Monday, October 31, 2016

About the Nation

If one half of the people is bent on proving how wicked a man is and the other half is determined to show how good he is, neither half will think very much about the nation.

- Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Politics (1913)

This week's featured post is my attempt to forget the campaign for a moment and worry about the nation: "What's up with ObamaCare (other than premiums)?". Next week's Sift will come out the day before Election Day, so I'll have my quadrennial viewer's guide, where I combine Nate Silver's state-by-state analysis with a list of poll-closing times, and tell you what to look for when.

This week everybody was talking about Hillary's emails again

When it broke Friday that the FBI was looking at a new batch of emails related to Hillary Clinton, I (like most people I know) had a moment of panic: Would this be the stroke of fate that inflicts President Trump on the world?

Then I went through a period of regretting the bad timing, but feeling like it was nobody's fault. We actually knew nothing about these new emails, so it was a pure Rorschach Test: If it was already an article of faith to you that Hillary has done something horrible and the smoking gun must be somewhere, then the fact that it hadn't been found anywhere else meant this must be it. But for everybody else, these were just more emails, probably no different from all the previous ones.

After about a day, I hit the stage of "WTF, Comey?". I'm still there. You can see a similar evolution in Josh Marshall's Editor's Blog on TPM: From here to here to here.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that early on in the investigation of Clinton's email server, Comey decided this was a unique case that required a degree of public disclosure well outside the FBI's usual practice. You could already see that in his July announcement and the testimony before Congress that followed it. Ordinary practice would be some terse announcement that the FBI had found no evidence that would warrant a prosecution, maybe illuminated by some discussion of the importance of intent in comparable cases.

Instead, he launched into a legally irrelevant criticism of Clinton's "carelessness" in handling classified information. That would be an appropriate comment to make if he were a government inspector general or a congressional committee, not an FBI director. The FBI investigates crimes, not carelessness, and the role of the FBI director does not include being a moral authority.

The letter he wrote Friday to the chairs of congressional committees (all Republicans, since they are the majority) was the kind of thing the FBI doesn't do at any time, much less when it's likely to affect an election in a week and a half. It was basically an announcement that he might at some future time have new information. Totally vacuous in itself, it served only to create doubt that can't possibly be resolved by Election Day.

The Justice Department has policies about this, for very good reasons. In its crime-investigating role, we allow law enforcement officials to violate people's privacy in all sorts of ways. One of their corresponding responsibilities is to be circumspect in how they use that information.

So anyway, now we're in exactly the kind of hell those policies are supposed to avoid: Relying on anonymous leaks to assess what, if anything, this new information might be or mean, and whether or not it should change how we vote. The NYT has a good summary of what we know and don't know.

As far as Clinton's email server in general, I haven't changed the opinion I wrote in June. A more up-to-date version of a similar point of view is here.

To me, the nightmare scenario is that this vague letter tips the election to Trump, and then a month from now Comey reports to us again and says, "Oh, never mind, it turns out these emails were all duplicates of ones we already had."

In the unlikely event that these emails reveal some previously unsuspected crime of President-elect Clinton, she could be impeached. But if Comey's interference elects Trump, there's no recourse.

Matt Yglesias:

The only way the email story could get any worse for Clinton would be if some kind of actual wrongdoing were unearthed at some point.

The Clinton-related emails released by WikiLeaks are a different story entirely, but I'm sure they blend together in the public mind. These are mostly from the account of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, and have nothing to do with the State Department. They are not subject to a legitimate investigation, but were hacked, probably by the Russian government.

These releases also have no smoking guns, but produce a constant dribble of negative headlines. People in their private emails say stuff that would look bad if they said it in public, and worse if it's quoted out of context. That's not news.

The latest batch inspired a lot of headlines suggesting that Bill Clinton profited personally from the Clinton Foundation, but (as so often happens) when you look at the supporting evidence it doesn't really say that. A Clinton insider, Douglas Band, who worked in Hillary's State Department, used his Clinton contacts to build a consulting business after he left the State Department. He encouraged his corporate clients both to give to the Clinton Foundation and to invite Bill Clinton to give paid speeches. Chelsea Clinton didn't like possible implications of the way he was mixing business and his Foundation ties, so she started an internal audit. Band defended himself by arguing that Bill's conflicts of interest were worse than his. (He sounds like Trump trying to excuse his sexual assaults: Don't look at me, look at Bill.) That's what leaked.

What we're left with is the already-known fact that many corporations both gave money to the Foundation and paid Bill or Hillary to give speeches. None of this is odd: Corporations give money to charitable foundations, ex-presidents and ex-secretaries-of-state give a lot of paid speeches, and the Clintons' fees seem to be in line with what people of their fame typically ask. No money has gone from the Foundation to the Clintons, and so far no one has come up with unwarranted government favors the companies might have been paying for. I've covered all this in detail before; in short, it's "pay-for-play" scandal without either pay or play.

In all the responsible reporting, what is considered newsworthy is the possibility that some other bit of evidence might come out that will make these dots line up in a sinister pattern. We keep getting teased with that speculation, but the reality of it continues not to arrive.

Before this campaign, my opinion of WikiLeaks was somewhere between ambivalent and positive. I thought the mass release of State Department cables could be dangerous to some people who deserved better, but it also made public a lot of stuff that the public ought to know.

But in its anti-Clinton campaign, WikiLeaks has gone far beyond its original role as a force for transparency. It could have released whatever Russia gave it in one big dump, letting the rest of us sort through it the way people sorted through the State Department cables. That would be transparent: We got stuff, we passed it on.

Instead, by dribbling stuff out bit by bit as Election Day approaches, and using its twitter feed to frame its revelations as salaciously as possible, WikiLeaks has become just another partisan player, and Julian Assange just another foreigner trying to manipulate our election.

Buzzfeed has an article from a former WikiLeaks insider, about Assange's "score" to settle with Hillary Clinton.

Most of what WikiLeaks has released is more gossip than whistle-blowing: Did you hear what so-and-so said about you? But Bernie Sanders isn't taking the bait:

Trust me, if they went into our emails — I suppose which may happen, who knows — I’m sure there would be statements that would be less than flattering about, you know, the Clinton staff. That’s what happens in campaigns.

One sign that Republicans had given up on a Trump victory, at least until the FBI announcement: They were already talking about impeaching President Clinton.

and the acquittal in the Bundy trial

I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the verdict in the Bundy trial in Oregon: Not guilty all around, with the jury unable to make a decision on one charge of theft of government property. The L.A. Times attributes the verdict to the prosecutors' overconfidence, while acknowledging the verdict's overall absurdity.

“My client was arrested in a government truck, and he was acquitted of taking that truck,” said defense attorney Matthew Schindler, who still sounded in disbelief Friday morning.

The defense cast the Malheur occupation as a legitimate protest, but to my mind a protest turns into something else as soon as you start waving guns around. The Bundy brothers themselves will be sent to Nevada to face charges over the 2014 armed standoff at their father's ranch. Presumably those prosecutors will not be so confident now, so we'll have a test of the overconfidence theory.

Does anybody doubt what will happen next? Anti-government yahoos around the country will be emboldened to do even more outrageous things. We might as well have posted "Welcome Armed Occupiers" signs outside of every government workplace in the country.

About the Bundy's theory that federal ownership of so much land in the western states is illegitimate: Once you get west of the Ogallala aquifer, the vast majority of land wouldn't have supported American-style settlers, or much of anything beyond the economy the Native Americans already had, without massive federal spending on dams, roads, and railroad subsidies. To this day, most residents of the mountain states are not paying anywhere near the true cost of the water they use. (See the classic book Cadillac Desert.)

Native American claims are in a different category, but if any white people want to claim that federal lands in the West should belong to them, or to their state, I think they need to explain how the investment of the out-of-state taxpayers is going to be repaid.

At VoxGerman Lopez said what I've been thinking:

It is impossible to ignore race here. This was a group of armed white people, mostly men, taking over a facility. Just imagine: What would happen if a group of armed black men, protesting police brutality, tried to take over a police facility and hold it hostage for more than a month? Would they even come out alive and get to trial? Would a jury find them and their cause relatable, making it easier to send them back home with no prison time?

Lots of people made a comparison to the Native American protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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The next time someone asks about your dream job, consider the prospect of replacing Philip Galanes as host of The New York Times' "Table for Three" series. His job is to invite interesting people to lunch in twos, talk to them, and publish the conversation.

In the latest edition of the series, he takes historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow to the Gotham Lounge of Manhattan's Peninsula Hotel, and asks them about how the 2016 election compares with other elections in US history. The NYT picks up the check, no doubt.

As Dire Straits put it: "That ain't workin'. That's the way you do it."

Racist incidents are up in Britain after Brexit. Here's some advice on how to interrupt them.

In general, people who create confrontations have some kind of drama in mind; they are like directors of a play. Sometimes you can screw that up without becoming part of the confrontation yourself: Stand in the wrong place, ask one of the participants for directions, etc. If you have an accomplice, you can stage your own competing play: have a screaming break-up scene.

CNN discusses the plague of fake news sites whose purpose is to get you agitated enough to share the link on social media. Some are partisan disinformation sites, but a bunch are subtle news parody sites, like Newslo or Business Standard News, whose stories sound credible because they're just one or two steps beyond what's actually happening. (You'd think people would notice the BS logo and take a step back, but apparently not.)

When these first started cropping up, I thought they were clever -- like The Onion but a little more of an inside joke. But now, two or three times a day I feel obligated to inform some outraged Facebook friend that s/he has been punked. Usually I'm the 10th commenter after 9 other people have taken it seriously. I think some real damage is starting to happen.

When you share something, you're lending your credibility to it; friends are more likely to be taken in by something if they know you believe it. That gives you some responsibility to check things out before you spread them.

Here's a tip: Real news stories happen in a real world that lots of people see. So a real news story almost never appears on just one site. (That's doubly true if the story involves some famous person, and the site is one you've never heard of.) Before you share some outrageous claim, boil it down to a few words and do a Google search. If the thing really happened, you should see a bunch of similar articles about it.

Take the Illinois senate race off the board. Mark Kirk just finished himself off.

At one level you have the dozen-or-so women who have accused Trump of some form of sexual assault (similar to the general description he gave Billy Bush on the famous tape). At another level entirely, there are a host of instances that aren't remotely criminal, but reinforce the picture of him as a self-absorbed asshole.

This one, for example. It's 2009, and the 16-year-old son of John Travolta and Kelly Preston has just died. That launches Trump into reminiscing on the Trump University blog about the time he put the moves on Preston and she turned him down, in spite of the fact that "my track record on this subject has always been outstanding". Because that's what you do when somebody loses her child.

Voter suppression is usually one of those phrases that only someone's enemies use. Nobody ever comes out and says they're trying to suppress the vote.

Except the Trump people. I guess this is a new example of telling it like it is.

Instead of expanding the electorate, Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans. Trump’s invocation at the debate of Clinton’s WikiLeaks e-mails and support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to turn off Sanders supporters. The parade of women who say they were sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and harassed or threatened by Hillary is meant to undermine her appeal to young women. And her 1996 suggestion that some African American males are “super predators” is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to discourage infrequent black voters from showing up at the polls—particularly in Florida.

Here's one of those stories that cuts across sports, business, media trends, and cultural change: TV ratings are down for both pro football in the US and the pro soccer in the UK. (It's harder to get a clear sense of how college football's ratings are doing, because its broadcasting is more decentralized than the pros, with individual conferences having their own networks in addition to national-network coverage.) Everybody has a theory about what this means, but none of them are compelling yet.

While we're talking sports, the most offensive thing about the Cleveland Indians isn't that they're called "Indians", it's that the Chief Wahoo logo. Check out the parody "Caucasians" shirt.

Here's the conclusion I draw from Megyn Kelly's confrontational interview with Newt Gingrich: If you're a woman on the Right, you can be appreciated for carrying the men's water. But as soon as you want to turn the conversation to something that you find important, you're just a woman.

and let's close with something nostalgic

I spent the late 70s and early 80s in Chicago, about the time Steve Goodman was writing "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request". Like most Cub fans of that era, my best baseball memory is a loss: I was in Wrigley Field's right field bleachers the day the Phillies beat us 23-22 in 10 innings.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Well enough

Leave well enough alone.

- re-election slogan of President McKinley (1900)

This week's featured post is "Why so frustrated, America?" And in view of recent claims about "rigged" elections, I want to flash back to my 2013 post "The Myth of the Zombie Voter".

This week everybody was talking about how wonderful it is that the debates are over

[Final debate: transcript, video] I think Ezra Klein really nails it in his analysis of Clinton's debate strategy: Ordinarily, a good debate performance means making your case effectively, connecting well with the voters personally, and maybe scoring a zinger or two on your opponent that will get replayed on the news shows (like Lloyd Bentsen's "You're no Jack Kennedy" to Dan Quayle). You can also hope your opponent screws up, but that's mostly out of your hands.

This time, though, Clinton recognized that Trump could be baited into screwing up, and into driving a negative news cycle against himself (like he did when he couldn't let go of his conflicts with Judge Curiel or the Khan family). By the end of the third debate, Trump was sputtering like a kid losing a playground argument: "You're the puppet. ... I did not say that. ... No, you're the one that's unfit. ... Such a nasty woman."

Tweeted by Daniel Dale of The Toronto Star:

In spite of Trump's claims that everything is rigged against him, I found Chris Wallace's questions to have a conservative bias. Media Matters lists a few, but somehow missed the first question (addressed to both candidates), which was about the Supreme Court:

What’s your view on how the constitution should be interpreted? Do the founders' words mean what they say or is it a living document to be applied flexibly, according to changing circumstances?

Literally no one denies that the Constitution's words "mean what they say". That jaundiced framing of the liberal position is conservative propaganda, pure and simple. The "living document" issue concerns whether you limit the Constitution's meaning to the specific situations people had in mind at the time, or interpret them as abstract principles that might apply to new situations in unexpected ways. For example, today the 14th Amendment's "equal protection of the laws" includes how marriage laws apply to same-sex couples. Granted, I doubt anyone was thinking about that application when the amendment was written, but the broader interpretation is not based on claiming that the words don't mean what they say. Quite the opposite: Same-sex couples deserve the equal protection of the laws.

I'll add a very simple example, which I bet I'll bet the loonier parts of the far right will start trumpeting after Inauguration Day: When Article II of the Constitution lists the qualifications for the presidency, it doesn't specify that the president be male. But later, when it lists the powers of the president, it uses a masculine pronoun: "he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States" and so on. So do we need a constitutional amendment to extend those powers to a woman president, or can we assume that the Founders were describing the presidency in an abstract manner that does not change when a woman takes office?

If the latter just seems like common sense to you, then you believe the Constitution is a living document.

Trump described the Second Amendment as "under absolute siege". The Trace summarizes the gun-related issues likely to make it to the Court in the near future. I think Trump has exaggerated bigly.

Three presidential debates and one VP debate: no questions about climate change. Well done, moderators.

and rigging the election

The morning-after headline from the third debate was Trump's refusal to pledge to accept the result of the election, which he expects to be rigged. If you look at the transcript of that part of the debate, it's even worse than the headline makes it sound. You could imagine a candidate delaying his concession, like Al Gore in 2000, or Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman when Al Franken beat him in 2008. There is a process for disputing an election result. You can ask for recounts, contest in court the validity of various ballots, and so on. Gore's case went to the Supreme Court and Franken didn't get to take his seat in the Senate until July.

In a really close election with legitimate issues about the count, there's nothing undemocratic about pursuing that process as far as it goes. So it would have been legit for Trump to answer moderator Chris Wallace's question with something like: "I'll have to see what the issues are on election day. If my poll watchers report irregularities, if there are precincts where the totals look absurd, then I might have to go to court. It's too soon to rule that out."

But that's not the set of concerns he raised. (Later, he tried to backtrack and pretend he did. "I will accept a clear election result. But I would also reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result." It's typical of Trump to put forward multiple positions like this and keep everyone guessing.) He did mention "millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn't be registered to vote"  though he did not give any reason for believing someone will vote those registrations. But the bulk of his answer didn't have anything to do with making sure the winner really won.

First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt. And the pile-on is so amazing. The New York Times actually wrote an article about it, that they don't even care. It's so dishonest. And they have poisoned the minds of the voters. ... So let me just give you one other thing as I talk about the corrupt media. I talk about the millions of people. I tell you one other thing. She shouldn't be allowed to run. She's guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run. And just in that respect, I say it's rigged. Because she should never -- Chris, she should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with emails and so many other things.

So he's saying that he may not accept the election result even if it's clear the voters voted against him. Because they shouldn't have been allowed to vote for her at all and the media talked them into it and Mom always liked her best. There is no process that can resolve such claims, which would be based entirely on Trump's feeling that he wasn't treated fairly -- like his claim that he was "screwed out an Emmy" when The Apprentice lost out to The Amazing Race.

Gore and Coleman did everything the system allows to make sure the votes were counted right. And even if they didn't get all the court rulings they wanted, each eventually admitted that the process was over and he had lost.

Trump does not envision doing that. That would be new in American history, and it's scary.

Republicans across the country disputed the idea that the election would be rigged. Ars Technica founder Jon Stokes warns Democrats to be less adamant about claiming that American elections are unriggable.

But what if our election system is vulnerable, and the Russians were to hack the vote and hand what polls indicated to be a clear Hillary win over to Trump? At that point, all of the folks who’ve been going on about the unassailability of our voting system would have a very hard time making the case to the public that the election was, in fact, rigged. They would have walked right into a trap, and when they attempt to climb out of it, Trump supporters and Putin’s online troll army would keep them down by bludgeoning them silly with their own quotes.

In some ways, the Russians would have an easier time hacking our election than either party. Republicans and Democrats would be trying make the results look as realistic as possible so as not to get caught. But Russian propaganda wins just by showing that American elections are suspect. So if Tim Kaine's home precinct goes for Trump 3,000 to nothing, that might be fine with them.

and hacking the internet

Friday morning, some of the internet's most popular websites were inaccessible for several hours. This appears to be something more sinister than just a glitch: Somebody launched a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on Dyn, a company you've probably never heard of that maintains an important piece of the infrastructure of the internet. (Briefly, a DDoS is when an attacker floods a server with so many fake requests for service that it can't find the real requests. Imagine walking into an empty bar when suddenly dozens of ghost customers appear in front of you and start yelling for the bartender's attention.)

It would be bad enough if somebody just had a grudge against Dyn, but it appears to be worse than that. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier (my wife is in the field and reports that he's one of the top people) says this looks like one of a series of probing attacks on internet infrastructure.

Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down. We don't know who is doing this, but it feels like a large a large nation state. China and Russia would be my first guesses.

So the Dark Army on Mr. Robot may be more than just Sam Esmail's invention.

An interesting aspect of this attack is that it might have corrupted and weaponized devices that we don't ordinarily think of as computers, the so-called "Internet of Things", which includes "CCTV video cameras and digital video recorders". Think about it: If your refrigerator is accessing the internet (say, to text you that it's out of milk), how do you know it hasn't also been corrupted into sending spam emails to thousands of complete strangers? Vendors of such online devices tend not to make security a priority, and it doesn't occur to most of us to virus-check our smart thermostats or internet-accessible baby monitors.

Computer-security people sometimes refer to "the Internet of Compromised Things". One of the end-of-the-world scenarios in Charles Stross' techno-supernatural "Laundry Files" novels is Case Nightmare Yellow, when all of our smart devices become haunted and turn against us. (Laundry-agent slang calls this threat "the Internet of Things that Go Bump in the Night".)

While we're talking about hacking, there's the series of hacks directed at Democrats and the Clinton campaign, the ones that have resulted in all those emails being released through WikiLeaks. The ones that came out in the last couple of weeks have been from a hack of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

On Thursday, private security researchers said they had concluded that Mr. Podesta was hacked by Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the GRU, after it tricked him into clicking on a fake Google login page last March, inadvertently handing over his digital credentials.

The U.S. government had already attributed the hack against the Democratic National Committee to the Russian government. But government intelligence agencies usually don't tell us any more than they have to, so the conclusions have had a take-it-or-leave-it quality. We get a lot more details from this non-government report.

To date, no government officials have offered evidence that the same Russian hackers behind the D.N.C. cyberattacks were also behind the hack of Mr. Podesta’s emails, but an investigation by the private security researchers determined that they were the same.

Threat researchers at Dell SecureWorks, an Atlanta-based security firm, had been tracking the Russian intelligence group for more than a year. In June, they reported that they had uncovered a critical tool in the Russian spy campaign. SecureWorks researchers found that the Russian hackers were using a popular link shortening service, called Bitly, to shorten malicious links they used to send targets fake Google login pages to bait them into submitting their email credentials.

The hackers made a critical error by leaving some of their Bitly accounts public, making it possible for SecureWorks to trace 9,000 of their links to nearly 4,000 Gmail accounts targeted between October 2015 and May 2016 with fake Google login pages and security alerts designed to trick users into turning over their passwords.

and the Al Smith dinner

Ever since Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, the two major-party candidates have shown up for a white-tie fund-raising dinner for Catholic charities devoted to needy children (of all religions) in New York. Traditionally, it's been a way to lighten up the campaign and establish that the candidates have a sense of humor. In each cycle, the Al Smith dinner reminds us that after the election we're all supposed to be friends again.

The main thing it showed me this year is that I'm going to miss Barack Obama. Obama is a natural comedian who has made this stuff look easy: Just get your staff to write some jokes and go deliver them to people who want to laugh. In contrast, Hillary Clinton works hard not to step on her best lines, and mostly succeeds, but you can see the effort. And Trump only half gets this strange human notion of comedy; sometimes he just insults Clinton and looks pleased with himself. (His statement that Clinton was "pretending not to hate Catholics" drew boos.)

To remind yourself of what we'll be missing when Obama goes back to private life, take a look at this video encouraging early voting:

and the Mosul offensive

Together with Turkish and Kurdish forces, the Iraqi government is trying to retake it's second-largest city (Mosul) from the Islamic State. Success seems likely (eventually), but the questions are (1) how costly it will be in both military and civilian terms, and (2) whether this strange alliance can agree on what to do with the city afterward. But ISIS' dream of a territory-holding caliphate seems to be crumbling.

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If men are constantly telling you to smile more, here's a product that can help.

Maricopa County may be about to run Sheriff Arpaio out of town.

BridgeGate. It's looking bad for Chris Christie. He still hasn't been charged with anything, but his political career is probably over.

Larry Lessig was insulted in one of the Clinton campaign emails WikiLeaks released. In response he defended the privacy rights of his insulter:

I can’t for the life of me see the public good in a leak like this — at least one that reveals no crime or violation of any important public policy.

We all deserve privacy. The burdens of public service are insane enough without the perpetual threat that every thought shared with a friend becomes Twitter fodder. Neera has only ever served in the public (and public interest) sector. Her work has always and only been devoted to advancing her vision of the public good. It is not right that she should bear the burden of this sort of breach.

Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas has an optimistic reading of the long-term tea leaves: Post-Trump, the GOP fractures and the Democratic Party's demographic advantage (and it's youthful liberal wing) keeps growing. I don't have a specific argument to make against his scenario (yet), but I find it hard to believe that the big-money types don't find some way to compete.

but believe it or not, watching Clinton/Trump debates can be fun

I found it hard to make myself watch the debates. But maybe the least annoying way was to see the final debate songified by Weird Al.

Or you could watch Bad Lip Reading turn the first debate into a game show.

and let's close with something enviable

The 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world, as of 2012. Unfortunately, I don't live near any of them. (Two are in California and the rest in other countries.) They include this one, El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires. Built in 1919 as a tango hall, converted to a cinema in 1929, it's now filled with books.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Making Them Cry

Georgie Porgie, puddin' and pie
Kissed the girls and made them cry.

nursery rhyme

This week's featured post is "A Teaching Moment on Sexual Assault".

In other Sift news, the post "Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party" has passed the 500,000 page-view mark. It's the most popular Sift post ever.

This week everybody was talking about Donald Trump and sexual assault

Since this story has dominated the news all week, I'm going to assume that anybody who wants to follow the details has been able to. So rather than rehash it all, I'll just hit the low points:

  • A week ago Friday, a video from 2005 came out in which Trump boasted about how easy it is to get away with sexual assault (unwanted kissing, grabbing women "by the pussy") when you're a star like him.
  • Two days later, in his second debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump said that what he said on the tape was just "locker room talk" (which didn't happen in a locker room, but seems to mean: false bragging that men do to impress each other when no women are around). He said that had never actually committed such assaults.
  • Beginning this Wednesday, women started coming forward to say that Trump assaulted them in precisely the ways he described.

Huffington Post has been keeping a list of the women and their charges, updated as new charges arise. To me, the accounts vary in their persuasiveness. Kristin Anderson's story would probably not be newsworthy if not for its similarity to the others: She recalls a 30-second encounter in a New York nightclub in which Trump put his hand up her skirt, but she can't recall a date any more exact than "the early 1990s", or who she was with who might corroborate her account, or even be certain which club it was. Not that it didn't happen, but it's hard to imagine an account so vague getting published in a different news environment.

At the other extreme, I found Natasha Stoynoff's account compelling: She had regularly covered Trump for People magazine, and was well known to both Trump and his wife Melania. While she was at Mar-a-Lago to interview the couple for a first-anniversary feature, Trump lured her into a side room "and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat." She didn't tell her editor, finished the feature (which was published without mention of the incident), and made sure she was never assigned to cover Trump again.

Trump denies everything, and has counterattacked.

These people are horrible people. They're horrible, horrible liars.

One counterattack is particularly vile: He has been suggesting to his rallies that the women aren't attractive enough to make their stories credible.

These events never, ever happened, and the people that said them, meekly, fully understand. You take a look at these people, you study these people, and you’ll understand also.

About Stoynoff in particular he said:

Take a look. You take a look. Look at her, look at her words, you tell me what you think. I don’t think so.

Of another accuser, he told a crowd in North Carolina:

Believe me, she would not be my first choice.

While he was at it, he also body-shamed Hillary Clinton. Answering the criticism that he stalked Clinton during the second debate, he blamed her for walking in front of him, and then said:

She walks in front of me, you know. And when she walked in front of me, believe me, I wasn’t impressed.

To me, that just sums it all up. She's a grandmother who will turn 69 in two weeks. She's been First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State, and Democratic nominee for President. And we're supposed to judge her by her butt.

Trump has also attacked People and The New York Times, which started the deluge by publishing the first two accounts Wednesday. When Trump's lawyer sent a letter threatening a lawsuit, The Times lawyer fired back what can only be described as a bring-it-on challenge:

We did what the law allows: We published newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern. If Mr. Trump disagrees, if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.

The next step here is easy to predict: Trump may file a lawsuit to grab a one-day headline and get his side on the record, but he cannot afford to pursue it. In a previous unsuccessful lawsuit against a reporter, giving a deposition under oath forced him to make a number of embarrassing admissions.

Trump's other response to his problems has been to go further down the rabbit-hole of conspiracy theories and fascist tropes. In the West Palm Beach speech -- which you can watch in its entirety via PBS -- he painted himself as a savior. Typical American political rhetoric warns of future problems unless we change our ways, or unless the speaker's movement or philosophy gains power. But Trump made it about himself: The political establishment

has taken our jobs away, out of this country, never to return unless I am elected president.

He repeated a claim he has made before: "I am the only one who can fix it."

This is a struggle for the survival of our nation. Believe me. And this will be our last chance to save it, on November 8.

Trump blamed the sexual-assault allegations on a conspiracy that includes "the Clinton machine", "the corporate media" as a unified entity "with a total political agenda", and "international banks" plotting "the destruction of U.S. sovereignty".

As Yochi Dreazen points out, only one word is missing from what is otherwise an ancient libel:

it’s true that Trump’s allegation Thursday that a global financial cabal is secretly working hand in hand with the media to destroy the United States doesn’t include the word “Jew.”

But here’s the thing: It doesn’t need to. Trump is using barely coded words that directly echo one of the most ancient of all anti-Semitic libels. Jews have long been accused of controlling the global financial system. Jews have long been accused of controlling the media. And Jews have long been accused of being disloyal citizens secretly working to maneuver governments to pursue disastrous policies solely for their own benefit. Trump has now chosen to combine all of those charges into a single paranoid and hate-filled rant.

If you need someone to supply that word, Trump's alt-right allies are happy to oblige. The neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, ex-KKK grand wizard David Duke, and numerous other far-right sources are promoting the theory that the Access Hollywood tape that started this whole furor was leaked by a Jewish aide to Paul Ryan. A Daily Stormer editor posted:

The 35% or so of the country that is hardcore pro-Trump is going to know that it wasn’t “liberals” that defeated Trump, but traitors within the party who abandoned him. And they are going to want to know why that happened.

And there is only one answer:

The Jews did it.

[For the difference between standard conservative Republicans and the alt-right, see this conversation between Hugh Hewitt and Jonah Goldberg. At the time, Hewitt was supporting Trump, but more recently he has called for Trump to withdraw from the presidential race.]

Best response to the whole sordid mess: Michelle Obama.

and sexual assault in general

I cover this in the featured post "A Teaching Moment about Sexual Assault".

It didn't fit into the frame of that post, but subsequent to Jessica Leeds' story, Slate did a story about airlines and sexual assault.

and more Clinton campaign email leaks from Russia by way of WikiLeaks

In particular, we now have transcripts of Clinton's three speeches to Goldman Sachs in 2013. Personally, I'm glad they're out. As long as they remained secret, Clinton-haters could imagine they contain some secret plot to do whatever. Now that they're out, it's clear that they don't.

It turns out they aren't even speeches, they're Q&A sessions that mostly cover foreign policy. I found them educational, particularly the notion that the Chinese military is a power not completely under control of the central government, and that it is the force most supportive of North Korea.

I'm not sure what the point of keeping the transcripts secret was, or why Clinton refuses to verify their authenticity now. But I wonder if it has more to do with foreign governments than with the American public. For example, it might be convenient to maintain deniability of that China/Korea statement the next time she has to deal with either government.

As far as the other emails that have been released, there's a lesson we all should have learned after the ClimateGate email dump in 2009: Whether you've done anything wrong or not, you never look good when your enemies get to comb through emails you thought were private and publish the excerpts they find most damaging. Countless investigations in both the US and the UK found no wrong-doing in the ClimateGate emails, but to this day climate deniers believe they revealed some nefarious conspiracy.

In emails to known associates, people say the same kinds of things they might say face-to-face: At times they are flip, snide, and short-tempered. They blow off steam to people they think will be sympathetic, and make statements they couldn't support well enough to say them on the record. They float outrageous ideas, sometimes seriously, sometimes in jest.

I occasionally read articles in the right-wing press about some particular batch of WikiLeaks Clinton-campaign emails. Like this one where the main thing that strikes me is how tame it all is.

The emails, published by WikiLeaks after a hack of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s private account, also show Clinton campaign officials and Democratic leaders disparaging supporters of Sen. Bernard Sanders as “self-righteous” whiners, calling Hispanic party leaders such as Bill Richardson “needy Latinos,” labeling CNN anchor Jake Tapper “a d—k” and even lambasting longtime Clinton ally Sidney Blumenthal.

Horrors! In the middle of high-pressure situations, Clinton campaign staffers privately said unkind things about people who were making their lives difficult. I fear for the future of the free world if such monsters get their hands on the levers of power. But wait, there's worse:

The Clinton campaign’s biggest problem may be its assault on Catholics.

Podesta didn't participate in this exchange himself, but he was copied on emails that Clinton campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri  received from someone outside the campaign: John Halpin of the Center for American Progress.

In the exchange, Mr. Halpin mocks media mogul Rupert Murdoch for raising his children in the Catholic faith and said the most “powerful elements” in the conservative movement are all Catholic.

“It’s an amazing bastardization of the faith. They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy,” Mr. Halpin said.

It's actually a good point: Catholic economic doctrine is not even remotely conservative, and hasn't been for over a century. So there actually is a mystery here. Palmieri had a fairly boring response:

I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they become evangelicals.

This is the "assault on Catholics" that The Washington Times thinks Palmieri should be fired for. And Paul Ryan believes Palmieri's single line about the social status of Catholics compared to evangelicals "reveal[s] the Clinton campaign’s hostile attitude toward people of faith in general."

I wonder how many emails they had to read before they found such a bombshell.

The other issue raised by the series of WikiLeaks releases of Clinton documents is the role of Russia.

There is mounting evidence that the Russian government is supplying WikiLeaks with hacked emails pertaining to the US presidential election, US officials familiar with the investigation have told CNN.

NBC News claims to know that U.S. intelligence officials had briefed Trump on this before the second debate, in which Trump asserted that Clinton "doesn't know if it's the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking."

Yesterday on Fox News, VP candidate Mike Pence appeared to break with Trump on this:

I think there's no question that the evidence continues to point in that direction [of Russian responsibility]. There should be severe consequences to Russia or any sovereign nation that is compromising the privacy or the security of the United States of America.

This is a problem we haven't had to deal with before, and it's hard to know how to think about it. On the one hand, the WikiLeaks dumps are what they are, and it seems silly to avoid knowing what's in them. On the other hand, how do we assess the fact that one of our chief rivals wants Donald Trump to win?

and you might also be interested in

No, Canadians are not flocking to the U.S. to get health care.

Good news for the climate: 197 nations just agreed to cut way down on their use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used in air conditioners. Originally, they were supposed to replace the CFCs that were killing the ozone layer. (And they succeeded, the ozone hole seems to be filling in.) But HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases 10,000 times as effective as carbon dioxide. Estimates say that the agreement will shave anywhere from .2 to .44 of a Celsius degree off the average global temperature by the end of the century.

A fascinating story in The Washington Post about the conversion of Derek Black, son of the founder of the white-nationalist Stormfront web site, who as a teen-ager had his own radio show where he helped popularize the notion of white genocide. He has now left the white-nationalist movement, which has created a family crisis.

His story reminds me of a New Yorker article from last November about Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, the people who picket funerals with "God Hates Fags" signs.

In both stories, conversion away from a hateful ideology happens not through logical argument, but by getting to know and admire people that the ideology condemns. The personal relationship opens up a channel for new ideas to come in.

Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. A popular songwriter had never won before, but I guess the times, they are a-changing. I'd have voted for Thomas Pynchon myself, but what do I know?

plot by anti-Muslim "Crusaders" was broken up before the group could blow up an apartment building in Garden City, Kansas. They were hoping to kill a lot of Somali immigrants and "ignite a religious war".

A Republican Party office was firebombed in North Carolina Saturday night. Donald Trump immediately attributed it to "Animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems". Clinton denounced the bombing, and other Democrats raised $13K to help the Republicans rebuild.

So far, nobody knows who did this. If the perps think this helps the Democrats, they're wrong and they need to stop before the "help" any more. Others have suggested a false-flag operation to gain sympathy for Republicans, but that's a big claim to make without any evidence. Let's hope the authorities solve the case soon so we can all stop speculating.

Washington Post editor Fred Hiatt got philosophical on MSNBC's Hardball Friday:

I've covered a lot of countries -- dictatorships, democracies, everything in between -- and the key thing to a democracy ... I mean, there are really two things that are key. You have an election, and the loser acknowledges that they lost, and the winner lets the loser survive for another day. Trump is challenging both of those things. He's saying "If I lose, it's not legitimate" and "If I win, I'm going to lock her up." This is the Putin model. It's not democracy.

Political science professor Shaun Bowler makes a related point: After every election, people who voted for the loser are tempted to doubt the result. One key to whether a democracy succeeds or fails is whether losing candidates try to soothe or enflame those responses.

and believe it or not, you should listen to Rush Limbaugh

Wednesday, Limbaugh unleashed the most amazing rant about how hypocritical it is for liberals to invoke moral standards against Donald Trump. The point, which he borrows from therapist Michael Hurd, is that liberals have no standards when it comes to sex, so how can we invent a standard to apply to Trump? Limbaugh explains this mystery, but does so in a tone of outrage and anger.

You know what the magic word, the only thing that matters in American sexual mores today is? One thing. You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it's perfectly fine. Whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there's no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police. But consent is the magic key to the left.

I and every liberal I've mentioned this to have had a well-duh reaction: What consenting adults do is their own business, but as soon as somebody stops consenting and another party keeps going, then you've got rape.

and let's close with something amazing and hopeful

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have given a paralyzed man a robot arm that feels. Not only can his brain control the arm, but tiny electrodes in his brain allow him to know when a finger is being touched or pressed.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Bizarre Talk

If we’re worried about the longer-term implications of current policies, the buildup of greenhouse gases is a much bigger deal than the accumulation of low-interest debt. It’s bizarre to talk about the latter but not the former.

- Paul Krugman "What About the Planet?" (10-7-2016)

This week's featured post is "Best Responses to the Trump Video".

This week everybody was talking about leaks

In addition to Trump's sexual-assault-confessing video, which I cover in the featured post, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails hacked from the account of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Included in the haul are internal Clinton campaign discussions about what they would have to defend if the text of her Goldman Sachs speeches came out.

I haven't examined the Podesta emails myself. Matt Yglesias concludes: "The lesson of Hillary’s secret speeches is she’s exactly who we already knew she was". In other words, she is someone who works inside the system and negotiates with the powers that already exist rather than sweeping in from the outside. Yglesias is not alarmed by this, for reasons he explains. I'll try to formulate my own opinion in future weeks.

Andy Borowitz:

In what passes for morality in the Republican Party, leaders are calling for the presidential candidate who hates women to be replaced by the vp candidate who hates gays.

and the weather

Hurricane Matthew swept up the Florida coast and made it all the way to North Carolina before turning out to sea. It's been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone.

Three theories on why hundreds dead in Haiti isn't news:

  • Haitians aren't Americans, so who cares? (This echoes my comments last week about Gary Johnson and the decline of foreign coverage.)
  • Most Haitians are black, and (no matter what white people might tell each other) black lives still don't really matter.
  • It's Haiti. Something bad is always happening in Haiti.

In the conspiracy-theory world many right-wingers inhabit, Matthew's path and intensity is no mystery: the government created it.

Hurricane truthers believe the government's goal is to create unrest and distract the masses from election fraud [in Florida] — namely, the left's attempt to rig the election for Hillary Clinton.

"Given the unparalleled significance of the 2016 election cycle, the politicos at the federal level would love to sow seeds of chaos any way they can in order to create cover for an election theft," wrote.

Since climate change is a myth in this alternate universe, there must be some other reason why more powerful storms are making it further north on a regular basis. The old reliable explanation is that liberals have offended the Lord with our gay-rights agenda and overall lack of piety. But if that doesn't convince you -- how's the reconstruction going, Tony Perkins? -- a nefarious human plot backed by sci-fi technology works too.

and more debates

The VPs debated Tuesday and Clinton/Trump had their second debate last night.

By far the strangest moment in the debate was when Trump told Clinton:

If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we’re going to have a special prosecutor.

And then followed up a bit later in this exchange:

CLINTON: It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

TRUMP: Because you’d be in jail.

If you're not familiar with how our justice system works, you might not realize why so many people were frightened by this. Ezra Klein, for example:

Tonight was a scary moment in American politics. In fact, it's probably the scariest I can remember.

In our system, the Justice Department is supposed to be insulated from politics. Nothing in the Constitution says this, but it's a principle deep in the mores of our system. The president is supposed to make policy and appoint people to carry out that policy, but is not supposed to have any direct influence on specific cases. That's the principle Republicans were invoking when they objected to President Obama endorsing Secretary Clinton while the FBI was still investigating her. They were afraid that even the hint of the president's opinion, without any direct orders, would affect the investigation. Democrats invoked that principle during the Bush administration when they objected to the firing of seven states attorneys for what they believed were political reasons.

Well, the President appointing a prosecutor to look at a particular person -- especially a political rival, especially one the FBI has already cleared -- is completely off the scale. That's what happens in dictatorships, not in the United States. Trevor Noah was making this point about Trump already a year ago.

What you thought about the VP debate seems to have depended on whether you judged style or substance. Most pundits thought Tim Kaine interrupted Mike Pence too often and looked rude. But Pence chose to defend Donald Trump by simply denying that Trump has said what he said. On substance, that's a losing position.

That denial is probably a preview of how Republicans will look back on a Trump defeat: what he actually said and stood for will go down the memory hole. Something similar happened on a larger scale after President Bush left office with historically low popularity. There was no discussion about what went wrong or how the party needed to change. Instead, they just stopped talking about Bush for a while, and when they started again they said amazing things, like "We had no domestic attacks under Bush."

Many Republicans have expressed a hope that Pence will wind up running things. But I haven't forgotten how Gov. Pence dodged and weaved last year in order to defend the supremacy of Christians over gays in Indiana.

They don't get much publicity, but debates are also starting to happen in pivotal senate races. Here's video of Hassan/Ayotte in New Hampshire.

and you also might be interested in

Columbia University's Jay Rosen is one of the sharpest observers of the culture of political journalism. In this post on his blog PressThink, he discusses the underlying frame that most political coverage is based on, and why journalists are having so much trouble dealing with the fact that the Trump candidacy doesn't fit in that frame.

The two major parties are similar actors with, as Baquet put it, “warring philosophies.” Elections are the big contests that distribute power between them. The day-to-day of politics is a series of minor battles for tactical advantage. The press is part of this picture because it distributes attention, but — in this view of things — it does not participate in politics itself.

But in the real world, the two political parties have gotten increasingly asymmetric and are no longer similar actors at all. Trump has taken this to an extreme, and journalists have not adjusted.

Campaign coverage is a contraption that only works if the candidates behave in certain expected ways. Up to now, they always did. But Trump violates many of these expectations. ... Imagine a candidate who wants to increase public confusion about where he stands on things so that voters give up on trying to stay informed and instead vote with raw emotion. Under those conditions, does asking “Where do you stand, sir?” serve the goals of journalism, or does it enlist the interviewer in the candidate’s chaotic plan? ... The premise is that a presidential campaign wants to put out a consistent message to avoid confusing people, and to deny journalists a “gotcha” moment. What if that premise is false? The rationale for interviewing the campaign manager, the running mate, or some other surrogate collapses. They say one thing, the candidate says something else and the confusion is not considered a problem. It may even be a plus.

In an some other version of the United States, an election would be a time to have discussions about really important issues. Lester Holt tried to raise one in the first debate: Should the United States have a no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons?

Sadly, neither candidate rose to the challenge: Clinton cautiously avoided saying either yes or no, while Trump boldly and unequivocally said both.

It's actually a good question. Most Americans probably don't realize that we don't already have a no-first-use policy. Originally, there was  a strategic reason for it: We were anticipating World War III in Europe, where the Soviet Union had an advantage in conventional forces. Since the Soviet Union was itself a European power, it could cheaply keep huge armies in a position to strike, while it was much more expensive (not to mention unpopular with the Germans) for us to keep a comparable defensive army stationed in West Germany. So if Soviet tanks started rolling west, we reserved the option of nuking them.

Russia, without its former Warsaw Pact allies and without former Soviet republics like Ukraine, isn't nearly as formidable as the USSR was. But we still might be stuck for a non-nuclear answer if Putin decided to roll over one or more of the Baltic Republics, which we are committed to defend as members of NATO. Is that why we won't renounce first use? Or does the Pentagon have some other scenario in mind?

I don't believe for a minute this will actually pan out on election day, but one recent poll shows Clinton taking the lead in Arizona.

Geez, Bob, you need to stop holding back and say what you really think.

What interests me in this video is how De Niro is doing exactly what Trump does, but doing it better. They're both 70-something guys who still know how to talk tough, but who (at this point in their lives) would probably be push-overs in any real physical confrontation. Picture the two of them joining 86-year-old Clint Eastwood in a barroom brawl. The result would play better in a slapstick comedy than in an action flick.

And Britain has a favor to ask: Could we elect Trump so that everyone forgets about their boneheaded Brexit vote?

Massachusetts is about to vote on Question 2, which would expand the number of charter schools in the state. The main argument against charters is that they drain money out of the public school system. The long-term fear is that a vicious cycle gets started, where pulling resources out of the system leads to poorer performance, which leads more families to take their kids out of the public schools, which in turn reduces state subsidies to those schools.

Last week, an editorial in The Boston Globe repeated claims made by the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation:

Examination of school funding trends in districts affected by charter school enrollments does not suggest that charter schools are over-funded, that students in district schools are suffering a loss of support, or that the per-student funding of districts is trending negatively. Rather, per-student funding has increased quite steadily across the state, and the district-charter balance has been stable.

But former state Education Secretary Paul Reville counters by pointing out that schools have many fixed costs that don't go away when a student leaves:

Mainstream public schools would argue that the marginal savings associated with losing a student are not nearly as much as the marginal costs associated with losing a student.

But even that misses the point. The most valuable thing charter schools siphon off isn't public money, it's easily teachable students. My nightmare is that the kids who can sit still and process information from a teacher standing in front of a blackboard all wind up either in charters or in voucher-funded private schools. Meanwhile, the public schools are left to handle all the special needs kids, all the kids with undiagnosed vision and hearing problems, all the kids who bring their home problems to school and act out, etc. And when it costs more money per student to operate that public school, we'll be told some nonsense about the efficiency of the private sector.

There's a parallel to the healthcare system, particularly as it operated before the Affordable Care Act stopped insurance companies from rejecting sick people. Sometimes the way to make money isn't to offer better service, it's to make sure you only get the customers who don't need service.

One bit of tax law that's unpopular on the right, is the "Johnson amendment" from 1954, saying that churches can't endorse candidates. The Republican platform calls for repealing it, a promise Donald Trump often makes to evangelical audiences, saying the repeal would "give churches their voice back". Right-wing web sites call the Johnson amendment a "Christian gag rule".

If you aren't familiar with the details, that can sound convincing. I mean, religious convictions often go hand-in-hand with political stances, so why shouldn't a pastor be able to speak his mind from the pulpit without worrying about his church losing its tax-exempt status? (In fact, many pastors do, and get away with it, because the rule is only enforced in egregious cases. Like when a church “placed full-page advertisements in two newspapers in which it urged Christians not to vote for then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton because of his positions on certain moral issues.”)

But the point of the Johnson Amendment is simple: Contributions to churches are tax-deductible, but contributions to political campaigns or PACs aren't. So without some kind of restriction on church activity, churches could become money-laundering schemes: You give tax-deductible contributions to a church with the understanding that it will spend that money campaigning for your candidate. I have yet to hear any repeal-the-Johnson-amendment argument that addresses this problem.

but we should be paying more attention to Columbia

Last week I forgave Gary Johnson's ignorance by citing the general decline in Americans' awareness of other countries, and blamed a generational shift in news coverage. So let's talk about what's going on in Columbia, which produces the bulk of the cocaine Americans abuse.

One thing that makes the whole coca-growing enterprise harder to control is that Columbia has been fighting a civil war for half a century. Picture that: Our Civil War lasted only four years. If it had gone on as long as Columbia's, we'd have been fighting until just before World War I. The BBC estimates that 260,000 people have been killed, and another six million driven from their homes. The whole country has less than 50 million people.

The government negotiated a peace deal with the guerillas (FARC, which translates to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia), which was announced at the end of August and signed with much ceremony on September 26. But in a Brexit-like reversal of government policy, the Columbian voters rejected the deal in a referendum on October 2. The vote was close: 50.2%-49.8%, to the great surprise of pollsters, many of whom had the referendum passing with over 60% of the vote.

FARC has a Marxist orientation, and claims to represent the interests of the rural poor against the landed gentry and the urban elite. The areas it controls are prime coca-growing territory, and it funds itself via the drug trade. (So if you think about it, the U.S. has been bankrolling both sides. Our tax dollars aid the government, while our drug spending keeps the opposition going.)

Vox has a good article summing up the situation, quoting extensively from the BBC about what's in the peace agreement. The agreement sounds like a model of reasonability: FARC gives its weapons to the UN and becomes a political party guaranteed ten seats in Congress. (I'm not sure how this splits between houses. There are 166 in the lower house and 102 in the upper.). Its fighters apologize to their victims and won't be prosecuted for the war-related crimes they confess to. (Though "crimes against humanity" don't get this amnesty.) They get temporary financial aid to re-integrate into society.

Opponents of the agreement think that lets FARC off too easy. (One woman said: “How is it justice if I, who committed no crime, was ‘imprisoned’ in a rebel camp for four months, and these criminals get off without going to jail?” While understandable from a personal point of view, this feeling is why conflicts like this drag on decade after decade: By the time one generation gets "justice" for the wrongs committed against it, a whole new set of wrongs have been committed by both sides.) Some also don't trust FARC to disarm, while others fear having another left-wing party in Congress.

Ironically, the voters' rejection didn't prevent Columbian President Juan Santos from receiving the Nobel Peace Prize Friday. Whether he'll be able to salvage an actual peace, though, is still uncertain.

and Israel

The Obama administration is objecting to the announcement of a new Israeli settlement in the occupied territories. CNN summarizes.

and let's close with something adorable

We could teach our children violence, or maybe we could just teach them to dance. The Irish magazine Galway Now posted this viral video.