Monday, September 29, 2014


Conservatives love to vilify anyone who doesn't want to immediately throw down as "appeasers". But when you're dealing with terrorists whose aim is to bait us into overreaction, and you oblige them, aren't you the appeaser?

-- Bill Maher

This week's featured posts are "A Conservative Lexicon with English Translation" and "Classism and Corporal Punishment".

This week everybody was talking about Eric Holder

The Attorney General is retiring as soon as President Obama names and the Senate confirms a replacement. So this week was a time for retrospectives on Holder's tenure.

If you are liberal, you criticize Holder for not prosecuting fraud on Wall Street and failing to protect civil liberties against NSA snooping, but you admire his defense of voting rights against voter-suppression laws. If you're conservative, Holder is the villain of countless conspiracy theories like Fast & Furious, and you hate his defense of voting rights against voter-suppression laws.

One Holder policy is already showing results: This year the number of Americans in federal prison dropped for the first time since 1980. The U.S. incarceration rate "leads" all major nations (behind only Seychelles among countries of any sort) with 707 per 100K. Canada manages to avoid anarchy with only 118 inmates per 100K, so our rate could probably stand to come down.

If Republicans gain control of the Senate, confirming Holder's replacement could be a major headache, no matter who it is. Republicans are already raising the constitutionally bizarre idea that it would be illegitimate for the Senate to confirm Holder's replacement in the lame-duck session after the election.

Historically, cabinet appointments have been confirmed without much fanfare, unless some scandal is found in the appointee's background. Only during the Obama administration have appointments been contested in general, independent of the individual appointed. Compare, for example, President Bush's most difficult appointment: John Bolton as U. N. ambassador. Senate Democrats objected to Bolton personally, not to the idea of Bush appointing an ambassador to the U.N.

and war

The air war against ISIS expanded to Syria this week. Vox observes:
This is a huge success for Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian leader has now convinced the world's most powerful country, which was threatening to bomb him just a year ago, to instead bomb his enemies. There is a strong indication that this was his plan all along.

And we also attacked a Syrian jihadist group not previously in the headlines: Khorasan, which the administration claims is plotting attacks inside the U.S.

Consensus opinion is that ISIS can't be defeated purely from the air; somebody is going to have to provide troops. The Kurdish Peshmerga is effective fighting force in the Kurdish region of Iraq, but it remains to be seen whether they will want to advance into Kurdish regions of eastern Syria ... or what will happen if they do. Kurdish unity and independence is one of the longstanding issues of the region, and our NATO ally Turkey is firmly against it.

and the fall election

Apparently Republicans believe women vote by falling in love with a dreamy candidate, rather than by thinking about issues like men do. At least, that's the image this ad presents: a young, pretty, woman of indeterminate race who's ready to "break up" with Obama and vote against "his friends" in 2014.

Naturally, the ad was created by one man (Rick Wilson) and paid for by another (John Jordan). Because who understands women better than men do, amirite? Joan Walsh calls it "condescending" and Vox finds it "weird". I wouldn't be surprised if more liberal blogs are linking to it than conservative ones.

It's hard to imagine that any woman who isn't already anti-Obama will be swayed, but maybe that's the point. Maybe Republicans are trying to keep their already-committed women in line, lest they defect to a female senate candidate like Kay Hagan, or to a male candidate who respects them like Mark Udall.

Dr. Ben Carson hasn't formally announced yet, but he seems to be running for president. This is the kind of thoughtful commentary you can expect in the 2016 Republican primaries:
WALLACE: You said recently that there might not even be elections in 2016 because of widespread anarchy. Do you really believe that?

CARSON: I hope that that’s not going to be the case. But certainly there’s the potential because you have to recognize that we have a rapidly increasing national debt, a very unstable financial foundation, and you have all these things going on like the ISIS crisis that could very rapidly change things that are going on in our nation. And unless we begin to deal with these things in a comprehensive way and in a logical way there is no telling what could happen in just a couple of years.

Saturday, Carson finished second to Ted Cruz in the presidential straw poll at the Values Voters Summit.

and spanking

The Adrian Peterson controversy provoked me to write "Classism and Corporal Punishment".

and occasionally people have been talking about this blog

I hope someday it will seem like no big deal to notice Digby's Hullabaloo or David Brin (you'll have to scroll down some) discussing a Sift post, but that day has not yet come. I still get little chills from stuff like that.

but not nearly enough people talked about the People's Climate March

If you'd ever bought into the idea of liberal media bias, the People's Climate March should have snapped you out of it. Hundreds of thousands of people (organizers claimed 400K, but I haven't found a disinterested estimate) turned out last Sunday (the 21st), with supporting rallies in over 200 cities around the world. The network news shows that day discussed it not at all.

Imagine if the same number had showed up to demand a balanced budget or a new Benghazi investigation or something. It would have driven ISIS off the front pages.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

At least Jon Stewart talked about it, and connected it to the infuriating display of stupidity that is the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
How far back to the elementary school core curriculum do we have to go to get someone on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology caught up? Do we have to bring out the paper mache and the baking soda so you can make a fucking volcano? Is that what we have to do?


and you also might be interested in ...

Another amazing John Oliver rant, this time about the Miss America Pageant.

A can't-miss interview with the Notorious RBG.

A very thought-provoking article by Ezekiel Emmanuel, the director of clinical ethics at NIH: "Why I Hope To Die at 75". He's my age (57) and in good health. He's not proposing suicide, euthanasia, or medical rationing. He's just saying that extending your life past 75 comes with an ever-increasing risk of disability, depression, or dementia.

The article has drawn a lot of my-Dad-is-89-and-doing-great comments -- and hey, look at RBG at 81 -- but that misses the point. Emmanuel thinks extended life is a bad gamble, so personally, he plans to start cutting back on medical tests and treatments as he approaches 75. If he turns out to be healthy as a horse at 90 anyway, great -- he won the lottery.

Because of Emmanuel's role in drawing up ObamaCare, his article has also draw a lot of weird we-knew-there-were-death-panels comments from the tin-foil-hat people, including the predictable National Review types, whose bizarre fantasies and nightmares often get in the way of understanding what anyone else says.

The bogus Obama "scandals" I talked about in "What Should Racism Mean?" are still happening.

I've had a soft spot in my heart for Emma Watson ever since she punched out Draco Malfoy. But her UN speech opens the door to a more mature admiration.
I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too—reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.

Then there was that whole little drama about someone threatening to release nude photos of her in revenge for that speech -- which turned out to be a hoax leading to another hoax, neither of which had anything to do with Watson.

What is the world coming to when you can't even trust the people threatening to release nude photos of celebrities? I'm reminded of the sad comment bank robber Willie Sutton made in his autobiography Where the Money Was, explaining why his accomplices kept turning him in. "You involve yourself with a very low grade of person when you become a thief." Maybe the same is true when you go looking for involuntary porn.

As a former high school newspaper editor, my sympathies are with Neshaminy High School student editor Gillian McGoldrick and her faculty supervisor, who have both been suspended over the paper's refusal to use the name of the school's team: Redskins.

The school administration is giving you a fabulous education, Gillian. The lesson they're teaching is not the one they think they're teaching, but you will value this experience for the rest of your life.

As for the faculty advisor Tara Huber: You probably knew that lesson already, but I hope it's some comfort to realize that your students will never forget you.

Two recent novels have interesting stuff to say about technology about the possibly destructive interplay between new technology and giant corporations. In The Circle by Dave Eggers, the Circle is a Google/Amazon/Apple/Facebook/Twitter combination that is idealistically trying to "complete the circle" by making all human experience available to everybody. "Privacy is theft" because it denies other people information they have a right to know. The novel recounts the narrator's gradual absorption by the cultish corporate culture, where "smiles" and "frowns" from strangers replace all genuine human relationships.

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon examines the issue of letting corporations control access to our cultural heritage. (Picture Amazon's control of book distribution, or NetFlix' increasing monopoly on our film library.) What if a monopolistic online "word exchange" drove dictionaries to extinction? The corporation would then have an interest in seeing language change quickly, so that you'd have to look up more words. And then things get out of hand.

It's been blocked on YouTube, but you can still see Greenpeace's rising-seas version of "Everything Is Awesome", a song from The Lego Movie.

Privatization in action: The multinational corporation that bought the operating rights to the Indiana Toll Road just filed for bankruptcy. It turns out that things don't get magically more efficient as soon as government is out of the picture.

We used to say, "If we can send a man to the Moon, why can't we ... ?" Maybe the new version should be "If India can send a spacecraft to Mars for less than a billion dollars, why can't we ... ?"

and let's close with something amazing

When you watch Ana Yang perform, and then consider what she must know about the tensile strength of various liquids and the ways their bubbles behave when blown up with certain gases, it brings home the old Arthur Clarke adage: Sufficiently advanced technology really does look like magic.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Discernable Gains

Both [world] wars were fought, really, with a view to changing Germany. ... Yet, today, if one were offered the chance of having back again the Germany of 1913 -- a Germany run by conservative but relatively moderate people, no Nazis and no Communists, a vigorous Germany, united and unoccupied, full of energy and confidence, able to play a part again in the balancing-off of Russian power in Europe ... in many ways it wouldn't sound so bad, in comparison with our problems of today. Now, think what this means. When you tally up the total score of the two wars, in terms of their ostensible objective, you find that if there has been any gain at all, it's pretty hard to discern.

-- George Kennan, American Diplomacy (1951).

No Sift next week. The next articles will appear September 29.

This week's featured articles are "Infrastructure, Suburbs, and the Long Descent to Ferguson" and "Is Ray Rice's Video a Game-Changer?".

This week everybody was talking about war against the Islamic State

Look at the Kennan quote above, and think about this: If, right now, there were a secular Sunni leader who could hold Iraq together, keep the religious radicals in check, and serve as a regional counterweight to Shiite Iran, that wouldn't sound so bad.

I've just described Saddam Hussein.

That ought to make us humble about what American military power can achieve in Iraq, or Syria, or anywhere else in the Middle East. At great expense in both lives and money, we fought two wars and lost no battles. But if there has been any gain at all in the overall situation, it's pretty hard to discern.

Nonetheless, the march into a third Iraq War -- expanded to include Syria this time -- continues. In a speech Wednesday night, President Obama admitted that "we can't erase every trace of evil from the world" (an implicit criticism of President Bush), but pledged that "We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy."

And when we've done that, then will the situation be better than it was in 2002 or 1990?

For some mysterious reason, Dick Cheney is advising congressmen on what to do in Iraq, rather than testifying at his war crimes trial. Thom Hartmann:
When we, the supposed leaders of the free world, don't punish the worst political criminals in our history, it sets a terrible example for the rest of the world. ... [W]hen we do terrible things and nobody is held accountable, that gives the green light for everyone else to do the same.

Leaving aside moral considerations, the country listened to Cheney during the run-up our Iraq invasion of 2003. Pretty much every fact he told us was false, and every piece of advice he gave was wrong. Why would anyone ever listen to him again? (Except when he testifies at his trial, of course. We owe him that much.)

and Ray Rice

You can't un-see the video of Ray Rice decking his wife in the elevator. I think a lot of the men who see it are going to have a harder time explaining away future stories of domestic violence. That point gets spelled out in more detail in "Is Ray Rice's Video a Game-Changer?".

and Apple

It's amazing how much buzz surrounds the announcement of any new Apple product. Three were announced this week
  • iPhone 6, which is bigger, thinner, faster and so on, but really not that revolutionary. If you have both an iPhone 5 and an iPad mini, you might be able to replace both of them with one device.
  • Apple Watch, (I guess iWatch sounded too voyeuristic) which is promised for early 2015. It's a time-telling thing that you wear on your wrist and costs hundreds of dollars, but otherwise it clashes with all our traditional notions of an expensive watch. Previously, such a watch was an heirloom to hand down through the generations, not a gadget to replace every two or three years. It'll be interesting to see whether Apple can change that. First responses: some people like the idea, some don't.
  • Apple Pay. (Again, iPay doesn't sound right.) Someday, somebody is going to get the electronic wallet right, and that will change everything. Is this it? Maybe. Maybe not.

[full disclosure: I own Apple stock. I've tried not to let it bias me.]

but I'm still talking about Ferguson

I know, it's starting to look like an obsession. But the example of Ferguson illustrates some previously hard-to-grasp theories about how our society might decline. I connect the dots in "Infrastructure, Suburbs, and the Long Descent to Ferguson".

and you also might be interested in ...

The Senate debated a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision and allow Congress to pass laws regulating campaign finance again. 42 Republican senators voted to filibuster, so the auction of our highest offices will continue.

It was a party-line vote. Remember that the next time a Republican senator like Susan Collins -- or any Republican candidate -- claims to be a moderate or independent-minded or something. Or when someone tells you that a Democrat like Landrieu or Manchin might as well be a Republican.

On important issues like this, the individual candidates don't matter. Only the party matters. You may wish it weren't that way, but it is.

The ObamaCare "train wreck" keeps refusing to wreck. Connecticut was supposed to be evidence of the wreck; it's second-year premiums were going to go up 12.5%. And then they went down instead. Premiums are also expected to drop in Arkansas. Costs to the federal government have been lower than expected. An update from Washington state shows that other train-wreck predictions are also failing: More people continue to sign up as they become eligible, and the number of people who stop paying their premiums has been small.

Weren't the death panels supposed to be up and running by now? What's taking so long?

The Daily Show sent a reporter out to get an ObamaCare "disaster" story, and he did indeed find someone who lost her job: a nurse in a free clinic in Tacoma, which has closed because they got all their patients signed up for insurance. The parody of media attempts to spin continuing good news as bad news is hilarious. The clinic's former patients are happy with ObamaCare, but they are "obviously biased by their personal positive experiences". When the nurse says that she has moved on to work on other important causes like human trafficking, the reporter imagines his headline: "ObamaCare Forces Nurse Into Sex Slave Trade".

From ESPN:
Nearly three in 10 former NFL players will develop at least moderate neurocognitive problems and qualify for payments under the proposed concussion settlement, according to documents filed by the league and the players. ... Former players between 50 and 59 years old develop Alzheimer's disease and dementia at rates 14 to 23 times higher than the general population of the same age range, according to the documents. The rates for players between 60-64 are as much as 35 times the rate of the general population, the documents reported.

Air Force Times reports that an atheist airman will have to sign an oath that ends "so help me God" if he wants to re-enlist. Otherwise he will have to leave the Air Force when his current term expires in November. The Air Force claims its hands are tied by Congress, which mandated the oath.

Article VI of the Constitution says:
no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

I wonder if all those congressmen who talk so much about the Constitution and religious freedom will support changing this clear violation.

On lighter religious note: When the Rapture comes, what's going to happen to all the pets left behind? Not to worry, After the Rapture has you covered. For a one-time fee of $10, they'll add your pet to their database and promise that their Rapture-proof heathen care-givers will give him/her a good home.

Is this a joke, a scam, or a serious attempt to fill a need? Your guess is as good as mine.

and let's close with something I am never ever going to do

... skateboard the Alps.

Monday, September 8, 2014


Arabs could be swung on an idea as on a cord. ... They were incorrigibly children of the idea, feckless and colour-blind, to whom body and spirit were for ever and inevitably opposed. ... They were as unstable as water, and like water, would perhaps finally prevail. Since the dawn of life, in successive waves they had been dashing themselves against the coasts of flesh. Each wave was broken, but, like the sea, wore away ever so little of the granite on which it failed, and some day, ages yet, might roll unchecked over the place where the material world had been, and God would move upon the face of those waters. One such wave (and not the least) I raised and rolled before the breath of an idea, till it reached its crest and toppled over and fell at Damascus. The wash of that wave, thrown back by the resistance of vested things, will provide the matter of the following wave, when in the fullness of time the sea shall be raised once more.

-- Lawrence of Arabia, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922)

The terrible reductive conflicts that herd people under falsely unifying rubrics like "America," "the West," or "Islam" and invent collective identities for large numbers of individuals who are actually quite diverse, cannot remain as potent as they are, and must be opposed. ... Rather than the manufactured clash of civilizations, we need to concentrate on the slow working together of cultures that overlap, borrow from each other, and live together in far more interesting ways than any abridged or inauthentic mode of understanding can allow. But for that kind of wider perception we need time, and patient and skeptical inquiry, supported by faith in communities of interpretation that are difficult to sustain in a world demanding instant action and reaction.

-- Edward Said, preface to the 2003 edition of Orientalism

This week's featured post is "Terrorist Strategy 101: a review". Maybe ISIS acts like our worst nightmare because they want us to attack them.

This week everybody was talking about ISIS

The featured post is about ISIS, and how it needs America to play the Great Satan role. But lots of other people were talking about ISIS too, like satirist Andy Borowitz:
Arguing that his motto “Don’t do stupid stuff” is not a coherent foreign policy, critics of President Obama are pressuring him to do something stupid without delay. Arizona Senator John McCain led the chorus on Tuesday, blasting Mr. Obama for failing to craft a stupid response to crises in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine. “If I were President, you can bet your bottom dollar I would have done plenty of stupid stuff by now,” McCain said.

I won't go line-by-line through the op-ed McCain and Lindsey Graham published in the NYT, because Peter Beinart already did. Short summary: McCain/Graham push President Obama to combine stuff he's already doing (but they pretend he isn't doing) with stuff beyond the power of any president. ("Any strategy ... requires an end to the conflict in Syria, and a political transition there.") Then they sprinkle in lots of what Beinart calls "happy words" like acting deliberately and urgently, and make completely unsupported pronouncements like "ISIS cannot be contained."

Conor Friedersdorf asks the kind of question hardly anybody pursues: John McCain has a long record of foreign policy pronouncements. Is he ever right? And if not, why are we still listening to him?

Friedersdorf recalls this gem, from 2003:
no one can plausibly argue that ridding the world of Saddam Hussein will not significantly improve the stability of the region and the security of American interests and values.

That's why Iraq is such a rock of stability now, because we fought what McCain called "The Right War for the Right Reasons".

Peter Beinart had a second good piece this week, in which he recalled Walter Russell Mead's four-part typology of American foreign policy views:
  • Wilsonians who export grand American visions like democracy, Christianity, or capitalism.
  • Hamiltonians who defend the international trade our economy depends on.
  • Jeffersonians who want the U.S. to stay out of international conflicts, for fear war abroad will damage liberty at home.
  • Jacksonians who avenge insults to our national honor.

Beinart attributes the recent push to crush ISIS mainly to Jacksonians, who see those YouTube beheadings as unforgivable insults. Obama's "Don't do stupid stuff" mantra is mainly anti-Jacksonian, because "honor" is the only one of four values unrelated to any pragmatic interest.

Rand Paul continues to re-affirm my opinion about him: He is a lightweight who hasn't thought through the slogans he inherited from his Dad. If he looks like a threat to win the 2016 nomination when the Republican debates begin, sharper candidates like Ted Cruz or Chris Christie will tear him apart.

A couple weeks ago on Meet the Press, Paul sounded Jeffersonian:
I think that's what scares the Democrats the most, is that in a general election, were I to run, there's gonna be a lot of independents and even some Democrats who say, "You know what? We are tired of war. We're worried that Hillary Clinton will get us involved in another Middle Eastern war, because she's so gung-ho."

A few days later, AP quoted an email Paul wrote to supporters, which pushed a more Jacksonian line:
If I were President, I would call a joint session of Congress. I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.

In each case, it sounded good, so he said it. There's no coherent thought process behind either statement.

and naked pictures on the internet

You would think online pictures of naked women would be old news, but this week everybody was talking about new naked pictures: Upwards of 100 celebrities had their iCloud accounts hacked, resulting in the release of nude selfies of movie star Jennifer Lawrence, supermodel Kate Upton, and other famous women.

Against my usual policy, I'm going to comment without making any effort to examine the original source material -- and no, none of the links here will get you any closer to those pictures -- because that's kind of the point. This is a violation. It's like taking pictures through a keyhole or pulling down a stranger's bikini top at the beach. ("Why did she wear something that flimsy anyway?") This time you'll almost certainly get away with it. But seriously, is that the kind of person you want to be? Lena Dunham summed it up:
Remember, when you look at these pictures you are violating these women again and again. It's not okay.

Watching the online reaction to the photos has been like lifting up a rock and seeing verminous beasties that usually stay underground. It's amazing to read all the well-don't-take-nude-pictures-then and she-shouldn't-have-trusted-the-cloud comments that appear over and over in just about every comment thread. They're like the she-was-asking-for-it response to rape.

Part of the motivation is the usual human bad-things-won't-happen-to-me-because-I'm-smarter-than-most-people thing, which lost its charm for me when my wife got cancer. But there's also an undercurrent of misogyny, and what feminists call "the rape culture": the idea that women exist for men's amusement, and that once a woman has made any concession to male voyeurism, she's abandoned her right to draw a line anywhere.

Salon's Andrew Leonard and Jezebel's Mark Shrayber have collected and commented on the outrage expressed on Reddit as the site tries to restrict distribution of the photos. Some men apparently believe that if naked photos exist anywhere, they have a God-given right to see them.

Slate's Emily Bazelon makes a good legal point:
Every day, movie and TV producers succeed in getting videos that have been posted without their consent taken down from major websites. ... Yet in the days since Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities discovered that their nude images were stolen, and then posted without their consent on sites like Reddit and 4Chan, the stars can’t get the images taken down. ... This is crazy. Why should it be easy to take down Guardians of the Galaxy and impossible to delete stolen nude photos?

Answer: Because Congress' top priority is protecting corporate profits. As with so many issues, the trail leads back to campaign finance reform.

Included in the release are pictures of Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney taken when she was under 18, so under the law they're child pornography. You really, really don't want them found on your hard drive.

For what it's worth, Apple says it's not their fault: Hackers brute-forced the passwords on the accounts rather taking advantage of some Apple software flaw. But they have announced new features to warn you when there are signs your account has been hacked. ("Here is a photo of your horse running away. Would you like to shut the stable door now?")

And finally, if you want to see racy pictures of Kate Upton, Sports Illustrated has gobs of them. They're shot in exotic locations by world-class photographers, and some of them are pretty hot. And here's the best part: Kate consented to have them published. So the only point in looking instead at pictures she wanted to keep private is to violate her privacy. If violation and lack of consent make pictures sexier to you, you need to have a long conversation with yourself.

and Governor Ultrasound's guilt

Ex-Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was found guilty of corruption, and his wife was convicted as a co-conspirator. Rachel Maddow was the first national-news pundit to take this story seriously, and has been on it ever since, so her coverage of the verdict includes the most background.
Who he was and how he became governor in the first place was through the televangelist, hard-core, social conservative, family values power structure, in which he promised us that he would be the man to save marriage in Virginia, that his personal family values would become the public policy of the state of Virginia. He would remake the state's Christian morality in the image of his own Christian family and his own Christian marriage.

McDonnell's defense turned all that upside-down. Under the law, his wife wasn't a public official, so she could only be an accomplice to corruption; if he wasn't guilty, she couldn't be. So the defense was that it was all her fault. She was the one who solicited gifts from a Virginia businessman and implied he would get something from the governor in exchange. And their relationship was so strained they were incapable of conspiring.

Reportedly, McDonnell had previously turned down a plea-bargain deal that would have avoided a trial, kept his wife out of jail, and convicted him of only one count. Amanda Marcotte draws the lesson:
McDonnell has dedicated his career to the idea that women should sacrifice everything for the good of “family,” including bodily autonomy and personal safety, but the second he’s called upon to take on the responsibility of a good Christian husband to protect his wife, he ran away and tried to foist as much as the blame as he could on her. Turns out family values wasn’t about men and women sacrificing together for family, just a cover story to excuse male dominance over women.

and Democrats letting Independents carry the ball against right-wingers

Two similarly odd stories this week: Democrats withdrawing from a race so that an independent would have a chance to defeat a far-right Republican.

In Alaska, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Byron Mallott announced he and independent Bill Walker would form a unity ticket against Republican incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell. Walker will get the top spot and Mallott will run for lieutenant governor. Hard to say if this maneuver will work: Parnell had a 42%/42% approval/disapproval rating in a recent poll, and was winning the three-way race with only 37% support. I haven't seen any post-announcement one-on-one polling of the Parnell/Walker race.

In the Kansas Senate race, Democratic nominee Chad Taylor announced he was dropping out of the race in favor of independent Greg Orman in their race against Republican incumbent Pat Roberts. But Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach (already famous for his voter suppression efforts) says Taylor's name will have to stay on the ballot.

Again, it's hard to say if this will work, whether Taylor stays on the ballot (but doesn't campaign) or not. Nate Silver is skeptical of a pre-announcement poll that said Orman would win a head-to-head race, but he doesn't pretend to know that anything else will happen either.

Also unknown is what Orman would do if his vote were the difference between Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell becoming majority leader. If his vote is decisive, he promises only to "sit down with both parties and have a real frank discussion about the agenda they want to follow."

If I were Orman, I'd start answering that question with a complete fantasy: "I'll organize a controlling bloc of moderate senators on each side who are sick of gridlock and want to get something done."

and you also might be interested in ...

New stuff about the Michael Brown shooting. Two new witnesses tell a familiar story: Brown had his hands up and wasn't endangering Darren Wilson.
No witness has ever publicly claimed that Brown charged at Wilson. The worker interviewed by the Post-Dispatch disputed claims by Wilson’s defenders that Brown was running full speed at the officer.

“I don’t know if he was going after him or if he was falling down to die,” he said. “It wasn’t a bull rush.”

Also, the Ferguson police chief was lying about why he released the surveillance tape that seemed to show Michael Brown stealing cigars from a convenience store. Chief Thomas Jackson said he had to release the tape, because reporters had made FOIA requests for it. The Blot reports:
a review of open records requests sent to the Ferguson Police Department found that no news organization, reporter or individual specifically sought the release of the surveillance tape before police distributed it on Aug. 15.

Last month, TheBlot Magazine requested a copy of all open records requests made by members of the public — including journalists and news organizations — that specifically sought the release of the convenience store surveillance video. The logs, which were itself obtained under Missouri’s open records law, show only one journalist — Joel Currier with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch — broadly requested any and all multimedia evidence “leading up to” Brown’s death on Aug. 9.

Other records that would have been subject to Currier’s request, including 9-1-1 call recordings and police dispatch tapes, have yet to be formally released by the agency.

So the release was part of an intentional smear of Michael Brown, which Chief Jackson covered up by lying. Makes you wonder what else the Ferguson police have lied about.

NYC Police probably didn't know Chaumtoli Huq was a human-rights lawyer when they arrested her for standing outside the restaurant where her husband and kids were using the bathroom. They just knew she was a dark-complexioned person near a pro-Palestine rally.

Guess what? When your political system is based on money, foreign money has a vote. Sunday's NYT exposed how money from foreign governments influences think tanks whose research wields considerable influence in Congress.
As a result, policy makers who rely on think tanks are often unaware of the role of foreign governments in funding the research.

The WaPo's "The Fix" blog disagrees with my assessment of Hillary Clinton's statement on Ferguson (from last week), finding it "surprisingly bold" and "among the most substantive".

NY Review of Books' article "The Dying Russians" is both fascinating and horrifying. For decades, Russia has simultaneously had a low birth rate and an inexplicably high death rate. So it's de-populating in a way that has never been seen in peacetime absent some major plague.
Another major clue to the psychological nature of the Russian disease is the fact that the two brief breaks in the downward spiral coincided not with periods of greater prosperity but with periods, for lack of a more data-driven description, of greater hope.

Tuesday at Idaho State, an armed professor shot himself in the foot during class. Is this a great idea or what? That was on the sixth day of class. How long before one of these bozos kills somebody?

Meanwhile, in the I-can't-believe-we're-even-debating-this department, a gun control group is trying to get Kroger to take a stand against openly carrying firearms into its grocery stores.

Fast food workers -- from McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC -- demonstrated for higher wages and a union in several cities Thursday.

After years carrying water for Wall Street interests, Eric Cantor now has a $2-million-a-year job for an investment bank. It makes you understand why congresspeople have no fear of the voters.

The Obama executive orders on immigration we've been expecting ... well, wait until after the election.
Obama faced competing pressures from immigration advocacy groups that wanted prompt action and from Democrats worried that acting now would energize Republican opposition against vulnerable Senate Democrats. Among those considered most at risk were Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. ... White House officials said aides realized that if Obama's immigration action was deemed responsible for Democratic losses this year, it could hurt any attempt to pass a broad overhaul later on.

and let's close with a map that shows our real divisions

Monday, September 1, 2014

Normal Behavior

Is [St. Louis County] particularly bad in terms of the quotient of police officers who act like this? Or is this just normal, and we just happened to have the cameras pointed there?

-- Chris Hayes

This week's featured post is "5 Lessons to Remember as Ferguson Fades into History". Last week's featured post "What Your Fox-Watching Uncle Doesn't Get About Ferguson" was popular, getting over 7,500 page views. August as a whole was the highest-traffic month in Sift history, with 163K views -- most of them for "Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party".

This week everybody was talking about police and black people

At least on the liberal side of the media, incidents where innocent blacks are harassed or otherwise mistreated by police are starting to be covered as a pattern, rather than as isolated events that may not be newsworthy on their own. That's one of the topics discussed in "5 Lessons to Remember as Ferguson Fades into History".

If you like the Norman Rockwell parody in that post, here's a higher-art-quality version of the same idea.

Salon examines how a totally false "fact" -- that Michael Brown fractured Officer Wilson's eye socket -- spread from a conspiracy-theory web site all the way to the Washington Post, without anybody bothering to check it until after it was national news.

and sexual harassment in the Senate

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has a new book coming out, and what everyone wants to talk about is her account of rude sexist interactions with male senators. (I suspect those take up a fairly small portion of the book.) Like this one recounted in The New York Post:
one of her favorite older senators walked up behind her, squeezed her waist, and intoned: “Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby.”
Politico's John Bresnahan tweeted:
I challenge this story. Sorry, I don't believe it.

But female journalists were far from shocked. MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell sounded like Casablanca's Captain Renault.
Men behaving badly on Capitol Hill? What a surprise.

and Market Basket

If you want a feel-good story for Labor Day, this is it. Workers and customers got together and fired management. It required a billion-dollar deal to buy out his cousin's controlling interest, but Artie T is back in charge. Lawrence O'Donnell (who clearly enjoyed his chance to drop some R's, i.e. "Mahket Basket", "Ahty T" ) drew the lesson:
How many workers in America would do that? Go on strike because their very rich CEO was pushed out in a family feud power play? ... That's what it takes to be a beloved CEO: exactly what you think it would take. Pay well, know employees by name, care about them, talk to them, know what they want and what they need to do a better job.

Until these last six weeks I hadn't realized that any of the local grocery chains treated workers better than the others, so I usually went to whichever store I happened to be passing when I realized I wanted something. But I stayed away from MB during the controversy, and observed that all the other stores were crowded with people who were also avoiding Market Basket. Now that the fight is over, Market Basket has won my loyalty.

and you also might be interested in ...

AlterNet and DailyKos offer a precise estimate of the danger ISIS terrorists pose to U.S. cities: Zero.
How likely is it that a genuine ISIS cell is hiding in the United States lining up, let's say, zeppelins of death right now? Very, very, very unlikely. So unlikely that even planning for it would prove we're the ones who are insane.

So what are the odds that Republicans will eventually join Democrats in backing a carbon tax, which could both fight global warming and replace taxes they hate more? Also zero. Grist's Ben Adler is "sorry to burst your bubble". But Republicans won't support a carbon tax until they start accepting science, which they show no signs of doing.

Follow up to my comment about Hillary Clinton two weeks ago: Clinton's tepid response to the Michael Brown shooting and the Ferguson protests hasn't reassured me about her potential candidacy. It took until Thursday -- 18 days after the shooting -- for her to say anything, and then her comments had a little something for everybody.

Everybody sympathizes at some level with the Brown family, so Clinton started there: "my heart just broke for his family because losing a child is every parent's greatest fear and an unimaginable loss." Like everybody, she wants a "thorough and speedy investigation". On the violence, she said: "This is what happens when the bonds of trust and respect that hold any community together fray. Nobody wants to see our streets look like a war zone."

And that's the problem: She's criticizing Nobody. Whether you think police over-reacted or that their military response was appropriate in the face of black violence, she's with you. It's a tragedy; no one is to blame.

And even in the part of her remarks most sensitive to the black experience, she identified we with whites. OK, she was at a tech conference and the audience was probably pretty pale, but still:
Imagine what we would feel, what we would do if white drivers were three times as likely to be searched by police at a traffic stop as black drivers, instead of the other way around. If white offenders received prison sentences 10 percent longer … if a third of all white men — look at this room, take one third — went to prison during their lifetime. Imagine that.

Here's what I'm imagining: A Democratic candidate who promotes Democratic ideals. One big advantage Republicans have had the last few decades is that in every election, their candidates tell the voters why they should embrace the conservative worldview. Democratic candidates typically "move to the center", with the result that many voters never hear an empassioned liberal message.

I take Elizabeth Warren seriously when she says she won't run and supports Clinton. Bernie Sanders is thinking about running. I love Bernie, but truthfully, I hope someone younger and cooler will carry the progressive flag.

This graph summarizes Pew Research polls about the views of members of various religious groups. It reminds me why I'm a Unitarian Universalist. Can the Anglicans really be that economically conservative? And the UCC, where Jeremiah Wright preaches?

We need a word for ...

the sense of frustration you feel when you can't join a boycott, because you never use that product anyway. Burger King is buying Tim Horton's so that it can become a Canadian company and stop paying U. S. taxes. Good luck selling burgers to all those Canadian tourists, because patriotic Americans should stop buying them. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown suggests two alternatives:
Burger King’s decision to abandon the United States means consumers should turn to Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers or White Castle sliders. Burger King has always said ‘Have it Your Way’; well my way is to support two Ohio companies that haven’t abandoned their country or customers.

Unfortunately, the loss of my business is not going to do BK much damage.

Let's close with some feminism in an unexpected place

Namely, country and western music. Maddie and Tae want guys to know what it's like to be "The Girl in the Country Song", so they made a role-reversing video.

And Kira Isabella gets serious about date rape in "Quarterback".