Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday night cheap shot

Snarkists everywhere say, "Yes! Yes!"
Just couldn't resist sharing—famed celebrity fiction writer Edward Klein, writing in conservative fanzine New York Post, has been hearing voices, sorry rumors, that the Mittster is tanned and rested (he was always those) and ready too, having suddenly mastered all those pesky issues after eight years of not quite getting there:
“The smart folks in the party are not committed to any presidential candidate this early,” said Scott Reed, the senior political strategist for the US Chamber of Commerce, the powerful business lobby that has scored a string of establishment victories over Tea Party candidates in this year’s Republican primaries. “But Romney can’t be dismissed as the guy who lost last time.
“You watch him on TV these days, and he’s a new guy with total command of the issues and a real presence,” Reed added. “He could throw an organization together and get the money.”
Hey, I didn't know Mormons believed in the Real Presence.

One anonymous "wealthy New York–based Republican" told Klein,
“Most of the people I talk to who are involved in Republican politics as donors want a winner.”
And you know how to recognize a winner, right?

It's easy! Just watch Fox.
Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Tan of the Hour

The big takeaway for me of last week's tan suit imbroglio was the light it threw on President Obama's war aims, not in the Middle East, but inside the White House. The Anonymous Sources were so startled that they stumbled into a kind of honesty, as reported in The Daily Beast:
Those inside the administration advocating for going after ISIS in both Iraq and Syria were sorely disappointed – and lamented their boss's lack of urgency in rooting out a threat that only days before was being described in near-apocalyptic terms....
The meeting was the culmination of an intense week-long process that included series of lower level meetings and at last one Principals’ Committee that officials described as an effort to convince Obama to expand his air war against ISIS in Iraq to Syria as well. But before the meeting even started, the president seemed to have made up his mind.
Every time the Anonymi tell us that the president wants to bomb Syria, we should recall how they told us he wanted to bomb it before, or bomb Iran, or gut Social Security to balance the budget, or keep gay soldiers closeted, or name Larry Summers to the Fed chair, and understand that the operative issue for the leakers is not whether the news is true—sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't—but whether it suits their agenda.

To judge whether it's true or not, the best criterion is to look not at the relative seniority of those Senior Officials who are "unnamed because they were not authorized to speak" but at Obama's own words, even if they're as vague as Eisenhower. In the case of Syria, they're not vague at all, falling under the rubric of the "Don't do stupid shit" doctrine: Obama has always been against bombing Syria, no matter what the Anonymi say, not because he's a hippie (alas!), or out of some grand global design we can't see, but because to do so would be stupid.

Hence, no. We are not going to mount air attacks directly against the "Islamic State", only indirectly in defense of some sympathetic minority (Kurds, Yazidis, Christian Arabs, most recently Turkmen). "We" may not have a strategy, but the president does, and it actually is sort of grand: to make a stand in favor of pluralism, and to hold the stupid shit in reserve as a deterrent (hopefully, like nuclear weapons, unused).

He can't always get his way; the pro–stupid shit faction in the cabinet (led by Samantha Power?) is strong, with many allies domestically (including lots of Republicans) and internationally. And to be fair, their desire (as represented by Power) to stop horrific violence is after all commendable—the problem is that stupid shit doesn't stop horrific violence but adds to it.

The president isn't a dictator even in cabinet meetings—he's a nervous committee chairman with a lot of interests to satisfy. But he has really done a great deal to prevent US forces from doing stupid shit in Syria and Iraq (to say nothing of Ukraine), if not so much in Pakistan and Yemen (the rogue CIA runs US operations in Pakistan, and I believe pretty much in Yemen as well).

And Firebaggers, please: when Obama lends his name to a half-terrible project don't leap to assume that the Anonymi are right and he "wants" to bomb Iran or whatever it may be.

I like to think of Obama's friend and mentor Edward Kennedy, working out a way during the Bush administration to do something about inequities and inadequacies in education funding by funneling money to state school systems and ending up with the No Child Left Behind Act, in which the forces of good got the money and the forces of evil got the punishment of teachers.

Do we say our beloved Teddy "wanted" to impose crazy testing regimes and bust teachers' unions and conspired with Bush to achieve these wicked ends? We do not. We may say he made a mistake—I do, I think the deal he got was not a good one, and has had a really bad echo in the Obama Education Department and its "Race to the Top"—but that doesn't make him a bad person, just an imperfect one, which we kind of knew already. I wish we could give Obama the same kind of break, or better; given that he usually manages to stop those bad deals from going through.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The river, the bike path, the nation, and the dead piano on the beach – an essay about a bad omen

Found on the bank of the East River, in lower Manhattan, at low tide.
The East River isn’t really a river. It’s a natural salt water canal between Long Island and the Island of Manhattan, fed by tidal movements from both its north and south ends. The river sometimes flows north to south, sometimes south to north, and, oddly, sometimes in both directions at once, with the direction of shore currents contradicting currents in the center of the river.

There’s a bicycle path along some of that River in New York. It starts a few blocks away from my home and ends near Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan. It’s not much of a ride for serious cyclists – a bit short of ten miles to the end and back  – but that’s enough during the summer, when days are long and warm, for an old man fogey me to burn off some tension at the end of the work day and get my heart re-started before dinner.

When the tide recedes, the river reveals a few feet of sandy beach in lower Manhattan, along with whatever jetsam the tide has dragged in, or passers-by have thrown in. About six weeks ago I noticed something that out of the ordinary. Sometimes it’s plainly there. Other times, when the tide is very high, it vanishes for a while under the water.

Yeah, that’s it in the picture. A dead piano. Its legs are gone. Some of its keys are gone. Much of its sounding board is gone. Its strings are gone. I’m sure barnacles and sea worms are gnawing at its wooden belly. But part of the sounding board, and just about all of its pins, and its case minus the lid are still there. Even so, the only sound coming from the piano is the shushing of waves picking their way among the remaining pieces.

I don’t know how the dead piano got there, unless somebody dropped it off the Brooklyn Bridge, which is nearly overhead. Or unless someone threw it off a boat at high tide. Nor do I know what music the piano once played. Did it accompany a symphony orchestra? Did little girls in linen dresses sit in a parlor a century ago, practicing playing scales on it? Did a dilettante pick out popular tunes of the day on it? Was it a talented jazz musician’s piano? Did it accompany a violinist or a vocalist? Was it used, once upon a time, to play ragtime tunes in a whorehouse?

What’s with the usual color of the paint on its case? Why were its legs amputated, like a diabetic’s near the end of his life?  And most of all, why would some vandal  want to take a valuable instrument, a thing beautiful to the eye and capable of delighting the ear, and toss it in a river as if it were a Styrofoam cup or a worn out tire?

Forgive me now while I leap aboard a metaphor. I admit, it’s a complex and perhaps gravely shaky metaphor. It could crash and kill the essay. All the same, I’ll try to ride it. 

We – you, and I, and also greedy business owners, and judges, and lobbyists, and politicians, and public affairs strategists, and inert or brain dead voters, and lazy administrators and terrified employees and civil servants – we are allowing the United States to become a dead piano. 
We had a functioning, prosperous democracy here for a couple of centuries. It had its ups and downs,. It had grave faults. It often played discordant notes. But was also capable of great societal harmony, and  over time its performances were slowly but increasingly in tune with human decency and the pursuit of happiness. 

At home, each generation would do better economically than its predecessors. Each was a generation of pioneers – not only in terms of exploring territory, but in terms of exploring knowledge. Life expectancies were extended. “Impossible” marvels were achieved, from building bridges with foundations in the deep and swiftly-moving rivers of Manhattan, to putting people on the moon. The nation’s educational level rose. Colleges and universities sprouted across the nation. College, for a while, became not an impossible dream but a commonplace achievement for the many. A simple working family, possibly for the first time in history, could live comfortably, eat well, own its own home, and possess a few of the luxuries of life. The nation invented new art forms, from the Broadway musical to the cinema. And I’m only scratching at the surface of American achievement.

True, in  some matters of social justice, most notably racial justice, we lagged seriously. Nevertheless, we eliminated, slavery. We eliminated, at least for a while, Jim Crow laws like those that imposed a poll tax on voters and that segregated accommodations and schools. 

For a while.

And then the vandals began to mass against us. For some reason, they didn’t like the music of a high-achieving Democratic republic. They began changing the tune. 

Prosperity? The vandals decided that the wrong people had it. The most prosperous people could never get enough of wealth – so our nation, in defiance of logic and justice and simple decency, began to give it all to them.

Science? Medicine? The arts? Even critical infrastructure? They cost money. We put a lid on them.

The vandals are on the march. They control the Supreme Court. They completely control one house of Congress and have rendered the second house inharmonious and nearly dysfunctional. The vandals infest our state capitals. Their mission is not to create but to destroy. Destroy health care. Destroy public education. Destroy justice. Destroy social equity. Destroy the environment. Destroy even the smooth functioning of government. 

The vandals, the barbarians, the thugs are sawing off the legs of the piano with their power saws. And once the legs are off off, they want to throw the legless body off  the boat or the bridge. And far too many of us either accept this passively, or cheer them on.

How much longer before America itself becomes another dead piano on the beach?                       

Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I won’t live to see it. Things like the condition of America make me glad to be an old man.

Cross-posted at The New York Crank

Progressive capital of the lolwut?

All of a sudden young Andrew Cuomo has decided he wants my vote. Two mailers yesterday, and a phone call, where I'm afraid I got a little sputtery with what I'm sure was a very nice young volunteer (well, at least nice and young; I'll bet she was paid). One of the mailers said
Governor Cuomo helped New York reclaim its place as the progressive capital of the country

Well, last time he wanted my vote there wasn't even an election going on, in January 2013, when he delivered his third State of the State message, and announced his plans for a bunch of progressive initiatives. How's he doing on that list, by the way?

1. Called for a minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $8.75. Settled for $8 even. Less than California ($9), Connecticut ($8.70), D.C. ($9.50), Illinois ($8.25), New Jersey ($8.25), Oregon ($9.25), Vermont ($8.73), Washington ($9.32).

2. Called for public financing of elections. Settled for a ridiculous program to finance the election of the state comptroller, which died on the vine when the incumbent comptroller, Thomas Di Napoli, the author of the original plan for an experiment along these lines, decided it was
a badly written, sloppy piece of legislation that was obviously rushed into effect — “a Frankenstein monster,” he calls it — and he fears that it may actually have been designed to fail, by lawmakers who either do not really believe in, or do not understand, public campaign financing at all
and turned the money down. Leaving New York behind Arizona and Maine, although if those states are the gold standard in this area maybe we need to start over anyway, and Connecticut and D.C., which are a little more encouraging.

3. Called for a 10-point women's rights program including strengthened abortion rights and equal pay legislation, but that fell apart in June 2013 in a State Senate controlled, with Cuomo's bizarre assistance, by a Republican minority and a group of Democratic turncoats. This situation is now coming to an end through the efforts not of the governor, but the mayor of New York City. New York did come in second, behind Vermont, in a ranking of states by Women's Economic Opportunity index, and fifth, behind D.C., Maryland, Nevada, and Vermont, in wage gap against men in 2012, but Cuomo's initiative couldn't have had much to do with that, since it failed.

4. Called for tougher greenhouse gas standards. Hasn't seemed prepared, however, to go beyond the legislation that was already in place in 2011 and the Energy Plan developed under Governor Patterson in 2009 (though, to be fair, that's pretty good by US standards; in 2010 New York ranked third out of 50 states in greenhouse gas reduction in a ranking produced by the Climate Action Reserve). A draft new plan issued in January was criticized by environmental groups for failure to press for renewable energy sources and failure to tackle greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide (especially methane). It also somehow doesn't mention hydro fracking, on which there is an uncomfortable moratorium, at all, but some experts think it's part of the plan, which calls for the state to produce natural gas in amounts that would hardly be possible unless fracking was allowed.

In April a pretty exciting solar energy initiative was announced, though, to build 3,000 megawatts of solar capacity (with 1,300 jobs) by 2023, a development whose carbon savings will be the equivalent of taking 450,000 cars off the road, which looks like an unambiguously good thing.

Moreover, he's worked hard and successfully for marriage equality and what seems to be a really good gun law, both of which were not at all easy for upstate Democrats in the Assembly and Senate to vote for, and Cuomo deserves a lot of praise for getting them to do it. He's really not, as I may have seemed to suggest, Chris Christie. (New York ranks fourth, behind California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, on the Brady Index for strictness of gun laws.)

But his hostility to taxes and unions is really a problem, his views on education are retrograde, and his identification with those Hedge Fund Democrats (who actually turned Republican in a big way in 2010 and 2012, but may be contemplating a return) is really not what the party needs. As the Times wrote a couple of days ago in declining to make an endorsement in the gubernatorial primary,
 His first budget cut education by $1.5 billion, and later ones failed to give the schools what they needed. Though he pleaded poverty, he imposed an unnecessary property tax cap and refused to extend a tax surcharge on the state’s wealthiest. In January, he proposed yet another damaging tax cut, one that would largely benefit the wealthy and threaten more state services. He highhandedly dismissed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for a city tax on the wealthy to pay for universal prekindergarten, instead substituting a pre-K plan with far less guaranteed financing.
(Yesterday the Times did endorse Zephyr Teachout's running mate, Timothy Wu, in the lieutenant governor race, against Cuomo's ghastly anti-Obamacare, anti-immigrant, anti-environment choice Kathy Hochul.)

And there's the issue of corruption, which to me is a central piece of the progressive agenda, since it is through corruption that abusive employers and polluting industries get their way. The last straw for many with Andrew Cuomo was his shutting down of his own Moreland commission in the middle of its term, apparently because he hadn't been able to tell it not to investigate groups to which he had political ties, in which he may have put at least a toe over the line into the realm of criminality.

So no, it's not the progressive capital yet.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I thought I'd manage to get in another post today, but it didn't work out. I'll be away through Sunday, but there should be some posts from the usual gang, so drop by.

This post is likely to draw a lot of comments containing the word "Eeyore," but I'm not trying to be gloomy -- I'm just seeing a government shutdown on the horizon, with Democrats and most political insiders assuming that a shutdown would be an electoral millstone around the GOP's neck, and I'm wondering whether it's possible that the result could be different this time. Is it conceivable that we're misreading the pattern of past shutdowns?

The last shutdown centered on a Republican demand that President Obama agree to gut his own healthcare law. This one, if it happens, is likely to focus on executive action on immigration by the president -- action he's already taken to defer deportations for DREAMers, as well as action he seems about to take.

That's what's got me wondering. Last time, Republicans wanted to prevent implementation of a law enacted through the normal legislative process. It was hard for them to argue (as they tried to) that the president and congressional Democrats were the ones responsible for the shutdown -- especially when Ted Cruz had made himself the very public face of the shutdown (just as the public face of the 1995-96 shutdown was another Republican bomb-thrower, Newt Gingrich).

What if, this time, the public sees the president as the person instigating the shutdown fight? Last time, he was defending a conventionally passed law, and the Republicans' best argument for trying to shut down the government to prevent that law's implementation was "We don't like it." This time, the president will be defending executive actions -- and while the elite media will find highly respected professors ready to argue that the president has broad constitutional latitude on implementation of immigration laws, the right-wing media will flood the zone with self-righteous self-designated Constitution defenders claiming that the White House is trampling on our system of government with Hitler's jackboots. This will coincide with reports in the non-right-wing press of Democrats making political hay from Republican shutdown threats. (That's already happening.)

Is that going to be enough to make the public see Obama as the face of a shutdown battle, because he's seen as the one who's not playing well with others?

I don't know. I suppose it depends on how reasonable Obama and the Democrats seem after crazy-eyed zealots like Ted Cruz and Steve King begin clamoring for a shutdown. At that point, the Republicans may seem so loony and so determined to pick a fight that the public won't care whether there's a debate about what the president did or how he did it.

But to me it seems possible that this shutdown could be different from earlier shutdowns, with Democrats getting the greater share of blame. I just don't know.

When I saw the headline of this Politico story, I was ready to be excited:
Exclusive: GOP poll of women: Party 'stuck in past'

A detailed report commissioned by two major Republican groups -- including one backed by Karl Rove -- paints a dismal picture for Republicans, concluding female voters view the party as "intolerant," "lacking in compassion" and "stuck in the past."

Women are "barely receptive" to Republicans' policies, and the party does "especially poorly" with women in the Northeast and Midwest, according to an internal Crossroads GPS and American Action Network report obtained by POLITICO....
Wow! This really could be a death knell for the GOP!

Except that I scrolled down a few more paragraphs and saw this:
The report ... says 49 percent of women view Republicans unfavorably, while just 39 percent view Democrats unfavorably.
Really? That's the gap that supposed to make me think the GOP is doomed? And there's also this:
One bright spot is among married women. Married women without a college degree view Republicans favorably, the polling shows. Married women prefer a Republican over a Democrat, 48 percent to 38 percent.
What's going on here? It seems obvious. The GOP can be divided into to groups: people -- Karl Rove, for instance -- who think the party needs to tack somewhat leftward on one or two issues in order to be as successful in presidential races as it is in House, Senate, and state and local elections, and people who believe that the presidency can be won by a True Conservative or (because they're elected officials from the House, Senate, or a state or local government, or affiliated with such officials) just don't care all that much about winning the presidency because theirpositions are secure, and because they know how much power the GOP already has without the presidency.

People in the latter group already understood that the GOP's situation isn't particularly dire -- you can point to all sorts of bad polls for Republicans, but Republicans are almost certain to have a very good Election Day this November, so why should they fix what's not broken? Republicans will do well because Democratic voter groups -- single women, young people, non-whites -- are outvoted in non-presidential elections by Republican voter groups. Where's the problem?

And even if Rove and his pals persuade the party to inch leftward on an issue or two, consider how little the "reformers" are recommending:
The groups suggest a three-pronged approach to turning around their relationship with women. First, they suggest the GOP "neutralize the Democrats'" attack that Republicans don't support fairness for women. They suggest Republican lawmakers criticize Democrats for "growing government programs that encourage dependency rather than opportunities to get ahead." That message tested better than explaining that the GOP supports a number of policies that could help fairness for women.
In other words, maintain the status quo while demagoguing Democrats.
Second, the groups suggest Republicans "deal honestly with any disagreement on abortion, then move to other issues."
In other words, maintain the status quo while hastily changing the subject.
And third, "pursue policy innovations that inspire women voters to give the GOP a 'fresh look.'" The report suggests lawmakers and candidates inject "unexpected" GOP policy proposals into the debate as a way to sway female voters. Suggestions include ways to improve job-training programs, "strengthening enforcement against gender bias in the workplace" and "expanding home health care services by allowing more health care professionals to be paid by Medicare for home health services."
Well, those would be improvements over current Republican policies, though they don't add up to much. They would be to the future GOP what No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription drug benefit were to the Bush/Rove GOP -- bones thrown to moderates while the main economic thrust of the party's domestic policies was enriching the rich.

And what's the likelihood that the party would embrace these reforms anyway? The unfavorability gap is only 10 points. Republicans handily win plenty of elections. I doubt they'll do anything until Democrats deal them a thumping in a non-presidential year, or a Goldwater-in-'64 blowout in a presidential year. So vote, dammit.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Greetings, Charlie Pierce readers. My post on Douglas McAuthur McCain is here.

You've probably heard that sex/dating chat tape that's said to have the Michael Brown shooting in the background. I learn from Noah Rothman, who's now over at Hot Air, that a couple of guys invited on to CNN to discuss the tape don't believe it's real:
On Wednesday morning, CNN's Michaela Pereira invited two former law enforcement officials on the program to discuss the authenticity of the tape.

"I've told your producers that for all I know this is one of Howard Stern’s punk people," former LAPD officer David Klinger said. "It came out, what, two weeks after the event, and so I don't have a high degree of confidence in it."

"But, it could be real," he added without much enthusiasm.

Klinger noted that his first inclination is "someone is trying to punk CNN."

CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes seemed to share Klinger's opinion.... Pereira said.

"When I heard this yesterday, I thought the exact same thing: it's a hoax," Fuentes added.

Am I 100% certain that the tape is real? No -- but I'm 99.99% certain that it's not from anyone connected to Howard Stern's show, or from a listener trying to join the ranks of Stern's fans-turned-pranksters. I say this for a simple reason: If anyone in the Sterniverse had done this, it would have been done in such a way that the first time the tape aired, the prankster would get on the air and conclude the segment with "Baba Booey!" or some other Stern catchphrase. Letting a hoax linger for days suggests a level of patience and restraint no one in Stern World would ever demonstrate. The point would be to reveal the hoax (and thus the mighty media-disrupting power of Sternism) immediately.

What's more, the talk over the tape -- embarrassing as it is -- would be more embarrassing (and would probably be a lot dirtier). Also, there'd probably be a painfully racist attempt to do a stereotypical "black accent."

I suppose it's possible that the tape was pieced together (by a hoaxer who doesn't want to get caught) from a real love chat plus a tape of gunfire. I could imagine a fabricator creating something like that to milk this story for fifteen minutes of fame. But I don't think it was created out of whole cloth -- the words on the tape just don't seem like words you'd write if you were making a fake tape like this from scratch.

I'm inclined to think it's real because it's so weird and awkward, without seeming like a fictional version of awkwardness. But I have no idea one way or another.


UPDATE: It's not a hoax or a prank.
The video texting service Glide has verified the recording played by CNN this week of the purported shots in the Ferguson, Mo., killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. In an e-mail to the Erik Wemple Blog, Glide head of communications Chaim Haas reports:
Because Glide is the only messaging application using streaming video technology, each message is simultaneously recorded and transmitted, so the exact time can be verified to the second. In this case, the video in question was created at 12:02:14 PM CDT on Saturday, August 9th.


In the past few months, we've witnessed the rise of ISIS -- and you know what that means: It means it's time for American conservatives to begin policing the language of non-conservatives. Take it away, Jonah Goldberg:
... sanitizing the language only works so long as people aren’t paying too much attention. That's why the Islamic State is so inconvenient to those who hate the word "evil." Last week, after the group released a video showing American journalist James Foley getting his head cut off, the administration’s rhetoric changed dramatically. The president called the Islamic State a "cancer" that had to be eradicated. Secretary of State John Kerry referred to it as the "face of ... evil."

Although most people across the ideological spectrum see no problem with calling the Islamic State evil, the change in rhetoric elicited a predictable knee-jerk response. Political scientist Michael Boyle hears an "eerie echo" of Bush's "evildoers" talk. "Indeed," he wrote in the New York Times, "condemning the black-clad, masked militants as purely 'evil' is seductive, for it conveys a moral clarity and separates ourselves and our tactics from the enemy and theirs."

James Dawes, the director of the Program in Human Rights and Humanitarianism at Macalester College, agreed in a piece for Using the word "evil," he wrote, "stops us from thinking."

No, it doesn't. But perhaps a reflexive and dogmatic fear of the word "evil" hinders thinking?
Yes, folks, it's just like the Bush years all over again: We're going to fall under the tyrannical yoke of murderous jihadists because two college professors questioned the use of one word to describe those jihadists.

Does Boyle think the moral status of ISIS is ambiguous? Here, let me give you that Boyle quote in context:
There is no question that ISIS has committed thousands of grave human rights violations against civilians in Iraq and Syria, and that many of its most gruesome acts, like the execution of Mr. Foley, constitute war crimes. Anyone with a conscience is disgusted by their brutality toward not just Mr. Foley but the thousands of Iraqi and Syrian civilians whom they have killed, raped and even buried alive.

It is natural to want to condemn this organization and to do so in harsh language that fully expresses our revulsion over its tactics. Indeed, condemning the black-clad, masked militants as purely "evil" is seductive, for it conveys a moral clarity and separates ourselves and our tactics from the enemy and theirs.
But if the "war on terror" has taught us anything, it is that such moralistic language can blind its users to consequences. Describing a group as "inexplicable" and "nihilistic," as Mr. Kerry did, tends to obscure the group's strategic aims and preclude further analysis. Resorting to ritualized rhetoric can be a very costly mistake if it leads one to misunderstand an enemy and to take actions that inadvertently help its cause.
And Dawes actually uses the word "evil" to describe ISIS, though he makes the same point as Boyle:
Is ISIS evil?

The problem with that question is that the answer is as easy as it is useless. Yes, ISIS is evil and must be stopped. Saying so over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
Boyle elaborates:
How is ISIS able to achieve the support it needs? What drives people into its ranks? What social pressures and needs, what political and regional vacuums, make it possible for a group like this to thrive? We can choose to answer these questions in two ways.

We can say they are evil people doing evil things for evil ends. Or we can do the hard work of understanding the context that made them, so that we can create a context that unmakes them.

We can analyze the ways its violent tactics are effective for its purposes given the local power dynamics, so that we can also better understand its weak spots. And we can ask how it is that normal men -- men who were not born evil -- get turned into monsters, so that we can work to change the structures that produce terrorists over the long term instead of locking ourselves into an endlessly repeated, short-term policy of "killing fanatics" until they are gone.
Right -- Boyle and Dawes urge us to avoid simple words like "evil" so we can think clearly about what makes ISIS effective in order to develop tactics to stop the group's spread, and to prevent the rise of similar groups.

Goldberg sneers at all this:
For instance, Boyle suggests that because the Islamic State controls lots of territory and is "administering social services," it "operates less like a revolutionary terrorist movement that wants to overturn the entire political order in the Middle East than a successful insurgent group that wants a seat at that table."

Behold the clarity of thought that comes with jettisoning moralistic language! Never mind that the Islamic State says it seeks a global caliphate with its flag over the White House. Who cares that it is administering social services? Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot did, too. That’s what revolutionary groups do when they grab enough territory.
Right -- and Boyle's point is that we're talking about ISIS as if it's "Al Qaeda 2.0" when, in fact, Al Qaeda was never effective at seizing territory. So let's not lose sight of the difference, Boyle says. Let's figure out why ISIS is effective at this where Al Qaeda wasn't.

Look, I found the use of the words "evil" and "evildoers" in the Bush years simple-minded -- Goldberg acknowledges that he did, too (which is not going to stop him from policing other people's distaste). But I'm not sure the public use of such words necessarily precludes careful thought leading to effective action (though careful thought leading to effective action wasn't exactly a Bush administration strong suit).

But Goldberg implies that we'll never fight ISIS effectively unless we're willing to say EVIL EVIL EVIL. I suppose you could argue that the professors are trying to police language one way and Goldberg's trying to police it the other way, the result being a wash -- except that Goldberg's harrumphing almost certainly foretells a lot more word-policing from the entire American right wing. Remember, when wingers can't find an elected official who's doing something they can condemn, they search high and low for a Hollywood star or academic who violates their strictures, and then the Two Minutes' Hate begins. So brace yourself.

Everyone's freaking out about the fact that an American named Douglas McAuthur McCain died fighting for ISIS in Syria, but this (from Michael Schmidt's story in The New York Times) makes perfect sense to me:
Mr. McCain's death ... is a sign that ISIS, at least in this case, is willing to use Americans on the battlefield in the Middle East rather than sending them back to the United States to launch attacks, as Western officials have feared.

"His death is further evidence that Americans are going there to fight for ISIS rather than to train as terrorists to attack at home," said Richard Barrett, a former British intelligence officer who is now a vice president at the Soufan Group, security consultants in New York. "Nor does it appear that ISIS regards Americans as assets that are too valuable to risk on the front line rather than to keep in reserve for terrorist attacks or propaganda purposes."
Our fear merchants always flip out imagining that Americans will learn terrorist skills overseas and then return to the U.S. to put what they've learned into practice. But why is that the ultimate fear? The people who've actually launched successful stateside terrorist attacks since 9/11 -- the Tsarnaevs, Major Hasan at Fort Hood -- were longtime U.S. residents with no battlefield experience who got the majority of their inspiration by going online right here in America. And the alleged threat that has Senator Inhofe's hair on fire -- that ISIS is "rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city" -- has nothing to do with combat skills or overseas experience. I think the special fear that we'll face combat-hardened returnees on U.S. soil comes from war movies, post-apocalypse video games -- and, maybe, the crypto-rape mental narratives that lead gun-rights activists and anti-immigrant zealots to imagine "urban thugs" and child immigrants invading the Real America in marauding waves.

Obviously, we need to make sure the choke points are working -- Schmidt, in the Times, says the government knew about McCain and would have prevented him from returning:
The federal authorities learned only after he arrived in the country that Mr. McCain had traveled to Syria, according to senior American officials. In response, the American authorities included him on a watch list of potential terrorism suspects maintained by the federal government. Had Mr. McCain tried to re-enter the country, he would have almost certainly faced an extra level of scrutiny before boarding any commercial airliner bound for the United States, the officials said.
Well, I hope so. But I'm not going to believe that ISIS in on the verge of sending a battalion to America just because ISIS wants me to believe that. I'm reminded of this from Jon Lee Anderson's recent New Yorker piece about the killing of James Foley:
Last week, I met with Faisal Ali Waraabe, a politician in the Justice and Welfare Party, from Somaliland. He is a candidate in next year's Presidential elections.... Last year, he lost his twenty-two-year-old son Sayid, who was born and raised in Finland, to the dark enticements of ISIS. His son had also persuaded his young, new wife to join him, and the two now live, according to his father, near the town of Raqqa, ISIS's main urban stronghold in Syria. Faisal showed me a recent video of his son, posted on an ISIS Web site, on his smartphone; it shows a black-turbaned young man mounted on a horse, talking in heavily accented Finnish, and smiling into the camera. Calling himself Abu Shuaib al Somali, Sayid says, "The rule of Sharia will even come to Finland, and if you get called then, alhamdulillah, you'll enter Jannah" -- paradise -- "inshallah and Allah will take care of the ones you've left behind."
With fierce fighting still going on in ISIS's sphere of influence, how likely do you think it is that ISIS will launch an assault on Finland? How likely is it that ISIS believes the road to the global caliphate runs through Helsinki? And if a terrorist attack on Finland is planned, why telegraph it, alerting Finnish and global authorities to the identity of this Finnish national? Sorry, this is just a recruitment tactic built on trash talk. ISIS has its hands full. It's using foreign fighters to fight for the territory it's fighting in now. Be wary, but don't assume the ISIS hordes are coming soon just because they're boasting.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Events in Ferguson, Missouri, have persuaded reform conservative Reihan Salam that Democrats might start losing a significant chunk of the black vote soon. I'm not saying that can't happen. However, it's extremely hard to imagine that it's going to happen in the bizarre Rube Goldberg sequence Salam outlines.

What got Salam thinking about this was Al Sharpton's eulogy for Mike Brown:
Byron York, columnist for the Washington Examiner, has just written a dispatch from Michael Brown's funeral, where the erstwhile presidential candidate, activist, and television news personality Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy. In classic form, Sharpton started off his eulogy by condemning "the police, the government, and the American system, concluding that they all combined to end a promising 18-year-old life." Yet Sharpton then addressed a different set of concerns:
After a demand for broad reforms in American policing, Sharpton changed course to address his black listeners directly. "We've got to be straight up in our community, too," he said. "We have to be outraged at a 9-year-old girl killed in Chicago. We have got to be outraged by our disrespect for each other, our disregard for each other, our killing and shooting and running around gun-toting each other, so that they’re justified in trying to come at us because some of us act like the definition of blackness is how low you can go."

"Blackness has never been about being a gangster or a thug," Sharpton continued. "Blackness was, no matter how low we was pushed down, we rose up anyhow."
Sharpton went on in this vein and, York tells us,
The cameras cut to director Spike Lee, on his feet applauding enthusiastically. So were Martin Luther King III, radio host Tom Joyner, and, judging by video coverage, pretty much everyone else in the church. They kept applauding when Sharpton accused some blacks of having "ghetto pity parties." And they applauded more when Sharpton finally declared: "We've got to clean up our community so we can clean up the United States of America!"
So what does this have to do with Democrats losing the black vote? Let Salam explain:
Not every observer was pleased by Sharpton's address, of course. Some were appalled by the implication that Brown's funeral should prompt a discussion of black personal responsibility, as York reports.
Salam quotes a New Republic piece by Julia Ioffe about respectability politics in the black community; we're told Ioffe is not a fan of the self-criticism.

Yes, but what does this have to do with Democrats losing the black vote? Relax, I'm getting there.

You see, according to Salam, angry progressives really might push the Democrats to the left on this issue, flipping the bird to everyone who might have applauded Sharpton's words:
... I don't doubt that many younger liberals, including many younger African-American liberals, feel as [Ioffe] does. One wonders if Al Sharpton has lost the plot in his old age, and if other voices, who forcefully reject the politics of respectability, will soon come to the fore.

Josh Barro, writing for The Upshot, raises the intriguing possibility that at some point, a Democratic political entrepreneur will run a national campaign that "gives[s] voice to the anger we're seeing in Ferguson."
And this, says Salam, is going to send a lot of black voters into the welcoming arms of the Republican Party:
I suspect that Barro is right, and that we will see a Democratic presidential campaign in the 2016 or 2020 primaries that offers a racially-infused critique of the American criminal justice system....

Note, however, that not all African Americans will welcome this critique. Indeed, there may well be overlap between those who embrace the politics of respectability and those who are wary of an overtly racialized conversation about criminal justice reform. The now-famous Pew survey which found "stark racial divisions” [ in reaction to Michael Brown's death reveals ... that 18 percent of blacks agree with 47 percent of whites that "race is getting more attention than it deserves"....

It is important not to extrapolate wildly from the existence of this contrarian slice of the African-American population. But one wonders if these voters might at some point be open to voting for a Republican Party that talks about criminal justice system more sensitively and intelligently without fully embracing a racialized critique and, most importantly, that places a much heavier emphasis on middle-class economic interests.
Let me remind you that the about-to-nominate-Hillary Democratic Party does not appear to be in danger of turning into the Malcolm X/Emoprog Party anytime soon -- or even having a prominent left-leaning candidate who would reject Sharpton's words on respectability. Let me also add that Sharpton does not appear to be yesterday's man on race for the simple reason that, while he may talk about respectability, he's also extremely forthright on the subject of police brutality and disrespect, as well as on the need for all Americans to recognize the dignity and worth of black people. That puts him far to the left of mainstream discourse on this subject.

People who are steeped in politics regularly overestimate the size and strength of the angry lefty bloc in American politics. To me, it's the Nader vote, with all that says about size and strength. It's not enough to pull the whole party leftward on race and leave Sharpton behind.

And then there's Salam's vision of a Republican Party that -- I'm trying to contain my laughter -- "talks about criminal justice system more sensitively and intelligently," and that appeals to some black voters based on "a much heavier emphasis on middle-class economic interests." I'm sorry -- apart from a few wonks (like Salam himself) and a few 2016 wannabes looking for photo ops and good press, the GOP is a collection of politicians who unashamedly describe the country in terms of Us and Them, "knockout game"-playing "thugs" as opposed to decent citizens, "makers" as opposed to "takers," people worthy to vote as opposed to people whose voting rights need to be curtailed, people who deserve tax cuts (the rich) allegedly besieged by people who deserve the back of the government's hand (everyone else).

And if George McEmoprog somehow becomes a serious Democratic presidential candidate in the near future on an "Off the Pigs" platform, does Salam seriously think the GOP is going to decrease its racial scaremongering? Please. So this is a ridiculous scenario.

One final post on this subject and I'm done.

You may have seen this piece by Vox's German Lopez, which quotes several tweets from Demos researcher Sean McElwee purporting to show that The New York Times, over the years, has written nicer things about mass murderers and serial killers than about Mike Brown, the subject of a widely criticized portrait in yesterday's Times.

The tweets are quite devastating. They're also thoroughly misleading.

Here's McElwee comparing the Times coverage of Brown and John Wayne Gacy:

Yes, the Times article on Gacy contains this paragraph:
Before his arrest, most people knew Mr. Gacy as the owner of a prosperous remodeling business, a Democratic precinct captain who threw annual parties for up to 400 guests and who entertained youngsters as Pogo the Clown.
But here's the very next paragraph:
But one by one, prosecutors said later, Mr. Gacy lured young men into his modest ranch house in an unincorporated area near O'Hare International Airport. He handcuffed them, wrapped a rope around their necks and tightened it with a few turns from a wooden stick. The victims strangled themselves while struggling.
No, this wasn't a puff piece. That paragraph is much worse than anything the Times has written about Mike Brown.

Here's McElwee on a Times story about Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold:

Here's what McElwee doesn't quote from that Times story:
On Monday, they went bowling. And on Tuesday, it seems, they committed mass murder.

Nobody had taken the two youths seriously.

They wore long black coats and hung out with a clique of middle-class suburban teen-agers that called itself the trench coat mafia...

They struck sullen, brooding poses. They talked about Hitler and wore clothes with German insignia. In February they completed a "diversion program" for first-time juvenile offenders, after their arrest for breaking into a van and stealing electronic equipment, the Jefferson County District Attorney said.

The other students, who came to know Mr. Harris and Mr. Klebold from mingling in the hallways and the commons, said the two youths had wanted to portray themselves as rebels or villains. But they were mostly viewed as losers.
Again, not a sympathetic portrait.

McElwee on Timothy McVeigh:

Not quoted from that Times story:
Residents of the Canyon West Mobile Park drew a picture of an arrogant loner who worked as a security guard for a now-defunct trucking company, lived with his pregnant girlfriend, expressed deep anger against the Federal Government and often caused trouble for his neighbors.

"He drank a lot of beer and threw out the cans, and I always had to pick them up," Bob Ragin, owner of the park, was quoted as saying. He said he had frequent fights with Mr. McVeigh, who often wore Army fatigues, over such things as loud rock music coming from his trailer and a dog he kept in violation of his lease.

Another Kingman resident recalled Mr. McVeigh at a shooting range. "Quite frankly, it scared the hell out of me," Jeff Arrowood told the newspaper. He said Mr. McVeigh fired hundreds of rounds at random targets. "He pretty much went crazy, emptying on anything -- trees, rocks, anything there. He just went ballistic."
There's also this:
Federal officials say his far-right political views, his anger and his taste for weapons merged last Monday when he rented a truck in Kansas and filled it with explosives that he set off in Oklahoma City on Wednesday.
And this:
Mr. McVeigh became involved with extreme right-wing political groups off-post. The sergeant said he could not identify the groups, but added, "cults is what I call them."
McElwee on Ted Bundy:

Not quoted from that story:
The killer, who stalked victims in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-1970's terrorized several university communities, selecting coeds for abduction from campuses at night or crowded parks in daytime when their defenses were lowered in familiar settings....

He usually throttled them and then sexually abused and mutilated them before disposing of their bodies in remote areas. If the skeletons were found months or years later there was nearly always evidence of fractured skulls and broken jaws and limbs.

"This kind of mutilation reveals a hatred of the female body," said Dr. David Abrahamsen a New York psychiatrist who is an authority on those who kill people in a series and is author of "The Murdering Mind."
McElwee on "Green River Killer" Gary Leon Ridgway:

Not quoted from that story:
For Gary Leon Ridgway's fellow workers at the Kenworth Truck Company, it was not exactly a bolt out of the blue when the authorities apprehended him at work on Friday and announced he was the prime suspect in the nation's largest case of unsolved serial murders.

They knew that Mr. Ridgway had been questioned by the police about 15 years ago in the so-called Green River killings -- the slayings from 1982 to 1984 of as many as 49 young women, many of them runaways or prostitutes, in the Seattle area. Some of the bodies were dumped in the river south of Seattle that lends the case its name....

Mr. Ridgway had brushes with the law that his co-workers and neighbors apparently did not know about -- the first in 1980, two years before the Green River killings started. A prostitute working near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport accused him of trying to choke her, but Mr. Ridgway told the police the woman had tried to bite him, and charges against him were dropped.

They also did not know that witnesses had told investigators that Mr. Ridgway had been seen with at least a few of the victims in the Green River case.

Two weeks ago, King County police vice squad members arrested him, charging him with loitering for prostitution, again near the airport. He pleaded guilty last Tuesday.
Only in this tweet is McElwee on somewhat solid ground:

The Times story he quotes does describe Theodore Kaczynski as an eccentric but quiet neighbor. There are no negative details about him.

But it was one of seven Times stories on Kaczynski dated April 5, 1996. This is from one of the other stories:
... in their search, agents said, they discovered that the little home was full of the raw material of lethal bombs.

Inside the cabin, the agents found a partly completed pipe bomb as well as chemicals, wiring and aluminum that could be used to build such bombs, said the F.B.I. affidavit, submitted by Special Agent Donald J. Sachtleben.

There were also notes related to construction of pipe bombs, Mr. Sachtleben's affidavit said, and 10 three-ring binders that "contain page after page of meticulous writings and sketches which I recognize to be diagrams of explosive devices."

Books on bomb manufacturing, written in both English and Spanish, were also found, the affidavit said. (Agents said Mr. Kaczynski understood Spanish.) There were also solid cast ingots, C-cell batteries, electrical wiring and logs of experiments on how different bombs would perform in various weather conditions, the F.B.I. said.
Cherry-picking the most benign paragraphs from a story about a killer and comparing them to the most negative paragraphs in a story about a victim demonstrates nothing. The Times is not nice to the killers McElwee has named. It just seems that way when the quotes are selected McElwee's way.

And, of course, a story about what the neighbors knew regarding a serial killer is going to have less negative detail if it's written just after the killer's capture because serial killers cover their tracks. Ted Kaczynski worked hard to conceal the fact that he was committing atrocities; Mike Brown didn't try nearly as hard to conceal his minor transgressions. So of course, when asked, all the neighbors could say about Kaczynski was that he had a nice garden.

Monday, August 25, 2014


I read John Eligon's New York Times profile of Mike Brown this morning and came away with the impression that it was a largely positive portrait. Then I went online and realized that I was supposed to be appalled by it.

I was supposed to overlook the description of Brown as a young man who "spoke seriously about religion and the Bible" and "was grappling with life's mysteries," who "overcame early struggles in school to graduate on time" and "was pointed toward a trade college and a career and, his parents hoped, toward a successful life," and who got into one fight that anyone of his acquaintance could remember, and even then he didn't throw a punch. ("I don't think Mike ever threw a real punch," a friend told Eligon.)

This, I was told, negated all that:
Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.
"No angel," as has been endlessly pointed out online, is a phrase the Times has used to describe Whitey Bulger and Al Capone; however, it's also a phrase used to describe Angelica Pickles from Rugrats and Cherubin from The Marriage of Figaro. It's a flexible phrase; if we white readers think it damns a young black man, it's because we think a young black man must be morally flawless to be worthy of respect (whereas a young white man should be cut more slack) -- or we believe that other whites believe this.

And I suppose plenty of whites do believe this. But it doesn't mean that a portrait of Brown has to be written for the racist lowest common denominator. In the immediate aftermath of his death, it was said that he shouldn't have to be a perfect person to be someone whose shooting outrages us. Now, apparently, he does have to be perfect.

There was anger at Eligon's references to drug use and rap. I find this striking because I've been told on Twitter that this piece is in stark contrast to the flattering portrayal of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in his Rolling Stone cover story. But remember what we were told about Dzhokhar? That he was a pothead. Oh, and that his brother was, at times, an aspiring hip-hop artist and a boxer. (Imagine if we were being told that Mike Brown boxed.) These were the things that were supposed to be positive aspects (or at least benign aspects) of the Tsarnaevs' lives, before they turned to terrorism. So when we say that referencing rap and marijuana in reference to Mike Brown is a slur, that's a problem with us, not the reporter.

If we see Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a good kid in his weed years but think references to Mike Brown's weed use must be suppressed, then we've internalized the racist narrative; it's colonized our minds even if we don't want to be racist.

Here's John Eligon, by the way:

A black reporter can certainly denigrate a black subject (see: Don Lemon) -- but I see nothing like Lemon's pull-your-pants-up talk in Eligon's piece. What I see, maybe, is a belief that he had to get flaws into the story because that's what's expected -- and maybe that's his internalization of racism.

But the robbery video exists. The raps, with some violence in the lyrics, exist and have been heard and dissected. Eligon tries to put them in context. He's 31 years old -- he's too young to remember a time when rap wasn't central to American and global popular culture, so maybe he just thought readers would understand Brown's rapping as an act of creativity, not menace. And at this point, why shouldn't that be the case?

Eligon doesn't seem like a guy who's in denial about racism:
As a 31-year-old black man himself, Mr. Eligon told me, he is attentive to many of the issues in the Ferguson case. During his time covering the Midwest for The Times, he has experienced apparent racial profiling -- "I've had the cops called on me twice for looking suspicious" -- and while covering courts in Manhattan, he once was told to sit down and wait for his lawyer to arrive.
He's said that the most nerve-racking moment of his journalistic career was interviewing a white supremacist in a small town in North Dakota ("Would the sight of me, a black man, at his door startle him so much that he would shoot first and ask questions later?").

I think he's getting a raw deal. I think if we can't read that profile and still see the Mike Brown portrayed by Eligon as worthy of a long life, we're the ones who have the problem.

Beware, America! Breitbart wants you to know that the sharia takeover of America has already begun -- in Vermont!

Local Winooski, Vermont restaurant Sneakers Bistro has removed a sign that read, "Yield Sneakers Bacon" citing opposition from a Muslim community member and safety concerns.

The sign was put up as part of a city program that allows businesses to post an advertisement in an area where they have helped maintain city flowerbeds. The sign that read "Yield Sneakers Bacon" was removed after a woman, identifying herself as a Muslim, posted in an online community forum, stating she was personally offended by the sign....

Saturday morning the restaurant posted to Facebook, "We are here to serve people BREAKFAST, not politics. We removed the sign that was located on public property as a gesture of respect for our diverse community. There were also concerns raised about safety(emphasis added). Removing it was not a difficult decision. We still love bacon. We still love eggs. Please have the political conversation elsewhere." ...
That boldface emphasis is in the original Breitbart post. I speak fairly fluent Wingnut, so let me explain what that means to every right-winger who reads it: Evil violent beheading Muslims want to kill us all unless we agree to convert to Islam and live as slaves in their oppressive global caliphate! Sneakers is the canary in the coal mine! The owners of Sneakers knew they were going to be first -- and we're all going to be next!!!!1!1!"

Er, no. I don't think that was the point of the "safety" reference. Here's a photo of the sign in question:

It looks very similar to a real Yield sign. It's diamond-shaped and yellow. As is noted in the local news report cited by Breitbart, the sign was posted at an actual intersection in what's called the Winooski Circle -- a traffic circle that happens to have the highest rate of crashes in Vermont.

So, um, I think that's what Sneakers meant with that reference to "safety."

Regarding the cultural sensitivity issue: I live in New York City, where the halal food trucks park near restaurants serving bacon-and-egg diner breakfasts, Certified Berkshire Heritage Pork preparations, and everything in between. It's all live-and-let-live, more or less (except for the restaurateurs not liking the food-truck competition). But hey, if the owner of a private business in Winooski, Vermont, freely chooses to stop advertising bacon (while still selling it), it's none of my business, is it?

I wonder what deep concerns the Breitbartniks would express regarding the "modesty committees" in ultra-Orthodox parts of Brooklyn. They assess shopkeepers' window displays, and shopkeepers usually agree to the changes they ask for:
The Brooklyn shopkeeper was already home for the night when her phone rang: a man who said he was from a neighborhood "modesty committee" was concerned that the mannequins in her store's window, used to display women's clothing, might inadvertently arouse passing men and boys.

"The man said, 'Do the neighborhood a favor and take it out of the window,'" the store's manager recalled. "'We're trying to safeguard our community.'"

In many neighborhoods, a store owner might shrug off such a call. But on Lee Avenue, the commercial spine of Hasidic Williamsburg, the warning carried an implied threat -- comply with community standards or be shunned. It is a potent threat in a neighborhood where shadowy, sometimes self-appointed modesty squads use social and economic leverage to enforce conformity.

The owner wrestled with the request for a day or two, but decided to follow it. "We can sell it without mannequins, so we might as well do what the public wants," the owner told the manager, who asked not to be identified because of fear of reprisals for talking....

"They operate like the Mafia," said Rabbi Allan Nadler, director of the Jewish studies program at Drew University in Madison, N.J....

"They walk into a store and say it would be a shame if your window was broken or you lost your clientele," he said. "They might tell the father of a girl who wears a skirt that's too short and he's, say, a store owner: 'If you ever want to sell a pair of shoes, speak to your daughter.'" ...
I'm kidding, of course. I'm sure the Breitbart folks would think this is perfectly understandable.


UPDATE: Yeah, yeah, yeah -- Yield signs are triangular, as is noted in comments. But does your driving brain know that? Your driving brain knows that there are yellow four-sided road signs -- does it see one with the word "Yield" and automatically reject it as a sign worth noting? I don't think the brain is that subtle. I think the brain reacts to it, at least initially, as a sign.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Okay, this is complicated.

On August 14, Major General Harold Greene was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. He was the first U.S. general to die in combat in decades. President Obama did not attend his funeral.

On August 15, William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection published a post titled "Guess Who Was Missing at Funeral of Highest Ranking Officer Killed in Combat Since Vietnam War." In this post, Jacobson quoted a tweet from a man named Matt Drachenberg:

This was followed by a tweet from Colonel Morris Davis, an Air Force veteran and former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo. He wrote:

(Major General John Dillard was General Greene's most recent predecessor; he died in a helicopter crash in Vietnam in 1970. The second officer mentioned in Davis's tweet is Lieutenant General Timothy Maude, who was killed at the Pentagon on 9/11.)

Byron York, on Twitter, linked to the Legal Insurrection post, paraphrased the Davis tweet, and, for good measure noted that Obama was playing golf during General Greene's funeral.

As York now acknowledges, most of what was alleged in the tweets and the Legal Insurrection post was a crock:
It turns out Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel did, in fact, attend the Greene funeral, a fact I should have known.... If I had looked into it just a bit more, I would have seen, for example, a Stars & Stripes article that specifically mentioned Hagel's presence....

Curious about what Davis had said, I looked for any sign that Nixon had attended the Dillard funeral. I went to the Nixon Library website, which has posted the minute-by-minute White House logs of Nixon's activities. They're very detailed; if Nixon had gone to the general's funeral, it would have been listed. I looked through the month after Dillard's death and found no evidence Nixon had attended. Likewise, it turned out Bush did not attend the Maude funeral....

Just to summarize the facts in this convoluted affair: Hagel did attend the Greene funeral. Obama and Biden did not. Nixon did not attend the Dillard funeral, and Bush did not attend the Maude funeral. There is no "tradition" of presidential attendance at generals' funerals that Obama "bucked."
The weirdest aspect of this is that Colonel Davis didn't post that tweet because he's a wingnut -- he posted it because he doesn't like wingnuts. He's left-wing. (Here he is agreeing with a Cornel West attack on President Obama from the left.) He apparently had the cockamamie notion that fooling right-wingers with this tweet would make a point about their ignorance. As he told York when asked about it:
... in the right-wing's bash Obama glee, my tweet has been retweeted a couple of hundred times without anyone taking two minutes to Google to see if it's true. It's similar to a Chinese news agency reprinting that Kim Jong-un had been named the sexiest man alive without checking and finding that The Onion is a satirical site. It's also a sad commentary on how gullible people can be and how willing they are to latch onto "news" that supports the narrative they want.
Genius plan, Colonel -- because now this bit of disinformation will live indefinitely. York's piece debunking all this misinformation appeared six days ago. The Legal Insurrection post was updated with an acknowledgment of what York wrote. But just today, this appeared at Townhall:
The Obama administration announced this weekend that it will be sending not one, but three, officials to attend the funeral of Michael Brown on Monday.
President Barack Obama is sending three White House officials to the funeral service of the Missouri teenager whose death in a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, has sparked days of racial unrest.

Leading the group for Monday's service will be the chairman of the My Brother's Keeper Task Force, Broderick Johnson. My Brother's Keeper is an Obama initiative that aims to empower young minorities. Johnson is also the secretary for the Cabinet.

Also attending will be the deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, Marlon Marshall, and an adviser for the office, Heather Foster.
The decision would be highly questionable as is, but when compared to the White House's presence at, say, the funerals of Maj. Gen. Harold Greene or British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it's deplorable.

The White House has been selective in sending representatives to funerals -- recall that only a low-level delegation was sent to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's service last year. More recently,President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden skipped the funeral ofMajor General Harold Greene, the 2-star general killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 5.
The last link in the quote above is to a post at the right-wing BizPac Review, which quotes -- you guessed it -- the tweets from Matt Drachenberg and Colonel Morris Davis, and asserts flatly that Secretary Hagel also did not attend General Greene's funeral. The BizPac Review post has not been updated.

So right-wingers continue to be told that Secretary of Defense Hagel did not attend General Greene's funeral (he did) and that presidents routinely attend the funerals of generals who are killed (they don't) -- because no damaging assertion ever completely dies on the right. And hey, Colonel Davis, thanks for giving the wingers more propaganda to catapult.


And with regard to the Brown funeral: I'd say the delegation Obama is sending is the definition of "low-level" -- no president, vice president, neither of their wives, no Cabinet members. The supposedly "low-level" delegation to the Thatcher funeral included two former secretaries of state and two top diplomats.

It's widely assumed that President Obama will soon announce some sort of executive action on immigration. Democrats hope this will help increase turnout by the party's base in November.

Will it? I've had my doubts, and they're reinforced by these poll results, which were published by Gallup on Friday:
Although both Republicans and Democrats name dysfunctional government, the economy, and unemployment as top problems facing the country today, they attach different importance to other issues....

The differences between partisan groups are most evident in terms of immigration, with an 11-percentage-point spread between Republicans (22%) and Democrats (11%) mentioning the issue....

Now, these Gallup numbers come from interviews conducted this month and last month, when immigration was very much in the news. "Prior to July," we're told, "immigration ranked much lower on the most important problem list."

But when immigration becomes a major issue, which party's voters are more galvanized? The border refugee crisis riled up Republicans, not Democrats. Why should we believe that the response to executive action on immigration will be different?

I suppose the counterargument is that Republicans are already quite motivated to vote, while Democrats aren't motivated at all right now. This could narrow the enthusiasm gap.

But when immigration reform happens, or is on the verge of happening, it infuriates the right -- at least when the president isn't named Ronald Reagan. It gets to the core of Republican voters' sense of being a besieged "us" under attack from an invading "them." (Well, a lot of issues make GOP voters feel that way -- though this will seem to them like the coming of an invading anti-American horde right now.)

I hope reform inspires Democratic voters. But it's going to enrage Republicans. I think the best we can hope for in terms of effect on November is a wash.