Monday, May 30, 2016

Thrones and Crowns

When wilt thou save the people?
Oh God of mercy when?
The people, Lord, the people
Not thrones and crowns, but men.

-- "Save the People" from Godspell

This week's featured post is "The Election is About the Country, Not the Candidates". I also wrote a column about Humanism for UU World.

This week everybody was talking about the presidential race

The Inspector General for the State Department put out a report on the Clinton email affair. I had a hard time finding an article that I thought put the proper importance on this story, neither overblowing it nor completely writing it off. I found myself more-or-less on the same page as The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza:

So this scandal is like so many that have dogged the Clintons: while it’s more molehill than mountain, it does genuinely revolve around a serious issue (Clinton’s commitment to transparency); her initial response was less than forthcoming; and the critics exaggerating the degree of wrongdoing have demonstrated more interest in damaging her politically than fixing the underlying government-wide problem that the e-mail imbroglio has revealed.

Two polls of the California Democratic Party came out last Monday: PPIC had Clinton up by 2%, 46%-44%. SurveyUSA had Clinton up by 18%, 57%-39%. The close-race poll makes a better headline than the it's-not-close poll, so that's the one that got all the attention.

Of course both polls were before the inspector general's report on Clinton's emails, which can't have done her any good.

In North Dakota Thursday, Trump laid out his energy policy, which is all fossil fuels all the time, including coal.

He did not explicitly address the scientific legitimacy of human-caused climate change, but said, “We’re going to deal with real environmental challenges, not the phony ones we’ve been hearing about. ... Regulations that shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants and block the construction of new ones — how stupid is that?"

He also pledged to restart the Keystone XL pipeline project, cancel the Paris climate agreement, and stop the Obama/Clinton policy of foreign aid to help poorer countries adapt to climate change. (Just to give one example, by 2050 rising seas are expected to drive about 18 million Bangladeshis from their homes. Where will they go?)

It's hard for me to get excited about the climate-policy differences between Clinton and Sanders when Trump is sounding like a Bond villain.

The biggest non-story of the week was the Trump/Sanders debate, which took over the news cycle for two whole days, even though it should have been completely obvious that Trump would never do it.

It got covered as Trump-and-Sanders-will-gang-up-on-Hillary, but that's not where Bernie was headed, and probably wouldn't have done him any good anyway. Sanders' closing argument is that he's the better candidate to run against Trump, so that's what he would have been trying to prove. Agreeing with Trump about "crooked Hillary" would have turned off more Democratic voters than it attracted.

Trump, conversely, had nothing to gain. Sanders would be trying out liberal anti-Trump arguments, letting Clinton see how Trump handles them. And even if Trump managed a smashing victory, he would just have been scoring points against somebody he wouldn't run against anyway.

Of course, Trump would accept the initial challenge, because that's the image he wants to project. But just as obviously, he'd make up conditions that couldn't be met so that he could back out. And that's what happened.

Even Rachel Maddow, who ought to be smarter than this, devoted half of a 20-minute segment to this topic Thursday, and got all whipped up about it.

Violence between pro-Trump and anti-Trump people broke out outside Trump's San Diego rally Friday night. There had previously been protests outside Trump's Fresno rally.

If anti-Trump protests are going to be a thing -- and it looks like they are -- it seems likely that there will be more fights and arrests and so forth. No matter who is actually at fault, I suspect the anti-Trump people will get blamed.

That's why I'm hoping that Clinton will distance herself from the anti-Trump protests, and denounce any violence in strong terms. Something like: "If you want to protest peacefully against Donald Trump, that's your right as an American. But don't do it on my account. If you want to work for my campaign, we have lots of more useful jobs for you to do."

Jonathan Weisman describes how he became a social-media target of Trump-supporting anti-Semites. Meanwhile, BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray reports on the excitement Trump has raised at the white-nationalist American Renaissance conference. That's not to claim that Trump is actively anti-Semitic or a white nationalist himself. But at some point you do have a responsibility to notice and comment on the things that are being done in your name.

Something Trump himself did do is use 12 minutes of a public rally to bash by name the judge who presides over the San Diego version of the Trump University fraud suit. (There's a separate New York suit. Neither will go to trial before the election.) Trump described the judge as a "Mexican" and a "hater".

I’m telling you, this court system, judges in this court system, federal court, they ought to look into Judge Curiel. Because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace, OK?

On and on like that for 12 minutes.

James Fallows makes the historical comparison:

When the results of an established process turn against them, presidents and presidential aspirants must defend the process. That’s the difference between rule-of-law and rule-of-men. Richard Nixon disagreed with the Supreme Court’s rulings against him but did not question their legitimacy or say he would try to get back at the Justices. Al Gore had far better logical and jurisprudential grounds for questioning the ruling in Bush v. Gore, but while he made clear that he bitterly disagreed, he of course complied. He did not mention the ethnicity of the Justices or say that they should be “looked into.”

I'll take that a step farther: When you're talking to a room filled with your rabid fans, and your speech is likely to get covered on national TV, how hard is it to imagine one lunatic deciding to impress you by doing something about that hater judge?

Vox' Liz Plank takes on Trump's talk about Hillary's "woman card", when he went on to say: "We're petrified to speak to women any more." She lists a number of things that women might be afraid of, like, say, rape, or having their concerns ignored by a Congress that is 80% male.

But yeah, men's fear of being labeled as sexist when they clearly say things that are definitely sexist ... definitely trumps the very well documented systemic sexism that women face every day.

and you might also be interested in

Obama went to Hiroshima and said this:

Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.

The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.

It's been great, these last seven years, to have a president I can take pride in.

One of those simple stats that speaks volumes: Home ownership is at its lowest rate since 1967. The millennial generation's path through life is going to be different than previous generations.

Thursday, health officials announced the first incidence in the U.S. of a bacterial infection that is immune to all known antibiotics. This has been coming for a long time, but now it's here.

Venezuela is spiraling downward.

An important lesson in structural racism: A Pro Publica investigation shows that a widely used algorithm to predict whether criminals will commit more crimes -- producing "risk scores" that judges and parole boards use to decide on sentences -- is biased against blacks. It over-estimates the risk that blacks will commit future crimes, and under-estimates the risk that whites will.

There's no evidence that anybody did this intentionally, but factors that seem to make sense on an individual basis have the effect of reproducing the culture of mass incarceration.

Race is not one of the questions. The survey asks defendants such things as: “Was one of your parents ever sent to jail or prison?” “How many of your friends/acquaintances are taking drugs illegally?” and “How often did you get in fights while at school?” The questionnaire also asks people to agree or disagree with statements such as “A hungry person has a right to steal” and “If people make me angry or lose my temper, I can be dangerous.”

Since blacks are imprisoned at much higher rates than whites, their children will have worse risk scores. If you attend a bad public school, with lots of violence and drugs, it will count against you. And so on.

Due to some really bad reporting, a lot of people now believe that scientists have shown at long last that cellphones cause cancer. Vox' Brad Palmer does the kind of careful science reporting that is too boring for most media outlets.

So here's what happened, more or less: Researchers bombarded some rats with more cellphone radiation than any human is likely to be exposed to, and they did get more tumors of two particular types in those rats than in the control group. On the other hand, we've been conducting an unofficial experiment by having lots of humans use cellphones, and we're not seeing the kinds of increases in cancer that we would if there were a large effect. (And BTW: the irradiated mice on average lived longer than the control group.)

In short, it's the kind of study that should make people go "Hmmm", not "OMG, we're all going to die!"

Look: Science moves slowly. Individual studies are often wrong, and it's rare for one paper to completely upend everything we know about a topic. There are very few genuinely "game-changing" studies. And reporters need to do a better job of putting this incrementalism in context — rather than preying on people's fears for clicks.

and let's close with something cute

At the end of a long day, Momma Raccoon makes sure all the kids get home safe.

Monday, May 23, 2016

One Purpose

Whether you voted for me or you voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team, and none of us can afford to sit on the sidelines. ... Barack Obama is my candidate, and he must be our president.

-- Hillary Clinton, 2008 Democratic Convention (8-26-2008)

This week's featured post is "Fears of Democratic Disunity: talking myself down".

This week everybody was talking about a plane crash

The usual news sites can be confusing places to keep track of an unfolding story like the loss of EgyptAir Flight 804. They focus too much on what information is new today, and it's often hard to tell whether they're reporting or speculating. I recommend checking the Wikipedia page from time to time. That way you get the whole story as it is currently understood.

and whether the Democrats can unify

In the featured post, I let my fears run wild and then talk myself down.

while the Republicans unite around Trump

Interesting article in The Atlantic about Trump's message to coal country versus Clinton's.
[Trump's] plan is very easy to envision: You’ll have your job back, and your old lives. This is the power of Trump’s blame-based worldview. When curing a community’s malaise is as simple as getting rid of the bad actor who caused it—in this case, Obama’s environmental regulations—the rewards feel more certain, more tangible. “When you say, ‘I’m going to give your job back,’ that’s a very immediate solution to the problem,” said Erin Cassese, an associate professor of political science at West Virginia University. “If you want to find fault with Clinton’s plan or Sanders’s plan, it’s that they're really vague. People don’t have a clear vision of what their lives are going to be like in four years. It’s more abstract, and that’s why it has less resonance with voters." The problem is that Trump’s plan has almost no chance of success. A U.S. president has no power to stoke global demand for coal, or pump up the price of natural gas; the most Trump could do is repeal Obama’s environmental rules, and economists agree that would have a minimal effect on employment.
In the fall campaign, that's going to be the argument across the board. Clinton will offer a detailed program to make things better than they are now; Trump will pledge to make things right again, but offer either no plan or one based in fantasy. It's going to be a serious test of the wisdom of the electorate.
Trump put out a list of the 11 white people he would consider nominating to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. In general, conservatives consider this a good list and liberals don't, but getting into that argument misses the obvious: Once in office, Trump will do what he wants, independent of anything he's said in past or is saying now. Look at what we've already seen: He publishes a tax plan, and then distances himself from it. One of his top surrogates now says his Mexican Wall would be "virtual" and his deportation promise "rhetorical". As Kyle Kondik of Sabato's Crystal Ball put it:
Tackling Trump on the issues will be tricky because he just changes his positions all the time.
So in January, if Trump pulls a Caligula and nominates his horse to the Court, I can imagine what he'll say if anybody mentions this list. "That was a good list, a great list, and those 11 judges are really top people, totally first rate. But America's Greatness -- have you seen him? -- what a horse he is!"

but a lot of important things have been happening the in the world while we've been focused on presidential politics (and bathrooms)

I haven't given this stuff nearly the attention it deserves. Fortunately, Vox been on the case. Brexit. The European Union is at a tricky point. Its member countries are unified enough that the EU limits the actions of the national governments, but not so unified as to provide the kind of benefits that, say, the states of the US see from our federal government. (For example, if our states had the kind of loose relationship EU countries do, Florida might have had to go bankrupt in the 2008 real estate crash, or New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.) Previously, this has come to a head with regard to the Greek economic crisis, and the "Greek exit" option got smushed down to "Grexit". (Greece decided to stay in the EU for now.) Now Britain, a much larger, richer economy, is facing a referendum to leave the EU. Britain has always had an ambivalent relationship with the European mainland, which is symbolized by the fact that it has retained the pound, rather than merge into the EuroZone. That limits some of the hassle of being in the EU, and would limit some of the impact of a Brexit. (For example, Britain's national debt is in its own currency, which it could print if it needed a quick way out of a debt crisis. Greece, on the other hand, owes Euros, which it doesn't control.) Vox has a good explanatory article. An exit vote on the UK referendum on June 23 would trigger the negotiation of an exit agreement with the EU, which would then have to be approved. So the referendum is a move towards exit, but not a direct exit. The biggest worry, though, isn't Brexit itself, but the larger nationalistic process it might be part of.
Brexit is the British manifestation of a broader popular revolt against European integration that is gradually spreading across Europe. If the British people choose to abandon the EU at this vulnerable moment, it might well be the catalyst that causes the cancer of populism and disintegration — which is helping to drive this campaign in the UK — to metastasize across Europe at a dramatically faster rate.

The Brazilian impeachment. Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff has been impeached by the Senate, which under the Brazilian system means that she immediately steps down until cleared.

This is a weird story about Brazil's weird version of democracy, in which a clear majority of Congress is under investigation for corruption.
Ever since colonial times, Brazil has been dominated by wealthy elites who thought they could get away with anything — mostly because they usually did.
Rousseff probably will be removed permanently, and it's hard to feel too bad about that, because she is corrupt. But she might well be less corrupt than either the people who are impeaching her or the VP who will take over. The Zika virus. Brazil is also ground zero for an outbreak of the Zika virus. But Zika isn't just somebody else's problem. There's already been a death in Puerto Rico, and much of the Southern U.S. is at risk. The Obama administration has asked for $1.9 billion to fight the disease, but this apparently is the kind of "wasteful government spending" that Republicans feel obliged to block. The Senate is trying to pass a $1.1 billion bill, while the House is only willing to spend $622 million -- and funding it by taking the money away from anti-Ebola work. God forbid that we increase our public health budget just because there's a public health problem. Puerto Rico. It looks like Congress will pass a bill to deal with the Puerto Rican debt crisis. Matt Yglesias describes the proposal as "in effect ... bankruptcy" because the lenders and bond holders will get less than 100% of what they're owed on paper. No federal money is appropriated to bail anybody out.

and you might also be interested in

Larry Wilmore appeared on Chris Hayes' MSNBC show Wednesday, and an interesting point came up: We're at the point where people will start wondering what history will make of the Obama administration. Like Wilmore, I think Obama is going to come out pretty well. Not only is ObamaCare ultimately going to be remembered as a major accomplishment, but he's going to get credit for the way he held things together in the face of the horrible conditions he inherited from Bush and unprecedented obstruction from the opposing party. Anyway, more about that in January. But it seemed like a good time to review my end-of-term assessment of George W. Bush in 2009. I'm standing by all of it: In hindsight, I don't see any reason to look more kindly on what he did.
Oklahoma's legislature just passed a bill criminalizing abortion, but the governor vetoed it. I think of these sorts of laws as Lawyer Full Employment acts. The only thing they accomplish is to create court cases whose outcomes are known before they begin.
George Zimmerman just sold the gun he used to kill Trayvon Martin for $250,000. This looks to me like a pioneering transaction that brings a whole new market into the capitalist system. Imagine the possibilities: "Of course I didn't hire that guy to kill my parents (and besides, there wasn't enough evidence to convict him). But after I got my inheritance, how could I turn down the opportunity to own an artifact of such personal significance to my family?"

and let's close with something unexpected

The sidewalks of Boston are covered with secret poems that you can only see when it rains.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Truth and Fantasy

I play to people’s fantasies. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.

-- Donald J. Trump, The Art of the Deal (1987)

This week's featured post is "Four False Things You Might Believe About Donald Trump".

This week everybody was talking about the Trump-Ryan meeting

Trump dominated the news cycle even more than usual this week. His meeting with Paul Ryan was covered like an international summit, even though there was really nothing to say about it: We're not sure what they talked about and nobody expected a clear result. It sounds like they have agreed to agree at some point in the future, though the content of that agreement has been left open. In general, and with a few notable exceptions, this was the week when elected Republicans realized they have no choice: Trump is their nominee, and his positions are vague enough to leave room for imagining that he will do something they'll like.
Trump is still refusing to release his tax returns, giving very implausible excuses for his refusal. It's hard to imagine what could be in there that is worse than what the media is already imagining. I think the most likely thing we'd learn is that he's not nearly so rich as he claims. Using a separate source of information, Crane's New York Business argues that his annual income must be less than $500K.
The NYT did a deeply researched article into Trump's interactions with women. Trump thinks it's a hit piece, but it actually captures some of the ambivalence of his character: On the one hand, Trump made room for women to advance in his organization, giving them opportunities they would not easily find elsewhere in the real-estate-development business. On the other, he feels like this should give him cover when he misbehaves, which he frequently does.
The other Trump news story falls into the WTF category: The Washington Post released a tape of a 1991 conversation in which Trump is posing as his own publicist and talking to a gossip columnist. The conversation is largely about all the women who either want Trump or want him back. I'm a bit at a loss about how much importance to give this. It doesn't fall into any of the usual political-scandal categories. It's more like: "Who does that kind of thing?" I'm reminded of the damaging YouTube of John Edwards primping his hair. Trump's response is more telling than the story itself: He reiterated his threat that the Trump administration would start an antitrust case against Amazon, whose owner (Jeff Bezos) also owns the WaPo. Josh Marshall comments:
Let's all take stock of this being a thing: Donald Trump routinely threatens to use government power (DOJ, IRS, etc.) to attack his personal enemies once he becomes President. In other words, Trump openly promises to do what Republican propagandists and fever swamp nutballs have pretended or imagine Democratic presidents do.

and polls

Lots of Democrats freaked when a Quinnipiac poll showed tight Clinton/Trump races in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania -- i.e., the states that have been the deciders in most recent elections. Slate's Jamelle Bouie dug into the numbers to see what was going on, and discovered something interesting: Quinnipiac is assuming that these states will have a significantly whiter electorate than in 2008 or 2012.
The standard narrative for nonwhite voting in a presidential year is this: Before Barack Obama, blacks and Latinos turned out to vote in modest and static numbers. After Obama’s 2008 campaign, they began to vote in droves, transforming the American electorate. Now, with Obama and his historic candidacy off of the ballot, they’ll return to the sidelines.
Every part of this narrative is wrong.
To me, the compelling part of Bouie's counter-narrative is the Hispanic vote, where turnout is traditionally low, but went up to 50% in 2008 and 48% in 2012. Somehow, I think Trump is going to inspire a lot of Hispanic voter turnout. So the Q poll should be read as more of a cautionary tale than a prediction: If Democrats forget about non-white turnout, or if Clinton makes the mistake of competing too hard for the angry white voter and blurs the choice between herself and Trump, things could get close.
In general, you shouldn't let yourself get too upset by any one poll. The media has a tendency to publicize polls precisely because they say something unexpected. (In the primaries, any poll showing Sanders unexpectedly close to Clinton made headlines, while polls showing Clinton comfortably ahead didn't.) In practice, that means that the polls you're most likely to hear about are the outliers, the ones fall outside the range of the other polls. Those are precisely the ones you should be most suspicious of.

and bathrooms

The Obama administration has sent a letter to all the school districts in the country, warning them that bathroom rules discriminating against transgender students (like the ones mandated in North Carolina by HB2) will be seen as violations of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. Vox has an informative article about this.
[Until they are tested in court] the Obama administration's guidelines are simply a legally non-binding guidance. Still, they suggest that the Obama administration will attempt legal action against violators. And if courts do ultimately rule in the administration's favor, schools and states could lose billions in federal education funding for violating civil rights laws — a position no public official wants to be caught in.
The article also contains a map showing all the states where some kind of transgender-rights protection already exists. In other words, there's no reason why opponents of trans rights need to make up hypothetical examples of men claiming to be trans so that they can enter women's bathrooms and locker rooms for whatever nefarious purposes. If such things are going to happen, they should already be happening all over the country. For example, last week I watched Bill O'Reilly raise these kinds of fears on his TV show. Bill's show comes out of New York, where the law already includes protections of trans rights. So if trans rights cause a problem, he's perfectly situated to report on that problem, not speculate hypothetically about it.
Religion writer Jonathan Merritt has written an interesting article about how the religious right is playing this issue. His claim is that they learned nothing from their battles against gay rights, and so they're making all the same mistakes: They're making abstract arguments based on dogma and stereotypes, and aren't paying attention either to the experiences of real people or to what science is finding out.
When it comes to transgender issues, conservative Christians advocate for a privileged majority that is not currently under threat while ignoring the plight of an oppressed minority that is currently being harassed. Are you starting to see the parallels to the way Christian activists bungled the gay rights fight? In the early 2000s I began predicting that the battle over gay marriage was already over. My conservative friends called me crazy, but time proved who was right. Because conservative Christians seem hellbent on perpetually making the same mistakes ad infinitum, today I’m predicting that the transgender conversation is over. And once again, conservative Christians will be the authors of their own demise.
Scare tactics only work until real experience starts to develop. Conservative Christians could claim anything they wanted about same-sex marriage leading to the fall of Civilization as long as no states had legalized it. But eventually you could go to Massachusetts or Canada and see for yourself that Civilization was doing just fine.

and you might also be interested in

Mistakes are bigger in Texas. This TCU typo is the worst since the commencement of the University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Pubic Affairs in 2012. I'm not making that one up either.
Also in Texas: An 8th-grade girl in Houston was held by police after she tried to buy her school lunch with a $2 bill her grandmother had given her. The bill failed the current counterfeiting test because it was printed in 1953. The link (from the local ABC affiliate) tells of numerous other cases in which school officials and police have treated students like adult felons rather than give them the benefit of the doubt while an anomaly is investigated. Oddly, this seems to happen almost entirely to non-white students.
West Virginia Democrats are a confusing bunch. In their presidential primary, they picked Sanders over Clinton 51%-36%. But on the same day, in the governor's race, they nominated a billionaire coal baron who denies global warming and has a history of safety violations in his mines.

and let's close with something big

A life-size Foosball game.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Say Never

This is a Joe McCarthy moment. People will be judged by where they stood at this time. Those who walked with Trump will be tainted forever after.

-- David Brooks, "If Not Trump, What?" (4-29-2016)

This week's featured post is "What Will Republicans Do Now?"

If you're wondering where I was last week, check out the Mayday service I gave at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois.

These last two weeks, everybody has been talking about the end of the Republican primary campaign

Two weeks ago, the plan to stop Donald Trump at the convention was still iffy, but didn't seem completely daft. Then very quickly, Trump won the Middle Atlantic primaries by wide margins and Cruz collapsed in Indiana. Suddenly Cruz and Kasich were out and Trump was the last man standing.

I talk about the still-splintered Republican Party in the featured post.

Before Cruz went out, though, he unleashed the kind of scathing diatribe you can't take back, calling Trump a "pathological liar" who "lies [with] practically every word that comes out of his mouth".

In a response that I think comes straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everyone else of lying. ... And it's simply a mindless yell. Whatever he does, he accuses everyone else of doing.

This is actually a sound insight. In particular, I think it applies to Trump's recent attack on Hillary Clinton:

Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she's got going is the women's card.

Reverse that and see how much better it fits. Would anyone support Donald Trump if he weren't a white man? Isn't he constantly playing the white man card, stoking up white male resentment against Hispanics, against women, against blacks, against Middle Easterners?

Another frequent Trump claim is that Hillary either will or should be indicted over the email affair. But the more we learn, the more clear it is that she broke no laws. It is Trump, on the other hand, who has a legal problem: The Trump University fraud lawsuit will be heard shortly after the election.

and political comedy

At his last White House Press Correspondents' Dinner, President Obama proved once again that he has a career in stand-up waiting, if he wants it. And Jimmy Kimmel did a funny but effective piece about climate change. The Daily Show turned real Donald Trump quotes into a rap video.

That video illustrates one reason I think liberals will do better against Trump than conservatives did: Trump deserves to be laughed at, and we have much better comedians.

Meanwhile, the last week of the Ted Cruz campaign was full of unintentional yucks: Ted accidentally elbowed his wife in the face. His would-be VP, Carly Fiorina, diverted attention from the entrance of the Cruz family by falling off the stage. And in a WTF moment, Carly started singing. When Hollywood eventually makes a comedy about the 2016 campaign, those moments will have to be included.

and Puerto Rico

The first time I noticed that Puerto Rico had a debt problem was when I started seeing this ad. It was paid for by one of those dark-money groups with an amorphous name: the Center for Individual Freedom. So of course you can trust everything they tell you.

To get a better idea of what's involved, watch this John Oliver segment (which features Puerto-Rican-born Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton).

The general theme here is the problem of colonialism: Puerto Rico may have its own government, but the rules it operates under are circumscribed by what Congress allows, and Congress often makes new rules affecting Puerto Rico either by accident (just failing to mention it in the law) or in order to achieve some purpose on the mainland, with the effect on the island being mostly an afterthought.

Right now, Puerto Rico owes $70 billion, or about $20,000 per person. The debt simply can't be paid, and as the laws currently stand, the island's government has to pay its bonds before providing services like public health and education. If they do that, it seems clear that people will die; that's why they're currently in violation of the law.

Mainlanders who want to write Puerto Ricans off because they're Hispanics might want to think again: Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, all its people are American citizens. They don't have to cross any borders or jump any walls to resettle in your town; they just need a plane ticket.

and Cinco de Mayo

For an explanation of why wearing a sombrero, eating nachos, and drinking too much tequila is not a proper way for Anglos to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, listen to Liz Martinez , or watch this. For what Cinco de Mayo really means, see Wikipedia.

For non-Hispanic Americans, Cinco de Mayo should be an annual opportunity to think about cultural appropriation, the tendency of powerful cultures to steal anything that looks like fun from less powerful cultures. (I discussed this a few years ago in "A Brief Meditation on White Twerking".) Done badly, the powerful culture's megaphone drowns out the authentic tradition, ruining practices and celebrations for the people they ought to belong to.

There are respectful ways to mark holidays of cultures you don't belong to. For example, if you're a Gentile and your Jewish friends invite you over for a Passover Seder, you can attend without worrying about cultural appropriation, as long as you don't try to make yourself the center of attention. That's way different from dressing up like Moses and inviting a bunch of other Gentiles over to eat matzo shaped like the 10 commandments and drink a lot of Manischewitz.

The question is who's in control. One key symptom of privilege is the tendency to assume that you ought to be in control. If someone else is offended by what you do, you'll be the judge of whether their objection is justified. You'll examine your own intentions, and if you decide you meant well, that's all that matters. If that doesn't satisfy some people, well, that's their problem.

You can see that process at work in Washington Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder: He knows he doesn't intend to insult Native Americans, so if they take offense they're just wrong. "The truth is on our side," he says.

A current example is Donald Trump's Cinco de Mayo tweet. All the elements of cultural appropriation are on display: A white guy eats a white imitation of Mexican food while proclaiming (falsely, according to New York Eater, which judged the Trump Tower Grill's taco bowls to be "an insult to Mexicans every bit as profound as Trump’s previous pronouncements") that his people do it better than actual Mexicans. It's textbook. No wonder California Republican Dennis Hollingsworth tweeted in response: "Holy guacamole, what a dipshit."

Like Hollingsworth, many interpreted Trump's tweet as a clueless attempt to reach out to Hispanic-American voters. (Reince Priebus' generous interpretation was that Trump is "trying".) But I see something more clever. Trump knows the Hispanic vote is beyond his reach. His actual purpose here is to convince other clueless Anglos that he's not anti-Hispanic, so they can vote for him without feeling like bigots.

The goal was to get the response he got from Bill O'Reilly (and Neil Cavuto): that the objections to his tweet demonstrate the "political madness" of this campaign. No doubt O'Reilly's aging white audience is saying, "Look at how crazy those people are! Trump says he loves them, and they're mad." Just what the Donald wanted.

and HB2

The plot thickens regarding North Carolina's HB2 law, the one that polices the state's bathrooms and prevents local governments from protecting any rights the state doesn't recognize -- particularly gay or trans rights.

Wednesday, the U. S. Justice Department sent Gov. Pat McCrory a letter notifying him that the law violates federal laws against sex-based discrimination in the workplace. The feds wanted assurance by today that North Carolina will not be enforcing the law, which Gov. McCrory is not going to give, calling the letter "Washington overreach". Billions in federal funds are potentially at risk.

Basically, McCrory is taking the same path that Southern governors like George Wallace and Ross Barnett did during the civil rights era: calling for delay and invoking states rights.

One possible way out is if the city of Charlotte agrees to repeal the LGBT-rights ordinance that HB2 was passed to undo. Then the state might amend HB2 in some way acceptable to the Justice Department. So far, though, Charlotte seems to be taking the view that they didn't make this problem.

and let's close with something time-devouring

Polygraph has constructed the most addictive web site I've ever linked to. Start at any date you want (after 1958; 1997 is the default), and then watch (and hear) the Billboard Top 5 songs evolve week by week, with a running total of how many weeks each artist stayed at #1. "Maybe I'll just watch another couple of months," I say. "Aren't the Beatles due to show up soon? How long will it take them to catch Elvis?"