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I think Rod Dreher may have self-radicalized on the internet

[ 156 ] September 19, 2016 |

Rod is upset with the Pope again. But this time, it’s not for suggesting maybe we should treat gay people a little more like human beings. The Pope’s error is taking the wrong parts of the Bible–those that seem to call for a course of action Dreher deems unwise– seriously. Dreher’s disdain for the prospect of even a modest increase in the Muslim population in the realm of historic Christendom is so intense he simply can’t make heads or tails of what Pope Francis could possibly even mean. Rod reads a report of some recent comments from Pope Francis on the refugee crisis:

Pope Francis has encouraged Europeans to welcome refugees, calling authentic hospitality “our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism.”

And responds with utter befuddlement:

What on earth is he talking about? It may be right for Europeans to welcome refugees — I don’t agree, but it’s a debatable point over whether or not charity requires Europeans to take that risk– but to say that welcoming over a million Muslims into Europe is “our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism” is at best absurd propaganda. Who can possibly believe this? The same people who believe that “diversity is our strength”?

An explanation of why the Pope’s statement is obviously wrong is not forthcoming, as he shifts gears to garden-variety scaremongering and angry denunciations of commenters.

I wouldn’t claim to know precisely what Pope Francis meant in the passage in question, but taken at face value it straightforward enough. Here are some statements that range from ‘obviously correct’ to ‘plausible’:

1. There are already around 20 million Muslims residing in the EU, a number far larger than the total population of Syrian refugees.
2. Insofar as terrorism is a serious threat in Europe, it’s largely through people already residing there.
3. Radicals who wish to recruit their fellow Muslims to the terrorist cause find that a widespread perception of hostility and bigotry to Muslims in European countries helps their cause.
4. Turning away refugees in desperate need because of their religion and/or country of origin makes Europeans look like anti-Muslim bigots to their existing Muslim populations.

Now, I have no idea if this strategic wager is correct; I don’t have the kind of detailed knowledge of patterns of radicalization that would allow me to have an opinion worth a damn. But it’s entirely plausible, and it’s clearly not ‘at best absurd propaganda.’ It’s remarkable that Rod is so committed to avoiding a path that Pope Francis, correctly, recognizes as required by basic decency in general and basic Christian decency in particular that he can’t even consider the possibility that such a path might also be a practical as well as compassionate and decent.

The kicker:

The more things like this happen, the more sense Trump’s idea to halt Muslim immigration for the time being makes. What a crazy year when Donald J. Trump makes more sense on anything than a Pope.

As you let that sink in, keep in mind two things. First, this statement is written by a man who has spent much of the last several years trying very hard to convince anyone who’ll listen that it’s contemporary liberals who’ve become an unprecedented threat to religious freedom. Second, as recently as just a few months ago Dreher routinely expressed horror and dismay at the rise of Trump, and what that rise meant for conservatism, and how evangelical acquiescence to Trumpism was evidence of a deep sickness in American Christianity and the Conservative movement. Watching Dreher, predictably, come home, it occurs to me that perhaps Trumpism is best understood not so much a betrayal or failure of politicized evangelicalism, but a return to its 1970’s roots.


Egalitarian income growth: Why?

[ 77 ] September 19, 2016 |


Bucking recent trends, the wallets of the poor and least-educated swelled the most. Income at the twentieth percentile (meaning the level at which exactly one-fifth of the population earns less) grew by over 6%. The average income of households headed by someone who left school before ninth grade—typically reached at age 14 or 15— grew a fulsome 12.5%, compared with just 3.2% growth in those headed by someone with a bachelor’s degree or more. Just as the disadvantaged are usually the first to lose their jobs in a recession, they have been the last to benefit as the economy has recently closed in on full employment, argues Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think-tank. That also helps to explain a fall in the poverty rate from 14.8% to 13.5%—the largest annual percentage-point drop in poverty since 1999.

Link. Paywalled, but google it if you want to read the whole thing (never mind, seems to work now. Was paywalled when coming from facebook). When I first heard 2015 was an unusually strong year for income growth, I was mildly surprised at the relatively obust figure. But the egalitarian, inequality-reducing pattern of the growth was far more surprising. I’ve been teaching a kind of “intro to social science” interdisciplinary class the last few years on inequality, with a non-exclusive focus on efforts to explain current trends in economic inequality in the US in particular and the developed world more generally. The material I’ve been working with (think Hacker and Pierson, Piketty, Atkinson, Milanovic, etc.) And while these scholars differ in various ways in their account of the primary causes of growing inequality and the the kinds of policies needed to counteract it, it’s safe to say we haven’t exactly embraced any of the policies they recommend in any significant way. Pessimist that I am, I’m inclined to assume this is a one-off in light of larger trends, but that pessimism is bolstered by my lack of any compelling story to anchor any optimism to.

So what’s going on? If you’ve got any links to compelling explanations for the relatively egalitarian character of income growth, or a theory of your own, please provide. (In a facebook discussion, someone suggested we might be seeing the effects of various local and state increases to the minimum wage. This strikes me as a prima facie plausible explanation for strong income growth in the 20th percentile, but it’s hard to see it having this kind of impact on the 50th).

Relatedly, here’s a good piece about how economic inequality has been studied widely by economists and by Americans, but rarely by American economists:

Galbraith, for his part, says that he has found other American economists’ interest in the topic lacking. He has found that in American economics, there’s one accepted explanation for the growth of inequality: that globalization and technology created a world in which high-skilled people did well and others did not. If you come along with a different set of ideas, he told me, “you find that it is not open to any discussion.” When he has looked to publish papers and data with other explanations for rising inequality, he finds there’s no proper journal open to it.

Why is class conflict more taboo in the United States, a nation dreamed up with at least a bit of rhetoric about throwing off the rigid class structure of Europe? Michael Zweig, an emeritus professor at SUNY Stony Brook, says that American economists haven’t always shied away from social problems like class and inequality. But during the second half of the 20th century, he says, class was “driven from the discipline,” Zweig says. This is largely because U.S. economists focused on the market, always the market.

“In the American economics profession, the scope of economics as a field has been reduced to a study of the market, as though the market was the same thing as the economy,” he told me.

…..commenters are emphasizing the effects of a tight labor market, understandably. That also appears to be central to Jared Bernstein’s analysis (thanks for the link). I suppose I’ve been reflexively dismissive of the possibility of the low unemployment rate having this kind of effect, because we’ve not really seen any kind of recovery in labor force participation from the collapse, and a rising participation rate in response to low unemployment would counteract the effects of a tight labor market. It looks like I may well have been wrong about this, too.


[ 80 ] September 15, 2016 |

I maintain a digital subscription to the New York Times. I do this because it seems marginally worth it to have unlimited access to a major national newspaper, although it’s a fairly close call, and I’ve contemplated giving it up a few times. (I’m currently getting a very good teaser deal because I called up threatening to cancel.) Why the Times? Habit, mostly. The Times and the Washington Post both have very real and clear strengths and weaknesses, but I can’t claim to have ever done a serious accounting of them that led me to the conclusion the Times was a better choice. I’ve just always read it, going back to grad school when M-F campus pickup paper subscriptions were so cheap as to be virtually free. I’ve seen a number of people, in comments here and elsewhere, threatening and/or pledging to cancel their subscription for the express purpose of protesting the extraordinary and appalling return of the “Clinton Rules” and I’ve had some sympathy with that sentiment. I’m skeptical this kind of protest will ever occur in the kind of numbers necessary to have practical value, but I don’t have much confidence in that judgment, and it would certainly feel right.

That said, I never hear anyone talk about the opposite. I’m thinking if I do go through with such a course of action, I’ll also sign up for a Washington Post subscription at least to get me through the election, and if I do, I’ll make a point of letting them know that I’m signing up primarily to gain access to the outstanding and important investigative journalism of David Farhenthold on the Trump Foundation. Whatever fleeting value negative reinforcement might have, positive reinforcement might have it too. And while both sides do it hackery may wax and wain, it has always and will always be with us, while the same can’t be said for resource-intensive long term investigative journalism Fahrenthold is doing.

SPD to crime victims: do our job for us

[ 155 ] September 14, 2016 |

I’ve come to have fairly low expectations of the professionalism of the Seattle Police Department over the years, such that revelations of bad behavior rarely surprise. But I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting this:

Seattle police should stop telling victims of property crimes to arrange perilous meet-ups with thieves to recover their stolen items, according to the department’s top civilian watchdog, before someone gets hurt.

In a thorough report released last week, Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) Director Pierce Murphy dug into a complaint about a failed attempt at a citizens’ arrest near Northgate Mall on February 3. The citizens thought police were going to arrive and help, but the man who’d stolen thousands of dollars worth of their carpentry tools tussled with then, brandished a handgun, and got away.

Where did they get they idea they should confront the man in the first place? From Seattle police officers.

Full report about this madness here. As most of the problems with the SPD, while quite serious, are generally not unique, it seems improbable that such a stupid practice is limited to the SPD. I wonder how widespread this is.

LePage’s Race War

[ 65 ] August 28, 2016 |

Maine Governor

In some future history textbook, the chapter describing the political climate that gave rise to the reign of Emperor Trump I will probably have to devote several pages to Paul LePage.

When you go to war, if you know the enemy, the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, you shoot at red. … You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy. And the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.

Observing the horror that is Paul LePage, I really wonder what color the sky is on the planet inhabited by the “end the two party DUOPOLY” crowd, at least on the left.* Maine is, relative to the rest of the country, refreshingly full of forward-thinking, wise people who go to the ballot box relatively unconstrained by brainwashing of the duopoly. In the 2010 gubernatorial election, LePage demonstrated neither an inclination nor an interest in moderating or disguising his cretinous nature, leading to over 62% of Maine voters rejecting him in the biggest Republican wave election in a generation–a rejection far stronger, numerically, than Trump is likely to receive. But that didn’t matter, because Maine voters successfully overcame the Duopoly’s brainwashing, and split the rest of the vote three ways.

The desire, absent significant electoral reforms, for an end to two party dominance must, it seems to me, be premised on at least one of the following wagers: that a candidate of the left who only needed 35-40% support to win is more likely to emerge than a similar candidate of the right, or that a candidate of the left would do more good, if unencumbered from the squishy center, than a candidate of the right would do harm. Neither of these wagers seemed particularly wise to me a year ago, and it looks a lot worse now–if we approached elections nationwide as Maine does, there’s a decent chance Trump’s presidential chances would be orders of magnitude greater. A glance at the recent history of other FPTP democracies that aren’t limited to two parties hardly gives any reason for optimism here either. I don’t know which of these wagers the anti-duopoly crowd presumes to be a good one, and I don’t know why, but it sure would be nice to see someone actually try to defend either or both of them on the merits.

Meanwhile, let’s turn from a sitting Governor’s calls for a race war and pay a visit to the New York Times, where esteemed Yale economist Robert Shiller brings us some extremely troubling and alarming news–economic inequality is substantial and increasing, and it might get worse. He’s concerned that this trend may have some negative consequences:

Truly extreme gaps in income and wealth could arise from many causes. Consider just a few: Innovations in robotics and artificial intelligence, which are already making many jobs uncompetitive, could lead us into a world in which basic work with decent pay becomes impossible to find. An environmental disaster like global warming, pollution or disease could sharply reduce the ability of people of ordinary means to live in specific regions or entire countries.

Future wars using ever more highly destructive technology, including chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons, could devastate vast populations. And it’s not out of the question that dire political changes, like the rise of racist or otherwise exclusionary social structures, could have terribly damaging consequences for less privileged people.

Of course, I dearly hope none of these things ever happen. But even if they are unlikely, as part of our progress to a better world, we should be thinking now of how we might address them.

Has anyone been to New Haven lately? Just how tall are they building those Ivory Towers?

*Memo to Gregor: if things were different, they’d be different.

BBC’s top 100 century list

[ 326 ] August 25, 2016 |

The BBC list has been making the rounds; seems like it deserves a thread.

I think I share two of my top three with the list; In The Mood For Love remains a clear #1 for me (indeed, I’d have to go back to at least the 70’s to think of a film that would challenge it for me), and while I need to rewatch it I’m prepared to keep Mulholland Drive at #3. I’m pleasantly surprised to see Spike Lee’s 25th hour as high as it is; I hadn’t realized critical consensus was finally catching up to where it should be.

More fun that debating what’s too high or too low is most egregious inclusions and exclusions. Here’s mine:

Most egregious exclusions, of the top of my head:

1. Bad Education. #2 so far for me; my favorite Almodovar by far. (Talk to Her is just about right around #30). How many directors have rattled off four films in a row as strong as All About My Mother–Talk To Her–Bad Education–Volver?

2. The films of Hirakazu Kore-eda. Still Walking is probably in my top 10; Our Little Sister isn’t far behind. There are lots of films and directors who’ve been influenced by Ozu and for the better, but with these two films I’m tempted to believe in reincarnation–the man directing these films just has to be Ozu. The effortlessness with which these films, like Ozu’s best work, produce powerful emotional moments from a series of moments from ordinary life is just remarkable. As with Ozu I find it difficult to convey exactly why these films work so well for me. After Life and Nobody Knows are a step below those two, and more Ozu-influenced than Ozu-embodying, but probably both make the backend of my list as well. The conceit of After Life (basically, when you die you get to pick out one day from your life, which you’ll experience over and over again forever. There are council

3. Assayas is represented, properly, with Carlos at 100, and while his very best work is from the 1990’s, at a minimum Summer Hours belongs on this list as well. Structurally similar to Still Walking, and while I prefer the Kore-eda the performances Assayas gets out of Binoche, Berling and Renier are among their best work, and the layering of the family conflict is near-perfectly done. Clouds of Sils Maria is on my must see soon list; Lemieux and Loomis will tell you it belongs on the list. And I don’t know that Clean would make my top 100, but it’s an excellent treatment of addiction, and gets great work from Nolte and Cheung.

4. No Zhang Yimou? Have Hero and House of Flying Daggers seen a decline in their critical reputation? I like them both at least as much as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. I haven’t seen them since the theatrical releases, but on the strength of my reactions to them at the time I’d say they belong at least on the back-end, especially Hero.

5. On the Pixar front, Up is much better than Ratatouille (which I liked a fair bit) or Finding Nemo (which was just OK).

6. On the non-Pixar animated front, I think a decent case could be made for The Iron Giant
. EDIT: No, a case can’t be mounted, becuase no matter how good The Iron Giant is, it came out in 1999.

Most egregious inclusions:

Spring Breakers. Critics seem to be under some sort of bizarre spell regarding Korine. I’ll actually defend Kids, but Korine hasn’t really had any new or good ideas since as far as I can tell, and has only become more pretentious. I almost walked out of Spring Breakers and by the end I regretted not having done so.

I find Moulin Rouge! to be completely and totally unwatchable. I started it three times, never made it more than 30 minutes in. I just don’t understand.

On the Linklater front, I can’t quite call Boyhood an egregious inclusion. It was a legitimately interesting and not unsuccessful experiment. I doubt it would make my top 100 but including it on the back-end of such a list wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable, and I’m amenable to bonus points for technical difficulty. But #5? Come on. And Before Sunset is just awful. Ethan Hawke might be a decent actor for all I know, all I can think about when I see him is how much I loathe everything about the Before movies.

Korine has a pretty staggering pretension to achievement ratio, but von Trier tops him for Dogville. A dumb, silly, dull film.

And while I feel like a bit of a philistine for saying it, what’s the deal with the love for Apichatpong Weerasethakul? I don’t hate his films–they’re pretty to watch and he’s clearly got some talent as a director, but I find myself checking the time pretty frequently when watching his films. None of them are bad, just kind of boring.

[SL]…It is just amazing to me that Dogville‘s reputation survives in 2016. Even at the time the defenses of it could basically be boiled down to “George W. Bush sucks.”

[djw]…three more egregious exclusions worthy of an update:

1. Donnie Darko. Either you agree of you don’t, so no point making the case.

2. Turtles Can Fly. Follows a group of war orphans who scavenge for undetonated mines in a Kurdish refugee camp on the eve of the 2003 Iraq war, working with non-professional Kurdish kids as actors. Hilarous moments (especially a scene where the leader/boss of the kids offers his translation services for George W. Bush speeches, but tells the village elders what he thinks they want to here), but the plot twist/reveal that’s as emotionally devastating as anything from any of these films.

3. Blind Shaft. A film about murderous grifters who work in illegal mines in Northern China. They pick up itinerant workers, convinvce them they can get them a job if they claim to be a relation of some sort, and once they get him in the mines they kill him, make it look like an accident, and extort the owners/managers of the mine. Scathing, haunting indictment of Chinese capitalism, and the place of excess labor in the social order.

[EL] A few thoughts here. First, some of the films are ridiculously high. The Tree of Life? Really? Another 45 minutes of random dinosaur images in between this sort of story about growing up in the 50s would totally make it #1. I do get that in an era where TV has replaced film as the visual media of prestige that someone trying new things gets a major pass, but Tree of Life is just not very good. Albeit it’s a hell of a lot better than To The Wonder, which is an atrocious film. Also, Inside Llewyn Davis at #11? I grant that the cat was cute. But A Serious Man is far, far better. I’m far from sold on Synecdoche, New York at 20. The Master was a complete mess and does not belong at 24. The Social Network? Stop.

Also, Lars Von Trier is a terrible director who has made a career on exploiting women on screen.

That said, I was highly pleased that films seemingly forgotten like Fish Tank; Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring; The Return, and The Gleaners and I made the list. The Return especially is one few have seen but is truly outstanding.

What is missing? The Hateful Eight for starters. After all, he only wanted a blanket. Dirty Pretty Things, which is flawless and wonderful. There’s no Ken Loach and Sweet Sixteen is well worth inclusion. In the Mood for Love is well worth its position at 2 but 2046 is nearly as good and surely should be in the top 100. Arnaud Desplechin is missing entirely. Kings and Queen is outstanding. So is A Christmas Tale. The entire Romanian New Wave is missing. That’s ridiculous. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days should be there. (So it is there there. The Romanian New Wave still should have more than 1 film) 12:08 East of Bucharest too. Another great and obvious inclusion should be Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light. Where are the films of Johnnie To? Exiled at the very least should be included. I know everyone loved Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell and I liked it too. But I thought Take This Waltz was really great and has one of my five favorite scenes of all time. Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture is incredibly powerful. And Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, definitely.

But it’s good enough to argue about, which is really the point. Even though I simply refuse to accept Boyhood at #5. And unlike everyone else on this blog, I really like the Before Sunrise/Sunset films But c’mon.

Last night’s primaries

[ 49 ] August 3, 2016 |

Is this the first time a Tea Party/Freedom Caucus Republican has lost a primary to a moderate/establishment-friendly/willing to compromise candidate?

Apparently it was also a bad night for team Brownback:

At least 10 conservative Republicans in the Kansas Legislature have lost their seats in the primary election.

They included Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, of Nickerson, who was defeated Tuesday by retired Hutchinson Community College President Ed Berger.

Four other conservative GOP senators were ousted as well. They were Tom Arpke of Salina, Forrest Knox of Altoona, Jeff Melcher of Leawood and Greg Smith of Overland Park.

At least five conservative Republicans in the House lost seats as well, all of them in Johnson County. They were Rob Bruchman of Leawood, Brett Hildabrand of Shawnee, Jerry Lunn of Overland Park, Charles Macheers of Shawnee and Craig McPherson of Overland Park.

Moderate Republicans made the election a referendum on the state’s budget problems and battles over education funding.

Indeed, the failure of Brownbackism probably hurt Huelskamp a good deal, if it brought out moderate voters. Whether that mattered more or less than Boehner kicking him off the Ag committee, I couldn’t say.

Meanwhile, over in Washington, Inslee’s weak first term as governor doesn’t appear to be bad enough to give the Republicans much of a shot at Olympia, and the tremendous margin of victory for Seattle’s housing levy victory would seem to bode well for the city putting up big enough margins to carry the Sound Transit III vote in November.

Abbas Kiarostami, RIP

[ 7 ] July 4, 2016 |

The legendary Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami has died of stomach cancer. Truth be told, of the internationally known giants of Iranian cinema I probably prefer the output of Mohsen Mahkmalbaf and Jafar Panahi to Kiarostami, although it’s hard to imagine Makhmalbaf and Panahi without Kiarostami. He’s best known for blurring the boundaries between fiction and documentary. Perhaps the most fascinating and intriguing (and largely successful) experiment of his career in that vein was Close-Up, which retells a historic event with the actual participants acting as themselves–a disturbed Makhmalbaf fan impersonates the famous director, conning his way into a family on that pretense, and is eventually discovered and arrested. It works just magnificently as a character study of the impersonator, but also of the family and other minor characters; his minimalism and naturalism are perfect for the subject. The Wind Will Carry Us is probably my favorite, although I’m also quite partial to Homework, Taste of Cherry, and Where is the Friends Home? I didn’t care for ABC Africa, and I haven’t seen much of his output in the last 15 years, something I’ll now seek to rectify.

A good day for Zombie Sonics haters and Kevin Durant

[ 249 ] July 4, 2016 |

As a Seattle native I’m honor-bound to root against Oklahoma City, so obviously I take no small pleasure in today’s news.

But beyond that, those criticizing Durant can go jump in a lake. Let’s recall that the terms of his initial contract–one that he had no choice but to sign, if he wanted to play basketball professionally, and one that was well under any plausible assessment of his market value–he was forced to either abandon his profession or relocate from a lovely city he by all accounts quite liked to Oklahoma. This forced relocation was the product of the machinations of a cabal of billionaires looking to punish taxpayers that dare not subsidize them to their satisfaction.

One would also hope this would finally end the practice of claiming with a straight face that the salary cap is about “competitive balance,” rather managing labor costs, but I’m not optimistic.

I suppose he’d have a pretty good handle on what not to do…

[ 26 ] June 29, 2016 |

This could potentially be a valuable service for a certain kind of religious leader:

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but it sure doesn’t feel that way when your pastor or church starts making the headlines. In today’s world, if you’re a Bible-preaching church, then it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be faced with a communications crisis of your own. Even the most squeaky clean church is susceptible to mistakes, sin, false accusations, or worse.
We’ve prepared an all-inclusive training package and downloadable resources to help your church establish an effective PR strategy and crisis plan. You’ll learn tried and true techniques that will help prepare you and your church to handle every day communications crises.

Who would you trusting to help you keep the con going protect your church?

Justin Dean is the Chief Advisor at DOXA Media Group and co-founder of That Church Conference. Previously, Justin served as the Communications Director for Mars Hill Church in Seattle where he oversaw all content, communications, social media, and public relations.

Yes, that Mars Hill.

The terrorist watch list is still a due process disaster, and trying to expand its use is shameful

[ 389 ] June 22, 2016 |

Alex Pareene is right:

The no-fly list is a civil rights disaster by every conceivable standard. It is secret, it disproportionately affects Arab-Americans, it is error-prone, there is no due process or effective recourse for people placed on the list, and it constantly and relentlessly expands. As of 2014, the government had a master watchlist of 680,000 people, forty percent of whom had “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” This is both an absurdly large number of people to arbitrarily target in gun control legislation, and far, far too few to have any meaningful effect on actual gun ownership, let alone gun violence.

…Almost any popular and previously debated gun control measure would have made a better symbolic lost cause. Democrats could be staging a sit-in in support of universal background checks* and waiting periods, nationally standard gun licensing and training requirements, and tougher restrictions on where and how guns are sold. All of those, or even any one of those, would have been more defensible both politically and morally. Instead House Democrats are going to the mat for a shitty, racist, useless bill.

I can appreciate the political wisdom behind the choice of this bill as the subject of high-profile political theatrics; I’m sure it’s overwhelmingly popular, and it hits the Republicans on a weakness (refusal to do anything at all about gun violence) and a strength (terrorism) simultaneously. Anyone who cares about the 4th amendment or due process rights should still be disgusted by it.

On the “terrorist watch list” thing

[ 98 ] June 16, 2016 |

I really wanted to cheerlead the symbolic gesture Chris Murphy and other Senate Democrats engaged in yesterday. It’s certainly good politics, as I have no doubt the bill they were filibustering on behalf of would be similarly overwhelmingly popular. But I can’t quite do it; I’m with the ACLU on this one. The “terrorist watch list” is a due process nightmare, and it shouldn’t be used to restrict legal rights in its current form. My interest in not seeing people deprived of their legal rights arbitrarily and without due process doesn’t suddenly vanish because the government defines a particular legal right overbroadly on my assessment. It’s also troubling to see people who really should know better, like Sheila Jackson Lee, conflating “terrorist” and “person on terror watch list.”

Incidently, I was apparently on some sort of list–obviously not the no-fly list, as I was never actually denied boarding, but some sort of extra scrutiny list–for several years in the early aughts. I couldn’t check into a flight online or at the kiosk, so I’d stroll up the agent to check in. The typical process of acquiring a boarding pass began with the ticketing agent taking my ID and flight information, clicking away at the terminal for a minute or two. There was a moment where his or her demeanor suddenly changed, and I’d get a nervous “I’m sorry, sir, there seems to be some sort of problem” followed by a huddle of multiple employees, including some sort of supervisor, just out of earshot, whispering anxiously and occasionally glancing suspiciously in my direction. This would go on for several minutes, until someone got on the phone, waited a while to get through to whoever they were calling, who’d eventually, apparently, give them permission to issue me a boarding pass. I spent a non-trivial amount of time and energy trying to figure out what list I was on, let alone how to get off it, with no success whatsoever. (After a few years of this, a gate agent recommended to me I start using my full middle name, rather than just my middle initial, when booking flights. It worked; I was never subjected to this step again.)

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