Monday, September 21, 2015

Scary and Unscary

NO SIFT NEXT WEEK. The next set of articles will appear on October 5.

It’s not hard to scare people, but it’s extremely difficult to unscare them.

-- Dr. Paul Offit, on vaccines

This week's featured post covers Wednesday's Republican debate: "Three Hours in Bizarro World".

This week everybody was talking about Ahmed Mohamed

I'm assuming you've heard the basics of the story of Ahmed Mohamed and his clock-that-wasn't-a-bomb. Now that social media has brought national attention to the story and given Ahmed a happy ending -- despite a recent backlash -- the narrative has taken on a fairy-tale quality. So let me draw the moral: When you're young and relatively powerless, the small-minded people who control your immediate environment may seem to define reality, but they don't. There's a larger world out there, and sometimes it may come in on your side.

There's another lesson to learn from the self-congratulating response the local officials had. For example, the letter to parents sent out by the high school principal acknowledges no mistakes, makes no apologies, and implies that Ahmed did something against the school's code of conduct. It goes on to suggest:

this is a good time to remind your child how important it is to immediately report any suspicious items and/or suspicious behavior they observe to any school employee so we can address it right away.

Such policies are sometimes called "see something, say something" -- the PopeHat blog refers to them as "willful paranoia" -- and Ahmed's story underlines how they are inherently discriminatory. What people think they "see" -- a Muslim kid with a bomb, for example -- depends on what they expect to see. And that, in turn, depends on the stereotypes in their heads. So see-something-say-something is a paved road that runs directly from the unspoken bigotry from our collective unconscious to bigoted action in the physical world.

For a completely different example of how this works, consider the death of John Crawford III. Crawford was a 22-year-old black man shopping in a Walmart near Dayton, Ohio. The store video shows him pick up a toy gun and then wander around talking on his cellphone, doing nothing particularly threatening or out of the ordinary. But a white shopper "saw something" -- a thug with a gun -- and "said something" by calling 911. The police showed up expecting to face armed resistance, "saw" Crawford with a rifle, and gunned him down before he had a chance to understand what was happening.

Maybe the scariest part of Ahmed's story is the way that Islamophobes -- Bill Maher, Sarah and Bristol Palin, Fox News -- still want to support the school and police response, or at least blunt the sympathy Ahmed has received.

The most satisfying part? That's easy: The fact that Ahmed gets to move to a school that wants him, while officials at his former school get no chance for a no-hard-feelings reconciliation scene in front of cameras. So Mr. Principal, Ms. Mayor, and all the rest of the Irving, Texas power structure -- guess what? Sometimes when you screw up, you don't get to define it away. You know what you did? You reinforced the country's negative stereotypes, not of Muslims, but of white Texans.

and the continuing backlash against Black Lives Matter

Capitalizing on the success of its mythical War on Christmas, Fox News has invented a War on Cops and blamed BLM for it -- ignoring a decades-long decline in police deaths that has made it safer to be a policeman now than at any time since the 1960s.

Also, none of the violence-against-cops incidents that are supposed to be part of the War on Cops has been credibly linked to BLM. No one at BLM has endorsed them or taken credit for them. So both aspects of the "BLM is fighting a war on cops" meme are false: There is no War on Cops, and BLM isn't trying to start one.

One effect of the War on Cops meme is to justify aggressive actions against BLM and its allies, one of which hit home for me this weekend. My church (First Parish in Bedford, Massachusetts) has been displaying a Black Lives Matter banner on the side of our colonial-style building. Saturday night it was vandalized, as shown below. The church has a predominantly white professional class membership and sits in the middle of politically blue New England. But that didn't protect our banner.

It turns out such vandalism is fairly common. If you google "church black lives matter banner vandalized", you'll find a bunch of them -- including a church in Bethesda, Maryland whose banner was vandalized twice and then stolen.

This kind of thing may seem like a harmless prank if you haven't thought about it much, but when it happens to you it feels like a warning shot: People don't like what you're saying, and they know where you live. They're not afraid to break the law to shut you up.

My church yesterday.

and the Republican debate

This is how dedicated I am to staying on top of the news: I watched the whole effing three hours of it. (If you have done something bad recently and need to punish yourself, you can too: Here's the video and transcript.) My horror at the more-or-less complete denial of reality is covered in "Three Hours in Bizarro World".

My general impressions about the horse-race aspects of the debate pretty much tracked everyone else's: If I turned off my internal fact-checker, Fiorina looked impressive. She was confident and authoritative; she handled the men well. Rubio also looked strong.

Trump was Trump; if you liked him before, you probably still like him. But he did seem to shrink as the debate got more wonky. So if I were the RNC, I'd push for wonkier questions in future debates, and hope that makes him look like the short kid in a game of keep-away.

I can't judge Ben Carson, probably because I have so little in common with his target audience. I thought he was unimpressive in this debate, but that's what I thought about the last debate, and his support jumped afterward.

If I had to pick out a loser, I'd choose Scott Walker. Nothing he said was memorable. He has mastered boilerplate conservative rhetoric, but can't put any zing into it. I couldn't tell whether Bush did himself any good or not.

The first post-debate poll more-or-less validated everybody's first impressions: Fiorina up, Trump still leading, but with less support, Carson slipping, Rubio up a little, and Walker crashing.

and Bernie Sanders at Liberty University

I want to write about this speech, but the story got crowded out by the Republican debate. I'll get to it. In the meantime, you can watch for yourself.

One comment I will make: Liberals need to do more of this. We shouldn't write people off just because they happen to live in a conservative stronghold or belong to a conservative demographic.

One way you can tell that Bernie Sanders is becoming a more credible candidate is that the Right has begun trying to take him down. Up until now, they've been expressing a grudging respect for him, because they saw him as damaging the candidate they were really worried about, Clinton.

But last Monday the WSJ printed a scary headline about the $18 trillion price tag for Sanders' proposals over the next decade. The Nation looked at that a little closer: Most of that $18 trillion is the $15 trillion that creates a Medicare-for-all single-payer healthcare system. So that's not a new expense for the American people, it's just a shift of resources from private insurance to public insurance.

Then you get to figure in the fact that Medicare has proven to be more efficient than private insurance.

According to Gerald Friedman, an economist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who authored the analysis cited by the Journal, that transition would reduce American healthcare costs by almost $10 trillion over 10 years through economies of scale, better control of pharmaceutical costs, and savings on administrative bloat. ... Sanders’s Medicare expansion would cost $15 trillion, but without it American businesses and taxpayers would spend $20 trillion over the same period, while still leaving millions uninsured.

So, not that scary after all.

I mean, I couldn't really be so shallow as to choose a candidate based on who has the coolest t-shirt, or advise you to do the same, but ... isn't this a seriously cool t-shirt?

and Republican candidates and Muslims

Donald Trump raised eyebrows by not challenging a questioner at a New Hampshire rally who said that Muslims are "a problem in this country" and that "we know our current president is one". Further, President Obama is "not even an American". The guy asked "when can we get rid of them?" Them in this case seems to refer to training camps where Muslims learn to "kill us", though some people have interpreted them to mean American Muslims. It's also a little vague whether the questioner intended to say that such camps are here in America.

Trump gave an evasive answer about how "We're going to be looking into that and plenty of other things". Sunday on ABC's This Week, Trump refused to answer questions about the incident.

But other Republicans did answer questions. Ben Carson said he believes President Obama is a Christian and said "I certainly would not have accepted the premise of a question like that." But he went on to say that a candidate's faith should matter to voters "if it’s inconsistent with the values of America. ... But if it fits within the realm of America and [is] consistent with the Constitution, no problem."

In a subsequent interview, he was more explicit: "I do not believe Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country." He added that if a Muslim candidate "publicly rejected all the tenants of Sharia and lived a life consistent with that, then I wouldn’t have any problem."

Nobody ever asks the follow-up questions I'd like to hear: Are some versions of Christianity -- Dominionism, say? -- also inconsistent with the Constitution? If not, what's principle distinguishes Dominionism from Sharia?

but only liberals were talking about Jade Helm 15

which ended Tuesday without establishing martial law in Texas or any other state. Or at least that's what they want us to think. Maybe martial law was established, but we all don't notice because of mind-control beams from the cell towers or something.

My Google search of Alex Jones' Infowars site didn't turn up anything about the Jade Helm 15 military exercise since mid-July, but back in March he was warning: "This is in preparation for financial collapse, or maybe Obama not leaving office."

JH-15 exemplifies how the extreme right wing keeps its followers in perpetual fear: Instead of a Jade Helm retrospective admitting that none of the wild predictions had panned out, Tuesday's Infowars was full of new warnings about the dangers of taking in Syrian refugees, who might be jihadi infiltrators.

Same pattern for the NRA: You never see a retrospective about how Obama will be out of office in a year and a half, but he still hasn't taken away anybody's guns. No, no -- the gun seizure is going to start any minute now. It's been any-minute-now for six and a half years.

The Right is like an apocalyptic cult. No such cult ever throws a party to celebrate the fact that the world didn't end when it was supposed to -- next Monday, by some accounts -- much less reviews what they got wrong and or draws the lesson that everybody should be more skeptical the next time somebody thinks he sees signs of the End. There's never any time for that, because there's always a new apocalypse to worry about, and its countdown clock is getting dangerously close to zero.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger has been named as the new host of Celebrity Apprentice. The punch line to that story is so obvious I can't even figure out who said it first: Donald Trump has lost his job to an immigrant!

August numbers are in: 2015 is still on pace to be the hottest year on record. If trends continue, it will break 2014's mark by a considerable margin.

How climate-change deniers sound to normal people.

While I'm talking climate change, you have to love Jerry Brown's response to Ben Carson's statement: "I know there are a lot of people who say 'overwhelming science', but then when you ask them to show the overwhelming science, they can never show it."

Brown wrote Carson a letter on official Governor of California stationery, and enclosed a thumbdrive containing the most recent report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

AP points out the obvious: Republican rhetoric about inequality doesn't influence the tax plans they propose, in which tax cuts overwhelmingly go to the richest. Citizens for Tax Justice does the numbers on Jeb Bush's proposal: The poorest 20% of taxpayers would see an average cut of $227, while the richest 1% would get an average cut of $82,392.

Vox connects the media's credulousness at Jeb's tax claims with its hyperfocus on Clinton's emails, and recalls what happened in 2000: Every little wardrobe choice by Al Gore got dissected for evidence of inauthenticity, while W's absurd claims that his tax cuts were fair and wouldn't wreck the budget went unanalyzed.

National Review's current disgust with Donald Trump's followers prompts Jeet Heer at The New Republic to look at the history of the "snobs vs. slobs" struggle inside the conservative movement. The often-repeated story that William F. Buckley excommunicated the John Birchers (I think I've repeated that one myself) is a little more complicated.

and let's close with something

A horror becomes an adventure if you live to post the video. Here, a driver escapes the fires in Anderson Springs, California.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Invoking 9-11

Invoking 9/11 to attack diplomacy with Iran would be like criticizing Nixon going to China because of Pearl Harbor.

-- Chris Hayes

This week's featured post continues the 2016 Stump Speech Series with Ben Carson.

This week everybody was talking about the Iran deal

which is going to go into effect, now that Senate Democrats have stuck together to block a resolution of disapproval. Meanwhile, the House defeated a resolution of approval, which seemed mostly a moot point after the Republican leadership decided not to bring a resolution of disapproval to the floor. Even if a disapproval resolution could pass the House, the vote on the approval resolution indicated that Democrats had enough votes to sustain a veto.

Ted Cruz organized a rally against the Iran deal, but was upstaged by Donald Trump. I agree with TPM contributor Jason Stanford's assessment:

The pity of this all [i.e., Trump's rhetoric about "winning"] is that the Iran deal shows how America can lead (and win!) in an increasingly disorganized world. We negotiated with Iran from a position of strength. We had support from our European allies. We had Iran’s billions in our banks. Behind door number one was Iran giving up their nuclear weapons program. Behind door number two was Iran becoming the next destination for Drone Airlines. The United States gave up nothing in this deal. In exchange for their own money, Iran gave us what we wanted: an Iran without The Bomb.

This is what winning looks like. This is our enemy surrendering their weapons without a fight not because they love us but because they know they would not survive the fight.

As I said.

The White House couldn't resist pointing out that Dick Cheney is the last person we should be listening to about diplomacy or the Middle East.

and Kim Davis getting out of jail

at least until she starts refusing marriage licenses to gay couples again. She appears to be walking a fine line: She won't issue such licenses herself, but she won't prevent deputies from doing so, as long as the licenses are attributed to a court order rather than her authority as county clerk. She doubts whether such licenses are valid, but I'm not sure who would have both the standing and the inclination to test that in court. So it looks like same-sex couples in Rowan County, Kentucky will indeed get the equal protection of the laws.

Mike Huckabee made a political spectacle out of Davis release (and managed to shut Ted Cruz out). Watching the rally outside the jail, or the clips from it shown on the news networks, you might have imagined that Huckabee played some role in freeing her. But no, he was just cashing in on her publicity stunt.

An amazing amount of nonsense is being repeated about the Davis story, and you can find almost all of it in Huckabee's comments. For example, he emphasized the unfairness of Davis being held without bail.

Jeffery Dahmer got bail, the Boston Stranger got bail, John Wayne Gacy got bail. Kim Davis, because of her convictions, was not given bail.

But bail is for people who are still innocent until proven guilty, even if what they're charged with is horrible. Contempt of court is a finding of the judge, who has already ruled, so the comparison to Dahmer is silly -- Dahmer didn't get bail after he was found guilty.

In general, bail for contempt of court would be nonsensical, because sitting in jail until you comply with the court's order is the whole point.

And then there's this Huckabee gem:

If somebody needs to go to jail, I’m willing to go in her place and I mean that because I’m tired of watching people being just harassed because they believe something of their faith.

Of course, jailing Huckabee would make absolutely no sense, since he wasn't the one defying a court order. Punishing one person for the deeds of another is substitutionary atonement, which doesn't even make sense in religion, much less in law.

Nobody who defends Davis wants to answer questions about how far their religious-freedom principle applies. On MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Mika Brzezinski asked the same question I raised last week: Can a clerk who takes Jesus' denunciation of divorce seriously refuse to issue marriage licenses to divorced people? Huckabee danced and dodged and never did answer.

Ben Carson was asked the same question by Fox News' Megyn Kelly, and also danced, but not quite as well:

This is a Judeo-Christian nation, in the sense that a lot of our values are based on a Judeo-Christian faith. And when there are substantial numbers of people who actually believe in the traditional definition of marriage -- I'm one of them, doesn't mean that I don't think other people can do whatever they want to do, but I don't actually believe that they have a right to force their way of life upon everybody else, nor would I try to force my way of life upon everybody else.

To the extent that response means anything at all, Carson seems to be claiming special rights for conservative Christians, because there are "substantial numbers" of them and because he believes that their faith defines the nation. I think that's what just about all of Davis' supporters believe, but most don't want to admit it.

Apparently this billboard just went up in Davis' home town.

I made a similar point once:

You can accurately describe American marriage after 1981 in a lot of ways, but “traditional marriage” is not one of them. I don’t know of any traditional society where husbands and wives have been equal under the law.

or maybe twice:

In the case of same-sex marriage, the main thing that has changed since the Founding era isn’t the Supreme Court, it’s opposite-sex marriage. In 1789, any gay or lesbian couple claiming they had a right to marry would have been laughed out of John Jay’s Supreme Court, and rightfully so. That's because in a truly “traditional” marriage husband and wife are legally distinct roles that can only be filled by people of the appropriate gender.

One proposed solution to Kim Davis' problem is the First Amendment Defense Act. Walter Olson explains what's wrong with it: The FADA explicitly grants rights to anyone who "believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage."

In other words, your rights under FADA depend on whether you have the proper beliefs.

Astoundingly, the protection would run in one direction only: It would cover those who favor traditional definitions of marriage, while leaving those who might see merit in same-sex marriage or cohabitation or non-marital sex perfectly exposed to being fired, audited or cut off from public funds in retaliatory ways.

In real-life governance, of course, there is no reason to think that wrongful pressure on dissenters cuts only one way: Some federal employees get targeted by their bosses for leaning right, others for leaning left. Under FADA, however, only one side gets to run to court complaining of ill treatment.

Olson concludes:

FADA as currently drafted isn’t really an accommodation law. It’s an our-guys-win law.

It looks like a shoot-out over Kim Davis will be avoided, but right-wing crazies are coming closer and closer to insurrection. Oath Keepers -- one of the groups of armed wackos that intimidated federal agents out of enforcing the law on public-land-moocher Cliven Bundy -- announced that it was sending armed guards to protect Kim Davis from being arrested again, if she went back to defying the court. What could possibly go wrong with that plan?

Fortunately, Davis rejected the offer and seems to be trying to avoid giving the court grounds for re-arrest rather than angling to go out in a hail of gunfire. So this time we were just one lunatic short of that scenario.

One aspect of the armed-patriot movement that never gets enough attention is its white privilege. Imagine Black Lives Matter defying a court order and the New Black Panthers sending armed guards to protect BLM leaders from arrest by U.S. marshals. Is there any chance that wouldn't end in a bloodbath? And wouldn't the same people who support Oath Keepers and Kim Davis now be cheering when it did?

While we're talking about insurrection, a poll finds that 43% of Republicans could imagine supporting a military coup in the United States.

but not enough people are talking about Republican attempts to sabotage the next climate-change agreement

The Paris Climate Conference starts in November. Wikipedia says

The conference objective is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.

If you've been listening to the campaign speeches of Republican candidates, one of the biggest objection they make to the United States taking any action against climate change is that one nation acting along can't accomplish anything.

Carly Fiorina:

What all the scientists also tell us is that a single state, or single nation acting alone can make no difference acting alone. ... California can be the most onerous regulatory regime in the world, which they are, and it won’t make a bit of difference in climate change.

Rick Santorum:

Is there anything the United States can do about it? Clearly, no. Even folks who accept all of the science by the alarmists on the other side, recognize that everything that's being considered by the United States will have almost - well, not almost, will have zero impact on it given what's going on in the rest of the world.

Marco Rubio:

America is a country, it’s not a planet. So we can pass a bunch of laws or executive orders that will do nothing to change the climate or the weather but will devastate our economy.

So you might expect Republicans to applaud the prospect of getting the rest of the world to act in concert. I mean, you could imagine U.S. climate rules driving jobs away to India, but new world rules aren't going to send jobs to Mars.

Well, guess again. Politico reports:

Top Republican lawmakers are planning a wide-ranging offensive — including outreach to foreign officials by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office — to undermine President Barack Obama's hopes of reaching an international climate change agreement

Jonathan Chait asks and answers the obvious question:

Why would Republicans try to persuade the rest of the world to keep pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? One reason is that, while other countries transitioning to low-emission fuels may not cost American consumers anything, it definitely costs American fossil-fuel companies. People who own large deposits of coal and oil want to sell it abroad. The Republican climate-change strategy has been hatched by a group of Republican politicians and fossil-fuel lobbyists so tightly intermingled there seems to be no distinction between the interests of the two.

... In any case, the old conservative line, with its explicit or implicit promise that international agreement to reduce emissions might justify domestic emissions cuts, has suddenly become inoperative. The speed at which Republicans have changed from insisting other countries would never reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions to warning other countries not to do so — without a peep of protest from within the party or the conservative movement — says everything you need to know about the party’s stance on climate change.

I haven't figured out a good way to research the question I'm asking, so I'm mainly just trusting my own (possibly nostalgic) impressions. But didn't politics used to stop "at the water's edge"? In the Obama Era, congressional efforts to torpedo American diplomacy have become normal. But I can't remember anything similar in past administrations, certainly not supported by the leadership of the party out of power.

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Today's Great Moment in Irony:

Jon Chait has turned optimistic on climate change.

Surprise! "Jeb Bush's Tax Plan is Mostly a Giveaway to the Rich". Who could have predicted?

While the full details are still vague, the basic outline lowers the corporate tax rate, offers a reduced tax rate on money corporations have stashed overseas, cuts the top individual rate from 39.6% to 28%, and ends the estate tax altogether, so that dynasties of inherited wealth can dominate America even more than they do now.

You might wonder what will replace that revenue and prevent the kind of massive deficits his brother's tax cuts caused. Growth! It didn't work for W, but Jeb's tax cuts will boost GDP growth to 4% per year. Because he says so.

The New Yorker's Amy Davidson did the research I only fantasized about, and answered the conservatives who have been comparing the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage decision to Dred Scott.

In fact they have backwards "which side in the marriage debate has inherited the Dred Scott legacy": In the 7-2 decision saying that blacks could never be citizens and had "no rights which the white man was bound to respect", the majority 7 were interpreting the law the way today's conservatives do, and the dissenting 2 were making the arguments of today's liberals.

In particular, the Dred Scot 7 invoked original intent, arguing that since the man who wrote "all men are created equal" was a slave-owner, clearly the Founders did not intend the so-called "rights of man" to extend to blacks. Chief Justice Taney wrote that

No “change in public opinion” about the races “should induce the court to give to the words of the Constitution a more liberal construction.”

Today's conservatives argue that letting same-sex couples marry degrades the institution of marriage. In 1857, Justice Daniel made the same argument about blacks and the institution of citizenship.

Justice Kennedy's rhetoric about the "dignity" of same-sex relationships is often mocked as his own moral invention rather than a strictly legal argument. Justice McLean's Dred Scott dissent had similarly lofty rhetoric:

A slave is not a mere chattel. He bears the impress of his Maker, and is amenable to the laws of God and man, and he is destined to an endless existence.

McLean made a living-Constitution argument that would be familiar to today's liberals:

McLean acknowledged both the sorry racial views of the Founders’ time and the allowance for slavery in the Constitution, but he suggested that the language used could have a better meaning in a freer era. Madison, he noted, was careful to keep out of the Constitution words that “convey the idea that there could be property in man.” (Indeed, the Constitution never refers to a “slave” but to a “person held to service or labor.”) There was always more of a debate about slavery, and a consciousness of wrong, than Taney let on. The Constitution has, built into it, a hope for change.

This is a rich article and has much more to it. Go read it.

and let's close with something sentimental

Namely, a celebration of Dads.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Where to Begin

It is painful to accept fully the simple fact that one begins from where one is, that one must break free of the web of illusions one spins about life. Most of us view the world not as it is but as we would like it to be.

-- Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals (1971)

This week's featured posts are "Is Kim Davis a Martyr?" and "Damned Lies and Employment Statistics".

This week everybody was talking about that clerk in Kentucky

which I cover in "Is Kim Davis a Martyr?" Meanwhile, a liberal Christian imagines having the same kind of "religious freedom" conservative Christians claim.

and a big mountain

Republicans (except the ones in Alaska) are up in arms that President Obama has recognized Alaska's name for its tallest mountain, which was also the mountain's traditional name prior to colonization by Europeans. This shows just how irrational the urge to condemn whatever Obama does has gotten.

and refugees in Europe

Vox does its usual good job of providing context. One thing I'll add is that those fleeing the Syrian civil war are giving us a preview of coming events. As climate change continues and sea levels rise, millions will be forced to migrate, most of them poor people who have no obvious place to go.

and another good-but-unspectacular jobs report

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy added 173,000 jobs in August, dropping the unemployment rate to 5.1%. As usual, this led to a chorus of denials that things are really that good, which I examine in "Damned Lies and Employment Statistics".

and backlash against Black Lives Matter

Inside the conservative news bubble, two events are all it takes to establish a narrative. And here they are:

The Houston sheriff connected the two, and it was off to the races. Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly were quick to join the chorus. And then there's a whole subterranean layer of conservative media most liberals don't even know about, like Infowars.

So now, as far as your crazy uncle is concerned, it's an established fact that BLM is a hate group that advocates assassinating cops: He's heard the chant and he can name the deputy. So even if no further events fit that narrative, we'll continue hearing it for years.

Not that it matters to the conservative narrative, but here's what an actual BLM activist, Shaun King, has to say:

Both the official Black Lives Matter organization, its representatives, and its loosely connected friends and partners actually have real agendas, real goals, real plans, and none of them, explicit or inferred, has ever suggested violence against police.

... Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by police nine months ago and police and prosecutors claim to still be investigating, but days after a criminal kills a white officer, the sheriff is already making declarative statements about motive and inspiration. The double standard is thick.

This cartoon gets to the heart of what's wrong with the "all lives matter" response: The implication is that there's nothing special about the lack of value American society puts on black lives. Analogously, imagine that a girl goes missing, and her mother makes a request at her church that people pray for the safety of her child. And then someone else stands up and says dismissively, "We should pray for the safety of all children."

More clueless yet are the people pushing the "Blue Lives Matter" meme. Consider, for example, the recent shooting of a policeman in Fox Lake, Illinois. The response to that shooting -- national news updates, a manhunt involving hundreds of people -- is the virtual definition of what it means for a life to matter.

Compare that to the initial response to Trayvon Martin's death: Police believed the shooter's story, gave him back his gun, and let him go home. Black teen-agers get shot every day; what's the big deal?

After protests and news coverage forced local officials to begin taking Trayvon's death seriously, he was as much on trial as his killer. A large portion of our news media wanted to focus on whether he was a thug, whether he might have been on drugs, what he did to deserve to be shot, and so on.

That doesn't happen when a police officer dies. We don't have a national conversation about whether the victim was a dirty cop or what past mistakes he might have made. We don't concoct speculative scenarios to justify the shooting, and make the officer's family prove them wrong. Not that we should, but cop deaths are the gold standard for what it means for a life to matter. What if the lives of young black men mattered like that?

A South Carolina policeman recently got a one-year-house-arrest plea deal for killing a middle-aged black father. What's that say about the relative value of their lives?

It's worthwhile for white people to spend some time thinking about how whiteness affects their relationship with the police. Here are 20 specific ways.

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The Iran deal is going to survive Congress. 37 senators have announced support for it so far, with four Democrats still undecided. If all four support it, a congressional rejection of the deal can be filibustered and won't pass. But if it does pass, the 34 senators would be enough to sustain President Obama's veto.

Matthew Gordon suggests a simple color-and-orientation change to make Obama's logo work for Trump.

The saga continues in the Tea Party Utopia that is Governor Brownback's Kansas:

Ever since the state Supreme Court in 2014 ordered the legislature to increase funding for education, Governor Sam Brownback and his allies in Topeka have sought to wrest power over appointments from the Supreme Court and make it easier to replace judges.

The legislature tried to strong-arm the judicial branch like this:

The judicial budget includes a self-destruct button that would wipe out all funding for the state courts if any court halts the 2014 law reducing the Supreme Court's authority or finds it unconstitutional.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, last week a judge did strike down the law. The ruling is on hold pending appeal, so for now the Kansas courts remain open. Meanwhile, Kansas continues to have real problems, in addition to the ones created by the dysfunction of its government.

John Oliver reports on the joys of lying about history.

This is where Republicans have gotten: For a long time, they were bragging about their "deep bench" of 2016 candidates, as in this cartoon from just a month ago.

Now, some are looking to Mitt Romney to save the Party.

and let's close with something I should have realized on my own

Willy Wonka must be one of the re-generations of Dr. Who. I mean, the Great Glass Elevator should have tipped me off: How many people have little boxes that can take them into space?