Tag Archives: there

Terrorism and Comedy: A Conversation

Mother Jones

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Let us engage in some civil conversation with our friends across the aisle. First, here is David French on terrorism:

There are a few terror-related memes that crawl all over the left side of the internet — all of them designed to minimize, to downplay, the jihadist threat. “Bathtubs are more dangerous than terrorists.” “Toddlers are more dangerous than terrorists.”…One needs to consider capacity and intent. My bathtub isn’t trying to kill me. I don’t need the government to protect me from my furniture or my firearms. I can be a responsible gun owner. I can step gingerly around my allegedly dangerous furniture and learn to keep my head above water in my deadly bathtub, but the average American can know next-to-nothing about ISIS’s next terror plot.

This meme annoys me too. Unlike French, I think it’s pretty obvious that the threat to Americans from terrorism is objectively fairly small. But bathtubs don’t fight back or change their tactics. Terrorists do. This means that a few minor regulations can make bathtubs safe forever, but keeping terrorism from metastasizing really does require vigilance. We may disagree about how much vigilance, but the comparison to lightning strikes and shark attacks is kind of silly. We should knock it off.

(On the other hand, it’s a little rich for French to count “60,000 casualties in the struggle against jihad” by including 3,000 from 9/11 and 57,000 from the Iraq War. If there were ever a poster child for the danger of overreacting to fearmongering about terrorism, the Iraq War is it.)

Next up is David French on this week’s episode of Saturday Night Live:

While the attacks on Trump got all the press, there was one skit this weekend that actually took aim at progressive pieties. How did this send-up of sappy leftist commercials make it through quality control? Watch and enjoy:

There’s nothing unusual here. Liberals have a long and rich history of making fun of their own excesses. Here are a few famous examples from past decades:

You can find thousands more like this with little effort. But you won’t find many examples of conservatives making fun of their excesses. I don’t quite know why this is. Maybe conservatives take themselves more seriously than liberals do? Or they’re afraid of their most extreme faction while liberals aren’t? Or mockery just doesn’t appeal much to conservatives regardless of topic? I dunno.

POSTSCRIPT: Yes, this whole post is mostly just an excuse to put up a few funny comedy bits. Guilty as charged.

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Terrorism and Comedy: A Conversation

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Conflict Minerals Are About to Get a Reprieve

Mother Jones

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the most war-torn places on earth. Much of the money to keep the war going comes from mining operations in the eastern part of the country that are are effectively controlled not by the distant central government, but by militias and warlords that enslave workers and smuggle ore out through the DRC’s eastern border. In an effort to cut off their source of funding, the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill includes a provision that discourages companies from buying the so-called 3TG metals (tin, tantalum, tungsten, gold) from conflict areas. So how has that worked out?

That depends on who you ask, of course. But a surprising number of neutral and lefty sources think the policy has been a failure. For example, here is Lauren Wolfe of Women Under Siege:

Barnard College political science professor Séverine Autesserre has…estimated that only 8 percent of the country’s ongoing conflict has anything to do with natural resources. Moreover, in the September 2014 letter, the signatories noted that “armed groups are not dependent on mineral revenue for their existence.” Many groups can easily turn from minerals to palm oil, charcoal, timber, or cannabis to make money — not to mention extortion, illegal taxes, and other means.

….When Dodd-Frank passed, Congolese President Joseph Kabila put a ban on all mining and mineral exports in North and South Kivu and Maniema provinces. Though the ban was officially lifted in 2011…its ripple effects have persisted: Many artisanal mines have remained closed, and countless livelihoods have been destroyed, according to academics and activists. Laura Seay estimated in 2012 that between five and 12 million Congolese had been “inadvertently and directly negatively affected” by the loss of employment created by the ban and its aftershocks.

Here is the conclusion of a study by Dominic Parker and Bryan Vadheim:

Using geo-referenced data, we find the legislation increased looting of civilians, and shifted militia battles towards unregulated gold mining territories. These findings are a cautionary tale about the possible unintended consequences of imposing boycotts, trade embargoes, and resource certification schemes on war-torn regions.

The GAO says that most Western companies have no way of telling whether the minerals they buy come from conflict zones:

Ben Radly, one of the researchers behind We Will Win Peace, a documentary about the brutal warfare in the eastern DRC, says he has learned to be cautious about well-meaning movements:

There are three shortcomings to the “conflict minerals” campaign that came out of this work. It misrepresents the causal drivers of rape and conflict in the eastern DRC. It assumes the dependence of armed groups on mineral revenue for their survival. It underestimates the importance of artisanal mining to employment, local economies and therefore, ironically, security.

….The relationship between advocacy organizations headquartered in Western cities and their marketed constituency of marginalized and disadvantaged African groups is…tenuous. One of the most striking elements during the making of the film was the difficulty of finding Congolese groups in rural and peri-urban areas who knew about and supported the “conflict minerals” campaign. This suggests a lack of engagement with the people who stand to be most directly affected by campaign outcomes.

There are, of course, lots of advocates who continue to favor the ban on conflict minerals. They say that one of biggest militias in the conflict area has been put out of business by the ban, and that more progress can be made by strengthening the hold of the central government in the eastern DRC and tightening the programs designed to trace the source of minerals. For the most part, though, their evidence of success tends to be very anecdotal.

Beyond all this, there’s another reason it’s difficult to know for sure what the ban is and isn’t responsible for. The UN has been spending a billion dollars a year on peacekeeping operations in the conflict area for over a decade, and it’s all but impossible to know how much of the recent success—if success there’s been—is due to the Dodd-Frank ban and how much is due to the UN.

Bottom line: it’s not easy to know whether the conflict mineral ban—which Europe joined in 2015—has been successful. The whole issue is also highly politicized, since large corporations that buy 3TG minerals have fought against the ban since the start.

Why bring this up now? Because a leaked memo suggests that President Trump plans to sign a memorandum suspending the conflict mineral ban for two years. I don’t know if that’s a good idea or not. However, I sure wish I had more confidence that it wasn’t just a bit of payback to companies like Intel, which have lobbied for a long time to get the ban rescinded. Trump is hoping that these companies will play ball with his continued PR campaign to take credit for every new factory built in America—as Intel did today—and this sure seems like the kind of reward that will help keep his gong show going.

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Conflict Minerals Are About to Get a Reprieve

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Please Stop Getting the “Muslim Ban” Wrong

Mother Jones

Ruthann Robson says this today about President Trump’s immigration order:

Moreover, the EO itself does address religion. In its subsection on resuming refugee claims, which the EO suspends for 120 days, it instructs the government to “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” In the seven nations covered by the EO, the majority religion is Islam. Thus, unless the government considers different sects of Islam as minority religions, only non-Muslims would be eligible for a claim of religious-based persecution.

I’ve seen this formulation over and over, but it’s wrong. The “religious persecution” clause applies to refugees, who have been banned worldwide. This clause affects Muslims and non-Muslims about equally.

The travel ban applies to any visa holder, and is restricted to seven Muslim-majority countries. There’s a good case to be made that this ban is not truly based on nationality but is instead effectively aimed at Muslims, but the religious persecution clause doesn’t apply and has nothing to do with it.

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Please Stop Getting the “Muslim Ban” Wrong

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Chart of the Day: The Supreme Court Over the Past 70 Years

Mother Jones

Christopher Ingraham at Wonkblog pointed me to an interesting bit of data yesterday. It’s the Martin-Quinn measure of how the Supreme Court tilts over time, and apparently it’s widely accepted as reasonably accurate. Here it is for the entire postwar period:

There are two fascinating nuggets here:

Despite conservative kvetching, the Court has leaned conservative for all but seven years from 1946 to 2013. The seven years of the Warren Court are literally the only period in recent history during which the Court has been consistently liberal.
The Martin-Quinn measure depends on the votes of the median judge, which is Anthony Kennedy right now. This is what accounts for the Court’s recent shift to the left. According to his Martin-Quinn score, Kennedy has been getting steadily less conservative ever since he joined the Court, and over the past three years he’s become positively liberal:

I suppose this is old news to veteran court watchers, but it’s new to me. Has Kennedy really shifted that much over his career? And is he now generally left of center? If so, does this have anything to do with the effect of Sotomayor and Kagan joining the Court in 2009-10? It sure looks like it.

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Chart of the Day: The Supreme Court Over the Past 70 Years

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Obamacare Is Slightly More Popular Than It Used To Be

Mother Jones

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We’ve seen a bunch of recent polling that shows an uptick in support for Obamacare now that the prospect of gutting it has become more real. However, as with any polling, you can get a better picture of what things really look like if you aggregate all the polls. Here is Pollster’s aggregate for Obamacare approval:

There has been an upward trend over the past six months of about five points or so. The rise since Donald Trump’s election has been a little less than two points. Technically, then, Obamacare is “more popular than ever,” but not by a lot.

Hopefully this trend will continue, but for now it’s not something to hang our hats on. We’re far better off hammering Republicans on specific features of Obamacare that truly have very high support: the pre-existing conditions ban, the cap on out-of-pocket payments, the tax credits, the Medicaid expansion, etc. That’s most likely where the battle will be won or lost.

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Obamacare Is Slightly More Popular Than It Used To Be

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