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Category: General

The politics of decency

[ 265 ] November 17, 2015 |


Kevin Drum makes a provocative argument:

Here’s the thing: to the average person, it seems perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of admitting Syrian refugees to the country. We know that ISIS would like to attack the US. We know that ISIS probably has the wherewithal to infiltrate a few of its people into the flood of refugees. And most voters have no idea how easy it is to get past US screening. They probably figure it’s pretty easy.

So it doesn’t seem xenophobic or crazy to call for an end to accepting Syrian refugees. It seems like simple common sense. After all, things changed after Paris.

Mocking Republicans over this—as liberals spent much of yesterday doing on my Twitter stream—seems absurdly out of touch to a lot of people. Not just wingnut tea partiers, either, but plenty of ordinary centrists too. It makes them wonder if Democrats seriously see no problem here. Do they care at all about national security? Are they really that detached from reality?

The liberal response to this should be far more measured. We should call for tighter screening. Never mind that screening is already pretty tight. We should highlight the fact that we’re accepting a pretty modest number of refugees. In general, we should act like this is a legitimate thing to be concerned about and then work from there.

Mocking it is the worst thing we could do. It validates all the worst stereotypes about liberals that we put political correctness ahead of national security. It doesn’t matter if that’s right or wrong. Ordinary people see the refugees as a common sense thing to be concerned about. We shouldn’t respond by essentially calling them idiots. That way lies electoral disaster.

This seems wrongheaded on a number of levels.

First, unless Drum thinks ISIS poses an actual threat to the national security of the United States — which is difficult to believe, unless a threat to national security is defined as “something bad happening,” in which case “national security” is a meaningless concept — then the proper response to calls for an end to accepting Syrian refugees is to point out that such a policy is grotesquely inhumane, as it buys Americans an infinitesimal decrease in the already infinitesimal risk that we as individuals will be victimized by jihadist terrorism, at the cost of failing to do anything to ameliorate the vast suffering of the actual victims of ISIS, 99.99% of whom are in Syria and Iraq.

Second, turning to the pragmatics of electoral politics, the idea that random liberals mocking conservatives on social media will have some sort of effect on actual electoral outcomes is highly implausible. Furthermore, arguing in this way helps create a Broderite frame in which sensible, moderate, serious etc etc people search for the reasonable middle ground between cowardly xenophobia and simple human decency.

Finally, even if we accept for the purposes of argument that it’s true that resisting cowardly xenophobia (repackaged here as “simple common sense” — note to Kevin Drum: at moments of intense social and political panic, the most despicable ideas are often as presented as “simple common sense” by opportunistic politicians) is politically costly, that doesn’t seem like a very compelling argument for not resisting it. Specifically, does Drum think it’s a bad idea for Barack Obama to respond to the despicable Ted Cruz in the manner in which he did?

Ted Cruz, a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has announced plans to introduce legislation in the Senate that would bar all Muslim Syrian refugees from entering America.

That stance has been greeted with widespread ridicule and disgust by Democrats who insist that keeping people out of the U.S. is anathema to the founding principles of the country. “That’s shameful,” President Obama said in a speech addressing the Paris attacks on Monday. “That’s not American. It’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

While the idea of presidential leadership, the bully pulpit, and so forth gets much well-deserved mockery on this blog, that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments for actual moral leadership from the nation’s political leader. This is one of those moments, but apparently Drum, Charlie Pierce et. al. are more concerned about hurting the feelings of people who would prefer to indulge their baser instincts, without any reminders of the better angels of our nature.


Reading Can Get You on a Terrorist Watch List

[ 20 ] November 17, 2015 |

I was just browsing in the library. I picked up Philip Sarasin’s Anthrax: Bioterror as Fact and Fantasy, published by Harvard in 2006. I opened the book. This is what I saw.


I’m glad to know reading is a threat to the United States. Or at least it was to the Bush administration. I’m sure Ted Cruz and a whole slew of Republican governors approve.

UPDATE: Evidently this was a stunt by students to make a point. Which is a whole other level of interesting.

White supremacy is Daesh’s greatest weapon

[ 23 ] November 17, 2015 |

Of course he does.

See also.

In response to the latest round of post-terrorism-against-Europeans hate-arrhea from the U.S. right wing,* many people have observed that Daesh has a vested interest in stopping, or at least slowing, a mass exodus to regions outside of its control. The refugees fleeing Syria are some of the organization’s recruits, revenue source, scapegoats.

In this context, the discovery of fake Syrian passports on the bodies of attackers could very well be part of an attempt to conserve a resource. And if this is the case, is it then surprising that  27 U.S. governors (at last count) were so easily played by Daesh?


Given this country’s history of dealing with people of color, the leaders of Daesh could probably get every neo-con frighthawk in America to punch himself in the face, and call people who decline to punch themselves in the face Freedom! Hating! Islamocowards! between blows.

Because from before the founding of this more perfect union, white supremacy in this part of the world has told its adherents that non-whites are cunning (but not too much so) and violent and stupid and violent. (Cowardly may be substituted for violent, depending on circumstances.)

This is how you get people who believe that Obama is a tyrannical chickenshit moron who managed to conceal the place of his birth from everyone.

(Also, people who will show you pictures of a graffiti-covered wall with a hole in it and tell you the wall is the Pentagon and the hole was created by a rocket, but that’s another sack of squirrel dookie.)

At any rate, the fairy tale of the brown cunning stupid violent coward boogey is perfect when the people who create the stories are in complete control. Whether someone tells himself that a man is hatching a clever plot to wipe out the white race, or is a drug-addled killing machine makes no difference if the response will always be to shout “He’s comin’ right at us!” and start shooting.

However, when dealing with people who really are bent on doing harm, the fairy tales hamstring the people who have come to rely on them.

To admit “Holy shit, this group of people requires a response that is far more serious and thoughtful than shout and shoot,” would require the admission that “Holy shit, this group of people are smart enough to require a serious, thoughtful response.”

And when a person’s ego relies on white supremacy to exist, making that step and changing strategy as a result remain impossible.

Do I have any solutions? Why yes, I have the solution to white supremacy, but it’s a secret until I’m elected president. No, not rilly.

Maybe if some of these dimwits read The Art of War they’d recognize themselves in such passages as:

… he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.

But probably not.

*Why the focus on the U.S.? It’s what I know. I lack the knowledge to talk about France, but I hope commenters who do have such knowledge will add their deux centimes.

The Grownups Are Back In Charge

[ 305 ] November 17, 2015 |


No, no, for real this time:

“We have the right strategy and we’re going to see it through,” Mr. Obama told reporters as he wrapped up a summit meeting with world leaders before flying to the Philippines. He has consistently said that it would take time, he noted, and he would not change that strategy simply because of domestic pressure. “What I do not do is take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough or make me look tough.”

If he did not gratify a public hunger for retribution, or at least the language of it, the president gambled that his position was actually closer to the broader American reluctance to get entangled in another land war in the Middle East. Sending large numbers of American ground troops to fight the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, would repeat what he sees as the error of the Iraq invasion of 2003 without solving the problem at hand.

“That would be a mistake, not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before,” Mr. Obama said. Victory over terrorist groups, he said, requires local populations to reject the ideology of extremism “unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.”

It’s like Bill Belichick using his timeouts before the two-minute warning. In a rational universe, you wouldn’t deserve much credit for doing something so obvious, but compared to other potential decision-makers it makes you look really good. For example:

His message drew fire back in Washington, where Republicans and other critics saw it as evidence of an out-of-touch fecklessness. “Unfortunately, the president’s press conference today confirmed that he is unwilling to acknowledge his failed policies or re-evaluate his strategy moving forward,” Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, said.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, described the president’s news conference as “excuse-laden and defensive,” proving he had no resolve or strategy to defeat the Islamic State. “Never before have I seen an American president project such weakness on the global stage,” he said.

Yes, if any strategy has proven effective for preventing terrorist groups from filling stateless vacuums, it’s the SHOCK AND AWE of BOOTS ON THE GROUND showing AMERICAN RESOLVE AND CREDIBILITY. Republican foreign policy is like Mike McCarthy or Dan Quinn kicking field goals on 4th-and-goal from the 1 because YOU HAVE TO PUT THE POINTS ON THE BOARD in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, with far deadlier consequences if they’re actually in charge of the White House.

Allen Toussaint In 10 Songs

[ 6 ] November 16, 2015 |


American Grandstand [Update – 27 creeps & counting]

[ 100 ] November 16, 2015 |

Per comments to an earlier post, a number of governors are saying they will not accept Syrian refugees because there’s no way to guarantee none of the refugees will blow up a family planning clinic or gun down black church goers.

Just kidding. The governors – 23 27 at last count – are afraid that one of the refugees might be a terrorist (as defined by the right wing) and it is their duty to protect America by making absolutely sure no bad people are allowed in.

Or at least poor bad people. Perhaps Syrian refugees could pool their funds and start a business that exploits workers and poisons rivers. Then they’d have governors fighting over which state would get the Syrian Job Creators.

As it is, no one should be surprised to learn that governors can’t legally refuse refugees:

“The one thing I feel very comfortable saying is there is absolutely no constitutional power for a state to exclude anyone from its territories,” said Stephen Legomsky, a Washington University of St. Louis law professor and former chief counsel of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott acknowledged that only Congress can deny federal funding to help Syrian refugees relocate to the U.S. He urged lawmakers to do that.

I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say I’d like to add Gov. Rick ‘Snakehead’ Scott to my professional network on LinkedIn, because Christ, what an asshole.

But we know what this is all about, right? Right.

This is yet another opportunity to Stand up to Obama. 

Obama wants to force terrorists down our throats, but the brave governors of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, will protect us!

Or, the refugees will be located in states where the governors aren’t massive clown shoes, and allowed to get on with restoring their lives to something approaching normal.

Is it time to pull out this picture yet?

General H. Graham & Gov. G. Wallace


And That Worked Out Great!

[ 114 ] November 16, 2015 |


Shorter Verbatim Rick Moran [@ Edroso, so you can get out of the boat]: “Some of these young intellectuals will be mugged by reality and wake up to the truth. It happened here after 9/11. PJ Media’s Roger L. Simon was one such leftist whose eyes were opened on 9/11. Christopher Hitchens was another.”

If there’s any intellectual giant whose wisdom should guide us as we confront ISIS, surely the man who compelled Pauline Kael to retire should be near the top of the list.

Anyway, I’m sure everyone remembers when, with the enthusiastic support of people like Simon and Hitchens, the Bush administration razed Iraq, and reasonably assumed that Ahmed Chalabi and some Heritage Foundation interns could construct a stable liberal democracy ex nihlio in its place. If I recall correctly, this worked extremely well, and certainly did not create a stateless vacuum in which particularly vicious and atavistic terrorists could seize territory and launch attacks on other countries. So I’m sure if we try it again it will work out just great. Or at least it will as long as the president says the phrase “radical Islam” a lot. War cannot fail; it can only be stabbed in the back.

David Frum is a well respected, man about town, doing the best things, so conservatively*

[ 107 ] November 16, 2015 |

By using the word repatriate, Frum avoids making a statement that can instantly be classed with the “…paranoid delusions coming from the fever swamps,” he so abhors.

And his efforts are appreciated by the class of people who are sympathetic to the idea of rounding up people they view as sub-human, and shipping them and their children to places they clearly don’t want to be (and where the “repatriated persons” will likely be killed), but believe they have nothing in common with the uncouth sorts who stand around in mil-drag and teabags while they wave large guns and shout about Islamosharia Birth Certificate Gun Grab Jelly Bean Boom.

Repatriate sounds nice. It’s got Patri- in it. Repatriate. Patriotism. Patriotic. Proud patriarchs, traditional families, the good old days.

There’s no hint of screaming, bloody scalps, or the smell of prison cells crammed full of shit-scared people in the word at all.

So, in thinking about this and similar comments from the Frums of the world, as well as the long-standing concern over civility, I came up with a new, improved and thoroughly honest definition of civil speech:

  • Statements by the right sort of person
  • who says the right things
  • in the right way, and
  • is rewarded for doing so.

I am no tyrant. If someone fails the third portion of the test, she will be classified as “Provocative.” Provocative status might be preferable to Civil status, as the Provocateur doesn’t have to mess about with dog whistles, euphemisms and perverting the meanings of words. The down side is she may not be invited to the very best of the best parties.

A person may start out as Provocative and become Civil as his statements gain wider acceptance. (Acceptance is indicated by an increase in income/prestige gained for the statements).

Those who are made uneasy by the candor of the Rush Limbaughs of the world can say “Well, I wouldn’t put it quite that way, but he does have a point.” And provided all the punches are aimed downward, everyone who is anyone will be comfortable.

At least until the thick short-fingered vulgarians start running the show. But that’s another issue.


(Merci to tomstickler for the correction. Civility may trump accuracy, but accuracy is still important.)




Roe in the Crosshairs

[ 47 ] November 16, 2015 |


Next June, the Supreme Court will determine whether Texas’s draconian restrictions on abortion are constitutional. If the statute is upheld, Roe has been overruled whether Kennedy says it explicitly or not:

In theory, the “undue burden” standard could have provided a fairly robust protection of a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion; in practice, it has not.

Among other things, the court held in Casey that a mandatory waiting period for a woman seeking an abortion was constitutional, although the restriction placed a significant burden on some women – particularly poor and/or rural women – while not advancing any legitimate state interest in the protection of its citizens. Mandatory waiting periods are simply designed to make abortion maximally inconvenient and provide no heath benefits to the women subjected to them. As then-justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his opinion in Casey: “The mandatory delay … appears to rest on outmoded and unacceptable assumptions about the decision-making capacity of women.”

The Texas statute is the obvious end point of a ruling like Casey; it’s the culmination of a process in which anti-abortion forces have piled regulation upon regulation until they have forced most of the state’s abortion clinics to close. In the case of Texas, HB2 was upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals even though it would place a major burden on the reproductive rights of women outside of a handful of urban centers, and despite the fact that the law has no plausible connection to protecting a woman’s health. The clinics are not being closed because they don’t provide safe abortions, but because they do.

As with so many cases, it is nearly certain that the fate of a woman’s right to choose in the United States will come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy, the only member of the five-justice Casey majority still on the court. Supporters of Roe have ample reason to be pessimistic. Kennedy – always the shakiest member of the Casey five – has upheld 20 of the 21 abortion restrictions to come before him as a US supreme court justice under the new “undue burden” standard. It’s possible that he could vote to uphold the Texas statute and continue the process of asserting that Roe remains in force while making it devoid of any meaningful content.

I would estimate the chances that HB2 is Kennedy’s breaking point at about 60/40. I don’t think Kennedy would want to write an opinion overruling Roe. But is he capable of writing an opinion upholding HB2 and hence overruling Roe sub silentio while convincing himself that he’s not actually doing it? Sadly, yes.

Appointment Televison

[ 113 ] November 16, 2015 |

Were you recently thinking to yourself “I can’t live on dinosaur erotica/My Little Pony mashup fanfics alone. I need bspencer to tell me what to watch on television.” Well, then you clicked on the right post, because I am going tell you watch on television!

  • So here’s the thing: when Jon Stewart left The Daily Show, I flounced away hard, declaring I’d never DVR the show again. I was really sore the powers that be hadn’t chosen a woman for hosting duties and I was…not impressed…with some of the shitty jokes Trevor Noah had made before he got the gig.  Folks, I did not stick that flounce. I recently tuned back in and found–to my dismay–that Noah is funny and charming and–unlike Jon Stewart–actually knows how to conduct an interview. He also mugs less for the camera, which is nice. Still think someone like Aisha Tyler or Aziz Ansari woulda been the optimal choice for hosting duties, but the truth is The Daily Show seems fresher and funnier than ever these days and I’m loving all the new correspondents.
  • I have some shocking news for all of you: I’m not a historian. So I cannot even a tiny bit attest the accuracy of its segments, but Drunk History is laugh-out-loud funny. It could just be that I’m a perpetually-12-year-old woman with a troubling lack of historical perspective, but watching comedians cuss and burp their way through these (actually really important and interesting) American stories makes my heart happy.
  • Brooklyn 99 is the only sitcom I bother watching these days. (Cute as Blackish is—Tracee Ellis Ross is an extraordinarily gifted comedienne–it’s just not appointment television for me.) The cast is to die for: Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Chelsea Peretti, Joe Lo Trulio and Terry Crews? Yespleaseandthankyew. It’s fast-paced, fast-talking, good-natured, and hilarious, with an occasional where-the-hell-did-that-come-from? weirdness that’s really appealing. (Fer instance, in the last episode Peralta and Amy go to a mattress store and jump on mattresses while “Get Low” plays. Why do I find things like this so amusing?) Totally appointment television.
  • Not gonna lie: The Nightly Show got off to an awkward start. Luckily for us, it found its footing, which is a good thing, because Larry Wilmore is a national treasure. I’m enjoying the news segments more and more and find correspondents Mike Yard, Rory Albanese, Holly Walker, and Grace Parra really winning. The show has one soft underbelly, however, and it’s the panel segment. When Larry has awesome guests on, this segment is often the highlight of the episode. But, man, all it takes is one rubbish guest to make the panel painful to watch. I have nightmares about one of the show’s contributors being a douche to Bill Nye (who was talking about really cool stuff). Man, that was painful to watch. That aside, I still never miss the show and you shouldn’t either.


Today in the Rhode Island Democratic Party Dumpster Fire

[ 31 ] November 16, 2015 |


Above: The Rhode Island Democratic Party

I’ve talked before about how the Rhode Island Democratic Party is an out of control dumpster fire. In a 1-party state, being a Democratic politician means nothing more than “I want power.” That’s how you have the Rhode Island Democratic Party borrowing legislation from Oklahoma banning municipalities from setting their own minimum wages. It’s also how you have an open racist as the Speaker of the House.

One of Rhode Island’s most powerful Democrats doesn’t believe that “white privilege” exists. In a recent interview with the Providence Journal, Nicholas Mattiello, the state’s speaker of the House, said that that racial disparities are simply due to African-Americans’ and other minority groups’ failure to “take advantage” of the opportunities available to them.

Mattiello was invited to discuss racial issues with a panel from The Providence Journal, which is producing an extensive series on race in Rhode Island. He told the panel that, before he was asked that question, he had never thought of the phrase “white privilege.”

Mattiello was responding to an op-ed previously published in The Providence Journal by David R. Carlin, the former Democratic Senate Majority Leader, which argued that racial disparities were the result of “appallingly dysfunctional subculture that is pervasive among the black lower classes.”

This subculture fosters attitudes that lead to astronomical rates of out-of-wedlock births, millions of fathers who give little or no support to their children, high rates of crime and violence, high levels of drug abuse, a poor work ethic and very poor academic achievement. Unless this subculture is eradicated, we may expect that great numbers of blacks will live in misery.

Mattiello said he wasn’t sure about the phrase “subculture,” but seemed to agree with the overall point — namely, that “white privilege” doesn’t exist and that there is a “breakdown” within minority communities that explains racial disparities.

“You have to find ways to get the community to access and to take advantage of [opportunity]. Some people do, but not enough do. And there’s a reason why they don’t, and that’s something that I quite frankly don’t understand, and I need help with that,” Mattiello said.

Mattiello said that education was “the great equalizer” but dismissed criticisms that Rhode Island schools were effectively segregated. “I would say that it’s not segregated, it’s just that it reflects the population that it serves… I don’t know that you start busing people and so forth.”

“I don’t see racism because that’s not how I live my life… But I’ve never seen it because it’s not the way I live. And I’ve never been the victim of it,” Mattiello added.

Well, I guess he at least admits that racism might exist. But of course he’s not racist because no one is racist in 2015 except for people who believe that white privilege might exist or people who voted for Obama and therefore support the war on whites. Meanwhile those black people are just lazy and the state’s significant segregation just happens because white people like to live next to white people and black people choose to live that way.

My disdain for third parties is well-known, but really it’s a different beast on the state level. In Rhode Island, with the Republican Party a non-entity at the local level in most districts and the Democrats who do get elected (not all, but a sizable number including Mattiello) essentially Republicans themselves in Democratic clothing, there really isn’t any reason not to at least try to primary these people. While I remain skeptical that building a state-level third party is a good use of resources because, like on the federal level, the energy that goes into the party-building could be better spent on issue-based campaigning, one can certainly make a much better case for it in Rhode Island than nationally.

Declining economic independence of young adults

[ 67 ] November 16, 2015 |

The Pew Center has analyzed census data, and discovered that the percentage of 18-34 women who are living with family (usually their parent or parents) is at an all-time high since this statistic began to be gathered in 1940. The trend for young adult men is very similar:


Some notes:

(1) College students who live at their school are not counted as living with family, and the percentage of 18-34 year olds enrolled in college has increased enormously, going from 5% to 27% between 1960 and 2014 for women, and from 10% to 23% for men. Yet young adults enrolled in higher education are significantly more likely to be living at home than those who are not. This indicates the extent to which the classic picture of a college student as someone in residence at a four-year institution is inaccurate.

(2) Another trend which, all other things being equal, ought to lead to higher rates of independent living among young adults are higher marriage rates among 18-34 year-olds. Such rates have fallen in half since 1940 for both women and men, going from 62% to 30% and 48% to 24% respectively.

It seems clear that long-term economic changes are making it more and more difficult for young adults to establish economic and social independence from their birth families, and that this trend has become pronounced over the past 15 years.

(h/t Matt Leichter)

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