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Links: March 2016

Anonymous BrooklynVegan Comments, Rest in Peace

Glad to see BrooklynVegan taking on its cesspool of a comment section. Rolling my eyes at the inevitable naysayers.

Lupita Nyong’o and Trevor Noah, and Their Meaningful Roles

My mom was like: “Jesus didn’t have his dad, either. You have a stepdad.” People always make it seem like there’s one experience that’s the gold standard to aim for. I didn’t grow up that way.

One of the best things I ever learned was boxing. My trainer kept drilling into me: “Understand that I’m going to hit you in the face. You can’t get angry about it because then you’ll stop thinking rationally. I’m not trying to hurt you; I’m trying to win.” It’s a fantastic mind game. You have to think.

Supreme Court to Hear Major Abortion Case Over Texas Law

The lower courts are divided over whether they must accept lawmakers’ assertions about the health benefits of abortion restrictions at face value or instead determine whether the assertions are backed by evidence.

Regarding TRAP laws, how is there even debate about the need for legislators to provide evidence for the efficacy of their proposals?

“The requirement of admitting privileges cannot be taken seriously as a measure to improve women’s health,” he wrote, “because the transfer agreements that abortion clinics make with hospitals, plus the ability to summon an ambulance by a phone call, assure the access of such women to a nearby hospital in the event of a medical emergency.”

The Most Important Abortion Case You Never Heard About

They want the court to abandon the “undue burden” standard and allow lawmakers to pass abortion regulations as long as they have a “rational basis,” without having to prove that the laws actually benefit women.

Abortion opponents began arguing for a new, pragmatic strategy known as “incrementalism.” Instead of attempting to overturn Roe outright, “you would argue that certain abortion restrictions and regulations were compatible with Roe,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University and author of “After Roe: The Lost History of the Abortion Debate”. The idea was “to chip away at abortion rights until Roe was so incoherent and so full of holes that courts would finally get rid of it.”

The PP v. Casey decision, announced in June 1992, was stunning. By a 5–4 vote, the court reaffirmed Roe’s “essential holding” that the right to abortion was protected by the Constitution. Not only that, the opinion embraced women’s equality as central to the abortion right in a way that Roe had not. With abortion, the liberty of the woman is at stake “in a sense unique to the human condition and so unique to the law,” the decision read. “Her suffering is too intimate and personal for the State to insist … upon its own vision of the woman’s role, however dominant that vision has been in the course of our history and of our culture.”

Instead of the trimester approach, Casey established viability — the point at which the fetus can survive outside the womb — as the new dividing line for determining whether an abortion law was valid or not. (When Roe was decided, fetuses weren’t considered viable until 28 weeks, or the third trimester; by 1992, medical advances had pushed the line to around 24 weeks.) Before viability, Casey said, states could only try to persuade a woman not to have an abortion; laws that made it difficult or impossible for her to act on her decision did not pass muster. After viability, though, states could restrict abortions pretty much however they liked.

Although “the State may enact regulations to further the health or safety of a woman seeking an abortion,” the court held, “unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion impose an undue burden.” Still, the court reiterated, just because a law had “the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion” wasn’t enough to invalidate it.

One reason Casey may be so misunderstood: It gave each side half a loaf, so neither embraced it, even though it reflected how most ordinary people felt. The decision “speaks to an America divided by conflict over abortion,” Siegel said. “It’s summoning each side to engage respectfully with the other.”

The central question raised by many of these laws goes directly to the 24-year-old ruling in Casey: How undue must a restriction become before it renders the right to abortion meaningless?

Tainted Water, Little Hope

Some of the best and most heartbreaking reporting I’ve seen on the crisis in Flint.

Twitter Has Become a Park Filled With Bats and Perverts

Technology has essentially ziplined past all the difficult social contract and legal infrastructure and face-to-face accountability that led us to negotiate limits on day-to-day expression.

How Breitbart Unleashes Hate Mobs to Threaten, Dox, and Troll Trump Critics

A Breitbart insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says that “they’re the kind of people who, if you accidentally brushed against their shopping cart in the supermarket, their response is to burn down your house.”

Asked about this characterization, Bannon didn’t deny it. Quite the opposite, he laughed uproariously.

The Patriot: How Philanthropist David Rubenstein Helped Save a Tax Break Billionaires Love

“I don’t want to bash the philanthropy, because it does good,” Victor Fleischer told me. “But we’re creating what’s essentially a parallel system, where a small number of individuals control quasi-public spending, and that will reflect their values and not democratic values.”

Too Sensitive

Comments like these come up whenever I talk about making interfaces kinder to users, and the details never change. It’s always men, they’re always white, and their complaint is always the same: that caring about how our interfaces make someone feel is a waste of time. That we should have more important things to worry about.

I wonder, how many of those men — men who call themselves designers, developers, web strategists, whathaveyou — have also spent endless hours moving little boxes around just so in CSS. Shaving a few KB off a page to speed up load time. Obsessing over type, or color, or database structure, or any of the thousand details in order to make interfaces that work better.

But somehow, you make it about people who aren’t like them, people who have feelings, and suddenly, it’s all a waste of time.

The rise of American authoritarianism

Beyond being almost alarmingly prescient, this theory speaks to an oft-stated concern about Trump: that what’s scariest is not the candidate, but rather the extent and fervor of his support.

This helps explain why the GOP has had such a hard time co-opting Trump’s supporters, even though those supporters’ immediate policy concerns, such as limiting immigration or protecting national security, line up with party orthodoxy. The real divide is over how far to go in responding. And the party establishment is simply unwilling to call for such explicitly authoritarian policies.

If Trump loses the election, that will not remove the threats and social changes that trigger the “action side” of authoritarianism. The authoritarians will still be there. They will still look for candidates who will give them the strong, punitive leadership they desire.

And that means Donald Trump could be just the first of many Trumps in American politics, with potentially profound implications for the country.

Chipotle just had another food safety incident

Once every two weeks or so, I wonder if it’s safe to eat at Chipotle again. Might be time to hang it up.

The Return of the D.I.Y. Abortion

Google search data suggests that rates of self-administered abortion are higher in states with more restrictive abortion laws.

So, About That ‘Tiny Hands’ Trump Chrome Extension…

Chrome extensions aren’t even preaching to the choir. They’re preaching to the preacher.

The Obama Doctrine

Absolutely Required Reading. Understand Obama’s foreign policy and use it as a benchmark in your 2016 deliberations.

he was particularly mindful of promising victory in conflicts he believed to be unwinnable.

Power is a partisan of the doctrine known as “responsibility to protect,” which holds that sovereignty should not be considered inviolate when a country is slaughtering its own citizens. She lobbied him to endorse this doctrine in the speech he delivered when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, but he declined. Obama generally does not believe a president should place American soldiers at great risk in order to prevent humanitarian disasters, unless those disasters pose a direct security threat to the United States.

Obama would say privately that the first task of an American president in the post-Bush international arena was “Don’t do stupid shit.”

History may record August 30, 2013, as the day Obama prevented the U.S. from entering yet another disastrous Muslim civil war, and the day he removed the threat of a chemical attack on Israel, Turkey, or Jordan. Or it could be remembered as the day he let the Middle East slip from America’s grasp, into the hands of Russia, Iran, and ISIS.

Obama explained that climate change worries him in particular because “it is a political problem perfectly designed to repel government intervention. It involves every single country, and it is a comparatively slow-moving emergency, so there is always something seemingly more urgent on the agenda.”

“For all of our warts, the United States has clearly been a force for good in the world,” he said. “If you compare us to previous superpowers, we act less on the basis of naked self-interest, and have been interested in establishing norms that benefit everyone. If it is possible to do good at a bearable cost, to save lives, we will do it.”

“That’s a weird argument to me, the notion that if we use our moral authority to say ‘This is a brutal regime, and this is not how a leader should treat his people,’ once you do that, you are obliged to invade the country and install a government you prefer.”

“I also believe that the world is a tough, complicated, messy, mean place, and full of hardship and tragedy. And in order to advance both our security interests and those ideals and values that we care about, we’ve got to be hardheaded at the same time as we’re bighearted, and pick and choose our spots, and recognize that there are going to be times where the best that we can do is to shine a spotlight on something that’s terrible, but not believe that we can automatically solve it.”

“One of the reasons I am so focused on taking action multilaterally where our direct interests are not at stake is that multilateralism regulates hubris,” he explained. He consistently invokes what he understands to be America’s past failures overseas as a means of checking American self-righteousness. “We have history,” he said. “We have history in Iran, we have history in Indonesia and Central America. So we have to be mindful of our history when we start talking about intervening, and understand the source of other people’s suspicions.”

“He applies different standards to direct threats to the U.S.,” Ben Rhodes says. “For instance, despite his misgivings about Syria, he has not had a second thought about drones.” Some critics argue he should have had a few second thoughts about what they see as the overuse of drones. But John Brennan, Obama’s CIA director, told me recently that he and the president “have similar views. One of them is that sometimes you have to take a life to save even more lives. We have a similar view of just-war theory. The president requires near-certainty of no collateral damage. But if he believes it is necessary to act, he doesn’t hesitate.”

For Obama, Asia represents the future. Africa and Latin America, in his view, deserve far more U.S. attention than they receive. Europe, about which he is unromantic, is a source of global stability that requires, to his occasional annoyance, American hand-holding. And the Middle East is a region to be avoided—one that, thanks to America’s energy revolution, will soon be of negligible relevance to the U.S. economy.

“There’s a scene in the beginning in which the gang leaders of Gotham are meeting,” the president would say. “These are men who had the city divided up. They were thugs, but there was a kind of order. Everyone had his turf. And then the Joker comes in and lights the whole city on fire. isil is the Joker. It has the capacity to set the whole region on fire. That’s why we have to fight it.”

The rise of the Islamic State deepened Obama’s conviction that the Middle East could not be fixed—not on his watch, and not for a generation to come.

Several years ago, he expressed to me his admiration for Israelis’ “resilience” in the face of constant terrorism, and it is clear that he would like to see resilience replace panic in American society. Nevertheless, his advisers are fighting a constant rearguard action to keep Obama from placing terrorism in what he considers its “proper” perspective, out of concern that he will seem insensitive to the fears of the American people.

In private encounters with other world leaders, Obama has argued that there will be no comprehensive solution to Islamist terrorism until Islam reconciles itself to modernity and undergoes some of the reforms that have changed Christianity.

“I believe that overall, humanity has become less violent, more tolerant, healthier, better fed, more empathetic, more able to manage difference. But it’s hugely uneven. And what has been clear throughout the 20th and 21st centuries is that the progress we make in social order and taming our baser impulses and steadying our fears can be reversed very quickly. Social order starts breaking down if people are under profound stress. Then the default position is tribe—us/them, a hostility toward the unfamiliar or the unknown.”

He continued, “Right now, across the globe, you’re seeing places that are undergoing severe stress because of globalization, because of the collision of cultures brought about by the Internet and social media, because of scarcities—some of which will be attributable to climate change over the next several decades—because of population growth. And in those places, the Middle East being Exhibit A, the default position for a lot of folks is to organize tightly in the tribe and to push back or strike out against those who are different.

But for America to be successful in leading the world, he continued, “I believe that we have to avoid being simplistic. I think we have to build resilience and make sure that our political debates are grounded in reality. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the value of theater in political communications; it’s that the habits we—the media, politicians—have gotten into, and how we talk about these issues, are so detached so often from what we need to be doing that for me to satisfy the cable news hype-fest would lead to us making worse and worse decisions over time.”

“Real power means you can get what you want without having to exert violence. Russia was much more powerful when Ukraine looked like an independent country but was a kleptocracy that he could pull the strings on.”

“As I survey the next 20 years, climate change worries me profoundly because of the effects that it has on all the other problems that we face,” he said. “If you start seeing more severe drought; more significant famine; more displacement from the Indian subcontinent and coastal regions in Africa and Asia; the continuing problems of scarcity, refugees, poverty, disease—this makes every other problem we’ve got worse. That’s above and beyond just the existential issues of a planet that starts getting into a bad feedback loop.”

“I’ve been very explicit in saying that we have more to fear from a weakened, threatened China than a successful, rising China,” Obama said.

“You know, the notion that diplomacy and technocrats and bureaucrats somehow are helping to keep America safe and secure, most people think, Eh, that’s nonsense. But it’s true. And by the way, it’s the element of American power that the rest of the world appreciates unambiguously. When we deploy troops, there’s always a sense on the part of other countries that, even where necessary, sovereignty is being violated.”

Obama has come to a number of dovetailing conclusions about the world, and about America’s role in it. The first is that the Middle East is no longer terribly important to American interests. The second is that even if the Middle East were surpassingly important, there would still be little an American president could do to make it a better place. The third is that the innate American desire to fix the sorts of problems that manifest themselves most drastically in the Middle East inevitably leads to warfare, to the deaths of U.S. soldiers, and to the eventual hemorrhaging of U.S. credibility and power. The fourth is that the world cannot afford to see the diminishment of U.S. power. Just as the leaders of several American allies have found Obama’s leadership inadequate to the tasks before him, he himself has found world leadership wanting: global partners who often lack the vision and the will to spend political capital in pursuit of broad, progressive goals, and adversaries who are not, in his mind, as rational as he is. Obama believes that history has sides, and that America’s adversaries—and some of its putative allies—have situated themselves on the wrong one, a place where tribalism, fundamentalism, sectarianism, and militarism still flourish. What they don’t understand is that history is bending in his direction.

What Are Trump Fans Really ‘Afraid’ to Say?

an artifact of a culture in which some people believe that it’s worse to be called racist than to be racist.

Just your average day feeding your pet cobras

My day’s most memorable 7½ minutes were spent in thrall to this gentleman casually feeding a room full of cobras.

As a Woman Who Loves Swans, I Believe Larkin Grimm

Gira seemed to me like a highly evolved guru who examined the darkness of the human heart to help the rest of us channel and release it.

Whatever catharsis I found in his work previously now has an asterisk next to it

Throughout her ordeal, Grimm has been remarkably compassionate toward Gira and his supporters, often appearing in the comments below her own posts to explain further or join discussions. But the onus should be on Gira, not her, to engage in that dialogue. He’s dedicated his career to illuminating humanity’s darkest tendencies. He should reckon with his own, too.

A Marine’s Convictions

A Marine major accused of sexual misconduct hopes a reporter will clear his name, and it backfires spectacularly.

The most depressing thing about how Donald Trump orders his steak

It turns out that just two charts about red meat preferences can say a lot about America.


Holy moly, this Lingo intro video is a stunner.

“It’s Great That Garry Shandling Is Still Alive”

Man, the recent Garry Shandling episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is obsessed with mortality. RIP.

Why Young People Are Right About Hillary Clinton

More food for thought for Democratic primary voters. Are we still licking our wounds from McGovern’s loss in 1972?

She seems confident that just because her detractors are politically motivated, as they always have been, that they must be wrong, as they often were.

But that’s faulty thinking. My worry is that Democrats like Hillary have been saying, “The Republicans are worse!” for so long that they’ve begun to believe it excuses everything.

Allow Open Carry of Firearms at the Quicken Loans Arena during the RNC Convention in July

No guns allowed at the RNC. I guess evil-doers will be kept at bay by the event’s sheer magnitude of righteousness.

Legalize It All

A detailed entreaty for ending our disastrous war on drugs.

“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

As long ago as 1949, H. L. Mencken identified in Americans “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy,” an astute articulation of our weirdly Puritan need to criminalize people’s inclination to adjust how they feel.

Binge drinkers — 20 percent of the drinking population — consume more than half of the alcohol sold, which means that for all the industry’s pious admonitions to “drink responsibly,” it depends on people doing the opposite. At the same time, Big Alcohol’s clout keeps taxation low. Kleiman, of NYU, estimates alcohol taxes to be about a dime a drink; the societal cost in disease, car wrecks, and violence is about fifteen times that.

In the 1970s, the eighteen states that established government control over alcohol distribution at the end of Prohibition began to water down their systems by feeding their wholesale or retail alcohol businesses, or both, to private industry. Still, in 2013 a team of researchers at the University of Michigan found that even in “weak monopoly” states, consumption of spirits was 12 to 15 percent lower than in states with private liquor stores or grocery stores. In states that retained control over retail sales, alcohol-related traffic fatalities were about 7 to 9 percent lower than in states that did not; crime rates were lower as well.

But we do know that the legal, for-profit marijuana business in Colorado is already mimicking the alcohol business in its dependence on heavy users. From a public-health standpoint, that’s troubling.

Even if marijuana tax revenues — which are slated to help public schools — aren’t what we’d hoped, our state is making money from something that used to cost it money. Marijuana is no big deal. We look at other states that treat it as a public menace and wonder what in the world they’re thinking.

If a lawful, regulated system is fine-tuned — so that drugs are cheap and trustworthy, the process is not too burdensome, and the taxes on them are not too high — users will likely come to prefer it to the black market. Competition, not violence, will destroy the criminal gangs that control illegal drug distribution.

Legalizing, and then regulating, drug markets will likely be messy, at least in the short term. Still, in a technocratic, capitalist, and fundamentally free society like the United States, education, counseling, treatment, distribution, regulation, pricing, and taxation all seem to better fit our national skill set than the suppression of immense black markets and the violence and corruption that come with it.