On this day in 1895 the great orator and author Frederick Douglass attended a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington DC. He was a powerful advocate for equal rights for all, including voting rights for women, and he was invited onto he platform and given a standing ovation. A little later that day, shortly after returning home, he died suddenly, probably from a massive heart attack or stroke. He was 77.
On February 1 this year, speaking on the first day of Black History Month, President Donald Trump, looking at a piece of paper apparently listing names of major figures in black history, said, "Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more I notice."
It's worth seeing just how he said this and how his press secretary later responded to a straightforward question asking what Trump specifically had in mind. Seth Meyers has clips of both in the following video. The section in question runs from 1 minute to 2 minutes 30 seconds (though the whole video is worth seeing).
Some people find it hilarious; I find it pretty chilling.
If you by chance work in the Trump White House and still don't know who Frederick Douglass is, here's the short version: Born into slavery in 1818, Douglass largely taught himself to read and right and in his teens tried to teach other slaves with the tacit permission of the plantation owner until other slaveholders in the area put a stop to it. At the age of 20 Douglass escaped to the North where her married and in a few years was recognized for his oratory. He spoke and wrote extensively on slavery, counseled President Lincoln, campaigned for women's suffrage and the rights of American Indians and everyone, advocated dialog and cooperation even with slaveowners, and held public office. He was one of the greatest Americans.
Conservative Republican Congressman Will Hurd represents a Texas district that includes about 800 miles of the Mexican border -- about 40 percent of the whole thing -- and he calls Trump's proposed wall "the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border" and even "impossible to build" in some places.
(Even trying to build it would create huge problems for some of his constituents. It's been widely noted that the wall would require seizing a lot of private land.)
The facts have not changed. Building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border. Each section of the border faces unique geographical, cultural, and technological challenges that would be best addressed with a flexible, sector-by-sector approach that empowers the agents on the ground with the resources they need. A wall may be an effective tool in densely populated areas, but a variety of tools are needed between Brownsville, Texas and San Diego, California. The 23rd District of Texas, which I represent, has over 800 miles of the border, more than any other Member of Congress, and it is impossible to build a physical wall in much of its terrain. Big Bend National Park and many areas in my district are perfect examples of where a wall is unnecessary and would negatively impact the environment, private property rights, and economy. There is no question that we must secure our border, but we need an intelligence-led approach in order to effectively combat the 19 criminal organizations currently operating in Mexico.
Bill Maher, who used to have a show called Politically Incorrect, here takes on the excesses of so-called political correctness. (The usual warning to applies for those with sensitive ears: This is a cable program, and it's also Bill Maher.)
I think he makes a lot of good points, though I would add that it's not just the Left that gets outraged over deviations from what they deem politically correct. Consider Bill O'Reilly's annual hissy about people saying "Happy Holidays," or the right-wing claims that Obama didn't refer to "American exceptionalism" often enough. (This despite the fact that Obama is apparently the only president to have used the term "American exceptionalism in a speech.)
But I don't happen to agree with everything Maher says. For one thing, the term "political correctness" is quite often used for what the rest of us would consider not being a jerk. I don't think it's mere "political correctness" to object to mocking a handicapped person or using racial or sexual slurs intentionally to cause offense and pain.
For another, while it's a minor matter given everything else going on, the name "Washington Redskins" really is pretty obviously racist. I have no particular problem with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves, or the Cleveland Indians (though their Chief Wahoo logo is pretty stupid). But it's harder to see "Redskins" as benign. Maher refers to a Washington Post poll that found 90 percent of American Indians surveyed had no objection to the team name, but the poll has been questioned, in part because of the loose criteria for inclusion. See Jacqueline Keeler's May 24 article in The Nation, for example, or this piece by Nidhi Prakash. Besides, you don't have to be an American Indian to have a right to an opinion. The name offends me.
The Pew Charitable Trusts and the MacArthur Foundation have been jointly examining how states make use of evidence-based policies, and on January 26 the released a report. The full 47-page document can be viewed as a PDF, or you can read a shorter summary on this web page.
They concluded that five states -- Washington, Utah, Minnesota, Connecticut, and Oregon in that order -- lead the nation in basing their policies on evidence of what actually works. Interestingly, these states cover the political spectrum, though Utah is the only deep-red state on the list.
The seven states at the bottom of the list are (in alphabetical order) Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia.
The rankings don't necessarily indicate the best- and worst-governed states, but it seems reasonable to suppose that other things being equal, it's better to base policies on evidence than on pure ideology or random guessing. Then again, the best way to get evidence on new approaches may be to try them out before there's a lot of evidence to support or discredit them. Anyway, it's an interesting subject.
You can read more on the general subject in the referenced report and summary and elsewhere on the Pew Trusts website.
Astronomer and blogger Phil Plait has a good summary of climate concerns here.
As he notes, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the independent research group Berkeley Earth all concur that the year 2016 was the warmest on record for the Earth's mean surface temperature, breaking the records previously set in 2015 and before than in 2014. In fact, 15 of the hottest 16 years have occurred since 2000, and the previous record in 1998 wasn't that long before.
Charles J Sykes, who formerly a hosted a conservative radio talk show in Wisconsin, now thinks the U.S. far right has gone a bit too far right. (He has a book coming out next October called How the Right Lost Its Mind.)
For years, as a conservative radio talk show host, I played a role in that conditioning by hammering the mainstream media for its bias and double standards. But the price turned out to be far higher than I imagined. The cumulative effect of the attacks was to delegitimize those outlets and essentially destroy much of the right’s immunity to false information. We thought we were creating a savvier, more skeptical audience. Instead, we opened the door for President Trump, who found an audience that could be easily misled.
The news media’s spectacular failure to get the election right has made it only easier for many conservatives to ignore anything that happens outside the right’s bubble and for the Trump White House to fabricate facts with little fear of alienating its base.
Unfortunately, that also means that the more the fact-based media tries to debunk the president’s falsehoods, the further it will entrench the battle lines.
During his first week in office, Mr. Trump reiterated the unfounded charge that millions of people had voted illegally. When challenged on the evident falsehood, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, seemed to argue that Mr. Trump’s belief that something was true qualified as evidence. The press secretary also declined to answer a straightforward question about the unemployment rate, suggesting that the number will henceforth be whatever the Trump administration wants it to be.
He later adds, "All administrations lie, but what we are seeing here is an attack on credibility itself."
The news media, he says, should push back against this even as Trump and his allies constantly try to portray legitimate news sources as false. And not just the mainstream media:
Perhaps just as important, it will be incumbent on conservative media outlets to push back as well. Conservatism should be a reality-based philosophy, and the movement will be better off if it recognizes that facts really do matter. There may be short-term advantages to running headlines about millions of illegal immigrants voting or secret United Nations plots to steal your guns, but the longer the right enables such fabrications, the weaker it will be in the long run. As uncomfortable as it may be, it will fall to the conservative media to police its worst actors.
Illegal immigrants have been responsible for some horrendous crimes, which is one reason people want to see illegal immigrants deported. There's also the belief that immigrants, legal or not, take jobs away from people born in the country. In fact, however, there's evidence that illegal immigrants are on average actually less likely to commit crimes than people born here and probably help the economy more than they hurt it.
A January 29 report by Gene Demby on National Public Radio points out that so-called "sanctuary cities" -- those where law enforcement agencies have a policy of not enforcing immigration laws -- have a lower crime rate than American cities as a whole and also have stronger economies. That's not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship, but it makes it hard to argue that providing a haven for illegal immigrants hurts a city. Demby cites an analysis by Tom K Wong at the University of California-San Diego (UCSD) found that cities with a policy of not complying with 48-hour holds initiated by federal Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) had substantially fewer crimes relative to population, better incomes, lower unemployment, and a smaller percentage of children and teenagers getting public assistance.
Of course, most of us favor enforcement of laws and secure borders, and illegal immigrants are by definition here illegally. But deporting the 11 million or so illegal immigrants living here (down, incidentally, from about 12 million a decade ago before President Obama greatly increased deportation and border enforcement) would be horribly disruptive to the economies of the places where they live. Even Donald Trump, who campaigned on massive deportation, has quietly moderated his stance since taking office and now embraces essentially the same policies put in place by Obama.