Friday, October 21, 2016

If Only

Wishful thinking from Andy Borowitz at The New Yorker:

WASHINGTON (News Satire from The Borowitz Report)—In an Oval Office ceremony on Wednesday morning, President Barack Obama signed an executive order requiring the loser of the 2016 Presidential election to leave the country forever.

“This will help the healing begin,” the President said.

The executive order calls for the loser of the November 8th election to depart the country on the morning of November 9th and never return.

“Whoever that turns out to be,” the President said.

Obama acknowledged that the executive order marked a departure from American electoral tradition, but added, “A lot of good will come of this.”

The two most recent losers of U.S. Presidential elections, John McCain and Mitt Romney, issued a joint statement in reaction to the executive order. “We’re O.K. with it,” the statement read.

And take all the folks waiting for the Rapture with them.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sunday Reading

Sickly Sweet — David Singerman on the shady history of Big Sugar.

On Monday, an article in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to publish a study blaming fat and cholesterol for coronary heart disease while largely exculpating sugar. This study, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, helped set the agenda for decades of public health policy designed to steer Americans into low-fat foods, which increased carbohydrate consumption and exacerbated our obesity epidemic.

This revelation rightly reminds us to view industry-funded nutrition science with skepticism and to continue to demand transparency in scientific research. But ending Big Sugar’s hold on the American diet will require a broader understanding of the various ways in which the industry, for 150 years, has shaped government policy in order to fuel our sugar addiction.

Today’s sugar industry is a product of the 19th century, when the key federal sugar policy was not a dietary guideline but a tariff on sugar imports. In the decades after the Civil War, Americans’ per capita consumption of sugar more than doubled, from 32 pounds in 1870 to 80 pounds in 1910. As a result, the government got hooked on sugar, too: By 1880, sugar accounted for a sixth of the federal budget.

To protect domestic refiners, then the largest manufacturing employer in Northern cities, the tariff distinguished between two kinds of sugar: “refined” and “raw.” Refined sugar that was meant for direct consumption paid a much higher rate than did raw sugar crystals intended for further refining and whitening. But by the late 1870s, new industrial sugar factories in the Caribbean began to jeopardize this protectionist structure. Technologically sophisticated, these factories could produce sugar that, while raw by the government’s standard, was consistently much closer to refined sugar than ever before (akin to sweeteners such as Sugar in the Raw today). The American industry now faced potential competition from abroad.

The country’s largest refiners mobilized on several fronts. They lobbied the United States Congress to adopt chemical instruments that could measure the percentage of sucrose in a sugar cargo, and to deem sugar refined when its sucrose content was sufficiently high. Previously, customs officers had judged the purpose of a sugar cargo by its color, smell, taste and texture, as people throughout the sugar trade had done for centuries. Now refiners argued that such sensory methods were ripe for abuse because they depended on a subjective appraisal. They demanded a scientific standard instead — one that would reveal some “raw” sugar to be nearly pure and thus subject to higher tariffs — and they prevailed.

Their plea for scientific objectivity may have sounded sensible, but it masked nefarious aims. Like the tobacco industry in the 1960s, these refiners knew that scientific questions were hard for outsiders to adjudicate, and thus easier to manipulate to an industry’s advantage. If refiners were to bribe a customs chemist to shade his results in their favor — as they were routinely accused of doing for decades, beginning in the 1870s — such corruption would be much harder for the government to detect than it had been when everyone could see and smell the same sugar.

In addition to their lobbying, refiners waged a public campaign to dissuade Americans from eating raw sugar. One of their common advertisements featured a disgusting insect that supposedly inhabited raw sugar and caused an ailment called “grocer’s itch” in those who handled it. Other pamphlets suggested that Cuban factories operated by slaves or Chinese indentured workers would “give the people sugar teeming with animals and Cuban dirt.”

The refiners’ real agenda, of course, was not Americans’ health; it was to maximize their profits from selling sugar. Thanks in part to their influence over both tariff policy and the new methods of customs collection, the big refiners were soon able to form the Sugar Trust, one of the most notorious and successful monopolies of the Gilded Age. By the early 20th century, belief in the health benefits of refined sugar was so widespread that increasing Americans’ consumption of it actually became a goal of federal policy.

Looking back at the industry’s transformation of sugar (an edible substance derived from a plant) into sucrose (a molecule), we also see the roots of “nutritionism” in United States policy. That’s the idea that what matters to human health is not food per se but rather a handful of isolable biochemical factors. As food critics like Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle have argued, nutritionism is better at helping processed-food companies market their products as healthy (“with Omega-3 added!”) than it is at promoting our well-being.

Today, the sugar industry remains politically powerful, with consequences for both public health and the environment. The Miami Herald reported this summer, for example, that the industry contributed $57 million to Florida elections in the last 22 years; meanwhile, state officials have resisted efforts to make sugar companies pay for their damage to the Everglades.

If we want to check the power of Big Sugar, we’d be well served to acknowledge the long record — past as well as present — of the industry’s machinations.

The Astringent Power of Edward Albee — Hilton Als in The New Yorker.

Writing that gets under your skin, in your bones, will play in your head and memory like nothing else. While painting, photography, and movies can come at you with a very particular force—an in-your-face power that, when done correctly, unearths hitherto unexamined or marginalized feelings—dramatic literature lives in your ear, and, when it’s truly great, shapes how you shape words yourself.

As a very young writer or, at any rate, as a young person who longed to write, I was especially taken by Edward Albee’s plays, the astringent power of all those speeches and curt one-liners that disinfected or seemed to scour a stage world lousy with illusions. He was a different kind of realist. As the youngest of the three artists who reshaped the architecture of the postwar American theatre—Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller completed the trinity, and were more than a decade older than their younger colleague—Albee didn’t make work that believed only in the story. That is, the playwright wasn’t entirely convinced that telling a story led to anything as trite as catharsis. While Williams and Miller believed their protagonists—and often identified with them—Albee was just as often skeptical if not down right distrustful of what his characters said, and how they said it.

Despite the violence of their words, Albee’s characters do not speak freely; they are always hedging their bets because life is disappointing, and who wants to have less of what they already have? The best that Albee’s characters manage to do is steel themselves or bulwark themselves against the fake, often within hollow conventions like marriage that his domineering women and seemingly passive men cling to and talk about wryly, and with more longing than their shared bitchiness would ever let on. Like many of us, Albee learned to cope—to build the defenses he felt were necessary to survive—while sitting on his mother’s knee. But he was rarely, if ever, coddled as a child. In an interview with Lillian Ross that appeared in this magazine in 1961, after three of his first short plays were performed in New York and abroad—1959’s “The Zoo Story”; and “The Death of Bessie Smith” and “The American Dream,” both from 1961—Albee told the reporter a bit about his background:

Born in Washington, D.C., on March 12, 1928, and came to New York when I was two weeks old . . . I have no idea who my natural parents were, although I’m sure my father wasn’t a President, or anything like that. I was adopted by my father, Reed A. Albee, who worked for his father, Edward Franklin Albee, who started a chain of theatres with B. F. Keith and then sold out to R.K.O. My father is retired now. My mother is a remarkable woman. An excellent horsewoman and saddle-horse judge. I was riding from the time I was able to walk. My parents had a stable of horses in Larchmont or Scarsdale or Rye, one of those places. I don’t ride anymore. Just sort of lost interest in it. My parents gave me a good home and a good education. . . . I went to Choate. . . . I was very happy there. I went on to Trinity College, in Hartford, for a year and a half. I didn’t have enough interest in it to stick it out for four years. . . . After a year and a half, the college suggested that I not come back, which was fine with me.

Memory has a way of trivializing the truth—and smoothing over the past—in a way that is misleading. Albee’s mother may have been an excellent horsewoman, but her skills did not extend to mothering. She treated her only child as something of an accessory, and lived for herself—for her idea of power. The best and most troublesome of Albee’s female characters are her. After Albee left home, he never saw his father again, and he had no real contact with his mother until seventeen years before her death. By then he had made a different kind of family—with like-minded gay men such as the poets Richard Howard and James Merrill, who had troubled relationships with their mothers, too, men who could go toe to toe with Albee in the Village bars they frequented, places where language was a performance in itself, and cruelty a badge of honor.

One gets the sense that, growing up and beyond, Albee was rather proud of his put-downs; he wanted to hurt the world he could never show had hurt him. For all the tension and confrontation in his plays, there’s a lot of avoidance. Mystery informs his best-known play, the 1962 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” While Pamela McKinnon’s superlative 2012 production brought out so much in the famous text—including the fact that the warring married couple, George and Martha, were very turned on by one another—it only increased our interest in why, for instance, Martha drank, lied, cheated. Unlike Williams and Miller, Albee did not believe in backstories—that the child was, artistically speaking, father to the man—and when his characters “share,” none of it is cozy. It’s as if, when he left home, Albee wanted to be a different person—a person who would not describe his past as the past was attached to other people.

But, of course, we are always attached to other people: our relationships to them are, to some extent, who we are. Albee learned cruelty at home—one could call his domestic dramas the living room of cruelty—and he wrote most exquisitely about how cruelty can, for some, make a home. As a young artist, he borrowed too heavily from Ionesco—an early and permanent influence, along with Beckett—who thought characters existed for the sole purpose of making theatre. Albee was attracted to that idea, but he was also an American, which meant that storytelling of one sort or another was in his blood. He erred on the side of theatre as theatre when he came out with “Tiny Alice,” in 1964. I am very fond of this piece, which purports to be about the richest woman in the world—the Alice of the title—but what it’s really about is unfathomable. (Sir John Gielgud, who starred in the original production, told Albee that he didn’t know what the play was about. Albee said he didn’t really, either.) To my mind, the play is about meta theater, and role-playing; it borrows quite a bit from Jean Genet’s 1957 masterpiece, “The Balcony,” especially when it zeroes in on organized religion, another form of theatre. Here’s how it opens:

Lawyer: Oomm, yoom, yoom, yoom, Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Um? You do-do-do-do-um?. . . .

The Cardinal enters

Cardinal: Saint Francis?
Lawyer: Your eminence!
Cardinal: Our dear Saint Francis, who wandered in the fields and forests, talked to all the . . .
Lawyer: Your eminence, we appreciate your kindness in making the time to see us; we know how heavy a schedule you . . .
Cardinal: We are pleased. . . . We are pleased to be your servant . . . if we can be your servant. We addressed you as Saint Francis . . .
Lawyer: Oh, but surely . . .
Cardinal: . . . as Saint Francis . . . who did talk to the birds so, did he not. And here we find you, who talk not only to the birds but to—you must forgive us—to cardinals we well . . . . To cardinals? As well?
Lawyer: We . . . we understood.
Cardinal: Did we.
Lawyer: We find it droll—if altogether appropriate in this setting—that there should be two cardinals . . . uh, together . . . in conversation, as it were.
Cardinal: Ah, well, they are a comfort to each other . . . companionship. And they have so much to say. They . . . understand each other so much better than they would . . . uh, other birds.

Given Albee’s interest in the stage as an arena for ideas, it seems strange that critics and audiences rejected important works such as “Box” and “Quotations From Mao Tse-Tung.” Those short plays are all about voice—indeed, “Box” is a monologue starring a woman we never see—and also the logical extension of an experimentalist who, throughout his life, worked within fairly conventional structures. Albee continued to work hard even as, inevitably, he began to lose favor with the critics. He knew theatre was as much subject to trends as anything. In his 1962 essay “Some Notes on Nonconformity,” he put out this warning: “One must always mistrust fashion, because it is, as often as not, arbitrary; and the assumption that one can become informed of, and participate in, the intellectual temper of our time through reliance on any breathlessly composed list of fashionable far outs is funny and sad—and, what is much worse, terribly conformist.”

Albee did like plot and ideas, and often in his work the idea was the story. Listen carefully to Agnes at the beginning of “A Delicate Balance,” from 1966. The drama is about her body—and her mind. In no uncertain terms, she lets Tobias, her husband of many years, know how much he disgusted her at one point, but not before she talks about a thought she has had: What would happen if she lost her mind? Agnes is sister to Nancy in Albee’s underrated and fantastic, in all senses of the word, “Seascape” (1975). There Nancy sits on a beach with another husband of many years, and it doesn’t take her long to goad him into talking about a past that he doesn’t want to share while she belittles him for taking more risks—risks she probably would have been averse to when she was younger. What Nancy is really talking about, though, is her life. And the bitterness of compromise that is part of life:

Charlie: Well, we’ve earned a little . . .

Nancy: . . . rest. We’ve earned a little rest. Well, why don’t we act like the old folks, why don’t we sell off, and take one bag apiece and go to California, or in the desert where they have the farms—the retirement farms, the old folks’ cities? Why don’t we settle in to waiting, like . . . like the camels that we saw in Egypt—groan down on all fours, sigh, and eat the grass, or whatever it is. Why don’t we go and wait the judgment with our peers? Take our teeth out, throw away our corset, give to the palsy . . . the purgatory before purgatory.

Life as a way station between the worse and the worst. Marriage and security as a holding pattern between many kinds of deaths. I don’t think Albee ever wrote an “out” gay play, though “The Zoo Story” and his 1966 adaptation of James Purdy’s “Malcolm” contain more than their share of homoerotic feeling. But, for me, the gayness was always there—the high-dudgeon witchery of a very smart queen who “read” the world. (One wonders what Albee made of gay marriage.)

Part of Albee’s genius was figuring out ways to bring his brilliant gay talk to an audience that, at the time, may not have known what informed his ice-cold torrent of words against coupling, against convention. But his gay fans knew what was going on. We unearthed Albee’s aesthetic by putting his words in our queer mouths and laughing. Once, long ago, on a trip to Amsterdam with my closest friend, we read aloud from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” over and over again. Calling ourselves George and Martha during the readings was, of course, part of the camp. The names didn’t matter. What did was Albee’s revenge against a world that said George and Martha, in all their awfulness and vindictiveness, were normal, while we weren’t.

Thank You — Andy Borowitz

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Calling this “the greatest day of my life,” a visibly moved Barack Obama held a news conference on Friday to thank Donald Trump for granting him U.S. citizenship.

“The issue of whether or not I was a U.S. citizen has been a dark cloud over my existence for as long as I can remember,” a tearful Obama told the press corps. “Only one man had the courage, wisdom, and doggedness to make that cloud go away: Donald J. Trump.”

The President, who had to halt several times during his remarks to compose himself, praised the Republican Presidential nominee for “never giving up” in his quest to prove that Obama was born in the U.S.

“A weaker man would have said, ‘I don’t need this in my life,’ but Donald Trump was always there for me,” the President said. “Over the past five years, barely a day went by when he didn’t call me and say, ‘Barack, I don’t care what a bunch of crackpots say. You were born here, and I’m going to prove it once and for all.’ “

The President said he planned to spend the day celebrating his U.S. citizenship with his family. “It’s great to be an American, at last,” he said.

When asked if he had any message for Trump, the President paused for a moment. “Just this: I love you,” he said, a tear trickling down his cheek.

Doonesbury — Welcome aboard Trump Airlines.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday Reading

Planning Ahead — Charlie Pierce on how the GOP will undermine Hillary Clinton, just like they did Barack Obama.

Well, I’ll be needing a Prestone gimlet or five.

Not that anybody will remember this little thing from Tiger Beat On The Potomac in March of 2017, when everybody will be writing about how Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strident rhetoric during the campaign has crippled her ability to govern effectively, or to “reach across the aisle,” or to “create bipartisan solutions.” But I thought it ought to be noted for the record that the Republican commitment to institutional vandalism will not be going anywhere any time soon, and that there are Republicans—and a few Democrats and faux independents—who see an inert executive to be a political opportunity.

That means the bipartisan show of support she has now—thanks to Donald Trump and the “alt-right,” conspiracy-driven campaign Clinton attacked Thursday in Reno—is likely to evaporate as soon as the race is called. If she wins the presidency, Clinton would likely enjoy the shortest honeymoon period of any incoming commander-in-chief in recent history, according to Washington strategists, confronting major roadblocks to enacting her ambitious agenda, as well as Republican attacks that have been muted courtesy of the GOP nominee. “It will be the defining fact of her presidency,” Jonathan Cowan, president of the moderate think tank Third Way, said of Clinton’s problem of entering office with a divided Congress. “It’s unprecedented.”

Good Lord, not these people again. They represent nobody. There is no viable constituency for anything they represent. The Republicans are going to be bad enough, but all HRC is going to need is to be heckled from the Joe Lieberman Memorial Peanut Gallery, especially with Zombie Evan Bayh on the verge of reappearing in the Senate, after his sabbatical during which he helped save representative democracy by being a lobbyist.

And check out the example cited in the piece.

Republicans operatives on the Hill, for instance, are already planning to block Clinton’s agenda by strategically targeting individual Democratic senators who will be up for reelection in 2018. “Take Joe Manchin in West Virginia,” explained one GOP operative of the strategy. “If Hillary puts up an anti-coal pro-EPA judge for the Supreme Court, the smart play is to start pressuring him with an advocacy campaign to vote no.” Voting with Clinton would jeopardize his reelection chances, and voting against her would rob her of a Democratic Senate vote she couldn’t afford to lose without the 60 votes needed to filibuster.

Yes, One GOP Operative, this is just the week to be concerned about the political viability of the Manchin clan.

If HRC wins the election, it is going to be in great part because a Republican Party that ate the monkeybrains 40 years ago has developed within itself a prion disease that has produced a public hallucination instead of a candidate. She should not govern by pretending that the prion disease will disappear because El Caudillo de Mar-A-Lago cratered. If the Republicans decide to freeze the agenda, to the detriment of the country, that has to be framed by the administration as a further example of the political dementia that also produced Donald Trump.

Short-Arm Inspection — Molly Stier in The Nation on the hard-core reaction to Texas’ law allowing open carry on college campuses.

College senior Julia Dixon stuck a dildo in the side pocket of her backpack as she headed to campus, setting out to conquer her final first day of classes as an undergraduate student. A sex toy might be the last thing you’d expect to see in a college lecture hall, but on Wednesday, August 24, Dixon and thousands of University of Texas students were participating in what some are calling the largest anti-gun protest in Texas history.

“As much fun and hilarious protesting with dildos may be, the issue behind it all is nothing to joke about,” Dixon said.

Dixon is referring to Texas’s passage of Senate Bill 11—commonly known as campus carry—which permits concealed handgun license holders to carry guns in all public universities in the state. The legislation went into effect on August 1. It coincided with the 50th anniversary of the University of Texas tower massacre, an event widely regarded as the first mass shooting in the country, where a sniper perched atop the campus’s main building shot 43 people, 13 of whom were killed. To fight the bill, students, faculty, staff, and parents gathered on the UT Austin campus on Wednesday to participate in an event called “Cocks Not Glocks.”

“If you’re uncomfortable with dildos, how do you think I feel about your gun?” student protester Rosie Zander shouted to the crowd gathered on the west side of the UT tower.

The protesters—dildos in hand, on backpacks, strapped to waists, suction-cupped to foreheads—gathered to listen to local progressive leaders, like Austin City Council member Kathie Tovo and Democratic candidate for state representative Gina Hinojosa, as well as members from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Cocks Not Glocks leaders Jessica Jin and Ana López.

Jin, a UT alum working for a tech startup in San Francisco, had her work cut out for her as soon as her plane touched down in Austin this week. She teamed up with allies to promote the event, making videos with dramatic Shakespearean monologues and jazz bands whose sets were decked out in dildos swinging from the ceiling. Days before classes started, she got word that the The Daily Show would be sending a correspondent to cover the event. She had more than 4,000 sex toys sitting in boxes crowding the apartments of her co-organizers, waiting to be distributed before Wednesday.

To deal with the latter, Jin, López, and co-organizer Kailey Moore held a dildo distribution rally the day before classes began. They liquidated their sex toy stock, all donated by companies based everywhere from Austin to Singapore, in 23 minutes.

The popularity of the event can be credited, in part, to how long it was planned in advance. Cocks Not Glocks has been in the works since October, after Jin learned that her home state would become the eighth in the country to allow students to carry guns on campuses.

As a Texan hailing from San Antonio, Jin got the gun thing. She understood that it was fun to go out shooting on a friend’s ranch, and she saw the value in getting a concealed-handgun license, having considered getting one herself. But with guns now making their way into classrooms, she thought enough was enough.

The idea came shortly after the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon, where a gunman killed nine and injured nine others before turning the gun on himself. Jin sat in Austin traffic and listened to an uninspiring discussion on gun violence in this country.

“What a bunch of dildos,” she called the commentators—and then something clicked.

After digging into the UT code of conduct, she found that the university defaults to Texas law in prohibiting obscenity, which is defined as making public “a dildo or artificial vagina, designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.”

She took to Facebook to create an event she titled “Cocks Not Glocks”—calling on the UT Austin community to strap sex toys to their backpacks on the first day of classes.

“You’re carrying a gun to class? Yeah well I’m carrying a HUGE DILDO,” Jin wrote on the event page. “Just about as effective at protecting us from sociopathic shooters, but much safer for recreational play.”

Jin, proud of what she thought would be a small joke, shut her laptop, went to bed, and woke up to find that her event had gone viral. She went from being indifferent to gun issues, to being thrown into the arena of gun activism overnight.

In the following months, Jin’s Facebook event garnered 10,000 members. She flipped her once-neutral stance on gun issues, and began attending gun safety–advocacy gatherings, meeting professors, students, and people personally affected by gun violence. She actively confronted her trolls, who argued that guns would protect her from being assaulted or raped. One Second Amendment enthusiast went so far as to publish her address online, instructing people to “let her know how they felt” about her protest.

“Nobody really wants to be an activist in this space because of the amount of hate that you get and the amount of abuse that you have to undergo,” Jin said.

Gun rights zealots threatened the demonstration, but to no avail. Rather than using aggression, one member of the national pro-gun group Students for Concealed Carry carried a sign reading “Coexist,” intended to communicate solidarity with the right to free speech and to also highlight its ability to exist with concealed carry.

“It’s an issue of personal liberty,” said Brian Bensimon, a UT student and the organization’s Texas director. “It’s a matter of rights and when you consider that concealed carry is allowed in museums, grocery stores, and even at our own state capitol, that there’s not really a reason to ban it from colleges.”

Other Texan students echoed this sentiment. C.J. Grisham, a Texas A&M student and army veteran who carries his gun on campus, specifically challenged a growing concern held especially by faculty.

“This idea that it’s going to stifle debate is asinine and absurd,” Grisham said. “It’s just a narrative by anti-gun, liberal professors to undermine our rights.”

Professors are among the most vocal about their opposition to the law, their most common worry being that the presence of guns in classrooms will chill academic discourse. Over the past few months, thousands of professors have signed petitions and begun discussions on Facebook about the new policy, debating how to word their syllabi and the extent of their obligation to observe the law. Three UT Austin professors went so far as to file a lawsuit against the university and the state. Their request for a preliminary injunction, which would have blocked implementation of the law before the first day of class, was denied on August 21, but the case will continue on to trial.

“This is a fight that needs to happen in Texas,” said Mia Carter, UT Austin literature professor and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

In a similar spirit, Jin is instructing students to keep the movement going until the law is repealed.

“Dildos should be on backpacks as long as there are guns in backpacks,” she said.

Almost Got Away — Humor from Andy Borowitz.

VIRGINIA (The Borowitz Report)—Calling it a “scary moment” and a “close call,” Donald Trump’s campaign officials confirmed that they had recaptured Mike Pence after the Indiana governor attempted to flee the campaign bus in the early hours of Friday morning.

According to the campaign, Pence had asked to stop at a McDonald’s in rural Virginia so that he could use the bathroom, but aides grew concerned when the governor failed to reappear after twenty minutes.

After determining that Pence had given them the slip, Trump staffers fanned out across the Virginia backcountry, where the governor was believed to have fled.

News that Pence had vanished touched off a panic in Indiana, where residents feared that he might return to resume his political career.

After forty-five minutes of searching, however, campaign officials located a bedraggled and dazed Pence walking along Virginia State Route 287, where the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee was attempting unsuccessfully to hitch a ride.

A confrontation that Trump aides characterized as “tense” ensued, after which a sobbing Pence returned to the bus.

In the aftermath of Pence’s disappearance, Hope Hicks, Trump’s press secretary, attempted to downplay the severity of the incident. “This is the kind of thing that happens in the course of a long and demanding campaign,” she said. “Having said that, we’re grateful to have Mike Pence back with us, and we won’t let him get away again.”

Reportedly, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie offered to fill in for Pence in the event that he became unable to fulfill his duties. That offer was declined.

Doonesbury — Daydreamin’.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Reading

An abbreviated version while I’m on vacation…

That Should Work — James Fallows on Donald Trump’s latest appeal to African-American voters.

Donald Trump’s comments [Friday] night in Dimondale, Michigan, have already received a lot of attention. They’re worth noting as part of his campaign’s evolution, and worth watching in the video below, for these reasons:

  • They come after, not before, the latest “pivot” to a more compassionate, more general-election-minded tone in the campaign. This is the nice Trump.
  • They resemble appeals with a long and sometimes honorable history. Some black conservatives, and more whites, have argued over the decades that the taken-for-granted status of black support for Democratic candidates leaves the African-American vote, well, taken for granted. The most heartfelt and appealing version of the argument that black voters should consider voting Republican came from the late Jack Kemp, due to his sunny bearing and his own bona fides from a career in the very integrated world of sports. It was different from the version Trump presented here.
  • Trump ostensibly made his argument to black voters, asking “what do you have to lose?” But if you watch the clip you’ll see that in context he is talking about black people, to an audience that was mainly white. (Audience composition is something you can control, or at least foresee and influence, if you’re running a national campaign. Where you hold the event, where you drum up attendance, whom you seat in the prominent on-camera places behind the candidate and in the front of the crowd—these all have an effect and can be tuned.)
  • Most remarkable was a tone that amounted to treating black America as a problem, rather than as a group that has some problems. The tension between statement and insinuation was similar to Trump’s inaugural statement last year about Mexicans: “they’re sending rapists.” He wasn’t explicitly saying, “Mexicans are rapists.” But the tone and insinuation were those you would never use about a group you cared about, or respected.

    Listen to the passage starting at time 1:05 of the clip below. To me the unavoidable tone is the same: What is wrong with “you people”?

  • Trump rounds out this appeal by saying that if he’s elected, he’ll get 95% black support for his re-election. “I guarantee it!” This will probably end up being classified in the “sarcastic” bin, given that not even Barack Obama got that large a share of the black vote in his re-election run. He got about 93% in 2012; Trump right now is running between 1% and 3% black support, depending on the polls.

Update Trump has said similar things, more clearly, on Fox News. It’s worth reading the report on  Think Progress. “Total catastrophe” is one of the terms he uses to describe the achievements and situation of black Americans.

Unruly Mob — James Folta in The New Yorker explains why the Mafia is in decline.

INTERNAL/CLASSIFIED

After extensive investigation, our specialized team, the F.B.I. New-Media Task Force, has determined that organized-crime syndicates are being increasingly hampered by an inability to communicate effectively through text messages and e-mails. Agents have found that the Mafia and other large criminal groups are having difficulty planning crimes as a result of overly long strings of messages that are derailed by unrelated jokes and GIFs. Our investigators are pleased to report that this pattern has led to a decrease in crime and an increase in criminal organizations’ cellular overage charges.

The bulk of this investigation involved the interception and analysis of Mafia members’ text messages. It was observed that poor texting habits led to many issues. For instance, unrecognized abbreviations often had to be explained (LOL = Lots of Larceny, CSP = Cement Shoes Please, BHK = Break His Knees, etc.). Mobsters who own different brands of phones were inadvertently left out of group texts, and as a result crimes were understaffed and failed. Winking emojis that were meant to subtly imply something illegal were often interpreted as flirtatious, and vice versa.

Combing through Mafia conversations has revealed an organization that is overly chatty, unable to make basic criminal decisions in fewer than fifty logistical messages. Consider this transcript from a group text chain labelled “Legitimate Businessmen”:

Joey Three Snaps: did you get it?
Hambone Harry: yah, where can I can hand it off?
Joey Three Snaps: Tito’s?
Hambone Harry: eh I don’t feel like that, had mexican last night
Gus Gus: we don’t have to eat for this meeting
Joey Three Snaps: wat do you feel like?
Hambone Harry: not Tito’s
Gus Gus: guys what about just Starbucks
Joey Three Snaps: nah I need to eat
Gus Gus: they have muffins n stuff
Hambone Harry: guys come on, pick something
Gus Gus: sidebar: where’s a good place to start with don delillo?

This particular text conversation continues for another sixty-four minutes until its participants decide to abandon the plan altogether, and to start with “White Noise.” We believe that, in this instance, inept texting combined with numerous long-winded tangents about what constitutes a “low-key date spot” prevented or delayed a serious crime.

E-mails provided another source of disorganization for criminals. We uncovered chains so long that mobsters were unable to locate vital information (the names of targets, bribery amounts, restaurant recommendations, etc.) among all the correspondence. Hundreds of unrelated comments, tips about how to slice garlic, and “Sad Mobcat Memes” (see attached appendix) time and again brought e-mail communication to an effective halt.

An undercover agent recorded this telling exchange during a game of medium-stakes poker:

[Unintelligible] God, this is getting really bad. We’re trying to plan a weekend trip to, uh, talk to that upstate judge, but Manny only just now, on Friday morning, replied that we can take his car. [Unintelligible] then Donny e-mailed that actually he had a thing with his cousin that he forgot about so he had to bail, and then Gerald chimed in that he’s feeling drained this week, so now we don’t have enough guys to make this happen before the trial. I’ve been suggesting a Doodle but—[cell-phone alert sound] O.K., jeez, I guess now we’re trying again for next weekend. For Christ’s sake, I said I couldn’t get away then.

This same undercover agent was able to increase confusion in group communications by interjecting flaky R.S.V.P.s, links to provocative Op-Eds, and the question “new phone, who’s on this thread?” This tactic proved so successful that we are now urging other F.B.I. agents to take similar steps to infiltrate criminal communication networks (Operation Rolling Tangent).

If this trend continues, we believe that we will be closer than ever to effectively stamping out organized crime. The New-Media Task Force will be holding briefing meetings to provide more detailed information. If you are interested in attending, please reply-all to this memo with the times that you are not available next week. We will be sending out coördinating e-mails as soon as enough agents respond.

Doonesbury — Such babies.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Reading

One Of The Greats — Jim Nelson in GQ on the legacy of Barack Obama.

Something is dawning on us—it’s almost too soon for us to admit, but it’s there, a half-considered thought only now blooming in our brains. Maybe we dismiss it with one of those quick cognitive fly swats. Nah, too early to say or I hate that guy. But the truth is coming, and it sounds like this: Barack Obama will be inducted into the league of Great Presidents.

Wait. One of the Greatest? you ask, your thumb emoticon poised to turn up or down on me. The guy haters love to hate with their very best hate game? Like 20-Dollar Bill great? Like Mount Rushmore great?

Yep. (We just won’t build Mount Rushmores anymore.) In so many ways, Obama was better than we imagined, better than the body politic deserved, and far, far better than his enemies will ever concede, but the great thing about being great is that the verdict of enemies doesn’t matter.

In fact, and I say this as a Bill Clinton fan, I now feel certain that, in the coming decades, Obama’s star will rise higher than Clinton’s, and he’ll replace Bill in the public mind as the Greatest Democrat since FDR.

This has to do with the nature of Obama’s leadership, which is to play to legacy (and Clinton’s impulse, which is to play to the room). Bill Clinton will long be revered because he’s charismatic, presided over an economic revival, and changed and elevated the view of the Democratic Party. Barack Obama will long be revered because he’s charismatic, presided over an economic revival, and changed and elevated the view of the presidency. He’s simply bigger than Bill.

More to the point, Obama’s legacy is the sort that gets canonized. Because the first rule of Hall of Fame-dom: The times have to suck for the president not to. Civil wars, World Wars, depressions and recessions. You got to have ’em if you wanna be great. That’s why we rate the Washingtons, Lincolns, and Roosevelts over That Fat Guy with the Walrus Mustache. Like Obama, these Great Men were dealt sucky hands, won big, and left the country better off than it was before.

But it’s also why we downgrade the Jimmy Carters and Herbert Hoovers. Were they as bad in real time as we remember them in history? Probably not. But they were dealt sucky hands, only played one round, and left the country feeling worse off. Legacy Game over. (Hoover reminds me more and more of Donald Trump! Elected with little political experience, Hoover was a rich bastard whose central theme was that government was wasteful. His answer to the Great Depression was to start a trade war and build a massive project called the Hoover Dam. The dam turned out to be a giant wall that did not stop or solve larger problems. Déjà vu, thy name is Trump Wall!)

Obama has a few other edges in the long haul of history, beyond specific hurrah moments like Obamacare, rescuing the economy, and making America way more bi-curious. Being the first black president of course secures a certain legacy. But what now feels distinctly possible is that, just as Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed, over time he may be judged less for the color of his skin than for the content of his character. That character came across every time haters or Trumpers or birthers tried to pull him down into the mud or question his American-ness. He just flew above it all. And, luckily, he took most of us with him. He was the Leader not only of our country but of our mood and disposition, which is harder to rule. At a time when we became more polarized, our discourse pettier and more poisoned, Obama always came across as the Adult in the Room, the one we wanted to be and follow.

Ironically, one of the lock-ins to his Hall of Fame Greatness was originally supposed to be his Achilles’ heel, the shallow thing critics loved to smear him with: his eloquence, his “reliance” on speeches and teleprompters (Sarah Palin once famously screeched, “Mr. President…step away from the teleprompter and do your job!” while herself reading from a teleprompter), as if addressing the country as a whole, trying to unify or inspire people, were a superficial thing. But pivotal words at pivotal moments are not only how we come to admire great leaders, it’s the primary way we remember them. The first thing most people can recall about Lincoln? The Gettysburg Address. FDR? Fireside chats. George Washington? His amazing Snapchats. (George was first with everything.)

With Obama, each thoughtful step of the way, from his soaring acceptance speech (“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep…”) to his epic speeches on race and religion, his responses to the shootings in Tucson and Newtown, the killing of Osama bin Laden, the opening of Cuba (“Todos somos Americanos!”), and countless other momentous occasions, he knew how to speak to our better angels at a time when it was hard to locate any angels.

Lastly, there’s the arc of history, bound to bend downward. As our unity becomes more frayed, more tenuous, and the ability for any politician to get anything done more unlikely, the job of president will become less LBJ tactical and less FDR big-dealer. The job will largely be to preside. To unify where and however we can. In this way, too, Obama pointed the way forward.

It may be hard to imagine now, but in the face of rising chaos, we’ll crave unity all the more, and in future years whoever can speak most convincingly of unity will rise to the top. (It’s also hard to imagine many beating Obama at the game.) This year’s carnival election, with Trump as a kind of debauched circus barker, only makes the distinction clearer. The absurdity and car-crash spectacle of it all have already lent Obama an out-of-time quality, as if he were a creature from another, loftier century. Whatever happens next, I feel this in my bones: We’ll look back at history, hopefully when we’re zooming down the Barack Obama Hyperloop Transport System, and think: That man was rare. And we were damn lucky to have him.

Hail New Columbia — Clare Foran in The Atlantic looks at the case for Washington, D.C. statehood.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is working to breathe life into a longstanding, but controversial, effort to convert the nation’s capital into America’s 51st state.

The mayor ​doubled down on the fight for D.C. statehood on Friday, pledging on Twitter to introduce legislation that would put statehood on the ballot in November 2016. Bowser also called for a citywide vote on the matter at a gathering of Democratic and civil rights leaders and D.C. residents, The Washington Post reports, an event that took place at around the same time that protesters were descending on D.C. to rally for statehood.

It’s practically an official District of Columbia past time to lament the fact that residents of the nation’s capital pay taxes but lack full voting representation in Congress. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s delegate to Congress, is barred from voting on final passage of legislation. The somewhat odd state of affairs is a sore subject. License plates in the District defiantly read “Taxation Without Representation.”Advocates for statehood have been kicking around ideas to achieve their aim for years. Supporters have even proposed naming the 51st state, if it ever comes into existence, “New Columbia.”

The statehood fight highlights some of the disparities and apparent contradictions of the nation’s capital. D.C. plays host to the country’s powerful political elite. It is also a city where many residents live in abject poverty, and where the divide between the haves and the have-nots is stark, and often overlooked by the political class. For statehood supporters, the fact that D.C. residents lack a voice in Congress on par with residents of states across the country is an egregious embodiment of that disparity. Nevertheless, the renewed push for D.C. statehood will undoubtedly be an uphill battle, and one that likely puts the Democratic mayor on a collision course with Republican congressional leaders.

Congressional Republicans tend to bristle at the notion that the District of Columbia should become the 51st state. Conservative critics often invoke the Constitution to make their claim. “Voting Representation for the District of Columbia: Violating the Framers’ Vision and Constitutional Commands,” reads the title of a legal memorandum published in 2009 by the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. Since D.C. is a liberal stronghold, if it were to achieve statehood that could also help Democrats consolidate power in Congress.

Aides for Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not immediately return requests for comment.

The mayor appears to be setting an ambitious statehood agenda, championing a plan to achieve greater fiscal independence from Congress for the nation’s capital as well. The wonky fiscal plan would, the Post writes, amount to a “declaration of independence by the District of Columbia” and stand as a “clear challenge to the ‘absolute supremacy’ that Congress has wielded over the District since it was created in 1790.”

The future of the fight is unclear, and it could fail to gain much traction. But the mayor’s efforts are sure to raise the profile of the issue even if they ultimately fall short of transforming D.C. into the 51st state . The campaign might also endear Bowser to D.C. residents who seem to be increasingly in favor of statehood. A Post poll released last year found that: “Nearly 3 in 4 residents say they are upset that the District has no voting representation in Congress, and about half describe themselves as ‘very upset’ over the absence.” For now, the more immediate question is how far the mayor is willing to take the fight, and how forceful the pushback will be.

Remember Ben Carson? — Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.

WEST PALM BEACH (Satire from The Borowitz Report)—Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, stirred controversy on Thursday by saying in a televised interview that he had no recollection of running for President of the United States.

Appearing on the Fox News Channel, Dr. Carson responded to host Sean Hannity’s question about his ten-month-long candidacy by saying, “I do not recall any of that occurring.”

“I’ve been told that I did it, but I find it impossible to believe,” he said. “I don’t think I’d forget a thing like that.”

Dr. Carson said he had seen photographs and videos of him campaigning for the Republican nomination but called them “the work of an evil person who is really good at PhotoShop and whatnot.”

He said he did not know who would create such an elaborate hoax to convince him that he had run for President “when I clearly did not,” but he speculated about the person’s motives.

“Someone is trying to mess with my mind,” he said. “And when I find out who is doing that I will make them pay dearly.”

While Carson insisted that “there is no way I ran for President,” he did not rule out running for the Republican nomination in the future.

“I think I’d be really good at it,” he said.

Doonesbury — “Words, words, mere words.”

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sunday Reading

Teach Your Children Well — Jonathan Zimmerman in The Atlantic on the poor state of civics education in public schools.

Little hands. A bad tan. And blood coming from wherever.

If you’re put off by the crude tone of politics in the Age of Trump, you’re not alone. According to a recent poll by Weber Shandwick, Powell Tate, and KRC Research, 70 percent of Americans think that political incivility has reached “crisis” levels.

The poll also found that Americans avoid discussing controversial questions, out of fear they too will be perceived as uncivil. The findings speak to a flaw with civic education, especially in the main institution charged with delivering it: public schools. Put simply, schools in the United States don’t teach the country’s future citizens how to engage respectfully across their political differences. So it shouldn’t be surprising that they can’t, or that that they don’t.

Schools have sometimes been blamed for the meteoric rise of Donald Trump, whose legions of supporters allegedly lack the civic knowledge to see through his proposals to ban Muslims from entering the United States or to kill family members of terrorists in the fight against ISIS. But it’s hardly clear that Trump supporters are less knowledgeable than anyone else. In six state GOP exit polls, Trump was the most popular candidate among college-educated voters and came in second in another six polls.

Indeed, the facile dismissal of all Trump enthusiasts as bigots or ignoramuses speaks to the most urgent problem in American civic life: the inability to communicate with people who do not share the same opinion. Trump himself epitomizes that trend, routinely vilifying his opponents as “losers” or “dummies,” or worse. And yet Trump’s critics often use similar terms to tar his diverse array of devotees. This isn’t a discussion; it’s a shouting match.Public schools aren’t merely expected to teach young people the mechanics of government: how a bill is signed into law, what the Supreme Court does, and so on. They’re also responsible for teaching the skills and habits of democratic life, especially how to engage civilly with people from a different political camp.

Many districts have written policies promoting the teaching of “controversial issues” in schools. Typically, these policies affirm students’ right to discuss such issues as part of their preparation for citizenship. They also warn teachers against imposing their own point of view on students.But there’s an enormous gap between policy and practice. Many teachers say they’d like to address controversial issues but lack the time; in poorer districts, especially, every available minute is devoted to preparing students for high-stakes standardized tests. Others admitted that they were not prepared to lead such discussions, which require deep background knowledge on the issues as well as the skill to manage diverse opinions about them.

Still other teachers said that their districts discouraged or even barred them from addressing controversial issues, particularly if the teacher displayed a liberal or unorthodox bent. After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, for example, two teachers and a counselor in Albuquerque, New Mexico, were suspended without pay for hanging posters in their classrooms urging “No War Against Iraq.” School officials invoked the district’s “controversial-issues” policy, which declared that teachers “will not attempt, directly or indirectly, to limit or control the opinions of pupils.”

As later court filings confirmed, however, the district offered no evidence that the teachers were trying to do that; instead, the mere expression of their opinion was taken as proof of their propagandistic intent. Never mind that military recruiting posters festooned other parts of the school, or that one of the suspended teachers had organized a debate between herself and a pro-war colleague. Her poster was an act of indoctrination rather than education, officials said, and it had to be stopped.

[…]

To be sure, it’s easy to imagine situations where teachers might impose their views instead of assisting students in formulating their own. But many school leaders simply don’t trust teachers to know the difference. After the Ferguson riots, a superintendent in nearby Edwardsville, Illinois, prohibited teachers from mentioning the subject, lest they sway students in one direction or another. “We all have opinions on what should be done,” the superintendent explained. “We don’t need to voice those opinions or engage those opinions in the classroom.”

But how will children learn to “engage those opinions” unless they do so in the classroom? That’s become even more urgent over the past few decades, when Americans increasingly segregated themselves into communities of the like-minded. In 1976, 27 percent of Americans made their homes in so-called “landslide counties” that voted either Democrat or Republican by 20 percent or more; by 2008, 48 percent of Americans lived in such environments.

When divisive subjects do arise, Americans don’t know how to discuss them. In the same KRC survey that revealed overwhelming concern about the incivility of modern politics, over a third of respondents said they avoid talking about racial inequality, abortion rights, or same-sex marriage for fear of the discussion turning “uncivil.” And only one-third said that they do not avoid any issues because of worries about incivility.

Trump has played on that anxiety in his frequent broadsides against “political correctness,” encouraging people to follow his lead and say whatever they think. And while there’s a certain attractiveness to that kind of blunt candor, it’s a poor formula for civic discourse. Nearly three-quarters of the people replying to the KRC survey said they supported “civility training” in schools. Let’s hope they prevail on the schools to provide it.

Why It’s The Worst — Katherine Stewart in The Nation on Mississippi’s gay-bashing law.

On Tuesday morning, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed into law HB 1523—the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act”—one of the most sweeping of the nation’s “religious liberty” bills that are making the rounds in numerous red-state capitals this year. In the press they are often referred to as “anti-LGBT bills,” because they would give legal cover to those who want to discriminate against LGBT people out of “sincerely held religious belief.” Critics such as Ben Needham, director of Human Rights Campaign’s Project One America, has said the measure is “probably the worst religious freedom bill to date.” But there is an even more radical agenda behind these bills, and the atrocious attempt to deprive LGBT Americans of their rights is only a part of it.

According to State Senator Jennifer Branning, one of the Mississippi law’s original backers, the real victims of the story are not the LGBT couples denied services but people “who cannot in good conscience provide services for a same-sex marriage.” These are the true targets of discrimination, and we are invited to sympathize with the proverbial florist who balks at providing flowers at a gay wedding or the restaurant owner who refuses to serve a same-sex couple celebrating their wedding anniversary. But the text of the law also specifically protects the “sincerely held religious belief” that “sexual relations are properly reserved to” a marriage between a woman and a man. So if you are religiously opposed to other people having non-marital sex, this could be the law for you.

It is also inaccurate to think that this law is just about those who wish to refuse to perform a service. One of the more disconcerting sections of the law is that which discusses people who provide foster-care services. The government, we are told, will no longer be allowed to take action against any foster parent that “guides, instructs, or raises a child…in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief.” If you want to know what that could mean, check out Focus on the Family’s “spare the rod” philosophy of child rearing. On its website, the religious-right advocacy group offers handy tips on “the Biblical Approach to Spanking.”

If the point were only to spare the fine moral sentiments of a few florists, why would the law’s sponsors seek such a wide-ranging exemption from the laws and norms that apply to the rest of society? A helpful clue can be found in a letter that the American Family Association sent out in support of the Mississippi bill before it was passed. (The AFA has been named a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2010.) The bill, said the AFA, is crucial because it protects the AFA, and groups like it, from the “governmental threat of losing their tax exempt status.”

There is a revealing irony in that statement. Tax exemption is a kind of gift from the government, a privilege. It is an indirect way of funneling money from taxpayers to groups that engage in certain kinds of activities (like charity work or nonprofit education)—and not other kinds of activities (like political activism). The AFA is right to worry about the governmental threat to their governmental subsidy. As our society views the kinds of activities they endorse with increasing skepticism, the justification for continued subsidies and privileges from the government will diminish.

The people who drafted the bill on behalf of the Mississippi legislators get it. (Most of the red-state “religious liberty” bills were either drafted or, to some degree, inspired by the Alliance Defending Freedom—the “800-pound gorilla” of religious-right legal advocacy and itself a beneficiary of the great tax exemption game.) This is why the very first “discriminatory action” by the government the law prohibits is “to alter in any way the tax treatment” of any person or organization that abides by the newly sanctioned religious beliefs.

It’s about more than money, of course. The AFA and its allies on the religious right want to carve out a sphere in American public life where religion—their religion—trumps the law. It’s a breathtakingly radical ambition. And it upends the principles on which our constitutional democracy is based.

None other than the late Antonin Scalia put his finger on the problem. To make an individual’s obedience to the law “contingent upon the law’s coincidence with his religious beliefs” amounts to “permitting him, by virtue of his beliefs, ‘to become a law unto himself,’” he said. It “contradicts both constitutional tradition and common sense.” Scalia made these comments in his 1990 majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith. In that case, the majority ruled that the state of Oregon could deny unemployment benefits to a pair of individuals who violated a state ban on the use of peyote, even though their use of the drug was part of a religious ritual. It was the overreaction to that verdict—on both the left and the right—that produced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. Though intended only to ensure that laws did not needlessly burden the religious liberty of individuals, the RFRA sparked a wave of unintended consequences. It effectively planted the demon seeds of the current crop of “religious liberty” bills.

Employment Division, as it happened, involved a religion—that practiced by the Native American Church—with which Scalia likely did not identify. Which brings up a crucial point about the Mississippi law and its numerous cousins. These “religious liberty” bills are really intended only for a particular variety of religion. Indeed, HB 1523 protects you only if your religion involves a specific set of beliefs—such as the religious belief that “man” and “woman” “refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex,” and that “sexual relations are properly reserved to” marriage. To speak frankly, the law was designed to advance the claims of conservative Christians, and it would never have become law otherwise. If you think that every religion will find as much liberty in the laws of Mississippi, then I have a Satanic temple to sell you.

Donald Trump Performs Shakespeare — Aryah Cohen-Wade in The New Yorker.

“Hamlet”

Listen—to be, not to be, this is a tough question, O.K.? Very tough. A lot of people come up to me and ask, “Donald, what’s more noble? Getting hit every day with the slings, the bows, the arrows, the sea of troubles—or just giving up?” I mean, smart people, the best Ivy League schools.

But I say to them, “Have you ever thought that we don’t know—we don’t know—what dreams may come? Have you ever thought about that?” Ay yi yi—there’s the rub! There’s the rub right there. When we shuffle off this mortal whatever it is—coil? They say to me, “Donald, you’ve built this fantastic company, how’d you do it? How?” And I say one word: “leadership.” Because that’s what it’s all about, is leadership. And people are so grateful whenever I bring up this whole “perchance to dream” thing. So grateful.

And on and on with the whips and the scorns of time and the contumely and the fardels and the blah blah blah.

Then I see a bare bodkin and I’m like—a bodkin? What the hell is this thing, a bodkin? Listen, I run a very successful business, I employ thousands of people and I’m supposed to care whether this bodkin is bare or not? Sad!

And when people say I don’t have a conscience—trust me, I have a conscience, and it’s a very big conscience, O.K.? And the native hue of my resolution is not sicklied o’er, that’s a lie! If anyone tells you that the native hue of my resolution is sicklied o’er, they’re trying to sell you a load of you-know-what. And enterprises of great pith—listen, my enterprises are so pithy. So pithy. Fantastic pith. But sometimes, hey, they lose the name of action, right? I mean, it happens—it happens.

“Romeo and Juliet”

Quiet, quiet—shut up, over there! What’s coming through that window? A light, it is the east, and Melania—you know, people are always telling me, they say, “Mr. Trump, you’ve got a wonderful wife”—Melania, she’s sitting right there. Stand up, sweetheart. Isn’t she a beautiful woman, Melania? Gorgeous. I love women, they love me—and I think we all know what I mean, folks! I’m gonna do so well with the women in November. So well.

Melania’s the sun, is what a lot of people are saying. Hillary Clinton? I mean, with that face? She looks like the moon! She’s very envious, if you ask me, very envious, but can you blame her? Visit Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue—which is the best street in New York, by the way—I mean, who wouldn’t be envious? This moon, Hillary, is sick and pale with grief when she compares herself to Melania, who is a very beautiful woman, I have to admit.

Melania, she’s got a great cheek, it’s a wonderful cheek, a bright cheek, everyone knows it, the stars ought to be ashamed of themselves, ashamed. The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars. As daylight doth a lamp! Look at this, folks, how she leans her cheek upon her hand. If I were a glove upon that hand—first, let me tell you, I think we all know what I would do, because I bought the Miss Universe Pageant, very successful, so I know a thing or two about gorgeous women. And all this stuff about the gloves, and my hands—I have great hands, O.K.? Gimme a break.

“Julius Caesar”

Friends, Romans, folks—listen up. The reason I’m here is to bury Julius. It’s not to praise him. It’s just not. Brutus over there—we all know he’s a good guy, right? And he says Julius was low-energy. Is it a crime to be low-energy? Well, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t—who knows?

The point is, Brutus is a good guy, all these guys over there, the ones who did this, they’re all good guys—and Julius, Julius was my friend, a really terrific friend to me.

Julius—he brought a lot of captives home to Rome, filled a lot of coffers. Really fantastic coffers. Does that sound low-energy to you? And when the poor people, regular, hardworking, everyday Romans, cried—Julius did, too. He cried. I saw it with my own eyes—many, many times. But Brutus—Brutus says Julius was low-energy. And everyone knows that Brutus is a good guy, right?

You all saw that on the Lupercal, three times—three times—I tried to give Julius a kingly crown. And you should’ve seen this crown—this was a great crown, O.K.? Very, very kingly. And three times he said, “Nope.” Is this low-energy? Yet Brutus says he was low-energy—and, sure, sure, Brutus is a good guy.

I’m not here to say Brutus is lying, but I am here to speak what I do know. You all loved Julius once—so why not be a little sad, now that he’s dead? Just a little sad.

I’m sorry to say that the Roman Senate has been run by a bunch of morons for a long, long time. Morons! A lot of bad decisions—these guys, they’re like a bunch of animals. It makes me so sad. So sad. And I’m looking here at the coffin of my good friend, Mr. Caesar. Just a minute. (He pauses to wipe a tear from his eye.)

So we’re gonna build a wall! And who’s gonna pay for it? (The crowd shouts, “The Visigoths!”)

“Macbeth”

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and yadda yadda, the days are going by—what I’m saying is this is gonna last a long time, believe you me. Long. I see this candle, and I say—should I blow it out?

Should I? Because, when you think about it, and there’s been some great polling on this, in fact there’s a new poll out from the Wall Street Journal—which is a terrific paper, by the way, they’ve won a lot of prizes—listen to this, they say blow out the candle. They do, they say blow it out.

People come up to me and say, “Mr. Trump, life is like a shadow,” and I’m like, “What? A shadow? I don’t get it, and, listen, I went to Wharton, O.K.—the top business school in the country. So I’m a smart guy, I’m a smart guy, it’s no secret.”

And what’s really interesting is I like to talk, and tell a tale, and that tale is gonna have a whole lotta sound, and a whole lotta fury, because that’s what the American people want to hear! They want to hear some sound and some fury sent to Washington for once in their lives, and, I mean, is that too much to ask? They want to hear me tell it, and they can decide what it signifies, but I’m saying right now—it’s gonna sound great, I guarantee it. Absolutely, a hundred and ten per cent, just really, really great. O.K.?

Doonesbury — Future shock.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sunday Reading

Weimar America — Eric Weitz at Moyers and Company says it’s not the candidate but the electorate that brings about the dictators.

All around the Web, in print, and on radio comes the claim that America has entered its “Weimar” phase. Economic collapse, political paralysis, rampant homosexuality, a desperate, disoriented populace open to the ravings of a demagogue – that is the portrait we get of Germany between the end of World War I in 1918 and the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. That is where America is supposedly situated in 2016.

Yes, Weimar Germany ended badly, horribly so. But the America of today bears little similarity to Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s. America is a society ripped through by gaping inequalities, but it is hardly in a state of economic collapse. It still boasts the world’s largest economy and it has recovered from the Great Recession far better than many others in the Western world. America is still a powerful country internationally, one that deploys its military at will, something that Germany, suffering under the strictures of the Versailles Peace Treaty, could never attempt. Yes, there’s political paralysis in Washington, yet it barely rises to the level of Weimar Germany, where over 20 parties were represented in the Reichstag and the country was governed by a presidential dictatorship for the three years prior to the Nazi takeover.

Moreover, commentators right and left, focused only on the negatives and the disasters that ensued – the Third Reich, World War II, and the Holocaust — leave out so much about the great democratic experiment that was the Weimar Republic. Germans had greater political freedoms than ever before. A vast program of public housing moved hundreds of thousands out of dank tenements into modern, light-filled apartments. Public health clinics sprang up all around the country, and many of them offered sexual counseling to a population that physicians claimed lacked fundamental knowledge about reproduction and the pleasures of the body and lived in sexual misery. Literature, philosophy, music theater and film all flourished, much of it new, edgy and experimental. Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time – these and much more are great markers of 20th century Western culture that we still read, view and hear with pleasure and profit.

The lessons to be learned from Weimar Germany are not the ones we hear and read about today. Weimar Germany did not collapse under the weight of its various crises. It was actively destroyed by a conservative elite – noble landowners, high-level state officials, businessmen, army officers – that chose to ally with the Nazi Party. As we watch the Republican establishment’s ineffectual flailings to stop Donald Trump, it’s worth remembering that Weimar Germany’s old-style conservatives never really liked Hitler and the Nazis either. To them, the Nazis were too loud, uncouth, low class. But they admired Hitler’s nationalism, his promise to revive Germany’s great power status, his opposition to democracy, and his anti-communism. And they were either indifferent to or actively supported the Nazis’ anti-Semitism.

The conservative elite got much more than they had bargained for with their willingness to turn political power over to the Nazis. Some would live to regret their choice, many not until American and British bombs rained down on Hamburg, Berlin and other cities and the Red Army approached the gates.

But the conservatives had made Hitler and the Nazis salonfähig, as one says in German. Colloquially in English, that means “acceptable in polite society.” That is the real lesson from Weimar Germany and the real danger – when traditional or moderate conservatives throw in their lot with radical conservatives. The moderates may not like the radicals, may not embrace them, but when other alternatives have failed, they bring the radicals into the fold, claim that power will inevitably moderate their more wild side, reassure the population that the radicals are really not that bad after all.

That is where we are today with Donald Trump. Trump is not a fascist or a neo-Nazi, as some have claimed, though he has certainly made countless racist and misogynist comments. He has also proclaimed a blatant disregard for laws, treaties and constitutional provisions in an America that is supposed to be governed by the rule of law. While some Republicans are back pedaling and trying to block a Trump nomination, we are still being treated to the spectacle of many Republican candidates and office holders asserting that they will support him if he is chosen by the party. These are the people who are making Trump salonfähig.

The real issue is not whether Trump is a modern-day Hitler or Mussolini. The problem lies deeper: with the social and political mores that have made possible his crude nativism and contempt for social progress. Democrats and Republicans alike have been marveling at his success as if it were a bolt out of the blue. Yet for years now Republicans have been bowing before the idol of radical conservatism. They have cowered before the tea party and have stashed the party coffers with immense contributions from the Koch brothers’ operation. The people who are now struggling to stop Trump are the same ones who made his views salonfähig.

In America today, the major threats do not come from abroad. They lie within, from those who claim to believe in democracy yet undermine its substance by deploying great wealth in the political process and devaluing the diversity of American society. And the danger comes especially from those who perhaps should know better, but make anti-democratic, radical conservatives salonfähig. That is the real lesson to be taken from Weimar Germany.

The Password is “Money” — David Murphy at PC Magazine on how cheaply some folks will sell out their company.

“Everybody has a price,” as the World Wrestling Entertainment’s Ted DiBiase used to boast. While it’s true that there are plenty of people out there who are willing to keep their company’s secrets private no matter the cost, many would be happy to turn over everything from private information to passwords for a little (or a lot of) cash.

According to new research from SailPoint, around 20 percent of respondents to a recent survey indicated they would sell their passwords to a third party if paid to do so. The survey went out to 1,000 office workers at companies with 1,000 or more employees (located in Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.). Based on the responses, it doesn’t appear as if it would take very much money to encourage quite a few employees to cough up their credentials.

“In last year’s survey, we were astonished to see that not only were respondents willing to sell their passwords to a third party (1 in 7), but they were willing to do it for as little as $150,” reads SailPoint’s 2016 Market Pulse Survey. “Twenty percent shared passwords with their co-workers, and a little more than half (56 percent) shared passwords among applications. This year, even among a larger concern for their personal information’s security, the percentage of those willing to risk corporate data either through apathy, negligence, or financial gain only increased.

“This year, we found that 1 in 5 respondents would sell their passwords to a third-party organization and a staggering 44 percent of them would do it for less than $1,000. Even more concerning? Some would sell their corporate credentials for less than $100.”

Breaking down the figures by geography, more workers in the United States (27 percent) indicated they would be willing to sell their passwords if asked than any other measured region. Only 12 percent of respondents in the Netherlands and Australia would do the same.

In general, the number of office workers who would be willing to sell their passwords is up 42 percent from the previous year’s survey. In the U.S., 40 percent of those who said they would sell their passwords would do so for less than $1,000. Office workers in the United Kingdom were most willing to sell their passwords for less money (52 percent), and those in the Netherlands were the least likely (33 percent).

“Considering the average organization size for the corporations from which our respondents are employed is about 50,000, that means it’s possible that 10,000 users at any of those enterprises would sell their password, and 4,400 sell theirs for less than $1,000. [That’s] 32,500 share passwords among applications and nearly 17,000 share passwords with their co-workers,” reads SailPoint’s report.

That said, you might not get very much for your credentials anyway (depending on where you work and what you have access to). Even if there’s some way that your passwords could allow a third party to access a bunch of credit card data, for example, that’s not going to make you a millionaire. You’re better off coughing up your own bank account number.

Test Anxiety — John Flowers at The New Yorker gets sample questions from the final at Trump University.

Below you will find three examples of questions from previous final exams at Trump University. Use these sample questions and the answer key provided to prepare for next week’s big test.

1. Two plus two equals what?

(a) Maybe four.
(b) Could be four. Could be. Lotta people saying it’s five.
(c) I’m not saying it’s five; I’m saying it could be—could be five. You see these establishment hacks, losers, like Mitt Romney? Real crank. They hate me. They take answers like “could be” and say, “Oh, he says two plus two equals five.” I never said that. I never—I said “could be.” Could be six. We don’t know.
(d) All of the above.
(e) None of the above.
(f) D and E.

2. Describe a major theme of “The Old Man and the Sea.”

(a) Well, the theme is big. That I can assure you. Definitely no problem in the theme department. Quite big. Quite.
(b) I know what you want me to say here. You want me to say “yuge.” Well, I’m not. I’m not gonna say that.
(c) Should I say it? . . . No. I’m not gonna say it. But it is.
(d) Now—and I don’t even wanna bring it up—but you got a lot of people. I’m not going to mention names. O.K., Marco. You got Little Marco, who has a tiny theme. No, it’s true. Very small. Probably why he’s outta the race. Seriously, find me one person who says there was a big theme behind that campaign. But anyway, here’s Little Marco, saying I’m the one with the small theme. Can you believe that? Says I’m like Santiago in “The Old Man and the Sea.” Says I sometimes lose my harpoon—you know, prematurely—when I try to reel in the big fish. Totally not true.
(e) In fact, reminds me of the time I tried to get a date with Brooke Shields. Remember Brooke Shields? Gorgeous. Not like my wife. Gorgeous, though. I asked her out. She said no. Career went downhill after that. Left me like Santiago at the end of the book, hauling this gigantic mast home with nothing to show for my troubles.
(f) Seriously, “The Old Man and the Sea”? Please. Santiago’s not a winner. Here’s what you need to read: “The Art of the Deal.” Best book since the Bible. Probably better. People say that. I don’t. People do. Bible was, like, God with sixty ghostwriters. “The Art of the Deal” was just me, dictating to Tony Schwartz. Great guy. Takes dictation better than Moses.

3. H2O is the chemical symbol for what compound?

(a) What the hell’s “huh-twenty”?
(b) No, that’s what it says, “huh-twenty.” Or maybe the “H” is silent. I dunno.
(c) I didn’t say “huh-twenty.” You said “huh-twenty.” You asked me what “huh-twenty” was. You see, this is what the media does. They claim, “You said ‘huh-twenty!’ ” And I’m like, “I said? No you said ‘huh-twenty.’ I just repeated what you said.”
(d) That’s all they do, ask these totally bogus questions, when what they should be asking about is Hillary’s e-mails. That’s what this question should be about. Because what she did—wow. I mean, that’s why she’s hugging Obama every chance she gets.
(e) You know who else hugs Obama? Chris Christie.
(f) But we love Chris, don’t we? We love Chris.

Answer key:

1. I like A. I like B, too. D doesn’t do much for me, but E and F are real winners.

2. I’m gonna have to look into A and B. C is very compelling. Very. I hear good things about D through F. But I don’t wanna say anything yet.

3. I don’t know why people are saying there were three questions. There weren’t. I mean, do you have video? Show me the video where there were three questions. You can’t, because there is no video. People come here. They try to make trouble, saying we started a question three. We did not. And lemme tell ya, we’re gonna fight back. I’m not saying we’ll sue, but we could. Throw a few punches, ya know. Because this test prep is a great test prep. You thought so, too: you signed the agreement saying that you thought this was the greatest test prep of all time and that you wanted to be sued if video surfaced of you saying otherwise.

Congratulations, this was actually the final. You’ve passed. Now give me $35,000.

Doonesbury — Rising waters in Denial River.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Friday, March 11, 2016

He Shoots, He Scores

President Obama had some fun last night during his toast to Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau at the state dinner at the expense of Ted Cruz:

“We see this in our current presidential campaign.Where else could a boy born in Calgary run for president of the United States?” Obama asked in an allusion to Cruz whose eligibility to run for the White House has been called into question by Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.

“Where else would we see a community like Cape Breton, Nova Scotia welcoming Americans if the election does not go their way?” Obama asked. “And to the great credit of their people, Canadians from British Columbia to New Brunswick have, so far, rejected the idea of building a wall to keep out your southern neighbors. We appreciate that. We can be unruly, I know.”

[rimshot]

 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday Reading

Stand Up, Miss Jean Louise — Charlie Pierce on the truth Harper Lee taught us.

There are a handful of movie scenes that make the room very, very dusty for me. It’s predictable. I’ve seen the movies hundreds of times. I know the scenes are coming. It doesn’t make any difference. The blurring occurs like an autonomic reflex. The Marsellaisescene in Casablanca is one. So are the last couple of scenes from Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero. (“Ah, bugger it. I meant to say cheeri-o.”) Dorothy’s farewells, especially to the Scarecrow, is another, as is the moment Harry Bailey says, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town.”

And this one.

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.”

Harper Lee, who died on Friday at 89, taught so many of us how first to read a book without pictures. (Whenever I am reminded that To Kill A Mockingbird is somehow as equally revered as that unlikable mess, Catcher In The Rye, I despair of American youth.) She taught us what simple humanity was before we were old enough to put a name to it. She taught us–gently, as was the fashion of the times–that there was something very wrong at the heart of the America in which we were being raised. I know it’s fashionable now to deride Lee’s masterpiece as a tepid depiction of the segregated South in which she was raised. (And let us be charitable and forget the unseemly circus surrounding Go Tell The Watchman.) But, when I consider these arguments, I am reminded always of what Frederick Douglass said in the aftermath of the murder of Abraham Lincoln:

Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.

It was 1960 when Lee published her book. Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were still alive. So were Viola Liuzzo and Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Addie Mae Collins and Denise McNair and Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were still going happily to Sunday school at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. I like to believe that, even if we didn’t know it at the time, even if it were only subconsciously, Lee’s book gave millions of schoolchildren something to stash away in ourselves to make sense of what was coming to the country and to determine for ourselves on which side justice was arrayed. I believe, given the sentiment of its times, To Kill A Mockingbird became genuinely subversive over the following decade.

And, anyway, it was beautifully written, which counts, too. Stand up. Miss Lee’s passing.

The End of the Road — David A. Graham in The Atlantic on Jeb Bush ending his run.

Almost all presidential campaigns end in failure. But few complete an arc as dramatic as Jeb Bush’s bid: Once considered a highly unlikely candidate, Bush surged almost immediately upon his entry into the pole position, then almost as quickly fell out contention and became a punch line.

Bush announced on Saturday night that he would leave the race, after a disappointing finish in South Carolina on Saturday. “The people of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken, and I really respect their decision,” he said. “So tonight I am suspending my campaign.”

It followed an excruciating week of campaigning—a week in which the Jeb finally brought his brother to campaign as a desperation step, tried contacts for the first time in his life, lashed out at pundits and his rivals, and practically begged voters to believe in him.

[…]

What will Jeb Bush’s legacy in the 2016 race be? For a one-time frontrunner, the answer is precious little. It’s hard to see much policy impact, and given his standing in the polls, hard to see much political impact. In the final months of the campaign, Bush tried to position himself as Trump’s top assailant, attacking him during debates and on the stump—whether because he thought that would benefit him or because he figured he might as well help the party out on his way out.
His major impact, however, may be the damage he did to his former protege Marco Rubio. First, by staying in the race well past the time when he realistically had a chance, Bush clogged up the “establishment lane” Rubio needs to consolidate. Secondly, Right to Rise unloaded on Rubio for weeks, trying to weaken him to Bush’s benefit. It didn’t help Jeb, but it might have hurt Marco. Rubio heads to Nevada, after finishing abreast of Cruz in South Carolina—and that’s the highest he’s finished so far. Maybe Rubio would have faltered anyway, but if the race comes down to Cruz and Trump, expect a great deal of establishment finger-pointing at Bush and Right to Rise for destroying Rubio’s chances.One thing that can be said for Jeb Bush’s candidacy is that he foretold his own fate at the start.

“I don’t know if I would be a good candidate or a bad one, but I kinda know how a Republican could win, whether it’s me or somebody else, and it has to be much more uplifting, much more positive,” he said at a Wall Street Journal event in December 2014, adding that a GOP nominee must be willing to “lose the primary to win the general without violating your principles.”

There were a few cringeworthy moments—like the contacts—but in general, it’s a credo that Bush kept to. While he wasn’t above attacking rivals, he was never comfortable adopting the tactics of a Trump or a Cruz. He tried to stay positive. Whether Bush was capable of winning the general election is now only a matter of speculation, but he was willing to lose the primary to do it.

No Bridges, But A Wall — Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—As America’s bridges, roads, and other infrastructure dangerously deteriorate from decades of neglect, there is a mounting sense of urgency that it is time to build a giant wall.

Across the U.S., whose rail system is a rickety antique plagued by deadly accidents, Americans are increasingly recognizing that building a wall with Mexico, and possibly another one with Canada, should be the country’s top priority.

Harland Dorrinson, the executive director of a Washington-based think tank called the Center for Responsible Immigration, believes that most Americans favor the building of border walls over extravagant pet projects like structurally sound freeway overpasses.

“The estimated cost of a border wall with Mexico is five billion dollars,” he said. “We could easily blow the same amount of money on infrastructure repairs and have nothing to show for it but functioning highways.”

Congress has dragged its feet on infrastructure spending in recent years, but Dorrinson senses growing support in Washington for building a giant border wall. “Even if for some reason we don’t get the Mexicans to pay for it, five billion is a steal,” he said.

While some think that America’s declining infrastructure is a national-security threat, Dorrinson strongly disagrees. “If immigrants somehow get over the wall, the condition of our bridges and roads will keep them from getting very far,” he said.

Doonesbury — Six of seven.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday Reading

The Iran Deal — Matt Ford in The Atlantic on the diplomacy that ended Iran’s sanctions and freed Americans held captive.

The United States and the European Union lifted a broad swath of economic sanctions against Iran on Saturday as the International Atomic Energy Agency certified it had dismantled most of its nuclear program, opening a new, cautious chapter in relations between Tehran and the West.

“Today marks the first day of a safer world, one we hope will remain safer for many years to come,” Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters at a press conference in Vienna.

Diplomats gathered Saturday in the Austrian capital for the implementation of last year’s historic nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers—the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. IAEA inspectors formally certified that Iran had taken concrete steps to scale back its nuclear infrastructure over the past three months—literally, in one case, when the country poured cement into the nuclear reactor core at Arak.

Iran also shipped 98 percent of its nuclear fuel to Russia and dismantled two-thirds of the centrifuges it used to enrich uranium. If the Iranian government renounced the deal and reactivated its program, Kerry estimated that it would take more than a year for the country to race towards a nuclear bomb.

[…]

Hours before the announcement in Vienna, Iranian news outlets reported that Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian had been released from Iranian custody on Saturday morning after 543 days in captivity, along with three other American prisoners as part of a prisoner swap with the United States, Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported.

Also freed on Saturday were Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine sentenced to death for espionage in 2012; Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor held by Iran since 2012; and Nosratollah Khosrawi.

As part of the swap, President Obama granted clemency to seven Iranians convicted of or awaiting trial for violating the U.S. sanctions regime against Iran. The U.S. also dropped its cases against 14 other Iranians it sought to extradite from other countries.

Iran also released a fifth American, Matthew Trevithick, on Saturday; CNN reported that U.S. officials claimed his release was not part of the prisoner swap. Trevithick is a student and researcher specializing in the Middle East who was detained while studying at a foreign-language center in Tehran, according to a statement from his family. His 40-day captivity was not publicly known prior to Saturday’s announcement.

Iranian officials arrested Rezaian on July 22, 2014 and charged him with espionage nine months later. An Iranian court found him guilty on October 15 last year and sentenced him to prison for an indeterminate length of time. Marty Baron, the Post’s executive editor, strongly condemned his sentence and treatment.

“The contemptible end to this ‘judicial process’ leaves Iran’s senior leaders with an obligation to right this grievous wrong,” Baron wrote. “Jason is a victim — arrested without cause, held for months in isolation, without access to a lawyer, subjected to physical mistreatment and psychological abuse, and now convicted without basis.”

His Own Worst Enemy — Jeb Lund in The Guardian on Ted Cruz’s birther troubles.

… Interestingly enough (as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes noted on Friday) it seems as if, in retrospect, the birther movement was following a goofy script designed to set someone like Ted Cruz up for failure in a quest for the presidency. In addition to Cruz actually being born outside of the United States – in the Canadian city of Calgary – all those imagined (and some perhaps less so) constitutional eligibility standards about a parent who was not a citizen or another parent who might have in some way renounced or suspended her citizenship actually describe Cruz’s family history far more than they ever did the Hawaiian-born Obama’s.

And most of Congress already hates Ted Cruz for his grandstanding, camera-hogging, obstreperous non-collegial ways, which is why so many Republican Party members seem to be having fun with his predicament.

Rand Paul suggested that Ted Cruz was absolutely qualified to become Prime Minister of Canada. Mike Huckabee is compelled and convinced! Arizona Senator John McCain, who had to fend off his own birther questions by pointing out that he was born on a US military base in Panama, has despised Cruz since the man’s early days in the Senate, when Cruz implied that McCain buddy Chuck Hagel might have accepted money from North Korea. McCain was probably rolling the words around his mouth like they were stolen sweets when he told a radio host that he “didn’t know the answer” as to whether Cruz was eligible to be president.

Meanwhile, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who probably wishes Ted Cruz would go try to make toaster strudel in a full bathtub, initially refused to comment definitively on his eligibility, stating, “I’ll let all these folks argue about this stuff, and I’m going to stay out of it.”

Now, there’s a school of thought that people shouldn’t be enjoying this newest strain of birtherism; that, after deploring the conduct of conservatives asserting Obama’s illegitimacy, teasing and tweaking the Cruz birther phenomenon only retroactively legitimizes what was clearly a broadly racist movement to undo the Obama presidency without having to count actual votes.

But that generous impulse conflates two distinct issues. Obama birtherism was the result of a lot of people who refused to recognize a lawfully elected public official because of what he looked like or the theory of government he espoused. It was a malignant extension of a frame of thought that says certain people are not allowed power over “Americans”.

Cruz birtherism is just trolling an unbearable prick.

It’s doubtful that any non-crazy people truly believe that Ted Cruz is disqualified to become president. Even the person pushing that narrative now the most (and who once himself rode the tide of Obama birther sentiment), Donald Trump, likely doesn’t believe a word of it. Trump, after all, is an opportunist who will believe whatever closes the deal.

Cruz birtherism is a fake issue that couldn’t find a better target: a Princeton and Harvard educated white-shoe litigator married to a Goldman Sachs executive who likes to fire weapons covered in bacon and LARP as a good ol’ boy with that Duck Dynasty yahoo, who clerked for the US supreme court but acts as if the NRA’s faux-academic flunkies are the last word on Second Amendment jurisprudence, who paraphrases Molon Labe in fundraising emails and pretends that the president will confiscate all our guns and who studied American history and yet claims with a straight face that Barack Obama is the most left-wing president in history.

The Ted Cruz birther conspiracy is a fatuous gimmick, but, come on, so is the candidate. It’s nice when these people find each other.

Fact-Checker Burn-Out — Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.

CHARLESTON (The Borowitz Report)—A fact checker who has vetted all of the 2016 Republican Presidential debates was hospitalized for exhaustion during the sixth G.O.P. forum in Charleston on Thursday evening.

Martin Slessky, a former journalist who works for HonestyWatch, a Minnesota-based fact-checking organization, was resting comfortably after suffering what his doctors called a “total physical and mental collapse” during Thursday’s debate.

Harland Dorrinson, the executive director of HonestyWatch, said he first became concerned about Slessky’s health when the fact checker started having heart palpitations and shortness of breath every time Texas senator Ted Cruz spoke.

“I turned to Martin and said, ‘Are you all right? Are you going to be able to make it through this?’ ” Dorrinson said. “And he said, ‘I’ll be fine. Ben Carson is starting to talk now, that’ll be soothing.’ ”

But moments later, when New Jersey governor Chris Christie falsely claimed that he never supported the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Slessky experienced acute dizziness and blurry vision, and was immediately rushed to the hospital.

HonestyWatch’s Dorrinson said it was unlikely that he would ask Slessky or any of his other fact checkers to work future Republican debates. “I care about these people,” he said. “Many of them have families.”

Speaking from his hospital bed on Friday, Slessky still seemed blindsided by his sudden disintegration. “Going into the debate, I actually believed that the volume of falsehoods was going to be more manageable this time,” he said. “I thought Carly Fiorina not being there would help.”

Doonesbury — Correcting the record.