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Category: General

MLK en français

[ 34 ] January 16, 2017 |

MLK en francais

My to-do list today included tracking down eighteenth-century primary sources in French for some of my ambitious Francophone students. So, obviously, I decided to see what if anything French press had on Martin Luther King (fair warning: all links in this piece go to French language sites).

Mostly, there were stories about Trump’s expertly timed attacks on John Lewis (Le Monde, Figaro, Libération, Radio France Internationale…).

But what really grabbed me was this short video on a kids’ news site, explaining who MLK was.

Two things jump out. First, in contrast to the current propensity to refer to the “alt-right” and other obscuring euphemisms, the narration readily calls out racism: MLK was born into a “racist and violent US” and was ultimately assassinated by a “white racist” (this last taken up with fury by the first young commenter).

Second, there’s some uncertainty about how exactly to handle MLK’s faith. The intro text highlights his role as a “Christian religious leader.” In the video, we hear that

Like his father, he became a pastor, but there was no question of devoting himself only to prayer. What he wanted was to act peacefully to abolish his country’s racist laws. And he would succeed.

That’s an interesting dance between emphasizing King’s religiosity (and implying some connection between it and his nonviolence) and contrasting a religious life with one of action.

Of course, it makes some sense that religion would be harder for this French educational site to handle than race. And, lo and behold, they’ve also got a “What is secularism?” video up (posted most recently this past December 9—which, it turns out, is national secularism day in France). It’s a pretty standard narrative of the signing of the 1905 law, with some specific mention of how this affects children and schools—mostly to bring peace, respect and tolerance to all.

Here, it’s the comments section that’s intriguing (not just for being blissfully innocent and polite). One young man asks,

but if no one can be excluded because of their religion, why is my friend who continues to want to wear a veil excluded?

Though this goes unaddressed by the moderators, another question about how religion works in the classroom gets a lengthy response from one of the site’s writers:

in a public school in France, there can be students from different religions. But no religion can influence the school’s subjects or daily life. When you live in a family who practices a religion, that makes a real difference!  At home, the parents can remind us of the rules of our religion; at school, it’s different. For example, it is forbidden for Muslims to make an image of the Prophet. In public school, it would be different: there are no Muslim rules or Christian ones or Buddhist ones. On the other hand, the rule at school is not to make fun of others on purpose to cause them pain, because of their religion or anything else.

Of course the example given relates to Islam, and it’s also unsurprising that it’s about the prohibition on images of Mohammad (central to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015). There’s an attempt to come up with a secular rationale not to offend others—but the emphasis on not doing this “on purpose” walks this back—unintentional offenses apparently don’t count.

The MLK video had a striking moment discussing segregation:

Even though slavery had been abolished, blacks lived separately from whites. They had their own neighborhoods, their own churches, their own schools.

Muslims in France today often find themselves in their own neighborhoods, certainly in their own mosques, and even in their own schools (especially as a response to the banning of religious symbols, which prevents Muslim girls from attending in their veils). While this social segregation is still a far cry from Jim Crow, it’s hard not to perceive some mauvaise foi on the part of those decrying the racism Martin Luther King faced down, while ignoring their own prejudices. Probably not on purpose.

Plenty more to come on French secularism…


Keep Up the Pressure

[ 40 ] January 16, 2017 |


This is a good sign that even the Cabinet of Deplorables is subject to left-wing pressure.

President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to be labor secretary has voiced second thoughts in recent days, because of a relentless barrage of criticism from Democrats, labor unions and other liberal groups, a business ally and GOP sources tell CNN.
Andy Puzder is the CEO of the company that owns the Hardees and Carl’s Jr. fast food chains.

“He may be bailing,” said a Republican source plugged into the Trump transition effort. “He is not into the pounding he is taking, and the paperwork.”

Democrats and their allies have launched an aggressive campaign against Puzder, who opposes key Democratic workplace priorities, including the goal of a $15 federal minimum wage.

His required ethics and financial paperwork also has not yet been posted by the Office of Government Ethics, which makes the filings public after nominees for top federal positions detail how they plan to comply with federal ethics rules regarding financial holdings.
Puzder’s confirmation hearings was initially scheduled for this week. It is now on hold, and likely will not be held until next month.

A couple of points here. First, the thing about CEOs is that they are not used to being accountable to anyone. They hate the idea of transparency and they hate public pressure. This is why, traditionally, they have hired politicians to do this work for them. For whatever reason, we are in an era where CEOs want to actually hold the offices. This means that they are quite susceptible to pressure, especially as we are seeing with Secretary of State nominee John D. Rockefeller and Secretary of Education nominee Ayn Rand, their business dealings are so execrable that the exposure may force them to run from the light into Peter Thiel’s coffin.

Second, if Pudzer is delayed a month, that’s a month more of workplace protections for people. If he is forced to withdraw and we have another month before another selection and confirmation, that’s 2 months of workplace protections. I am not exactly celebrating this, but small victories.

Third, it’s not like Emperor Tangerine is going to name someone much better than Pudzer if he bails. As I have argued consistently since the election, on most issues, Trump is a bog-standard Republican. On labor policy that’s certainly true. Whether he names Scott Walker or some other CEO or some anti-labor think tank hack, they are going to be terrible. But taking on these people over and over again reinforces how unpopular Trump and his positions are. And that has great value. Even someone as vile as Pudzer is susceptible to public pressure. That’s important to remember.

Draining the Swamp!

[ 110 ] January 16, 2017 |

JS-thenNobody Gets Hurt!

I can’t wait for Chief Justice Roberts to write the opinion holding that this behavior is protected by the 1st Amendment and the equal sovereign dignitude of the states:

Rep. Tom Price last year purchased shares in a medical device manufacturer days before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited the company, raising new ethics concerns for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary.

Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet, according to House records reviewed by CNN.

Less than a week after the transaction, the Georgia Republican congressman introduced the HIP Act, legislation that would have delayed until 2018 a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulation that industry analysts warned would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet financially once fully implemented.

Zimmer Biomet, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of knee and hip implants, was one of two companies that would been hit the hardest by the new CMS regulation that directly impacts the payments for such procedures, according to press reports and congressional sources.
After Price offered his bill to provide Zimmer Biomet and other companies relief from the CMS regulation, the company’s political action committee donated to the congressman’s reelection campaign, records show.

Still, one time a Clinton Foundation donor asked Huma Abedin for a meeting and didn’t get one, so Both Sides Do It but Clinton is worse.

Working for Trump

[ 114 ] January 16, 2017 |

David Schizer, until recently dean of Columbia Law School, has just interviewed for the position of Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Tax Policy in the Trump administration.

I don’t know Schizer, and I don’t exactly have a starry-eyed view of Columbia Law School, but I’ll confess this still sort of shocks me.

I spoke with a friend who had a career rather than a political appointment with a a federal agency, and who quit after Ronald Reagan put a particularly noxious (but not utterly unqualified — how far we’ve fallen!) fellow at the head of the operation, and he turned out to be every bit as terrible as people feared he would be. I asked my friend what he thought of people taking political appointments in the Trump administration.  His view is that this is OK as long as the person goes in ready to resign if necessary (Since my friend actually quit a great federal job on principle I’m inclined to have considerable respect for his views on such matters).

His argument is that you can’t just have completely incompetent hacks running everything, so voluntarily taking a mid-level political appointment under Trump, as Schizer is trying to do, is at least defensible, as long as you realize you may well have to quit.

Whether or not you agree with this view, should it apply downward to at least fairly high-level career appointments? (obviously condemning the average federal employee for keeping his or her job is untenable).  For instance if you’re already an AUSA or a federal public defender should you quit rather than work for Trump?

What about people who don’t currently work for the feds? If your dream is to be an AUSA or the like should it be held against you that you took a job in the Trump administration?  (FWIW I will definitely be holding this against such people, should they in the future try to get any job where I get a say in the matter. This includes people who clerk for judges appointed by Trump, etc).

In hypothetical fantasy land at least, you can apply this logic upward as well. Is it OK to take an actual cabinet-level position as an act of self-sacrificing triage?  (I assume this is how Mitt Romney rationalized his participation in a little humiliation ritual that didn’t end up working out, as they say in the Mafia).

Any Mental Health Treatment Is a Pre-Existing Condition

[ 68 ] January 16, 2017 |

This is one among many of the points that should be remembered as we face the threat of ACA repeal.  Here’s a Blue Shield underwriting table from just before the ACA.  Once a week therapy for even mild  depression, anxiety, or any adjustment problem puts you in the “possibly eligibility at a higher tier rate,” adding a medication to that then introduces the possibility that coverage will be denied entirely.  If are diagnosed with any other mental illness, that’s another pre-existing condition.  Any treatment for ADHD gets you X’s in the columns for”possibly eligibility at a higher tier rate,” and “possible or probable decline”.   If you attempted suicide, your application would just be auto-declined without a review of your application for three years following your attempt.  Anyone with bipolar or a psychotic disorder was also automatically declined.  Pre-existing conditions don’t just affect people on the individual market: before the ACA, your employer’s insurance could refuse to cover you for a year.  The pre-existing condition exclusions before the ACA created strong incentives to avoid treatment for mental illness, or to pay out of pocket if you possibly could and lie about your treatment history.  If you accepted treatment for mental illness, you would heavily compromise any treatment for physical illness down the line.  More generally, this analysis by the Department of Health and Human Services before the ACA found that as many as 1 in 2 non-elderly Americans might have a pre-existing condition.

The number of people who have been protected by the ACA is massive, and the elimination of pre-existing condition exclusions is just one of the protections afforded by the law.

A Presidency for Those Looking to Revive Child Labor

[ 68 ] January 16, 2017 |


Color me shocked that Betsy DeVos also also funds organizations that openly advocate for child labor:

In addition to being a donor, DeVos has served on Acton’s Board of Directors for 10 years. The Institute is a non-profit research organization “dedicated to the study of free-market economics informed by religious faith and moral absolutes.”

In a recent blog post, an Acton Institute writer and project coordinator showed his dedication to something else: child labor.

The post’s author, Joseph Sunde, argues that work is a “gift” that we are denying American children. After all, Sunde concludes, the child laborers of America’s past were “actively building enterprises and cities” and “using their gifts to serve their communities.”

Some especially disturbing highlights from Sunde’s piece:

In our policy and governing institutions, what if we put power back in the hands of parents and kids, dismantling the range of excessive legal restrictions, minimum wage fixings, and regulations that lead our children to work less and work later?

Let us not just teach our children to play hard and study well, shuffling them through a long line of hobbies and electives and educational activities. A long day’s work and a load of sweat have plenty to teach as well.

You know who was taught a lot at a very young age? 10 year olds working and dying in West Virginia coal mines. They knew plenty of things. Like how to have no hope for their lives, how not to see the daylight for days on end, and how to go hungry. Those were the good days.

How the Conservative King Was Created

[ 49 ] January 16, 2017 |


Today is our annual reminder that the conservative cooptation of Martin Luther King continues in its grotesque march forward away from the truth into a fascist candyland of “colorblindness” to serve the purposes of white supremacy. How did this begin? I am always skeptical of monocausal explanations, but its pretty clear that Grandpa Caligula played a pretty big role. Reagan of course hated King, rode white supremacy into the White House, and then resisted creating the MLK holiday with support from his good friend Jesse Helms. Why did he change his mind and sign the bill? Pure politics and realizing that he could message King into meaninglessness.

However, in a dramatically about-face, Reagan capitulated in the final months of 1983. The month following his news conference—and fifteen years after Michigan congressman John Conyers first introduced legislation for the King observance—Reagan sat on the White House lawn and signed a bill establishing a federal holiday for a man he had spent the previous two decades opposing, whilst several hundred attendees sang “We Shall Overcome.”

Yet even after he publicly changed his position, Reagan wrote a letter of apology to Meldrim Thomson, Jr., the Republican governor of New Hampshire, who had begged the president not to support the holiday. His new position, Reagan explained in the letter, was based “on an image [of King], not reality.” Reagan’s support for the federal King holiday, in other words, had nothing to do with his personal views of the civil rights leader. Instead the holiday provided Reagan with political pretext to silence the mounting criticism of his positions on civil rights. By 1983 Reagan faced an onslaught of criticism from groups such as the NAACP and the Urban League for his aggressive assaults on affirmative action and court-ordered busing. With a reelection bid on the horizon, he began to make more concerted efforts to pacify his critics and soften public opinion over his open hostility to civil rights. The King holiday was the primary component of this effort.

Reagan’s pivot on the King holiday provided a two-pronged benefit. On the one hand it would pacify critics of his positions on civil rights, but on the other it enabled Reagan to position himself as the inheritor of King’s colorblind “dream”—a society in which “all men are created equal” and should be judged “not . . . by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”—in order to advance the anti-black crusade he had waged since the 1960s, now under the alluring mantle of colorblindness.

The notion of a “colorblind” approach to U.S. law originated in 1896, when Justice John Marshall Harlan argued in his dissent to the Plessy v. Ferguson decision—which established the legal precedent for racial segregation—that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional because “our Constitution in color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” Nearly sixty years later, Justice Harlan was vindicated when the Warren Court invalidated Plessy in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Yet Harlan and Reagan understood colorblindness in profoundly different ways. For Harlan, colorblind law safeguarded non-whites from the institutionalization of white supremacy in state and local governments under Jim Crow. For Reagan, who opposed both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, colorblindness offered an effective ideology through which to roll back the victories of the civil rights movement.

Reagan’s efforts to align himself as the inheritor of King’s colorblind “Dream” picked up considerably during his second term in the White House. Reagan’s assistant attorney general for civil rights, William Bradford Reynolds, began defending the president’s opposition to civil rights programs by insisting that Reagan’s actions were informed by King’s colorblind philosophy. Throughout his second term, Reagan would frequently turn to the colorblind rhetoric, and only the colorblind rhetoric, of the civil rights movement to justify his continued assault on civil rights as a realization of King’s dream.

The most revealing example of Reagan’s second-term King strategy occurred on January 17, 1986. Three days before the inaugural Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Coretta Scott King unveiled a three-foot solid bronze bust of her slain husband in the Capitol rotunda (later moved to Statuary Hall). After the ceremony Reagan met with King and other civil rights leaders and urged them to “never, never abandon the dream” of a colorblind United States. Reagan’s rendering of King begins and ends on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It is a King who said little more than a single sentence: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Absent entirely from Reagan’s representations of King are his critiques of capitalism, the war in Vietnam, nuclear weapons, or white supremacy.

“I Have But One Plank For My Platform: Sucking the Blood of the Young”

[ 32 ] January 16, 2017 |


I see Nosferatu is interested in higher office.

Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire and outspoken Donald Trump supporter, is considering a 2018 bid for California governor, according to three Republicans familiar with his thinking.

Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, has been discussing a prospective bid with a small circle of advisers, including Rob Morrow, who has emerged as his political consigliere.

Adding fuel to the speculation: Thiel raised eyebrows this week when he granted a rare interview to The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd. In the interview, he outlined his political worldview and explained his support for Trump. (At one point, Thiel said, perhaps jokingly, that he’d be “fine” with California seceding. “I think it would be good for California, good for the rest of the country. It would help Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign,” he added.)

Neither Thiel nor a representative responded to requests for comment.

Thiel, who delivered a prime-time speech at last summer’s Republican National Convention, isn’t entirely new to the political scene. According to public filings, he has contributed over $8.5 million to federal candidates and committees since 2000. He speaks frequently with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the most powerful Republican in California.

I will say this for Thiel: nothing sums up modern Republican ideology more succinctly than vampirism.

Donald Trump is Highly Unpopular

[ 106 ] January 16, 2017 |

In threads like this one — and I don’t think this is atypical — there’s a lot of defeatism about opposing Trump. After all, given all that has already come out about him, what can one more negative story accomplish? But one thing people making the “who cares nothing will ever stick” argument seem to be missing is that the negative attacks are, in fact working. Trump is incredibly unpopular. We take it for granted now, but a president elect with underwater approval ratings is historically extraordinary. (Obama was at roughly +60 the week before his inaugural.)

Yes, the ghost of the slave power made Trump president. But as Democrats need to say loudly and often, he was rejected by the voters. And he was rejected by the voters despite the bizarre decision by the mainstream media to savage Clinton pillar to post over trivial nonsense, the FBI putting its thumb on the scale, Wikileaks and very likely Russia ratfucking the DNC, etc. etc. And Trump is no longer running in implicit comparison to the she-demon who nearly destroyed America with her socialist and America-hating and neoliberal EMAILS. He’s on his own, and dealing with a Congress that wants to impose Coolidgenomics on a largely unsuspecting America. And while driving down Trump’s approval ratings can’t undo the election, it can make it harder for Republicans to pass stuff, make it easier for Democrats to maintain unity, and it increases the chances of Democratic success in 2018 and 2020.

Again, when it comes to opposing Trump I say let more or less every flower bloom — policy attacks and character attacks from every point on the left spectrum. Who knows what shiny object will attract the media? Hell, twice in 16 years the GOP has gotten presidential elections close enough to steal over fake quotes and email server management. Who knows what will resonate? See what sticks. Hit him on the ACA. Hit him on everything Ryan is trying to do. Hit him on his ongoing corruption. Hit him on his alleged sexual trysts in Moscow. Try everything that might work.

Not Without A Fight

[ 121 ] January 16, 2017 |


More please:

Democrats and labor organizers spent Sunday at dozens of rallies across the country, pledging to fight in Congress against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and any attempt to change Medicare or Medicaid. The party’s leaders faced crowds ranging in size from dozens to thousands of people, urging them to call Republicans and protest the push for repeal.

“Nobody’s gonna shut us up! Nobody’s gonna turn us around!” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the Democrats’ 2016 vice-presidential candidate, at a rally in Richmond that drew a crowd of at least 1,000. “We’re standing in the breach and battling for tens of millions of Americans!”

“Our First Stand,” the catchall theme for the protests, represents one of the earliest protests by an opposition party against an incoming president. Brainstormed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Democratic leaders in Congress, each rally introduced crowds to men and women who had faced death or bankruptcy before the ACA went into effect, then challenged Republicans to listen to their stories. Rattled during the ACA’s passage by tea party protests and raucous congressional town hall meetings, Democrats were flipping the script.

“The immediate goal of the rallies is to show Republicans that the majority of people are against repealing the Affordable Care Act,” Sanders said in an interview this week.

“I think people are waking up to the fact that the Affordable Care Act has been helping tens of millions of Americans,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) after a rally in Bowie organized by Maryland Democrats that drew 1,500 people. “Energizing the public around a common goal can have an important result.”

I also like the basic message here — “The Affordable Care Act is a major accomplishment, and repealing it would cause an unconscionable amount of death and suffering, and we should be focused on making it even better by expanding the public insurance provisions.” I still don’t think there’s any value in the lie that the ACA was a “Republican” plan, but implicitly “moderating” the ACA by noting the superior endpoint is fine.

Is protest guaranteed to work? No. But Republican margins are narrow and there’s no way Republicans can get rid of the ACA that won’t be massively unpopular, plus rather than being led by a president with a focused agenda on the issue they’re dealing with a president who is committing them to things they can’t deliver because he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. And even if Ryan and McConnell can ram repeal through, there’s a second-order goal: ensuring Democratic unity. If Republicans are going to play murder by numbers, make sure they own it in its entirety, increasing the chances Dems will be in a chance to start repairing the damage in 2020.

In related news, enjoy this Republican profile in courage.

Trump Endorses American Geopolitical Suicide

[ 329 ] January 15, 2017 |


Apparently Donald Trump wants to destroy reorganize the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), sees the European Union (EU) as a competitor, and thinks that Germany is an enemy of the United States:

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would follow the U.K. in leaving the bloc and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper that will raise concerns in Berlin over trans-Atlantic relations.

Quoted in German from a conversation held in English, Trump predicted Britain’s exit from the EU will be a success and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade. For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent whether the EU breaks up or stays together, according to Bild.

Trump’s reported comments leave little doubt that he will stick to campaign positions and may in some cases upend decades of U.S. foreign policy, putting him fundamentally at odds with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on issues from free trade and refugees to security and the EU’s role in the world. On Russia, he suggested he might use economic sanctions imposed for Vladimir Putin’s encroachment on Ukraine as leverage in nuclear-arms reduction talks, while NATO, he said, “has problems.”

“It’s obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Trump was quoted as saying about the trans-Atlantic military alliance. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.”

Garry Kasparov sums this up rather succinctly:


And, as we all know, there’s never a better time to disrupt long-standing alliances and institutions than while deliberately increasing tensions with your only potential peer competitor.

Just to keep track, Trump has now gone from saying that the US should expand its nuclear arsenal to suggesting that he would use a nuclear arms-control agreement as a pretext for lifting sanctions on Russia economic sanctions on Russia as a ‘lever’ for a nuclear arms-control agreement. Mattis and Tillerson both pledged support for NATO and condemned Russian efforts to attack the liberal order; a few days later our soon-to-be President went back to bashing the alliance and promising to make nice with Russia. Even if you believe that the inertia of alliances, the so-called ‘deep state’, and cooler heads will prevail, this is all extremely dangerous stuff. The incoming Trump administration is sending radically inconsistent signals on the American commitment to defend allies. This creates significant risks of miscalculation and escalation.

And what if the United States does nothing in the face of such a probe?



Beyond these concerns, what Trump proposes is, per the title, geopolitical suicide: trade conflicts with one of our most important allies, attempting to facilitate the dissolution of the European Union—which Russia views as a competitor for influence and a threatening force for political liberalization—and assaulting a critical American alliance already facing difficult challenges. Make no mistake: you should be very worried right now.

NFL Divisional Round Open Thread #2: Welcome to JerryWorld

[ 261 ] January 15, 2017 |

Hopefully we can improve on the .5 of a good game we’ve had so far. Meanwhile, let us savor one of the tiny handful of good things in our horrible political moment, the ritual humiliation of Trump early adopted Chris Christie:

Chris Christie’s job approval is at a career low.

Nearly three-quarters of New Jersey voters, and half his fellow Republicans, said in a recent poll that he should have been a defendant in the trial over the George Washington Bridge lane closings, in which two of his former aides were convicted last month.

And in a stinging turnabout, Bill Stepien, the campaign manager whom Mr. Christie dismissed in the so-called Bridgegate scandal, is expected to become Donald J. Trump’s White House political director, while Mr. Christie was fired as transition chief and shut out of jobs in Mr. Trump’s administration, despite having been one of his earliest big-name supporters.

Welcome home, Governor.

“Governor Christie has been abandoned by virtually everyone,” Krista Jenkins, director of the Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll, said when the findings showing his approval rating at 18 percent were released this month.

Sad. But you can’t give up hope:

Mr. Christie still believes he has a political future nationally. He wants to write a book and his friends have been telling people in New Jersey that the governor expects Mr. Trump to eventually come around to him.

Sure. Volunteer to take charge of the daily KFC delivery to the White House and it will be a done deal.

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