Things worth reading (2017-01-30)

From The Atlantic:

But after sifting through databases, media reports, court documents, and other sources, Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, has arrived at a striking finding: Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015.


Six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis, and one Yemeni have been convicted of attempting or executing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during that time period, according to Nowrasteh’s research. (Nowrasteh focused on plots against the U.S. homeland, which presumably Trump cares most about, rather than other terrorism-related offenses, like supporting a foreign terrorist group or trying to join a jihadist organization overseas.) Zero Libyans and zero Syrians have been convicted of doing the same. “Foreign-born terrorism is a hazard,” Nowrasteh argues, “but it is manageable given the huge economic benefits of immigration and the small costs of terrorism.”

As for refugees, Nowrasteh writes, Trump’s action “is a response to a phantom menace.” Over the last four decades, 20 out of 3.25 million refugees welcomed to the United States have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all by Cuban refugees in the 1970s.

Zero Americans have been killed by Syrian refugees in a terrorist attack in the United States.

Between 1975 and 2015, the “annual chance of being murdered by somebody other than a foreign-born terrorist was 252.9 times greater than the chance of dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreign-born terrorist,” according to Nowrasteh.

Of course, vetting refugees isn’t perfect. No such perfect system will ever exist. But, existing vetting is already very comprehensive.

From Politifact:

Comey, while talking specifically about Syrian refugees and not all of the Middle East, has repeatedly said that admitting refugees has its challenges and that information gaps do exist. But he also has expressed confidence in the admission procedure and says it continues to improve. That makes it hard to argue Comey feels like the government’s process “cannot properly vet people.”

From Gongwer (which is locked behind a paywall)

“This round of tests, like the last one, clearly indicates no evidence for systematic fraud, tampering, or hacking of voting machines,” AEG CEO Patrick Anderson said. “Furthermore, it demonstrates that both high and low immigrant-population counties did not vote in the manner suggested by the allegation of ‘3-5 million illegals’ voting for the Democratic Party candidate in 2016.”

From The Intercept, The FBI has Quietly Investigated White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement. This is a long article but worth the read. It should make us all question why we’ve singled out brown people while white people appear to be the tangible threat to our safety.

Also, there’s this:

“This election, for white supremacists, was a signal that ‘We’re on the right track,’” said Simi. “I have never seen anything like it among white supremacists, where they express this feeling of triumph and jubilee. They are just elated about the idea that they feel like they have somebody in the White House who gets it.”

From the New York Times, an appeal to President Trump to reconsider “President Bannon:”

In that new order, issued on Saturday, Mr. Trump took the unprecedented step of naming Mr. Bannon to the National Security Council, along with the secretaries of state and defense and certain other top officials. President George W. Bush’s last chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, was so concerned about separating politics from national security that he barred Mr. Rove, Mr. Bush’s political adviser, from N.S.C. meetings. To the annoyance of experienced foreign policy aides, David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s political adviser, sat in on some N.S.C. meetings, but he was not a permanent member of the council.

I’m from Holland, Michigan, and for all these reasons, Betsy DeVos scares the hell out of me:

Michigan now serves as one of the most prominent examples of what aggressive, DeVos-style school choice policies look like on the ground, especially when it comes to expanding charters. About 80 percent of the state’s charter schools are run by for-profit companies—a much higher share than anywhere else in the country—with little oversight from the state. In 2011, DeVos foughtagainst legislation to stop low-performing charter schools from expanding, and later she and her husband funded legislators who opposed a proposal to add new oversight for Detroit’s charters.

Detroit, in particular, provides a cautionary tale of what happens when the ideology of market-driven “school choice” trumps the focus on student outcomes. The city’s schools—where 83 percent of students are black and 74 percent are poor—have been in steady decline since charter schools started proliferating: Public school test scores in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have remained the worst among large cities since 2009. In June, the New York Times published a scathing investigation of the city’s school district, which has the second-biggest share of students in charters in America. (New Orleans is No. 1.) Reporter Kate Zernike concluded that lax oversight by the state and insufficiently regulated growth—including too many agencies that are allowed to open new charter schools—contributed to a chaotic system marked by “lots of choice, with no good choice.”

A 2015 study from Michigan State University’s Education Policy Center found that a high percentage of charter schools also had a devastating impact on the finances of poor Michigan school districts like Detroit. Researchers reported that, under the state’s school choice and finance laws, it was hard for districts to keep traditional public schools afloat when charters reached 20 percent or more of enrollment. While per-student public funding follows kids to charters or other districts, traditional public schools still have fixed costs to cover, like building expenses and faculty salaries. Charter growth also increased the share of special-needs students left behind in traditional public schools, and the extra costs for educating such students weren’t adequately reimbursed by the state.

Boote’s truck takes a sharp turn into the predominantly Latino section of town, with large Victorian cottages, fenceless yards, and mature trees. Most kids in this neighborhood go to public schools. In the two decades since school choice was implemented in Michigan, white student enrollment in Holland’s public schools has plummeted 60 percent, with a nearby charter school becoming their top destination, according to an investigation by the Ann Arbor-based Bridge Magazine. Latino students are now the face of the system, and 70 percent of all its students are poor, more than double the district’s poverty rate when school choice began. Bridge Magazine found a similar pattern across Michigan: White parents tended to use the choice system to move their kids into even whiter districts, while black parents gravitated to charter schools made up mostly of students of color. Meanwhile, the Holland Christian Schools are predominantly white.

Via Vox, let’s kick out legal immigrants who use public services, because we’re heartless bastards:

People who use any of those benefits and are in the US on visas would be subject to deportation. And the order would even require the person who sponsored an immigrant into the US to reimburse the federal government for any benefits the immigrant used.

This is draconian. It seeks to punish not only legal immigrants in the US and their families, but their US-citizen relatives. It’s a reflection of a worldview in which any benefit that an immigrant gets from the government is, in some way, a theft of American tax money — and punishes immigrants as thieves accordingly.

“Evangelical” as “epithet”

“Evangelical” used to be a word that I could stomach as a term of identity. It sounded respectable — a heck of a lot better than “holy roller,” “fundamentalist” or “religious.”

I now view it as an epithet. I haven’t abandoned my faith, but I feel like the people I thought were something akin to family have left me.

With their embrace of Donald Trump, white evangelicals have lost all credibility, every last shred of it. Jesus said that the world at large would know his disciples by their love, but I see judgmental attitudes and hate where there should be empathy and compassion. I see little resemblance to the Savior we purport to serve.

The Christian Scriptures tell us: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” This has not been followed.

via After Trump, I can’t relate to my evangelical faith – Chicago Tribune

Trump Evangelicals need to answer these questions

I’m not sure I have the emotional fortitude to have these conversations, but I hope someone does. These questions demand answers.

This expectation will put many pro-democracy activists in an unusual position. Atheists, agnostics, Jews, liberal Catholics, mainstream protestants, and many thoughtful people with other beliefs aren’t exactly well practiced at proselytizing. Those who typically view religious faith as a personal and private endeavor, will find it difficult to do what I suggest here.

Yet many of us have family and friends who, within the chosen safety of their evangelical enclaves, are never held accountable or asked to explain the many ugly national sins that made their candidate’s rise possible — the mendacity, bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, and language of violence that so clearly energized the Trump phenomenon. These unconfessed sins, as well as ongoing support from evangelicals, are precisely what will keep Trump in power or drive him from it. Given the circumstances, it’s appropriate to expect, if not demand, religious answers to questions we ourselves may not find particularly religious.

Our conscience, and the weight of this historical moment, should serve as a reminder that this strategy is more than an exercise in irony. We can now refuse the inevitable attempts by Trump evangelicals to revert to arguments no longer relevant under new dynamics of governance. We can also ask them to explain the connection they make between their chosen president and their own heartfelt religious convictions.

via How to Talk to a Trump Evangelical at Christmas | Religion Dispatches

Yet another horrifying Trump appointee

Another day, another disastrous appointment from the perspective of those of us concerned with facts and reality.

“The nomination of Congressman Mick Mulvaney to lead OMB, like many of Trump’s other cabinet level nominations, raises alarm about the direction in which our country is headed. The White House Office of Management and Budget is central to good government—including its role overseeing science-based public health, safety and environmental protections. Rep. Mulvaney has a long record of supporting legislation that would roll back and undermine those protections. He has backed legislation to change the regulatory process in ways that would give an even stronger influence to industry, increase political interference and undermine science-based decision-making.  This is directly contrary to public health and safety, and the public interest generally. Real people’s lives will be at stake in the decisions Mulvaney will make at OMB.

Yeah, appointing a guy who questions whether the government has a role to play with respect to researching issues like the Zika virus is disastrous. There’s no other word for it. Other than catastrophic, maybe.

via As OMB Director, Mulvaney Could Undermine Safeguards that Protect the Public | Union of Concerned Scientists

I am going to miss this President

Whose words from 2008 have become disquietly prophetic. If only we had listened.

Instead, we – white Christian America – chose to make people who don’t look like us someone else’s problem. Again.

I pray I can rediscover the hope contained in this speech again someday soon.

Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.


This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.


This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.


This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

via Obama Speech on Race at the National Constitution Center

An important moral question from Star Wars

We seem to have taken a ponderously grim turn here. We started with a whimsical riff on the new Star Wars movie and now we’re suddenly knee deep in Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem. But, alas, that important book is unavoidably pertinent these days — and not because there’s a new Star Wars movie coming out.

It’s pertinent because soon — and more explicitly than ever before in my lifetime — we may ourselves be asked to comply with and cooperate in the construction of the machinery of death. We may be asked to participate in that machinery, to fortify and amplify it, in ways we may have (mostly) avoided before now. Registrations, deportations, disenfranchisement, torture, war crimes, the denial of medical care, generational theft on a massive scale — these things are not hypothetical possibilities, but campaign promises now being planned and begun.

Our participation in this machinery of death is expected. It is being requested. And it may come to be compelled — whether through threat of punishment or economic necessity. The machine will need us to help build it. That means we have the opportunity and the obligation — and the power — to prevent it from being built.

Source: Within weeks they’ll be re-opening the shipyards – slacktivist

Meanwhile, local governments can’t deny science

In a country that has just elected a climate science denier who’s busy appointing other climate science deniers, local governments live in reality with the rest of us.

The more you follow government down to the local level, the harder it is for decision-makers to pretend climate change isn’t real. Coastal cities in particular can see what’s coming, and their officials understand that people can’t just sit on their hands. When you’ve cleaned up after storm surge flooding before, the risk of more severe flooding feeds a concrete urgency. One of the first cities to get the ball rolling was Boston, which recently released a new report laying out a roadmap for a “Climate Ready Boston.”


via Ready for flooding: Boston analyzes how to tackle climate change | Ars Technica

Must read: White evangelicalism is white nationalism.

Fred Clark nails it. Please go read the whole thing.

And then read his other posts on biblical inerrancy that are the foundation for his claims about how inerrancy came to be. It is well sourced.

Yesterday, white evangelicals again voted for white nationalism. They supported a candidate who explicitly and unambiguously made white nationalism the centerpiece and driving passion of his campaign. The fig-leaf for this support was abortion. And once again we are asked to believe — after centuries defending slavery, segregation and Jim Crow — that it was only about abortion, and that the 100-percent correlation between this anti-abortion politics and white nationalist politics is just an unfortunate and unforeseen coincidence.
That’s not believable.
White evangelicalism is white nationalism. That’s how it came to be. That’s what it’s for. If you can’t see that after yesterday, you’re choosing not to see it.

Has America really changed that much?

Jim Bakker has fascinated me this election season. I’ve watched him go from cautious about supporting Donald Trump to all-in shilling for him.

If you listen to Bakker talk about politics for more than a few seconds, you’ll hear any number of unsupported assertions, but in the clip below, one jumps out specifically:

I’m not entirely sure what changes Bakker has observed that are so dramatic. Yes, gay marriage is now legal in the entire country, and I suppose that’s his issue.

But to claim that this change is the biggest change in the history of the country? That seems staggeringly ignorant of our history to me.

The Civil War, World War I, World War II…I guess those events and the changes that came about as a result were a bit more significant. The Civil War on its own literally reinvented the country.

But history aside, this is a great example of how Bakker operates. Stir up fear through histrionics; claim that the only way to survive the coming apocalypse is through these really great supplies that I just happen to be selling; profit.

Trump and the televangelists deserve each other.