Notes and Comment Blog

Tips for writers

Apr 11th, 2018 10:00 am | By

Comic relief.

Also, of course, I write sitting on the floor, using an ancient manual typewriter. Doesn’t everyone?




Apr 11th, 2018 9:15 am | By

The Post performs contortions in the effort to frame Trump’s batshit tweet about Syria and Russia as a normal announcement of plans.

President Trump warned Wednesday that missiles “will be coming” toward Syria in response to a suspected chemical attack, and he taunted Russia for vowing to shoot down any incoming strikes.

That wasn’t a warning, it was a boast, an eruption, a look at me I can bomb things.

“Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’” the president wrote on Twitter, referring to missile strikes that have appeared likely since the weekend deaths of more than 40 Syrian civilians, including children.

As if it were just normal for a president to “write on Twitter” in such a childish way.

Trump’s taunt was the first explicit U.S. statement that a military response is in the offing, and it marked a turnabout for a president who ridiculed his predecessor, Barack Obama, for allegedly telegraphing military strategy.

Or to put it another way, Trump’s boast-and-taunt spilled the beans about military plans because Trump was in the mood to brag and bully.

With his series of tweets, Trump did precisely what he vowed he would never to do: telegraph his moves.

During his 2016 campaign, Trump regularly attacked Obama for previewing U.S. military strategy, which he argued gave the enemy an advantage by allowing it to fortify itself for the coming attack.

“I have often said that General MacArthur and General Patton would be in a state of shock if they were alive today to see the way President Obama and Hillary Clinton try to recklessly announce their every move before it happens — like they did in Iraq — so that the enemy can prepare and adapt,” Trump said in an August 2016 speech on terrorism.

As president, Trump has boasted that he does not disclose his plans ahead of time. In April 2017, as he contemplated a strike in Syria, Trump said, “One of the things I think you’ve noticed about me is: Militarily, I don’t like to say where I’m going and what I’m doing.”

Maybe he thinks that saying it on Twitter doesn’t count because it’s not official. Maybe he thinks everyone sees it this way so that what he says on Twitter just magically doesn’t telegraph anything. Maybe he really is that stupid.

Other than he fights back

Apr 11th, 2018 8:57 am | By

Trump’s morning of crazy:

Updating to add Maggie Haberman’s response to that:


Sigh. When will he catch on to the fact that the 280 character limit makes it silly to do run-on tweets like that that stop mid-sentence?

Nice parenthetical admission of obstructing justice there.

Dear god.

Too far

Apr 10th, 2018 4:01 pm | By

Tick tock tick tock tick tock.

NPR reports:

President Trump believes Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller has gone too far in his probe of potential ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Tuesday.

Her statement to reporters did little to tamp down speculation that Trump may seek to fire Mueller — an authority that Sanders says Trump enjoys.

Well it wouldn’t, would it. Saying Trump thinks Mueller has gone too far would do nothing to tamp down speculation that Trump will try to fire him, because we know Trump is more than stupid enough and way more than criminal enough.

Asked about Trump’s comments, Sanders said at a White House briefing on Tuesday that Trump was frustrated by the special counsel’s investigation. She also seemed to assert that the president has the authority to fire Mueller directly — as opposed to, for example, needing to instruct Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to do so.

“We’ve been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision,” Sanders said. She would not say whether firing Mueller is under consideration.

By…? The person who does Trump’s hair? Michael Cohen? Sean Hannity?

Under Justice Department rules, a special counsel can only be fired for “good cause,” and some legal experts say that to remove Mueller, Trump would have to go through Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from investigations of the 2016 election.

Trump had harsh words for Sessions and Rosenstein on Monday, but Sanders would not say whether Trump would take any action to move them from their posts.

She likes to surprise us.

The political backlash that might follow a move by Trump to get rid of Mueller would be so intense that the White House has a powerful incentive not to attempt it, the thinking goes. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Tuesday that Trump would be committing “suicide.”

Let’s hope so.

Alan Dershowitz is at the White House for dinner.

He sees himself as somehow immune to these impulses

Apr 10th, 2018 3:30 pm | By

Daniel Bastian on the Harris-Klein conversation:

What’s clear from the outset is that Harris’s ego is still perhaps the central problem blinding him to many of his own strong biases. This is literally how he frames the conversation from the get-go:

“I’m not saying that everyone who did the work, who listened to the podcast and read all the articles would take my side of it, but anyone who didn’t do the work thought that I was somehow the aggressor there and somehow, in particular, the fact that I was declining to do a podcast with you was held very much against me. That caused me to change my mind about this whole thing, because I realized this is not, I can’t be perceived as someone who won’t take on legitimate criticism of his views.”

Heaven forbid there is someone out there who thinks Harris backed down from a challenge. For someone so ostensibly committed to defending a person who subscribes to the intellectual inferiority of African Americans, Harris seems positively paranoid about any affront to his own intellectual standing.

And he also unabashedly puts his own precious reputation front and center, and apparently expects us to put his concern for his reputation ahead of our concern about the harm this blather about race and IQ scores does. On the one hand, millions of people; on the other hand, Sam Harris. Hmm, tough choice.

The reason this conversation never really made it off the ground is that their emphases were both in different places and, where they overlapped, were out of register with one another. Harris thinks Klein is underestimating the reputational hazards that attend participation in questions about the science of race and other precarious topics. Klein thinks Harris underappreciates the intricate social and historical context waiting around every corner of a conversation like the one he and Murray had. Harris, moreover, thinks these conversations run independently of one another; Klein thinks they’re more or less indissociable. And round and round they go.

Klein says something detailed and persuasive, Harris responds like a brick wall. Repeat, repeat, repeat. It’s funny how Harris is desperately concerned about his own reputation but can’t figure out how not to sound so obtuse.

I think we do in this conversation get a better sense of Harris’s understanding of ‘identity politics’. For him, IP is something that other people engage in to lend unjustified credence to their arguments and positions. While he describes the phenomenon as using one’s skin color or gender to gain undue leverage in debate, in practice he often uses the term as simple code for tribalism, or to describe people whose motives for engagement are suspect and unfounded.

At the same time, he sees himself as somehow immune to these impulses. He honestly sees himself as sitting above the fray, reasoning from a purely Rational™ standpoint. His position is borne of sound principles, the other side’s of ideology. His views are dispassionate, unbiased and uncorrupted, while the opposition — which must include the many well respected scientists who’ve responded to Murray’s work over the years — is contaminated by identity politics and political agenda.

When Klein offers that confirmation bias and motivated reasoning might just be at work in Harris’s own approach to these conversations and, indeed, might explain why he is so quick to ascribe bad faith and malice to his detractors, including Klein, Harris demurs and doubles down, insisting that he’s “not thinking tribally”. Rather, the default explanation is that he and Murray have been unfairly maligned by dishonest parties who happen to share all the same concerns about the social implications that he does.

He does it over and over and over again, while we all squirm in embarrassment.

The fact is that anti-social justice (what Klein refers to as “anti- anti-racism”) is its own tribe, with its own tendencies toward cognitive fallacies and moral panics and all the rest. And Harris has always seemed more concerned with defending this particular tribe (read: his tribe) than using his intellectual capital and zeal to speak truth to the injustices and abuses of power that actualize social change movements. As Klein suggests more than once, this might be because Harris sees a part of himself in folks like Murray. He feels threatened by the march of social justice, anxious that he’ll be the next Murray-esque casualty in the crusade against destructive speech.

I.e. because he’s a vain, prickly, self-absorbed man with all the affect of a lawnmower.

No one talks about inferiority who’s actually having a dispassionate argument

Apr 10th, 2018 11:52 am | By

Let’s do the Klein-Harris again.

Ezra Klein

I think you’ve had two African Americans as guests. I think you need to explore the experience of race in American more and not just see that as identity politics. See that as information that is important to talking about some of things you want to talk about, but also to hearing from some of the people who you’ve now written out of the conversation to hear.

Sam Harris

So this is the kind of thing that I would be tempted to score as bad faith —

Ezra Klein

I’m shocked!

Sam Harris

In someone else, but actually, I think this is a point of confusion, but it is, nonetheless, confusion here.

Your accusation that I’m reasoning on the basis of my tribe here is just false. I mean, I spend, this is the whole game I play, this is my main focus in just constructing my worldview and having conversations with other people. When I’m thinking about things, that are true that stand a chance of being universal, that stand a chance of scaling, these are the kinds of things that are not subordinate to a person’s identity. They’re not the things that will be true by accident of birth, because you happen to have been born in India and are Hindu, right? I mean, this is the problem I have with religious sectarianism. This is the problem I have with nationalism or any other kind of tribalism that can’t possibly scale to a global civilization that’s truly cosmopolitan, where when you’re reasoning among strangers, you have to converge on solutions to problems that work independent of who you happen to be.

Point so utterly missed. Seeing “I think you need to explore the experience of race in American more and not just see that as identity politics” as an “accusation that I’m reasoning on the basis of my tribe” is just so dense, so clueless, so…well, dumb, frankly. It’s just dumb to think that one’s experience doesn’t shape how one thinks and especially what one knows.

Then he says he defends Ayaan Hirsi Ali all the time so obviously he’s no racist god damn it. Oddly enough he doesn’t mention the time he had Maryam Namazie on his podcast and spent two hours trying to bully her into agreeing with him instead of listening to her and having a conversation with her.

Sam Harris

There are so many layers of confusion here. I mean, this is just a, again it’s not just yours, it’s everybody’s. It’s got to be a majority of both our audiences. I want to say something about this notion of what’s at stake here, because in your recent piece you talk about Murray’s focus on the inferiority of blacks.

Ezra Klein

Intellectual inferiority.

Sam Harris

But you also use just inferiority of blacks are inferior as well. Go back and look at the piece.

But this notion of inferiority, I mean, no one talks about inferiority who’s actually having a dispassionate argument on this topic of IQ testing. It absolutely does not map on, I can only, I’m not going to pretend to be a mind reader, but it certainly doesn’t map on to my view of this situation.

I mean, for instance, I would bet my life that my IQ is lower than John von Neumann’s was.

Oh god oh god oh god how does one even try to reason with someone who claims that insisting that black people have “lower IQs” on average is not at all calling them inferior?

Ezra Klein

Two things here. One, when I talk about what Murray says specifically I do use intellectual inferiority. I got the piece out in front of me.

I do think, 100 percent, without doubt, that when we have, in American life, over and over and over again, said that African Americans are intellectually less capable than whites, that has been — yes, that is a way of saying that they are inferior and it has been a way of treating them as if they are inferior. It has been a way of justifying social outcomes that are unbelievably unequal and unfair that have been going on until, I mean, they’re going on in the present day.

Of course it has, just as it has with women.

There’s a lot more after that but I think I’ve had enough.

All this conversation did is further convince me that Sam Harris is a blight on the intellectual landscape.

All we stand for

Apr 10th, 2018 10:51 am | By

Philip Bump at the Post points out that Trump’s “witch hunt” is being carried out by Republicans.

“It’s a disgrace,” Trump said Monday night, talking about the FBI’s searches earlier in the day of the home and office of his longtime attorney Michael Cohen. “It’s, frankly, a real disgrace. It’s an attack on our country, in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.” He went on to criticize Attorney General Jeff Sessions and to call Mueller’s investigators “the most biased group of people,” people who “have the biggest conflicts of interest I’ve ever seen.”

The problem, though, is that the people leading the investigation — and the people behind the search of Cohen’s properties — were all Republicans, Trump donors or Trump appointees.

Like Rosenstein and Mueller for instance.

On the other hand a lot of the lawyers working for Mueller donated to the Clinton campaign.

This is the “conflict of interest” to which Trump is referring. There is no evidence that these lawyers are actually exhibiting any bias, mind you. Most are career professionals who, between them, have decades of experience working for Democratic and Republican presidents at the Justice Department.

But also…”Republican” and “Democratic” aren’t the only relevant categories here. There are also the categories of competent v incompetent, ethical v unethical, lawyer v real estate huckster, adult v child. There were compelling reasons to prefer Clinton that had little or nothing to do with party.

A deep and detailed pattern

Apr 10th, 2018 9:49 am | By

In which Trump says one stupid thing after another.

Chuck Schumer responds.

Nice little country you got here

Apr 10th, 2018 9:28 am | By

Meanwhile, as the agents sift through all those files from Michael Cohen’s office and house and hotel room, there’s the issue of Trump and The Trump Organization and Panama.

Lawyers representing President Donald Trump’s namesake business appealed directly to Panama’s president for help in a dispute over a luxury Panama City hotel, The Associated Press reported Monday.

The AP said it obtained a letter dated March 22 in which the law firm Britton & Iglesias asked Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela to intervene in the legal dispute, arguing that the courts denied the Trump Organization due process and violated a bilateral treaty.

The letter also warned that there could be consequences for Panama if he didn’t, the AP reported.

The firm responded Monday to the AP’s story. In a statement provided to Business Insider by the Trump Organization, Britton & Iglesias wrote that the purpose of the letter, which was sent to Panama’s executive, legislative, and judicial branch, was to “warn the Panamanian Government of possible violations of the Investment Protection Treaty, which could be derived by the actions taken by some owners of the hotel units, and that, in our opinion, could result in a possible ‘procedural fraud.'”

“We categorically reject any assumption or assertion that the letter sought to ‘pressure’ the President of the Republic of Panama or any other official of the government of Panama,” the firm continued. “The drafting of this type of letter to the Governments in matters of International Investment Arbitration (ICSID) is very common, and was sent as part of our legal representation of Trump Panama Hotel Management, LLC.”

That might be true (or it might not)…but the fact remains that the Trump Organization is the president’s business, so the appearance that the president is leaning on the government of Panama to help his business is unavoidable. Rules about conflicts of interest are very much about appearances as well as realities.

Panama’s vice president and foreign secretary, Isabel Saint Malo, said her office was copied on the letter, which she described as urging the executive branch “to interfere in an issue clearly of the judicial branch.”

So that hints that it’s probably not true that “The drafting of this type of letter to the Governments in matters of International Investment Arbitration (ICSID) is very common” – or that it’s seen as inappropriate even if it is common. In non-authoritarian countries the judicial branch is supposed to be independent of the executive – that’s a major part of what makes them non-authoritarian.

Instead of divesting himself of his businesses or placing them into a blind trust before taking office, Trump passed control to his two sons and a senior Trump Organization executive — a move ethics experts said did not go far enough in addressing potential conflicts of interest.

Experts told Business Insider last month that Panama provided an example of such a conflict.

“The president can obviously have a great impact on American foreign policy toward Panama,” Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Business Insider in March. “How could this affect that? We don’t know, but it’s not good that we have to ask.”

Conflicts of interest mean always having to ask.

Guest post: The assumptions Harris is making

Apr 10th, 2018 9:01 am | By

Originally a comment by Anna Y on A really big blind spot here.

Peak meta indeed, since Harris isn’t even paying much attention to things coming out of his mouth in the course of this discussion itself. I think Klein is (maybe intentionally, to avoid pushing Harris’ buttons) missing a really low hanging fruit in what Harris says to defend his position.

I want to break down his points and emphasize the assumptions he is making, thereby demonstrating precisely what that fruit is:

“Well, what I mean by identity politics is that you are reasoning on the basis of skin color, or religion, or gender, or some particular trait, which you have by accident, which you can’t change — YOU FELL INTO THAT BIN THROUGH NO PROCESS OF REASONING ON YOUR OWN, YOU COULDN’T BE CONVINCED TO BE WHITE OR BLACK”

— in other words, you are white or black because YOU reasoned your way into it: it’s something in YOUR mind, rather than something in the minds of all (or almost all) of the people around you who treat you differently based on whether THEY think you are black or white.


— translation: your skin color is in your head the same way mine is in mine, and we can both come up with stories of how that’s been bad for us. That is LITERALLY his point here. Rather than focusing on ALL the reasons why it is an outrageous thing to think and say, I’ll take the most generous possible perspective: this alone demonstrates that Harris, just like faaaaar too many people on both the left and the right, is failing to understand something that should be glaringly obvious but apparently isn’t: whatever your “inside identity” is (i.e. what YOU think of yourself and how YOU identify) is completely irrelevant to other people because THEY can’t read YOUR thoughts. It is OTHER PEOPLE who look at you and “identify” you as “white” or “black” (or male, or female) and TREAT YOU ACCORDINGLY. This basic fact doesn’t sit right with a lot of people, especially a lot of Americans, because individualism is sort of an unofficial national religion here, and, as a corollary, the most popular collective delusion is that of being able to control how other people perceive and treat you. But, as a matter of actual fact, any given individual has NO control and very little ability to influence how other people see or treat them. This is actually a terrifying thought — it’s been a source of terror and despair for me personally for many years — so it’s understandable that Harris, among others, wouldn’t want to seriously entertain it. The problem is, however, that wishing something were true doesn’t make it so, as I’m sure Harris would agree (in a different context). He also happens to have been extremely lucky to randomly receive traits that are viewed favorably by people around him (his complaints about how unpopular being a white male is these days notwithstanding), and, given his favorable view of himself, he seems to much prefer to take credit for somehow earning that baseline favorable treatment from others (which is, again, understandable, especially given the alternative).

A side point about things being “incommunicable” to other people: I personally find that literally anything can be incommunicable if the people I try to communicate it to don’t want to hear it. I’ve gone to quite embarrassing lengths to try to get around such unwillingness of people to be communicated to, and found that this is very much a subset of the larger problem of being unable to control and having little influence over how other people treat you. So when Harris says certain things are incommunicable to other people who don’t share your identity, he may be unwittingly sharing how often he’s found people to be so frustrated with trying to communicate something to him (that he wasn’t interested in taking on board) that they basically threw up their hands in frustration and quit (though, again, to be fair, the pain and frustration of trying to communicate vitally important [to you] information to an unreceptive audience is so common among certain groups that the refusal to be drawn into yet another pointless session has become a common collective stance at this point).

So after having just said what he said, he turns around and says:

“This strikes me as a moral and political and intellectual dead end because THE THINGS THAT ARE REALLY TRUE, THE THINGS THAT WILL REALLY MOVE THE DIAL WITH RESPECT TO HUMAN WELLBEING — I view my career as being totally committed to amplifying good ideas and criticizing bad ideas, insofar as they relate to the most important swings of human wellbeing. My concern is, how can the future be better than the past? HOW CAN WE GET TO A WORLD WHERE WE CANCEL THE WORST EFFECTS OF BAD LUCK, GIVEN THAT SOME PEOPLE ARE HUGELY LUCKY AND SOME PEOPLE AREN’T? How can we cancel this, with respect to wealth and health and everything else? How can we get to a world where the maximum number of people thrive?”

— and it doesn’t appear to break his irony meter. Because, apparently, cancelling the worst effects of bad luck has NOTHING whatsoever to do with, oh, I don’t know, maybe not treating black people worse because they are black or female people worse because they are female — clearly this must be because being being black or female (or gay, or just fill in the blank, because it varies from place to place) is just a matter of some individuals being convinced that they are black or female or whatever, and if they just quit thinking that, everybody else will instantaneously go blind and deaf and amnesiac and just start treating them exactly the way they treat a white male. So yes, Harris has totally committed his career to amplifying good ideas and criticizing bad ideas, insofar as they relate to the wellbeing of people like Harris, who are SO incredibly rational that they KNOW their skin and cranium are actually transparent, forcing others to judge them by the contents of their character (unless those others are too irrational because of their commitment to identity politics, and obviously you can’t have a truly rational conversation with them).

An Easter break to spend time with her children

Apr 10th, 2018 8:27 am | By

Is there a free speech right to bully?

Fox’s Laura Ingraham is wrapping herself in the free speech flag.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham returned to her show Monday night following a week vacation in the middle of a mass exodus of the program’s advertisers over controversial remarks she made about a Parkland shooting survivor. Ingraham focused on freedom of speech in her first show back, and attacked the left’s alleged stifling of conservative voices.

Ingraham was returning to her show after announcing on March 30 she would be out the following week for an Easter break to spend time with her children. The announcement came at the end of a week in which more than a dozen sponsors of her show pulled advertising over her criticism of Parkland shooting survivor and gun control advocate David Hogg.

The Fox News host had taken to Twitter in late March to mock the 17-year-old for getting turned down for admission by multiple colleges.

See, that’s not “criticism,” nor is it a simple matter of “conservative voices.” That’s a middle-aged adult with a Fox News megaphone making fun of a teenage boy for getting college rejections. That’s not political debate, it’s not philosophical disagreement, and it’s not “free speech” as normally understood. It’s “free speech” in the bare minimum sense that it’s not a legally punishable crime, but there’s a lot of territory between “not a crime” and “okay.” It’s not a violation of Laura Ingraham’s free speech for her employer to tell her to go away for awhile when she bullies a teenager in public.

Ingraham focused on the left as a whole on Monday and announced a new segment called “Defending the First,” a recurring feature which she said will “expose the enemies of the First Amendment, of free expression, and every thought, while showcasing those brave voices making a difference.”

Brave? Really? So it’s brave for a famous Fox News “personality” to try to humiliate a teenager in public? That’s making a difference? A difference of the good kind?

“I have been the victim of a boycott,” Ingraham said. “It is wrong. You shouldn’t do this by team. It is the modern way of cutting off free speech.”

But bullying children isn’t “free speech” in the sense she’s using it there. She wasn’t bravely stating an unpopular principle, she was insulting a kid. Nothing is lost if that kind of “free speech” is cut off.

Notice, for instance, that I’m saying this without resorting to personal insults aimed at Ingraham. I’m saying she’s wrong in what she said yesterday and what she said about David Hogg, without bringing anything personal into it. Notice how easy it is to do that.

It’s just so unfair

Apr 9th, 2018 5:26 pm | By

Trump’s reasoned response.

H/t Skeletor

A really big blind spot here

Apr 9th, 2018 5:04 pm | By

More of the Harris-Klein conversation, starting where I paused this morning.

Ezra Klein

At the beginning, when you’re talking about why you chose to have Glenn on the show, you say, “My goal was to find an African American intellectual, who could really get into the details with me, but whom I also trusted to have a truly rationale conversation that wouldn’t be contaminated by identity politics.” To you, engaging in identity politics discredits your ability to participate in a rational conversation, and it’s something, as far as I can tell, that you do not see yourself as doing.

So here’s my question for you: On that specific quote, what does it mean to you, particularly when you’re talking about something like race, to have your ideas contaminated by identity politics?

Sam Harris

Well, what I mean by identity politics is that you are reasoning on the basis of skin color, or religion, or gender, or some particular trait, which you have by accident, which you can’t change — you fell into that bin through no process of reasoning on your own, you couldn’t be convinced to be white or black — and to reason from that place as though, because you’re you, because you have the skin color you have, certain things are true and very likely incommunicable to other people who don’t share your identity. I view this as this as the most unhappy game of Dungeons and Dragons ever. People have these various stories of victimology that if you do arithmetic one way, one group trumps another. Another way it gets reversed.

But that’s a very idiosyncratic idea of identity politics. What do I think it means to people who use it as a pejorative? Treating sex and race and sexual orientation as sacred, paying too much attention to them, taking them too seriously, policing everything everyone says in defense of them, “virtue signaling” about them whenever possible. That kind of thing. But maybe that is what Harris means after all, since he mentions “victimology” at the end of that paragraph.

This strikes me as a moral and political and intellectual dead end because the things that are really true, the things that will really move the dial with respect to human wellbeing — I view my career as being totally committed to amplifying good ideas and criticizing bad ideas, insofar as they relate to the most important swings of human wellbeing. My concern is, how can the future be better than the past? How can we get to a world where we cancel the worst effects of bad luck, given that some people are hugely lucky and some people aren’t? How can we cancel this, with respect to wealth and health and everything else? How can we get to a world where the maximum number of people thrive?

He doesn’t half think well of himself, does he. He basically calls himself a humanitarian saint there. I think one could argue that his career is totally committed to quarreling with everyone in sight. I don’t really think he’s devoting his life to achieving a world where we cancel the worst effects of bad luck, because he’s too damn prickly for that. I’m quite prickly myself, but then I don’t claim to be making a contribution to human wellbeing.

I view identity politics as among the worst pieces of software you can be running to try to get there. I want to get to a world where, I mean, it’s Martin Luther King’s claim about the content of your character, rather than the color of your skin. That is the goal, and if you want to reverse engineer that goal, giving primacy to identity is one of the worst things you can do. That is my, that’s how I would frame it.

Sigh, yes, it’s always “Martin Luther King’s claim about the content of your character, rather than the color of your skin.” That’s the bromide all the enemies of “political correctness” like to trot out as if we’d never heard it before. King didn’t make a claim about it, he expressed a hope for it – a hope for a time when people’s identities weren’t despised and so they could be judged on more cogent criteria. That time was not then, and he wasn’t saying it was, nor was he complaining about political correctness. Sam Harris is along with everything else woefully tin-eared about such things.

Ezra Klein

That’s super helpful. Here’s my criticism of you. I don’t think you realize that the identity politics software is operating in you all the time and, I think it’s strong.

When you look at literature on the conversation about race in America, you often see the discussion broken into racists and anti-racists. That’s something that you’ll read often in this debate. I think there’s something else, particularly lately, which you might call anti-anti-racism, which is folks who are fundamentally more concerned, or fundamentally primarily concerned, with the overreach of what you would call the anti-racists. And, actually that’s where I think you are.

One of the things that I hear in you is that, whenever something gets near the questions of political correctness — the canary and the coal mine for the way you yourself have been treated — you get very, very, very strident. They’re in bad faith. They’re not being able to speak rationally. They’re not being able to have a conversation that is actually going forward on a sound evidentiary basis. The thing that I don’t think that you’re self-reflective enough about — and I apologize, because I know that “I” statements are better than “you” statements, but I do want to push this idea at you for you to think about it — is that there are things that are threats to you. There are things that are threats to your tribe, to your future, to your career, and those threats are very salient.

You see what happens with Charles Murray, the kind of criticism he gets, and that sets off every alarm bell in your head. You bring him on the show and you’re like, “We’re going to fix this. I’m going to show that they can’t do this to you.” You look around and you say, “Ezra, you think we shouldn’t take away all efforts to redress racial inequality? But that’s a bias. You’re just being led around by your political opinions, where I am standing outside the debate acting rationally.”

To me that’s actually not what’s happening at all. I think you’re missing a lot, because you are very radically increasing the salience of things that threaten your identity, your tribe — which is not the craziest thing to do in the world, it’s not a terrible thing to do, we all do it — without admitting, or maybe even without realizing, that’s what you’re doing.

I think that there is a lot of discussion like this in the public sphere just generally at the moment. There are a lot of white commentators, of which I am also one, who look at what’s happening on some campuses, or look at what happens on Twitter mobs, or whatever, and they see a threat to them. The concern about political correctness goes way, way, way, way up. Then the ability to hear what the folks who are making the arguments actually say dissolves. The ability to hear what the so-called social justice warriors are actually worried about dissolves. I think that’s a really big blind spot here. I think it’s making it hard for you to see when people have a good faith disagreement with you, and I also think it’s making harder for you to see how to weight some of the different concerns that are operating in this conversation.

I think that’s exactly right.

He’s watching

Apr 9th, 2018 3:22 pm | By

More on the news of the hour:

Be afraid.

Could get ugly.


Apr 9th, 2018 3:02 pm | By


The F.B.I. on Monday raided the office of President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, seizing records related to several topics including payments to a pornographic-film actress.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan obtained the search warrant after receiving a referral from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, according to Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, who called the search “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.” The search does not appear to be directly related to Mr. Mueller’s investigation, but likely resulted from information he had uncovered and gave to prosecutors in New York.

Bombs on Syria and North Korea before the day is out?

Mr. Cohen plays a role in aspects of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. He also recently said he paid $130,000 to a pornographic-film actress, Stephanie Clifford, who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump. Ms. Clifford is known as Stormy Daniels.

Mr. Ryan said Mr. Cohen has cooperated with authorities and turned over thousands of documents to congressional investigators looking into Russian election meddling.

The payments to Ms. Clifford are only one of many topics being investigated, according to a person briefed on the search. The F.B.I. also seized emails, tax documents and business records, the person said.


A truly rational conversation not contaminated by identity politics

Apr 9th, 2018 11:23 am | By

Ezra Klein did the podcast with Sam Harris, and there’s a transcript. It is, naturally, an interesting read. One sample:

Ezra Klein

One of the things I’ve come to think about you that I actually did not come into this believing is, you’re very quick to see a lot of psychological tendencies, cognitive fallacies, etc. in others that you don’t see applying to yourself, or people you’ve written into your tribe. You say words in there like confirmation bias, etc., to me about how we’re looking at Murray. The whole thing I just told you is that Charles Murray is a guy who works at conservative think tanks, whose first book was about why we should get rid of the welfare state, who is, his whole life’s work is about breaking down social policy.

To the extent that I have any biases that flow backwards from political commitments, so does he. We’re all —

Sam Harris

Okay. But what’s my bias?

Ezra Klein

Hold on Sam. I’m going to go through this.

Sam Harris

But what’s my bias?

Ezra Klein

I promise you I will get to your bias very quickly.

[one para omitted]

Then you asked me — and I think this is a good question, because I think this gets to the core of this and it gets to where I tried to open us up into — your view of this debate is that to say that you have a bias in it is to say, in your terms, that you’re like the grand dragon of the KKK. That the only version of a bias that can be influencing what you see here is a core form of racism. That’s actually not my view of you, but I do think you have a bias.

I think you have a huge sensitivity, let’s put it that way, and you have a lot of difficulty extending an assumption of good faith to anyone who disagrees with you on an issue that you code as identity politics. There’s a place actually where I think you got into this in a pretty interesting way. I went back and I read your discussion with Glenn Loury.

At the beginning, when you’re talking about why you chose to have Glenn on the show, you say, “My goal was to find an African American intellectual, who could really get into the details with me, but whom I also trusted to have a truly rational conversation that wouldn’t be contaminated by identity politics.” To you, engaging in identity politics discredits your ability to participate in a rational conversation, and it’s something, as far as I can tell, that you do not see yourself as doing.

I don’t know what they say next because I paused there.

That’s one of the things that just drives me nuts about Harris and guys like Harris – their blindness (their smug blindness, frankly) to how easy it is for people with the Approved Forms of identity to see “contamination” in the “identity politics” of people who don’t. It’s almost comical that Sam Harris thinks he has truly rational conversations that are not contaminated by identity politics. It’s less close to comical that he doesn’t even realize that his hostility to “identity politics” is “identity politics.”

So, yeah, that’s his bias, or one of them.

Oh that kind of protection

Apr 9th, 2018 10:41 am | By

It’s interesting how the people Trump hires to run bits of his administration like to give big raises to the people they hire. Scott Pruitt did it, and Mick Mulvaney did it.

Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump’s appointee to oversee the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has given big pay raises to the deputies he has hired to help him run the bureau, according to salary records obtained by The Associated Press.

Mulvaney has hired at least eight political appointees since he took over the bureau in late November. Four of them are making $259,500 a year and one is making $239,595. That is more than the salaries of members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, and nearly all federal judges apart from those who sit on the Supreme Court.

When libbruls do it it’s Big Gummint. When Trumpists do it it’s Winning.

Mulvaney, as Trump’s budget director, has long railed against government spending. One of his first directives as acting CFPB director was to announce he needed zero dollars in funding to run the agency, pledging to spend down the bureau’s surplus fund this quarter before requiring more money from the Fed — the CFPB is funded by the Fed and not through the traditional congressional budget process.

In his Jan. 17 letter to the Fed, Mulvaney said he was asking for zero dollars because of the need to be “responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.” But that tight-fisted approach apparently was not used with his staff’s salaries. Further, it appears that at least two people that Mulvaney hired for his office are for positions that did not exist under the previous administration, at an additional taxpayer cost of $259,500 per employee.

He’s redistributing the wealth. It’s very compassionate.

Do it his way

Apr 9th, 2018 9:40 am | By

AP reports a shift in Trump, from however reluctantly taking some guidance from his aides, to getting sick of them and doing whatever he wants. Last week in West Virginia he threw his prepared speech up in the air. BO-RING.

This president has never been one to stick to a script, but that abandoned speech illustrates a new phase in Trump’s presidency. He is increasingly at odds with his staff — and growing wise to their tactics.

One favored staff strategy: Guide the president to the right decision by making the conventional choice seem like the only realistic option. Except now, 14 months into his administration, Trump is on to them, and he’s making clear he won’t be boxed in.

That was the message that an irritated Trump delivered to his national security team last week in a classified meeting about U.S. involvement in Syria.

Trump’s advisers, among them Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, were advocating for an ongoing U.S. military presence to provide stability. They aimed to rely on the same playbook they used last year in persuading Trump to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. They would paint a dire picture of a pullout, of regional chaos benefiting Russia and Iran, and the potential resurgence of the Islamic State group.

But even before they could begin their pitch in that meeting Tuesday, Trump headed them off, saying he wanted to remove U.S. troops immediately. The ensuing heated argument put new distance between the president and his team and left the military with a mandate, if not a formal order, to remove U.S. troops from Syria within six months.

Of course, military advisers give their advice from a military point of view. There are all kinds of institutional reasons for them to choose the advice they give, and the institution in question is the military, which has its own well known dangers. We’re supposed to be civilian government. But the trouble is, Trump is Trump. His biases are not likely to be an improvement on military biases, and he has infinitely less knowledge and experience. The US does keep getting itself entangled in wars that go on forever and do harm to millions, and from the outside it can seem best to just get out – but it could still be the case that just getting out would do even more harm. It’s complicated. The thing about Trump is that he seems to assume that because he was elected therefore he is the best qualified to decide. He thinks the president has and should have dictatorial power and that he as president necessarily knows more and better than anyone else.

No and no.

The identity of Kushner’s white knight is a mystery

Apr 9th, 2018 9:06 am | By

You know how it’s been a theme of the coverage on Prince Jared that there’s this nagging $1.2 billion payment on 666 Fifth Avenue coming due and the Kushners have been sweating bullets trying to come up with the $$$? And how that is of course a massive red flag for corruption or worse? Well, Judd Legum at Think Progress reports that someone has come up with the $$$ and we don’t know who or how. People on Twitter suggest it’s MSB in payment for the secret intel that Jared gave him that prompted him to imprison more than 200 members of the House of Saud.

Upon entering the White House, Jared Kushner divested the property only in the most technical sense. He “sold” the assets to his brother and a trust controlled by his mother. A lawyer described the transaction to the New York Times as a “shell game.”

Now, with Kushner ensconced as a senior adviser in the White House, someone has emerged to bail him and his family out of this mess. The identity of Kushner’s white knight is a mystery.

Whoever it is certainly is generous.

In a filing with the SEC on Friday, Vornado revealed the existence of an extraordinary “handshake” agreement that would not only refinance the $1.2 billion but allow the Kushners to buy out Vornado’s portion of the debt. This means the Kushners would once again own the entire office tower and Vornado would own only the retail space.

The key question, however, is who would lend $1.2 billion to the Kushners to refinance an aging office tower with high vacancy rates? As of now, neither the Kushners nor Vornado is revealing who is facilitating the deal.

The existence of the deal, however, raise troubling questions about the whether it is based on the economic potential of the property or an effort to gain access and influence in the Trump White House.

Especially since, as Legum explained, the economic potential of the property appears to be all in a downward direction – the building is in decline and can’t command high rents, aka it’s under water. Genius Kushner paid way more than it’s worth so he’s in one of them there negative equity situations. Why anyone else would want to participate that is a mystery, which hints at sinister reasons. By “hints at” I mean “points to with loud blaring horn sounds.”

The New Yorker reported that Kushner’s father and sister met with Qatar’s finance minister, Ali Sharif al-Emadi, in New York last April. They pitched a $1 billion investment to renovate the struggling tower. The Qataris rejected the pitch because they did not believe they’d ever be able to recover their investment. Soon thereafter, the Trump administration supported an economic blockade of the country by Saudi Arabia.

It’s so fussy of people to reject a deal just because they think it would be a loss. Serves them right to be punished by dear dear Saudi Arabia.

“Here’s a question for you: If they had given Kushner the money, would there have been a blockade? I don’t think so,” a financial analyst opined to the New Yorker. NBC News reported that “Qatari government officials visiting the U.S. in late January and early February considered turning over to Mueller what they believe is evidence of efforts by their country’s Persian Gulf neighbors in coordination with Kushner to hurt their country.”

When NBC knows that you can bet Mueller’s investigators know that and more. Lots more.

No room to move

Apr 8th, 2018 3:29 pm | By

Well at least Trump and his friends showed those chickens a thing or two.

The Trump administration officially withdrew an Obama-era rule that would set higher standards for the treatment of animals whose meat can be sold as organic.

The rule, created under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), would require poultry to be housed in spaces large enough to move freely and fully stretch their wings. Livestock would be required to have some access to outdoor space year-round.

The USDA officially overturned the rule Monday, after delaying its implementation three times. It was first created in 2016 and built on seven years of deliberation.

So I guess it’s not like all those reports about what Pruitt was doing when really he was just starting the process of trying to do them and might fail. I guess “officially overturned the rule” means what it says.

Many hens and cows live in the same or similar conditions as their nonorganic counterparts, with no room to move and only screened-in porches for “outside” access. The USDA estimates that about half of all organic eggs come from hens living in total confinement.

“Organic” of course doesn’t mean “humanely raised,” but people tend to conflate the two.

The rule was poised to hurt large-scale organic egg farms that house up to 180,000 birds in one barn, said the Organic Trade Association (OTA), which represents organic farmers. Some of these farms house as many as three egg-laying hens per square foot, with no time spent outdoors.

In contrast, Organic Valley, one of the most popular medium-scale organic producers in the United States, provides each bird with 5 square feet of space. In Europe, birds are given 43 square feet.

43 square feet versus a third of a square foot – quite a difference.

The proposed rule drew 47,000 comments, but only 28 supported its withdrawal, according to data compiled by the OTA.

“This is representative of the influence lobbyists and election money has at the Trump administration’s USDA,” said Mark Kastel, co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, which provides research on organic agriculture and has long been critical of USDA standards.

“They’re servicing large, conventional egg producers at the disservice of small and medium-sized organic farms,” he said. These large companies recognize the growing popularity of organic products and want to trick consumers into purchasing their own by obfuscating the way they treat their animals, Kastel argued.

The worse they treat the hens, the more $$$ they make. Let’s remember what’s important here.