly do we have the death penalty? According to the Supreme Court, if the purpose were to make the victim suffer, that would be cruel and unusual punishment. (Which is not a problem for some people.) In retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens' new book (which I review here) he raises the question: If it's not about retribution, what purpose does it serve? It's hard to believe murderers calculate the difference between the death penalty and life imprisonment without parole. Nobody escapes from our supermax prisons. The appeals process is so expensive and time-consuming that execution doesn't save money. There's a racial disparity in how we apply it, and we appear to execute the wrong person surprisingly often.

So why do we keep doing this?

and you also might be interested in ...

Excellent article at Demos "Stacked Deck: how the dominance of politics by the affluent and business undermines economic mobility in America". It quantifies a number of the ways in which the political priorities of the rich are different from those of the rest of America.
For example, only 40 percent of the wealthy think the minimum wage should be high enough to prevent full-time workers from being in poverty while 78 percent of the general public holds this view.

That's why it's a problem that Congress responds primarily to the rich: They don't represent the rest of us.

Several disturbing reports from the militia at the Bundy Ranch. Nevada Congressman Steven Horsford says his constituents have complained to him about "checkpoints where residents are required to prove they live in the area before being allowed to pass". But I'm withholding judgment until I see a video of one. If the checkpoints are there, video shouldn't be hard to get.

Then there's the general problem of getting too many armed crazies in one location. The Oath Keepers contingent of the Bundy militia withdrew after believing a rumor that Attorney General Holder had authorized a drone strike against them. (They're now blaming government "psy-ops" and "disinformation", rather than their own paranoid gullibility.) Other contingents don't want to let them come back, talking about what happens to "deserters on the battlefield".

To quote General Petraeus: Tell me how this ends.

Reihan Salam describes "How the [Tea Party] movement can save itself and become a powerful force for good." Short version: It can act nothing at all like the Tea Party.
If the Tea Party were to fight crony capitalism as hard as it fights wasteful spending, and if its members were to train their anger on the Wall Street-Washington axis that deserves so much of the blame for our stagnant economy, it would be the most constructive and powerful political force of our time.

There's a kind of racism more insidious and harder to root out than the open Donald-Sterling-style stuff. Reviewers rated a legal brief lower and found more mistakes when they were told that the author was black.
When the author is supposed to be white, reviewers excused errors as out of haste or inexperience. They commented that the author "has potential" and was "generally a good writer but needs to work on" some skills. When the author is supposed to be black, those same errors became evidence of incompetence. A reviewer said he "can't believe he [the author] went to NYU," and others said he "needs lots of work" and was "average at best."

and let's end with the comedy stylings of Obama and Biden

The Prez was at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner. Louis CK has nothing to worry about, but he's not too bad. Meanwhile, V. P. Biden couldn't attend. He had better things to do.