Monday, June 30, 2014

Diabolical Persistence

Errare humanum est, sed perseverare diabolicum. (To err is human; to persist is diabolical.)

-- Seneca (quoted Friday by Paul Krugman)

This week everybody was talking about the Supreme Court

Like freshmen research papers, the Court's biggest decisions always get finished on the last day of the term ... which is today. So this is when the Hobby Lobby case will be decided, and we'll find out whether a bizarre reading of the First Amendment's free exercise clause will allow employers to control their employees' health care options. There's no time for me to process the decision, so I'll put off that commentary until next week.

But other important decisions have been trickling out during finals week.

Police need a warrant to search your cell phone. The Court was unanimous in this ruling, which kind of obvious when you think about it. Police need a warrant to search the photo albums on your shelf, so why not the photo collection on your iPhone? My only regret is that Justice Scalia didn't write a separate opinion. I would have loved to hear him explain the Founders' "original intent" regarding cell phones.

The Court severely cut back the President's power to make recess appointments. Before the Senate changed its filibuster rules, Republicans in the Senate had been using the Senate's constitutional power to "advise and consent" on presidential appointments to nullify certain laws, by refusing to approve the appointment of anyone to enforce them. In particular, the refusal to approve any appointments to the National Labor Relations Board would have left that Board without a quorum, essentially invalidating all the nation's labor laws. Continuing a struggle that the Bush administration had with a Democratic Senate in its final two years, President Obama filled the vacancies by making "recess appointments", using his constitutional power to fill jobs when the Senate is out of session. The Senate then had "pro forma" sessions with virtually no one there to prevent a recess from taking place, which the President refused to recognize.

The Court ruled 9-0 that the Senate is in session whenever it says it is, as long as those present are able to exercise the powers of the Senate. (In theory they could pass something by unanimous consent during a pro forma session, though this almost never happens.) The point matters far less, now that filibusters on presidential appointments are no longer allowed. But it underlines the importance of Democrats retaining control of the Senate in the fall, which is currently rated a toss-up.

They invalidated a Massachusetts law creating a protester-free buffer zone around abortion clinics. Again 9-0, they ruled that the ability to buttonhole strangers on the street and try to change their minds about something is a freedom-of-speech issue. Slate's Dahlia Lithwick disagrees:
more than anything it seems to reflect a continued pattern of “free speech for me but not for thee” or, at least, “free speech for people who think like me,” that pervades recent First Amendment decisions at the court. More importantly, I don’t know where to locate this ruling in the burgeoning doctrine of “the right to be let alone” that Justices Alito and Thomas and Breyer have espoused, nor do I know how to reconcile it with the court’s persistent second-rate treatment of any speech that threatens to harass the justices themselves. ... In a gorgeously un-self-aware way, the same Supreme Court that severely limits speech and protest in a buffer zone all around its own building, extolls the unique and wonderful properties of the American boulevard

But Lawrence Tribe thinks the Court got it right:
Thursday’s opinion in no way restricts the right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, in 1973, and reaffirmed, in 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Nor does recognizing a duty to protect freedom of speech in this setting ask us to deny the genuine anguish suffered even by women who are confronted by quiet protesters rather than noisy agitators on their way to use reproductive health services. But neither empathy for their anguish, nor the need to protect the safety of women seeking such services, nor the clear need to guard against the rising tide of state laws designed to restrict access to abortions, can justify far-reaching measures that restrict peaceful conversation in public spaces.

and the World Cup

Like many Americans, I'm watching the World Cup seriously for the first time -- even a few games between non-American teams. I wasn't aware this was a political issue until Ann Coulter and a handful of other conservatives started getting upset about it. But it is political, sort of. The Atlantic's Peter Beinart explains:
The willingness of growing numbers of Americans to embrace soccer bespeaks their willingness to imagine a different relationship with the world. Historically, conservative foreign policy has oscillated between isolationism and imperialism. America must either retreat from the world or master it. It cannot be one among equals, bound by the same rules as everyone else. Exceptionalists view sports the same way. Coulter likes football, baseball, and basketball because America either plays them by itself, or—when other countries play against us—we dominate them.

and the Mississippi Senate primary runoff

Republican Senator Thad Cochran barely hung on against Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel, who had run ahead Cochran in the original primary (but failed to get a majority) and had been leading in polls just a few days before. And he did it in an unusual way: Under Mississippi law, anybody who didn't already vote in the Democratic primary is eligible to vote in the Republican runoff. So Cochran appealed to Democrats, especially African-American Democrats, to help him beat back the McDaniel challenge.

It's worth pointing out that Democrats were not monkey-wrenching (voting in the other party's primary for the candidate who will be easy to beat; probably Cochran is harder to beat in the general election, though few really imagine Mississippi electing a Democratic senator under any circumstances). McDaniel has done just about everything he can to alienate blacks, probably figuring they don't vote in his primary and aren't a big enough bloc to defeat him in November. He's spoken at a Neo-Confederate event, retweeted a white supremacist, and started talking about fraud as soon as Cochran began reaching out to the black community, as if black votes were somehow inherently fraudulent. McDaniel invited True the Vote -- a notorious voter suppression group -- to send poll watchers. Slate's Jamelle Bouie summed up:
If McDaniel resembles anything, it’s not a libertarian—although he swims in the current of right-wing libertarianism—as much as it’s a Southern reactionary whose appeal is built on resentment of assorted others, which in Mississippi, inevitably includes black Americans.

So Mississippi blacks saw a run-of-the-mill conservative -- Cochran has an 88% rating from the American Conservative Union and National Journal ranks him as the 41st most conservative senator, just ahead of Lindsey Graham -- running against someone who may or may not be racist himself, but certainly courts racists and repeats racist tropes. So some black Democrats, probably enough to sway the outcome, decided to vote for the lesser evil in the Republican runoff.

If you expected McDaniel or his supporters to take their defeat gracefully -- to say, "Well played, Republican establishment. You out-maneuvered us fair and square." -- you haven't been paying attention. Tea Partiers, particularly in the South, have a massive sense of entitlement. They aren't just entitled to play, they're entitled to win; if they don't win, somebody must have cheated. They are the only real Americans, so if they lose, this isn't America any more. They need to "take it back", by force of arms if necessary.

So the McDaniel loss has lots of Tea Party voices talking about a third party. Right now it's just talk meant to whip the Republican establishment into line. (The Tea Party has far more power as a faction within the Republican Party than it would as a third party, something I wish was better understood on the Left.) And it seems to be working. Witness the next note.

and John Boehner's lawsuit

One popular talking point on the Right is that President Obama is ruling tyrannically, ignoring Congress and issuing his own decrees that circumvent the laws. There's really no way to make that case consistently without indicting all recent presidents, maybe as far back as FDR, but right-wing talking points are not known for their consistency. (It's like "czars", a practice started by FDR, continued by Reagan, and expanded by George W. Bush that suddenly became tyranny when Obama did it. It's almost like Obama is different from all other presidents in some way. I wonder what that difference could be?)

I haven't discussed this in the Sift, but in online comments I leave on news sites my position has consistently been: If you think he's doing something illegal, don't just talk about it, take him to court. I think it would be amusing to watch Republicans state and defend an actual case, rather than just make vague accusations.

Well, apparently that's going to happen. Maybe. Speaker Boehner says he is preparing a lawsuit accusing President Obama of failing to "faithfully execute the laws" as the Constitution demands. However, Boehner's memo does not specify exactly which executive actions he's talking about, and when asked he said "When I make that decision, I'll let you know."

Pundits are split over whether the lawsuit is a prelude to impeachment or a way to placate extremists who want impeachment. In any case, specifying the details of the lawsuit will be politically dangerous, because in almost every case -- not deporting DREAMers, say, or increasing the minimum wage, or regulating the carbon output of power plants -- it's been Obama representing the popular majority and Boehner's caucus standing in the way. A list of Obama's "power grabs" would also be a list of issues where Congress has been dysfunctional.

By all means, Speaker Boehner, raise those issues. Focus everybody's attention on them as we go into the fall elections. Better yet, shut down the government to defend polluters. That's a sure winner.

but the continuing good news about ObamaCare still isn't getting attention

If only there were a liberal media that could call as much attention to ObamaCare's successes as our actual media focused on the (now clearly false) predictions of its impending doom.

Friday, Paul Krugman listed six doom-saying forecasts that have proved to be totally wrong -- all without apparent damage to the reputations of the doom-sayers.
  • Not enough people will sign up. Actually, the program's sign-up estimates were too low.
  • The apparent sign-ups will turn out to be an illusion when people don't pay their first premium. Since the actual policies are written by private companies rather than the government (i.e., ObamaCare was never a "government takeover"), the exact numbers are scattered in privately-held databases. But the available numbers suggest the sign-up-but-don't-pay percentage is about the usual insurance-industry rate.
  • The number of uninsured will go up, because more policies will be cancelled (because they don't meet ObamaCare's minimum standards) than new policies written. Gallup tracks the number of uninsured people; it's going down sharply. And that doesn't count the number of people who replaced bogus insurance with real insurance. The two big tests will be whether the number of bankruptcies caused by medical bills goes down, as I predict it will; and whether the death rate among the newly insured goes down, as it has in Massachusetts, where RomneyCare might be regarded as an ObamaCare pilot program.
  • ObamaCare's premiums will be unaffordable. Nope. Not everyone paid less, but the great majority did.
  • Young people won't sign up. Since young people cost less to insure, not getting enough of them could doom the whole program. But they have been signing up.
  • Health care spending will soar. A short-term increase was planned for, as people who have been doing without insurance start going to the doctor. (In some cases, this saved their lives.) Long-term, the program was supposed to create efficiencies that would cut costs. The recent numbers indicate the the initial surge is ending and costs are rising more slowly, as predicted.

You have to wonder how successful ObamaCare would be if Congress and Republican governors hadn't tried to sabotage it at every turn.

Krugman added a blog post with supporting links, but he left out a seventh failed prediction of doom: That in the second year insurers would flee the ObamaCare exchanges. In fact, the exact opposite is happening.

Let me head off a comment: Naturally, ObamaCare critics will never admit they were wrong -- that's Seneca's diabolical persistence -- so the American Enterprise Institute's Chris Conover has a column rebutting Krugman. (A certain amount is just nit-picking, like pointing out that sign-ups just barely beat predictions until the sign-up deadline was extended two weeks, as if the original doom-saying hinged on those two weeks. I don't recall any ObamaCare critic saying, "Nobody will sign up, unless the deadline is extended two weeks.") Charles Gaba counters Conover here and here. He also links to Jonathan Cohn's larger collection of bad ObamaCare predictions.

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Apropos of nothing: Segway Maximus

Thursday, "#YesAllWomen and the Continuum of Aggression"became the 9th Weekly Sift post to go over 5,000 hits.

Rick Perlstein believes the Cliven Bundy showdown marked an ominous "watershed moment":
When legitimately constituted state authority stands down in the face of armed threats, the very foundation of the republic is in danger.

And while we're talking guns, Robert Evans at Cracked has an amusing-but-serious "5 Things to Know About the Armed Men in Your Local Chipotle".

New word: When white people suddenly "discover" something that non-whites have known about for a long time, it's columbusing. As in: "Columbus columbused America" or "Miley Cyrus columbused twerking." College Humor illustrates in a hilarious video sketch.

A Republican finally proved voter fraud exists: Scott Walker donor Robert Monroe just got arrested for voting five times in Walker's recall election. I think I understand what happened.

Hardly anyone gets prosecuted for voter fraud, probably because hardly anyone commits voter fraud. (Election fraud exists, but it's party bosses and corrupt election officials who cheat, not voters.) Voting expert Richard Hasen explains that stealing votes one-by-one is a lot of work for not much benefit:
It’s no surprise that the numbers are so low, because voter impersonation fraud is an exceedingly dumb way to try to steal an election.
Federal Judge Lynn Adelman has spelled it out:
The potential costs of perpetrating the fraud, which include a $10,000 fine and three years of imprisonment, are extremely high in comparison to the potential benefits, which would be nothing more than one additional vote for a preferred candidate (or one fewer vote for an opposing candidate), a vote which is unlikely to change the election's outcome.

Still, Republicans often claim voter fraud is rampant, to the point that some even think Obama's two massive victories are suspect. If you believe that, then you must conclude that not only do lots of people vote multiple times, but that they almost all get away with it. After a while, a true believer might start to feel stupid for just voting once when everyone else must be cheating.

Monroe made the classic mistake of believing his own side's propaganda. No, Bob, that voter-fraud stuff is for conning other people and justifying crap your side wants to do for other reasons, not for applying in your own life. Like they say on Mythbusters: "Do not try this at home."

If you've been reading about massive voter fraud in North Carolina, it's a story of the same type I described last year in South Carolina: a computer check yields a large number of "possibly" fraudulent votes -- more than 35K in NC -- but after an enormous waste of election-official time, all but a handful of cases -- 3 in SC -- have reasonable explanations and none lead to prosecutions. That's how the story has played out all over the country, and that's what will happen here.

The Washington football team continues to take heat for calling itself the Redskins. The federal Patent and Trademark office revoked the Redskin trademark, which will have major financial implications if it takes effect. But the team's appeal to federal court will at least delay things for years.

The main immediate impact is that it keeps the issue in the headlines, which is the kind of publicity no business wants. For now, polls show that most people either support the team or don't care about the issue. But I think that changes if the discussion goes on long enough. I think most of us would like to dismiss the whole issue as ridiculous, but if we can't do that, we'll eventually have to admit that there's no justification for keeping the name. That's the conclusion John Oliver came to.

TPM's Josh Marshall wrote an insightful article.
I imagine I'm like many my age who at one level just intuitively think about the Redskins and the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves as just part of the natural landscape of American culture. Even now, when I think about the Redskins, part of me is like, 'We've been saying this forever.'

For a football fan, the Redskin name evokes history: Sammy Baugh, Billy Kilmer, Joe Theisman, the Hogs and Smurfs. But Marshall explores a different history, the history of "mascotization", which didn't begin until whites stopped seeing Indians as a real threat. (It started in New England, where the threat disappeared first.) He concludes:
The simple fact is we shouldn't be using whole peoples as mascots for sports teams. Whether or not Indians in America today find it offensive is almost beside the point. The fact that most do is just an extra reason to do away with the practice.

With all I've said, there's a part of me who feels like, 'We really can't have the Cleveland Indians anymore?' It feels like a loss - part of the landscape of American sports I'm attached to. But it's time.

The New Yorker's profile of Ted Cruz (who I think will be the 2016 Republican nominee) contains this quote from former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger:
Ted is able to use erudite constitutional analysis with politically appealing slogans—that’s a rare talent. The only problem is that Ted’s view of the Constitution—based on states’ rights and a narrow scope of federal power—was rejected at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and then was resurrected by John C. Calhoun, and the Confederates during the Civil War, when it failed again. It’s still around now. I think it’s wrong, but Ted does a very sophisticated version of that view.

I've been in a year-long reading project about the Confederacy and Reconstruction, and that's the same conclusion I had come to: When Tea Partiers talk about "the Founders", they're really talking about Calhoun's misrepresentation of the Founders. The key document in this tradition is not the Constitution or The Federalist, but Calhoun's A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States published posthumously in 1851.

Daily Kos' Dante Atkins has been forced to give up on the theory of Peak Wingnut -- that there is some limit to how crazy the Right can get.

and let's end with something amazing

OK Go's new video "The Writing's on the Wall" presents a series of illusions, not with CGI, but with old-fashioned perspective. And all in one continuous take. (Watch them make it.)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Ignorance and Nostalgia

Anyone who was there [in Iraq] can tell you we had the conflict won. -- John McCain on Friday

You know nothing, John McCain. -- paraphrase of Ygritte, from Game of Thrones

There will be no Sift next week. The next articles will appear on June 30. This week's featured articles are "Iraq is Still Broken, We Still Can't Fix It" and "Actually, David IS Goliath".

This week everybody was talking about Iraq

I covered this in "Iraq is Still Broken, We Still Can't Fix It".

and Eric Cantor's primary defeat

The media is portraying Dave Brat's victory as a David vs. Goliath story, but that ignores all the powerful forces on Brat's side. I try to right the balance in "Actually, David IS Goliath".

Politico points out an interesting angle on the Cantor loss: Cantor is currently the only Jew in the House Republican Caucus.

It's easy to overstate the significance of Cantor's ethnicity/religion to his loss: Dave Brat's stump speech contains no overt anti-semitism or even a clear dog-whistle. And while Brat does call attention to his divinity degree (prior to his Ph.D. in economics), he doesn't style himself as the Christian candidate. But Cantor's Jewishness shadows him the same way Obama's blackness does: Stereotypes lurk in the background and make the overt case against him more effective.

Beyond the immigration issue, Brat's case against Cantor was that he's out of touch, he doesn't really represent the American people, he's in bed with the Wall Street bankers, and that he's a backroom deal-maker who sells out his principles. All that is much easier to believe if the back of your mind contains some timeworn stereotypes: the Jew as an outsider in America, a corrupt money-changer, and a duplicitous conspirator.

and polarization

Pew Research released the first of a series of reports on political polarization in the United States. The top-level takeaway is one of those "Scientists Prove Sex Causes Babies" results: Americans are far more polarized today than in 1994. Anybody who had been paying attention already knew that, but it's nice to have the phenomenon quantified in graphics like this:

Deeper in the report, though, is some genuinely interesting stuff: Right and Left are not just mirror-image tribes. Increasingly, liberals and conservatives live different lives and want different things. For example, they value different kinds of communities. So, given their druthers, they won't live near each other.

A more ominous difference is in polarized attitudes towards compromise. As Jonathan Chait put it: "Conservatives don't hate the immigration deal. They hate all deals."

That's why Republicans keep driving us into government shutdowns or to the brink of a debt crisis: Their constituency sees compromise as corruption, so a Republican legislator who compromises needs to be able to claim it was a last resort before disaster. As Jonathan Haidt spelled out in The Righteous Mind, conservatives place a much higher value on purity than liberals do.

The disturbing thing about the compromise-is-corruption notion is that it's fundamentally un-American. James Madison's whole notion of separated powers with checks and balances depends on the willingness of the separate people who wield the separated powers to work something out. If they refuse to, then the whole constitutional system goes belly-up and the mob demands a man-on-horseback who can get things done. (I described this process in more detail -- and how far along we are -- in last fall's "Countdown to Augustus".)

It's worth remembering that in our history, that system of compromise has only failed once: the Civil War. It failed then because a powerful group of Americans -- the Southern slaveholders -- decided they were done with the long series of compromises that had held the Union together since its creation. So they rejected the North/South Democratic coalition that had held the White House for Pierce in 1852 and Buchanan in 1856, and walked out on a Democratic convention that was ready to nominate another likely winner, Stephen Douglas. (Lincoln's plan to keep slavery out of the territories but leave it alone in the slave states was similarly unsatisfying to abolitionists, but they mostly voted for him anyway.) And when slaveholders' unwillingness to unite behind Douglas let Lincoln win with under 40% of the vote, they seceded from the Union rather than wait to see what they could work out with the new president after he took office. When it became obvious they were losing the war at horrible cost, they kept fighting anyway. Even after Lee surrendered, Jefferson Davis was captured trying to get to Texas, where he thought he might keep the war going. All because the Confederate aristocracy rejected the very idea of compromise. (A readable account of the political lead-up to the war is in Douglas Egerton's Year of Meteors.)

and school shootings (again)

This one was Tuesday in Troutdale, Oregon. has listed 74 school-shooting incidents since Sandy Hook.

In the 50s, the threat was nuclear war, so we convinced ourselves we could protect children with duck-and-cover drills.

Now it's lockdown drills against gunmen. Soon maybe we'll have kids practice hiding under bulletproof blankets.

The Bodyguard Blanket is the kind of solution a hyper-individualistic free-market society comes up with. It's like responding to air pollution not by regulating polluters, but by encouraging breathers to buy gas masks.

An insightful article by a lifelong gun owner is Gawker's "It's Really Hard to Be a Good Guy With a Gun".
The universe of scenarios in which carrying a gun seems prudent or useful just keeps shrinking and shrinking, even as the legal freedom to wield personal firepower keeps expanding. The NRA has recalibrated its message for the 21st century: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." But in many ways, the 21st century has already overtaken us good guys.

and tenure for teachers

A California judge ruled that the state's teacher-tenure system is unconstitutional, because it violates minority students' right to a quality education. I expect a higher court to overrule, because the decision just screams judicial activism; California's public education policy would be better decided by the voters' elected representatives. And while a judge might well decide that the education provided in some schools does not fulfill the state's constitutional commitment, it seems well beyond a judge's competence to decide that the flaw is the tenure system.

Behind the popular fire-bad-teachers meme lurks a notion I find very doubtful: that there are legions of effective, well-qualified teachers eager to work their magic in under-performing schools, if only we could get rid of the teachers who occupy those jobs now.

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George Will stepped on a hornet nest on June 6, when he wrote that colleges and universities are learning that
when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.

The proliferating victims he's talking about are female students who claim to have suffered a sexual assault on campus. Will's statement got roundly condemned all over the internet, and launched a petition for the Washington Post to end Will's twice-a-week column.

Most of the time, I'm against these fire-somebody-who-wrote-a-bad-thing campaigns, because it's genuinely hard to engage the culture without occasionally mis-stepping and enraging people you didn't mean to provoke. But I've got a second reason for the Post to fire Will: In his old age he's become a bad writer. Will's column wastes the big stage of the WaPo's opinion pages.

Take the column in question. It's not even about campus sexual assault. He only mentions that inflamatory topic on his way to a far more vague and boring point: Because they have embraced a never-defined "progressivism", universities have no basis to protest the government's plan to rate them. Why they should protest -- and why the government wants to rate them -- is also unspecified. So of course Will never lists the "privileges" that make sexual-assault-victim such a "coveted" status, or identifies anybody in particular who covets it. Why should he nail down a throw-away line when he doesn't nail down anything?

Will's muddled essays have come to resemble shaggy-dog jokes. Only after you decrypt his pseudo-intellectual prose and follow the labyrinthine thread of his logic can you realize that his point is insubstantial. What a waste of one of the highest-profile spaces in American media.

The note above brings up something I've wondered about before: Doesn't the WaPo have any editors? I write for much lower-budget publications, but even so, editors occasionally save me from making a fool of myself. Editors are a benefit of organized journalism. The Post isn't doing Will any favors by leaving him unsupervised.

NBC giving big bucks to Chelsea Clinton is more than a little creepy, even if they do plan to terminate her contract if/when her mom officially starts running for president. The fact that they also employ Republican daughters like Jenna Bush Hager and Meghan McCain (for salaries the article doesn't specify) doesn't make me feel any better. It all points to the corruption of the meritocracy Chris Hayes described in Twilight of the Elites. For all I know, Chelsea and Jenna and Meghan might be brilliant; but they wouldn't be where they are if they hadn't been born with a head start.

and let's end with something fun

As the Joker asked about Batman: "Where does he get those wonderful toys?" Photographer Chis McLennan goes to Botswana, attaches a camera to a little radio-controlled dune buggy, then drives it into a pride of lions. Because we'd all do that if we had Batman-scale toy budgets.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Making Peace

NED STARK: Make peace with the Lannisters, you say? With the people who tried to murder my boy?
PETYR BAELISH: We only make peace with our enemies, my lord. That's why it's called "making peace".

-- Game of Thrones

This week's featured article is "This Is How It Ends". If you missed it, last week's "#YesAllWomen and the Continuum of Aggression" was very popular, with nearly 5,000 hits.

This week everybody was talking about Sgt. Bergdahl

Two weeks ago, could you have imagined that the last American POW could be freed and it would make people furious? Or that Fox News and the rest of the conservative media machine would start villifying the POW? And his family? I certainly didn't see that coming.

I don't think there's a political explanation for this. Sure, Republicans are looking for something new to get excited about as the ObamaCare issue continues to fizzle on them, but why this? Especially when so many of them have to do a complete about-face and pretend they never said a bunch of things they were saying just a few weeks ago.

I think this response requires a psychological explanation: Trading POWs makes it a little too real that the War on Terror fantasy is ending. All those heroic dreams about "ridding the world of evil-doers" have come down to this. It's a sad, hung-over morning in America, and a lot of people are pissed they have to wake up. "This Is How It Ends" fills that frame in.

and the impact of Obama's new carbon rules

Grist summarizes nine things you should know about them. That article has the most succinct response I've heard to the perennial "Environmental regulations kill the economy" objection:
Job losses in the coal industry will be offset by hiring in the construction and clean energy sectors. Lower rates of respiratory illness will save money on health care and improve productivity. EPA estimates that lower particle pollution from coal burning will reduce annual heart attacks, asthma attacks, premature deaths, hospital admissions, and lost days of work and school by the thousands. The economic value of these savings could outweigh increased costs by up to a factor of 10.

Well-designed regulations don't cost money, they save money.

and yet another school shooting

This one at Seattle Pacific University. The gunman was pepper-sprayed and tackled by a student while he was reloading. Two takeaways:
  • Once again, a bad guy with a gun was stopped by a good guy (or a good woman) without one.
  • Limiting how many shots a gun can fire without reloading is a good idea. It gives by-standers a chance to tackle a shooter before the death toll gets too high.

In other gun news, the NRA briefly showed some sanity, but then changed its mind. The NRA's Institute for Legal Action posted a statement on its website asking open carry demonstrators in Texas -- the ones taking AK-15s into Chili's and Target -- to cool it, referring to such behavior as "downright weird". But when Open Carry Texas asked for a retraction of those "disgusting and disrespectful comments", the NRA backed down. It removed the post from its web site and instead claimed the NRA is "the leader of open carry efforts across the country."

The NYT's Juliet Lapidos wondered whether this was the NRA's "Tea Party moment": Has the NRA pandering to the lunatic fringe "spawned a movement it can't control"?

The Daily Show had a fabulous piece about the racial angle on guns: black and white "experts" give open-carry do's and don'ts.
White expert: When you bring your gun to a restaurant, DO calmly inform the other patrons that you are there just to eat and not to shoot anyone.

Black expert: And when you bring your gun to a restaurant, DON'T be black. Because even if you tell them you're not going to shoot, they're probably not going to believe you.

but gay marriage rulings don't even make headlines any more

Add Wisconsin to the list of places where federal judges have found that a state ban on same-sex marriage can't be sustained after the Supreme Court's Windsor ruling last June. WaPo counts 13 post-Windsor rulings for same-sex marriage and none against. I'm not even reading them any more because they're all the same: States have no reason to ban same-sex couples from marrying, beyond the simple desire to make life harder for gays and lesbians. This was a radical argument when Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall made it in 2003, but it has become the conventional wisdom.

It's fascinating to look back at my account of the 2003 Goodridge decision and see that -- in spite of a dozen years of losses in court -- the arguments against marriage equality have not changed. The anti-homosexual side keeps saying the same thing and hoping that this time it will convince somebody.

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"I don't plan on getting raped," says a daughter on her way to college. And Mom answers: "Neither did I."

The platform of the Texas GOP is always a good read. This year's proposed version endorses quack "reparative therapy" to cure gays, plus (according to Steve Benen)
complete elimination of the Voting Rights Act; policymakers at all levels should deliberately “ignore” climate change; public schools should end sex-ed and start promoting Christianity; abortion should be banned; English should be the official language of Texas and of the United States; open-carry laws should apply to gun owners statewide

The San Antonio Current has the raw quotes, but they left out some of the best stuff:
All federal enforcement activities in Texas must be conducted under the auspices of the County Sheriff with jurisdiction in that county. ... We believe the Environmental Protection Agency should be abolished. ... we urge Congress to withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights ... We strongly support the Electoral College. ... We support the adoption of human embryos ... We unequivocally oppose the United States Senate’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. ... We oppose any laws regarding the production, distribution, or consumption of food. ... We pledge our influence toward a return to the original intent of the First Amendment and toward dispelling the myth of separation of church and state. ... we support reducing taxpayer funding to all levels of education institutions. ... We believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed. ... We support the return to the time-tested precious metal standard for the U.S. dollar. ... We support the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and the removal of U.N. headquarters from United States soil.

If you live somewhere else, you might just shake your head and say "Texas". But as voters have discovered in North Carolina and a few other states, Texas is just where right-wingers feel free to let their freak flag fly. Give Republicans a big enough majority in your state legislature, and crazy stuff will start showing up there too.

Religious freedom for me, but not for thee. In Cincinnati, no Catholic school teacher can support same-sex marriage in public on his/her own time. This new clause in the teaching contract is causing veteran teachers to resign.

You can expect a new push to teach Christianity in the public schools under the guise of Biblical literacy. In addition to trying to expand the definition of religious liberty to diminish the health insurance of his female employees, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green has been funding the Museum of the Bible's development of a curriculum aimed at high schools: The Book: The Bible’s History, Narrative and Impact.SMU religious studies professor Mark Chauncey reviewed the curriculum, finding:
This is a classic example of preaching religious beliefs in the guise of promoting religious literacy. It’s hard to imagine this curriculum, with its sectarian elements, errors and oddities, was put together by dozens of scholars as claimed.

Those who want to tear down the wall between church and state often try to make the law sound complicated, but it's actually quite simple. If a public school teacher says, "In the New Testament, Jesus rises from the dead, and many present-day Christians regard this as a historical event rather than a myth." that's teaching about Christianity, which is completely legal. But if s/he says, "Jesus rose from the dead." that's teaching Christianity, which is illegal. If someone convinces you that this principle is tricky, the person being tricked is you.

So far, Senator Mark Pryor in Arkansas has been doing the best job of any Democrat in making his opponent pay for his far-right voting record. Here's a recent Pryor ad.

and let's close with something vast

If you're not paying attention to the Astronomy Picture of the Day at NASA, you're missing out. This was Sunday's picture, of the open cluster NGC 290.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Other People's Bodies, Other People's Love

Other people’s bodies and other people’s love are not something that can be taken nor even something that can be earned — they can be given freely, by choice, or not. We need to get that. Really, really grok that, if our half of the species ever going to be worth a damn. Not getting that means that there will always be some percent of us who will be rapists, and abusers, and killers.

-- Arthur Chu, "Your Princess is in Another Castle"

This week's features posts are "#YesAllWomen and the Continuum of Aggression" and "How the Fall Elections are Shaping Up for Democrats".

This week everybody was talking about #YesAllWomen

I agree with Rebecca Solnit that this is a moment when the national conversation could change. I try to do my part in "#YesAllWomen and the Continuum of Aggression".

and Maya Angelou

who died Wednesday at age 86. I'm marking the occasion by reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her memoir of growing up in the Jim Crow era. At a time when some southern whites are trying to whitewash Jim Crow, it's important to stay in touch with the authentic voices of black experience.

Things I never knew: She had a singing career.

and climate change

If you missed last night's Cosmos, go find it. Neil deGrasse Tyson does a watchable understandable explanation of why the case for human-caused global warming is so compelling.

Also, the EPA is finally planning to set limits on carbon emissions from power plants. But Ohio is rolling back it's green energy standards, a cause that ALEC and the Koch brothers are pushing all over the country.

And Tom the Dancing Bug thinks people who haven't learned yet probably never will.

and you also might be interested in ...

There's a reason why two weeks ago I described roads paved with solar panels as a "big dream". This week an engineer shot it down.
Solar Roadways seem to take the problem of generating solar power, and put it into conditions that maximize cost.

He concludes:
Those solar-panel-covered shade structures that are popping up in church parking lots all over Tucson are looking smarter by the minute. The solar panels are mass-produced in China for a couple dollars a watt, and the structures are simple cantilevered steel I-beam ramadas. No fancy computers are needed, no worries about damage from tires, no hacking-into can happen, and they are not blocked by pedestrians, cars, trees or buses.

TPM's Josh Marshall has coined a term that deserves to catch on: hate martyr, defined as:
someone who is either anonymous or had little profile in the political world but suddenly becomes a cause celebre and hero on the right by trashing some racial or ethnic group or gay people and then getting criticized for it. Whether it's dressed up as religious liberty or free speech or whatever else, the essential element is right-winger persecuted (i.e., criticized by people on TV) for expressing bigoted or racist or just retrograde views about some historically (or presently) oppressed, denigrated or discriminated against group.

The archetypal hate martyr, according to Marshall, is Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson (whose quote I just linked to in the Maya Angelou note). Robertson was an invited speaker at Thursday's Republican Leadership Conference. Phil's son and co-star Willie was a guest of a Republican congressman at the State of the Union.

Steve Benen looks at the full list of RLC speakers -- Robertson, Donald Trump, Rep. Steve King, Dinesh D'Souza, Sarah Palin -- and thinks maybe this isn't the best approach to the "minority outreach" Republicans claim to want.

And Ted Cruz won the RLC's presidential straw poll. He gave a speech defending the government shut-down.

A Humanist in the armed forces may not believe in God, but faces many of the same spiritual challenges any other soldier does: the possibility of dying or killing, balancing duty and personal fulfillment, not to mention just being far from home. So why are there no Humanist chaplains? Universities have them.

Ron Crews of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty engages in the usual sophistry:
The motto [of the Army chaplaincy] is 'for God and country'—how could an atheist fulfill that motto if by definition he does not believe in God?

Yes, definitely, maintaining the motto of the chaplaincy should trump the needs of our soldiers.

Years ago when I read James Ault's Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church, I learned something important from a footnote: Fundamentalists churches tend to follow the pattern of oral cultures: reinterpreting their histories freely as living memory fades.

It has happened before our eyes with respect to abortion. They tell the story this way: Their theology told them that fetuses had souls, so they were forced into politics to defend those souls. The more historians look at the record, though, the more they see this isn't true: The theology came along to justify the political positions already taken for other reasons.

This week historian Randall Balmer exposed another chunk of the story: The original motivation behind the Moral Majority was to defend segregated schools.

and let's close with something awesome

National Geographic follows an "epic gathering" of mobular rays.