You have just one job…

Some days, this is exactly how I feel:

The system is broken. It’s tainted and corrupt. Democracy itself is deeply flawed; it’s only as good as the electorate, and the electorate is a swine pit full of yahoos and holy rollers and used car salesmen.

But it’s the only system we’ve got.

So put away the torches and pitchforks. If democracy is a system that gives a voice to liars and scoundrels, chaos is worse, allowing the most unprincipled to freely claw their way to the top. We have to work within this system and get it to change.

I was unenthused about Clinton. She’s a creature of the establishment, and isn’t going to change the world, and in fact, will probably accentuate some of the worst features of the American way of doing things: a reverence for the status quo, a kind of selfish pragmatism, and a callous disregard for the billions outside of our borders. I’m even less happy with Kaine, because he seems to be the kind of blithe liberal who puts a smiling face on stasis. Worse, he’s a clear signal that the Democratic party has decided that the wretched boogeyman of Trump is so awful that they can just say “fuck you” to progressives and put up a slate of the same damned thing they always do and change nothing. What this country really needs for democracy to work is a sane, principled, responsible conservative party so that our liberal party has to really work to differentiate themselves…and so that when the liberals lose, as they do, the country doesn’t immediately descend into missile-launching, jesus-screaming, hate-mongering capitalist viciousness.

Resign yourselves. This isn’t the election that will revolutionize the country (we hope). November is a holding action. We need to hold the wolves at bay for a little longer, so vote for the Democrat at the top of the ticket. One immediate positive effect of electing Clinton/Kaine is that maybe the far right Republican party will react by becoming even more extremist and complete their self-immolation, so that a more rational party can emerge. (Unless they win, which means we’re in really big trouble for at least a generation, so don’t let them win).

Then please pay attention to something other than the presidential elections. It’s a disgrace that we get almost 2 years of media hype building the process for this one office into a giant suck of time and money, and then everything evaporates at the equally important mid-term elections, and the turnout drops off to shameful levels. Vote in every election, and for or against every candidate. Everything matters, your school board matters, your congressional representative matters, your senator matters, and yes, the president matters…but if we continue to elect the same idiots to the senate and house of representatives, the president matters less than you think.

But right now, we — and by “we”, I mean the Left, progressives and liberals and centrists, and even you so-called “classical liberals” and Libertarians and Rockefeller Republicans and cautious conservatives — have one job to do, and that is to stop the great orange fascist asshole from winning. That’s the number one priority for us all. Don’t screw it up. Don’t go flitting off to Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or some other spoiler. Hold your nose and vote for Clinton.

And if you don’t like the establishment Democrat — I don’t blame you at all — then work locally to get change in the years to come. Get good progressives into positions that can influence the government in productive ways. You don’t like the rules that rig the elections for establishment favorites, like this super-delegate nonsense, or the electoral college? Work to change those before they become a factor in future elections (I suspect everyone who is squawking now will forget about it immediately after this election, and then four years from now will start squawking in indignation again). If Clinton annoys you now, tough — she’s going to be the nominee. But you can support a primary challenge four years from now, if you start working now to build a climate that gives such a person a framework.

I swear, one of the worst things about the American system of democracy is the way we treat the trivial act of pulling a lever as the be-all and end-all of citizen involvement in politics, and the way this simple-minded approach to democracy leads to a crisis every four years.

A Russian connection?

I’d say it was disturbing if it wasn’t so unsurprising. Donald Trump seems to have an awful lot of ties to Putin.

Over the last year there has been a recurrent refrain about the seeming bromance between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. More seriously, but relatedly, many believe Trump is an admirer and would-be emulator of Putin’s increasingly autocratic and illiberal rule. But there’s quite a bit more to the story. At a minimum, Trump appears to have a deep financial dependence on Russian money from persons close to Putin. And this is matched to a conspicuous solicitousness to Russian foreign policy interests where they come into conflict with US policies which go back decades through administrations of both parties. There is also something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of evidence suggesting Putin-backed financial support of Trump or a non-tacit alliance between the two men.

I remember a time when getting cozy with the Russians would have been the kiss of death for a politician, especially a conservative politician. But nowadays, our right-wing authoritarians love them a right-wing authoritarian no matter what country they’re from.

It’s so beautiful. It’s something that brings people of different nationalities together in the common cause of tyranny.

“no political motivations”?

We’re learning more about the teenage boy who murdered 9 people in Munich.

The teen gunman who killed nine people in a shooting rampage in Munich on Friday was a mentally troubled individual who had extensively researched spree killings and had no apparent links to ISIS, police said.

Speaking at a press conference in the southern German city Saturday, police officials said the 18-year-old lone attacker — who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound — had no political motivations, and no references to religion had been found in documents in his home.

OK, definitely not ISIS-related. But what’s this about no political motivation? He was obsessed with mass killers, chose to go on his rampage on the 5th anniversary of the coward Breivik’s killings, and had Breivik’s image as an online avatar. He chose his victims: people who looked like immigrants to Germany.

The teenage friends comprised two boys of Turkish origin and two girls from Kosovan families, bolstering the theory that Sonboly chose his victims as he rampaged through McDonald’s and into a busy shopping centre. In all, seven of his victims were teenagers and the oldest was a 45-year-old mother of two of Turkish descent.

He was politically motivated, all right. These are the actions of a follower of the alt-right. That’s only non-political to a media that treats far right villainy as the default.

Tim Kaine?

I’m reading the news about Hillary Clinton’s pick for a VP.

Hillary Clinton has chosen Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine to be her running mate, turning to a steady and seasoned hand in government to fill out the Democratic ticket, she announced Friday.

I thought that was Clinton’s reputation: steady and seasoned.

It may be an anti-establishment year, but Clinton’s running mate is an insider: A senator and former governor from the critical battleground of Virginia and a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

After a campaign in which Bernie Sanders gave her a strong run for the nomination, she picks the establishment guy. OK.

Kaine, 58, has long been seen as a seasoned and safe choice for Clinton, who could help shore up support among white working-class voters.

Bored now.

He went to Harvard law school, but before graduating served a year as a missionary in Honduras.

It was an experience that cemented his Catholic faith and strengthened his fluency in Spanish.

There’s nothing there to get me enthused, that’s for sure.

Advisers to Clinton see Kaine as a stable force on the bottom of the ticket, foregoing the allure of a pick that could provide more star power in favor of one they are hoping will be void of drama

Oh, jebus. So bored! Even the news stories are emphasizing his lack of pizazz.

Safe safe safe safe safe safe safe safe. I guess it’s one way to run the campaign, and it might very well work…but it’s really going against the grain of the political impetus this year.

I guess she figures all the reasonable people are already planning to vote for her, having no choice in the matter, so she is going to avoid taking any risks at all.


Another factor:

Clinton’s running mate is a catholic “personally against abortion, but…” writes informed consent and parental consent restrictions against the practice. He favors deregulating banks and businesses.

Shit.

Statistics don’t matter

I read the transcript of Trump’s nomination acceptance speech. It was a grisly horror that painted a picture of an America that is a dystopian horror right now, which will be magically and instantaneously transformed on the very day he becomes president, and it was full of lies. The responses (and here’s a typical one) are all about how he twisted statistics dishonestly to make his rhetorical points.

I hate to say this, but the facts don’t matter. You can declare that unemployment rates are down, but those people who are out of work don’t care — and they’re the people Trump is yelling at. You can point out that he’s lying when he says crime is rising, but the people who have been mugged don’t care that they’re a statistic, and they’ll listen to Trump. Worse, people who haven’t been mugged will have been watching the crime stories on their local television station and Fox News, and have the perception that there is all kinds of lawlessness going on around them. Throwing national statistics at people who are counting one, two, many isn’t going to change their minds.

Furthermore, as Trump so ably demonstrates, all too often statistics are used not to identify a truth, but to justify a preconception. I was recently cooly informed that Muslims commit 98% of all terrorist attacks…never mind that the FBI has determined that 94% of all US terror attacks have been by non-Muslims. The guy is convinced that Islam is the source of all evil in the world, and he has a number that reassures him that his opinion is correct.

So here’s our terrifying problem: our little homegrown fascist is tapping into the fear and anxieties about their future of a significant number of people in the country. These fears are partly legitimate, and partly the product of a media that has been stoking them for years. You don’t reassure individuals by telling them that the average person is better off or that the trend lines are all rising — they don’t give a damn about averages when their problem is personal. In fact, waving tables of numbers and graphs at people to tell them their grievances are false is going to be more enraging than reassuring. And meanwhile, Trump will lie about the statistics and validate their gut feelings and pander to every prejudice they’ve got, and guess who they’re going to want to believe?

We’ll counter that by dumping a pile of actuarial tables on them. Yeah, that’ll work.

I’ll also point out that we’re seeing that policy doesn’t matter, either. For years, people have been voting against their own objective self-interest because demagogues have effectively whipped them into a froth of fear over religion, or guns, or abortion. See, for instance, Brownback’s Kansas. Progressive policies are almost always more appealing to the people, when presented without a label…but the media have effectively attached a lot of the hated positions to the Democrats (and rightly so — progressives should support women’s autonomy, minority rights, and oppose war and violence). Witness also Ivanka Trump’s bizarre speech at the RNC yesterday: she basically promoted the Democratic party platform and tried to attach it to her father. You can say he’ll do anything, and the disgruntled voters won’t care.

What are we to do? Data doesn’t matter, policy doesn’t matter. Politics is personal.

I see two strategies (I know there are more). The first necessary step is to recognize that the unhappy people who want Strong Man Trump to cure all their ills actually have legitimate problems — you cannot wave them away with a chart. So you can try to win them over by actually addressing their concerns, which would be ideal, except for the fact that one of their concerns is driven by raw, naked racism. Or you can simply write off that portion of the population as a regressive, deluded mess, and hope that the remainder are sufficiently numerous and motivated to vote, so you can get real political progress despite the unhappiness of that minority (which, if you’re a real progressive, you’ll then try to alleviate).

I think we should definitely be very afraid. The fascism is openly unmasked, and we’re facing a serious risk that it could be victorious in a few months. I dread waking up to newspapers that look like this.

safetyrestored

Oh, damn. I did. That’s the front page of the Minneapolis Star Tribune this morning, featuring Great Leader surrounded by flags. And this is my nightmare.

Mr Rogers says, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

And then shoot them.

Amanda Marcotte writes about the performative worship of the police at the Republican National Convention. Meanwhile, in Miami, a black caregiver trying to help a severely autistic man who wandered away from a group home, was confronted by police who’d been called by someone who said the man was wielding a gun (it was actually a toy truck). The caregiver ends up lying in the street with his hands up and clearly empty, trying to explain to the police that he was trying to help the man, and please don’t shoot.

So shot him, obvs.

“When I went to the ground, I went to the ground with my hands up,” Kinsey said, “and I am laying there just like this. Telling them again there is no need for firearms. He is autistic. He has a toy truck in his hand.” …

“I’m like this right here, and when he shot me, it was so surprising,” Kinsey said. “I thought it was a mosquito bite, and when it hit me I had my hands in the air, and I’m thinking I just got shot! And I’m saying, ‘Sir, why did you shoot me?’ and his words to me were, ‘I don’t know.’ ”

Then they handcuffed him. Why, I don’t know. I think the new logic has changed from “if you see a criminal, shoot them” to “if you shoot them, you see a criminal.”

So that’s what a gay party is like

I’ve never been to one, and I’ve never even been invited to one, and this is the first account I’ve read of one, and it’s not quite what I would have expected. Hosting the party was Milo Yiannopoulos — perfectly legitimate, since he is openly gay — and…Pam Geller? Geert Wilders? Praise for Trump, excoriation of Democrats and other liberals, condemnation of jihadis, and…bad dancing?

I am so disappointed. That doesn’t sound open and liberal and joyful and fabulous at all.

Whoops.

It was just a mistake.

A US air strike killed more than 85 civilians, including children, in Syria on Tuesday after the coalition mistook them for Islamic State fighters.

Some eight families were hit as they tried to flee fighting in their area, in one of the single deadliest strikes on civilians by the alliance since the start of its operations in the war-torn country.

A slight inaccuracy. A little slip-up. A bit of a faux pas, don’t you know. A blunder. A goof. Flubbed that one. A boo-boo. One brown person fleeing looks like another. They were wearing middle-eastern-looking clothes! If they didn’t want to get blown up, they shouldn’t have been living in a place that has terrorists. How do you know they were all innocent? Not our fault, we had good intentions, we didn’t mean to kill frightened civilians. Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette. We have to kill the terrorists, sometimes civilians get in the way. Would you rather let the terrorists win? Collateral damage. Collateral damage. Collateral damage.

85 dead Syrians/terrorists/Islamic State fighters/Muslims. The labels help. Makes it easier to forget these were 85 dead human beings, as long as you don’t use the labels “children”, “women”, “men”, “families”, “people”.

Don’t blame Melania

It’s now clear that Melania Trump’s speech at the RNC last night was partially plagiarized from Michelle Obama’s speech to the DNC. At first I was inclined to doubt: it’s really hard to say two pieces of mushy platitudes are different, let alone alike, but when put side by side it’s clear that there was literal copying and pasting going on.

NPR carried the original text of Obama’s speech. The relevant section is here, and areas of common phrasing have been bolded:

And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.

And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

Below is the section of Trump’s speech, as transcribed by Quartz:

From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise. That you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that their only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

But here’s the thing…I actually have a lot of sympathy for Melania. She’s a non-native English speaker, and she has never trained to be a speechifier — I teach biology students who are told from day one of their arrival at this university that the culminating experience before graduating will be giving a 45 minute talk to the faculty and their peers. They know for four years that this is coming. We coach them along with classroom exercises. I practically hold their hands in the weeks before they have to give it. And still, this one event is the source of tremendous anxiety for many of them.

Now imagine that your career is as a model, and you’re told that you’re going to have to make a speech that will be broadcast around the world, and that will be scrutinized intensely in order to find fault with your husband. The pressure must have been intense, and thus my sympathy for her.

That does not excuse plagiarism, however. But if we’re going to blame anyone, that has to be fastened directly on the Trump campaign team. She had speechwriters composing her talk — my students don’t get that. Her speech should have had multiple levels of inspection. Obama’s speech was very well received, so I can understand using it as a starting framework — but everyone on the speechwriting team should have known that was one of the sources, and been particularly alert to making sure that this kind of sloppy plagiarizing didn’t happen. They were apparently working on this important speech to be given by an amateur for six weeks, and somebody should have been going through it line by line to make sure it was in line with the goals of the campaign, that there were no outrageous errors, and that it just plain sounded good. There must be many people who have heard her practice it dozens of times. A speech like that had to have been vetted out the wazoo, unless it wasn’t, which would also be a problem.

Her delivery was fine, but the content was stolen, and for that we have to blame the Trump staff who gave it to her and coached her on it. And that tells me that there is a gang of lazy incompetents working behind the scenes of the chief lazy incompetent, Donald Trump.

My expectations for this week are rather low

It’s time for the Republican convention in the under-appreciated city of Cleveland, Ohio…and I don’t think this event will buff the place. In case you were wondering who is speaking at the event, here’s the list.

MONDAY

Theme: Make America Safe Again

Headliners: Trump’s wife, Melania; Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn, U.S. Army; Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; and Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont.

Others: Willie Robertson, star of “Duck Dynasty”; former Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Marcus Luttrell, retired U.S. Navy SEAL; Scott Baio, actor; Pat Smith, mother of Sean Smith, killed in the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya; Mark “Oz” Geist, member of a security team that fought in Benghazi; John Tiegen, member of Benghazi security team and co-author of the book “13 Hours,” an account of the attacks; Kent Terry and Kelly Terry-Willis, siblings of Brian Terry, a Border Patrol agent whose shooting death revealed the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-smuggling operation; Antonio Sabato Jr., actor; Mary Ann Mendoza, Sabine Durden and Jamiel Shaw, immigration reform advocates; Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas; David Clarke, sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wis.; Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis.; Rachel Campos Duffy, LIBRE Initiative for Hispanic economic empowerment; Darryl Glenn, Senate candidate in Colorado; Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Karen Vaughn, mother of a U.S. Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan; Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and Jason Beardsley of Concerned Veterans for America.

Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi. And those damned immigrants.

In case you were concerned that you might miss some of those riveting speeches by exciting, happening people, don’t worry — just turn on your TV. It’ll be there, and there will be a fawning media gently and lovingly ‘reporting’ (this is a fancy word that means ‘describing’ or ‘repeating’ what is said) on it. If you’re hoping to maintain your equanimity during this week of awfulness, though, don’t read Paul Krugman. He knows what’s up.

Yet while most polls suggest that he’s running behind in the general election, the margin isn’t overwhelming, and there’s still a real chance that he might win. How is that possible? Part of the answer, I’d argue, is that voters don’t fully appreciate his awfulness. And the reason is that too much of the news media still can’t break with bothsidesism — the almost pathological determination to portray politicians and their programs as being equally good or equally bad, no matter how ludicrous that pretense becomes.

And he gives specific examples!

And in the last few days we’ve seen a spectacular demonstration of bothsidesism in action: an op-ed article from the incoming and outgoing heads of the White House Correspondents’ Association, with the headline “Trump, Clinton both threaten free press.” How so? Well, Mr. Trump has selectively banned news organizations he considers hostile; he has also, although the op-ed didn’t mention it, attacked both those organizations and individual reporters, and refused to condemn supporters who, for example, have harassed reporters with anti-Semitic insults.

Meanwhile, while Mrs. Clinton hasn’t done any of these things, and has a staff that readily responds to fact-checking questions, she doesn’t like to hold press conferences. Equivalence!

I think I’ll just vote “no confidence” in American media and keep the television off this week.