Archive for the 'Current Events' Category

Cheeps and Chirps for June 28, 2020

June 28, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 28, 2020

Man, I haven’t done one of these posts for the blog in a reallllly long time

Coronavirus, Donald Trump edition 

Read the rest of this entry »

There are no good outcomes: Thoughts on Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and impeachment

January 31, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 31, 2020

Author’s note: This post contains brief references to sexual assault and suicide. MEM

Over the years, I’ve come to believe something that I suspected but tried to suppress at the time: That Bill Clinton disgraced and endangered his office of the presidency by conducting an extramarital affair in the White House and then lying about it under oath.

The affair displayed bad judgment on a number of levels, not least because it potentially exposed him to blackmail. The perjury ultimately cost Clinton his ability to serve as a lawyer (although he hadn’t practiced in years). Shortly before Clinton left office, Robert Ray, the special counsel who succeeded Kenneth Starr, announced that the president has surrendered his Arkansas law license for five years and accepted a $25,000 fine.

As Starr’s investigation and impeachment effort proceeded throughout 1998 and into 1999, I generally scoffed at the Republican endeavor to remove Clinton from office. The Grand Old Party had always despised “Slick Willie,” a hatred that prompted Hillary Clinton to coin the infamous phrase “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Right-wing nuts and grifters — it was hard to think of them in any other way — had spent years accusing Clinton of committing sexual assault, exploiting a savings and loan association to salvage what turned out to be a bad investment in the Whitewater Development Corp., facilitating international arms and drug smuggling through an airport in Mena, Ark.; and killing a high-level White House attorney.

Read the rest of this entry »

The theoretical impartial senator and the very real imperial president: Thoughts on the impeachment trial

January 29, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 29, 2020

If there were such a thing as a truly impartial senator, then he or she might be in quite a pickle right now.

Before start of the ongoing proceedings against the president, senators took the following oath: “I solemnly swear [or affirm] that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: so help me God.”

The House of Representatives’ impeachment managers have presented an impressive case; the president’s defenders have mounted a vigorous defense. There are flaws in each.

Read the rest of this entry »

What if the Senate impeachment trial results in conviction?

January 24, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 24, 2019 2020

I’d originally planned to post a review of Ted Chiang’s outstanding recent anthology Exhalation this week, but life got in the way.

There was the big January charity Scrabble tournament, which took up most of Saturday and Sunday and about half of Monday. Then, of course, the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump began, and I found myself concentrating on National Public Radio’s audio feed from the Senate floor. (I was also, to be honest, playing word games as I listened.)

At any rate, there have been a few distractions from writing. However, I here present a few musings prompted by the impeachment trial.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cheeps and Chirps for Aug. 8, 2019: Not-quite-as-political edition

August 8, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 8, 2019

More of my microblogging

• Miscellany

Read the rest of this entry »

Cheeps and Chirps for Aug. 8, 2019: Political edition

August 8, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 8, 2019

I guess it’s time for another dive into my stream of consciousness.

• Politics ’n’ stuff

Read the rest of this entry »

Short takes: China Miéville’s ‘The Last Days of New Paris’ and Ursula Le Guin’s ‘Nine Lives’

July 31, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 31, 2019

I generally try to review each book that I read. Here are two recent ones that fell through the cracks.

The Last Days of New Paris is a 2016 (spins wheel) novella by China Miéville, a London author with a penchant for exotic subjects. The bulk of the narrative is set in 1950 Paris — but this is neither a year nor a city that you or I would recognize.

24-year-old Thibaut, the cynical main character, inhabits a quarantined city divided among Nazis, Resistance fighters, armed Surrealist irregulars and paranormal phenomena. The latter category includes literal devils as well as “manifs,” which are animated works of literature and art that have somehow become tangible.

Amid this chaotic metropolis, Thibault encounters Sam, an American photographer. She claims to be researching a book about the devastated French capital and the weirdness that infests it. Thibaut suspects that his new friend is concealing something, not least because the Germans are hell-bent on killing her.

This is all quite fantastic. Unfortunately, it was challenging to figure out just what was going on in any given scene, let alone in the overall narrative, and I never got invested in either Thibaut or Sam.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cheeps and Chirps for May 11, 2019

May 11, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 11, 2019

Let’s fire up the old tweeting machine.

• Politics

Read the rest of this entry »

Recent Readings for May 9, 2019

May 9, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 9, 2019

Author’s note: One of the articles linked below involves a porn star; the article is not particularly explicit, but I wanted to give warning. Also, two of the articles below contain upsetting details about violent crimes. MEM

Gosh, I haven’t done one of these in nearly two and a half years. Let’s see what’s been running through my mind lately!

• “The Sunday school children: The little-known tragedy of the Sri Lankan Easter attacks.” Rebecca Wright, Sam Kiley and King Ratnam of CNN take a detailed look at one of the bombings in the terrorist assaults that killed about 250 Christians and tourists last month. Be aware that this story is filled with a number of heartbreaking details.

• “Student slated to attend Western Michigan University beheaded in Saudi Arabia.” This was one of a series of government executions, the particulars of which should shock the conscience of every American. Alas, it’s hard to imagine that our freedom-loving pro-life president giving this matter more than 30 seconds of thought. As I tweeted: “The details presented here are shocking, and comprise a not-so-gentle reminder that this nation produced 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Cheeps and Chirps for Nov. 28, 2018

November 28, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 28, 2018

The finest hand-crafted autumnal tweets.

• Politics

Read the rest of this entry »

Cheeps and Chirps for Oct. 31, 2018

October 31, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 31, 2018

 

Chirping from the hip.

• Politics, Supreme Court edition

Read the rest of this entry »

Crime and misdemeanors: A crowd tears down a Confederate monument in my home town

August 15, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 15, 2017

It’s not every day that Durham, N.C., gets national attention — and it’s even rarer when the City of Medicine generates widespread news coverage for something other than college basketball. Unfortunately, despite being in town yesterday, I was completely unaware of what might be a seminal moment in an important national news story until a few hours after the event had taken place.

On Monday evening, protesters pulled down a monument to Confederate soldiers that stood in front of the Durham County Administration Building, which served as the county courthouse from 1916 through 1978. The statue in question was erected in 1924; the front of its pedestal reads, “In memory of ‘The Boys who Wore the Gray.’”

I won’t miss the statue; it venerated soldiers who, while they may have fought bravely, did so in service to a disloyal would-be nation that was dedicated to keeping black men, women and children in bondage.

Durham, like many American cities, is full of symbols of disdain for African-Americans, some more explicit than others. One example — subtler than the statue of the rebel soldier, but more prominent in a way — is the Durham Freeway, a.k.a. N.C. 147, an expressway built in the late 1960s that devastated a once-thriving black community named Hayti. These badges of dishonor can never be wholly erased; nor should they, for to plaster over past injustices is to invite their repetition. But neither should such affronts be afforded undeserved esteem.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cheeps and Chirps for Jan. 29, 2017

January 29, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 29, 2017

Wow, I didn’t realized it had been so long since I’d shared some of my Twitter gems.

I’m going to limit myself to tweets from Jan. 28, as the cruelty of President Trump’s executive order banning Muslims sank in, and as news broke that the president’s inner circle was going to limit the participation of the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in some key national security meetings.

• ZOMG Donald Trump!

Read the rest of this entry »

No prior experience? No problem! Trump fans hail the election of a candidate with a historically thin résumé

November 18, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 18, 2016

With the election of Donald John Trump Sr. as president of the United States of America on Nov. 8, 2016, the nation entered a new era: That of the celebrity-president.

Trump will be just the fourth president in our nation’s history never to have held public office prior to entering the White House. He will be the first to do so without any experience serving in either the military or elected office.

Trump had three predecessors who lacked any political experience: Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower. Grant served in the army for 23 years, according to Vox’s Zachary Crockett, while Eisenhower had a 37-year-long military career and Taylor’s army stint spanned four decades. All three reached the rank of general; all three supervised forces in battle.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why #ImWithHer: Considering Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

November 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 7, 2016

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, I will vote for Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States of America. The Democratic candidate is an imperfect individual, but she is eminently qualified to serve as president, and I expect her to be an acceptable — and perhaps even an excellent — steward of the national interests as chief executive.

By contrast, knowing what I do about the character and campaign of her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, I cannot imagine myself backing him in good conscience for any position of importance.

Trump seems temperamentally unsuited for high office, as indicated by two recent news items. One is that he and adviser Roger Ailes, the former Fox News chief, have parted ways because, according to a reporter, “Trump couldn’t focus — surprise, surprise — and … advising him was a waste of time… [The] debate prep sessions weren’t going anywhere.” The other is that Trump’s campaign has managed to wrest control of his Twitter account away from the candidate. (The Trump camp disputes both reports. Instead, a surrogate has blamed Ailes for telling irrelevant war stories when he was supposed to be preparing the candidate for his encounters with Clinton, and an aide maintains that Trump still runs the account.)

All of which is to ignore numerous signs of Trump’s misogynistic attitudes and actions, which would have disqualified most candidates in previous elections.

Read the rest of this entry »

Phantom gunshots, real terror: Notes on two recent incidents in the land of the free, home of the armed (and fearful)

August 18, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 18, 2016

In Tuesday’s edition of Cheeps and Chirps, I included a tweet from Saturday that shared a breaking news alert:

This was one of the lead news stories in the Triangle on Saturday, but what I didn’t realize when I was preparing the blog post was that police have yet to find any evidence that a gun was actually fired at the mall that afternoon. I deleted it from the post once I understood that there had evidently not been any kind of shooting whatsoever. Authorities are continuing to investigate the reason why shoppers thought that a firearm had been discharged, a misperception that provoked a stampede that left several people injured.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tragedy upon tragedy: America suffers its worst week in nearly 15 years

July 9, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 9, 2016

This week, two men — two black men — who did not seem to pose an imminent threat to anyone were shot to death by police officers in Baton Rouge, La., and in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn. About 24 hours after the death of the second man, Philando Castile, a gunman began firing at the conclusion of a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration in Dallas. Five law enforcement officers died; eight other people were wounded, all but two of whom were police.

More than two years ago, I called April 2, 2014, “a most American day” because of the events that took place on a seemingly ordinary Wednesday. That morning, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision that eased restrictions on political donations, thereby further paving the way for America’s wealthy to expand their influence on the nation’s political process. That afternoon, a mass shooting took place at Fort Hood in Texas, as three people were killed and 13 others injured by a soldier who subsequently took his own life.

That was a bad day, and bad in ways that were characteristically American; that is, in ways that showed off our nation’s embrace of money and guns. This past week, I think, has also been uniquely American, and for some of the same reasons. In fact, I think this has been the most discouraging week for our nation since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cheeps and Chirps for July 2, 2016

July 2, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 2, 2016

Please enjoy some more recent odds and ends from my Twitter feed.

• Comedy!

Read the rest of this entry »

Patented Pundit Scorecard™ No. 2: I was wrong, wrong, WRONG about Donald Trump

February 26, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 26, 2016

In November, I introduced a feature exclusive to this blog: the Patented Pundit Scorecard™. I am now pleased to roll out the second edition of the PPS™.

When Donald Trump declared that he was seeking the Republican Party nomination as a candidate for president of the United States, I was extremely skeptical about his chances of winning. In fact, early on, I decided that Trump wouldn’t even win a single primary or caucus. I put out a marker to that effect with this August 2015 tweet.

Well, guess what, ladies and germs? I was wrong, wrong, wrong about Trump’s likelihood of succeeding at the ballot box. In this, I was hardly alone: It seems that about 99.9 percent of those who regularly opine about politics through mass-media print, broadcasting and digital outlets doubted that Trump could get the nomination.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dollars, dreams and journalism: Comparing the visions of Hamilton Nolan and Steve Brill

January 20, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 20, 2016

I recently came across two stories that surveyed the state of the media, and they made for interesting contrasts.

Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan wrote “The Problem With Journalism Is You Need an Audience” in the wake of the closures of the quirky, prestige long-form sports website Grantland and, more recently, of Al Jazeera America, the cable news network that aspired to provide in-depth audiovisual journalism. Nolan also references the announcement that the owner of The New Republic is seeking a buyer to take it off of his hands. That last development comes roughly a year after Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes’s purchase of, and announcement of planned changes to, the boutique intellectual magazine with a liberal bent caused a mass walkout of New Republic staffers.

Nolan is something of a cynic, although he would, I am sure, describe himself as a realist. His core message is that there is no mass audience for quality journalism, or at least for a mass-market product that revolves almost exclusively around quality journalism. Instead, he writes, the only business models that are sustainable in and of themselves in the long term are mass-media outlets “that have huge scale and publish everything for everyone (TV news networks, major national newspapers, Buzzfeed)” or niche publications such as trade magazines.

Outside of those two channels, Nolan posits, the only successful types of media are either small-scale operations or ones that are subsidized in some way, whether as a charity or by a tycoon or large media organization that makes its profits elsewhere. Nolan lists The New Yorker, which belongs to the Condé Nast magazine-publishing conglomerate, and Grantland, which was a branch of the ESPN sports-television media empire, as examples of prestige outlets supported by corporations.

Interestingly, this recent interview with journalist and businessman Steve Brill focuses on newspapers, which don’t seem to fit into any of the categories Nolan reviews. (Maybe they qualify as niche publications?)

When his comments are considered on a superficial level, Brill sounds nearly as cynical as Nolan. Brill blasts the management of the newspapers, both large and small, with which he dealt as head of Press Plus, which helped establish pay walls for newspaper websites.

Read the rest of this entry »

The American way of death: Assessing 2015 mass shootings in the United States

December 22, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 22, 2015

The gun massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., that left 14 dead on Wednesday, Dec. 2, followed shootings and a five-hour-long siege at Colorado Springs, Colo., Planned Parenthood clinic that left three dead on Nov. 27. And that attack, of course followed one at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., that left 10 dead on Oct. 1.

But it’s not as if gun violence in America took a two-month holiday between Roseburg and Colorado Springs. In attempt to understand the extent of mass shooting incidents in America, I went to the Gun Violence Archive and downloaded its data on 2015 mass shootings.

The site defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are “shot and/or killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location not including the shooter.” I realized afterward that what truly interested me were what the archive categorizes as mass murders, in which four or more people are “killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location not including the shooter.”

The archive hasn’t broken out data on gun massacres (as I will call them) separately from mass shootings, but I did some number crunching using their information. I found that there had been 300 mass shootings in which 341 people were killed and 1,212 injured. Read the rest of this entry »

On public spaces and the desire for privacy at the University of Missouri

November 10, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 10, 2015

On the same day as protests by student-athletes over the handling of racist incidents contributed to the resignation of the president of the University of Missouri, attempts by journalists to interview and photograph protestors in a campus quad changed the narrative.

A nearly seven-minute-long video shot by Columbia, Mo., photographer and Mizzou alumnus Mark Schierbecker shows members and sympathizers of the group Concerned Student 1950 vigorously requesting that Tim Tai, a student photojournalist, leave the protestors’ campsite and refrain from taking pictures in the location. Near the end of the clip, the group pushes Tai away from the boundary established by the group. (“It’s our right to walk forward, isn’t it?” a young woman asks in what struck me as a sarcastic tone of voice.) People cheer.

Seconds later, Schierbecker approaches a woman — widely identified as Melissa Click, a communication professor at the university — and says, “I’m media, can I talk to you?”

“No, you need to get out,” Click replies, pointing. “You need to get out.”

“No I don’t,” Schierbecker answers.

“You need to get out,” Click repeats. At this point, she appears to jostle the phone or device Schierbecker was using to record.

Read the rest of this entry »

On tax expenditures: Some additional details and a renewed caveat

October 16, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 16, 2015

Author’s note: Things have been a bit disjointed this week — apologies for my erratic posting! MEM

I wanted to follow up on last week’s post about tax deductions with some additional information on the subject.

What is a tax deduction? Actually, the correct term for the concept I discussed in the previous post is tax expenditure, which can take multiple forms. Expenditures encompass deductions, exclusions, and tax credits, which can be either refundable or non-refundable. The Tax Policy Center, a group created by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, has more information in this 2009 briefing.

The Government Accountability Office lists six different types of tax expenditures: exclusions, exemptions, deductions, credits, preferential tax rates and deferrals. (See figure 4 at the bottom of this page.)

• How much do tax expenditures cost the government on an annual basis? The numbers vary from year to year, but in 2014, all tax expenditures cost the U.S. government an estimated $1.4 trillion, according to a 2014 post from the Bipartisan Policy Center which drew on congressional sources.

• How does that compare with other major items in the federal budget? In 2014, according to the Government Accountability Office, the federal government’s $1.4 trillion in tax expenditures was about the same as the overall amount of federal discretionary spending. Mandatory spending is significantly larger than either category — more than $2 trillion in 2014 — and has been for the past quarter-century. (See figure 2 on the previously cited G.A.O. page.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Tax deductions and magical thinking: When smart policy makes for unpopular politics

October 10, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 10, 2015

Republican tax plans all seem to have something in common — something besides lowering the top individual and corporate income-tax rates, that is. See if you can spot it.

Real estate mogul and reality TV host Donald Trump’s tax plan aims to lower taxes and to simplify the tax code. Trump’s proposal claims that its “tax cuts are fully paid for by:”

1. Reducing or eliminating most deductions and loopholes available to the very rich.…

3. Reducing or eliminating corporate loopholes that cater to special interests, as well as deductions made unnecessary or redundant by the new lower tax rate on corporations and business income…

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s tax proposal would:

• Simplify the tax code for all Americans to lessen the power of the IRS and increase both prosperity and fairness.

• Reduce loopholes and special tax provisions created by lobbyists that invariably benefit those at the top.

Read the rest of this entry »

Nuclear deterrence, nation-states and the real threat from nuclear proliferation

July 29, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 29, 2015

I’m not particularly eager to see Iran obtain nuclear weapons. For one thing, Iran’s government has traditionally shown extreme hostility toward Israel. For another, nuclear proliferation in general seems to hold great potential to destabilize any region.

Even so, I suspect the danger of Iran’s successful development of nuclear armaments may be somewhat exaggerated. The problem, I fear, is that atomic weaponry might fall into the hands of a terrorist organization such as the so-called Islamic State, al Qaeda or the like.

Nations can act recklessly — see Operation Iraqi Freedom — but generally, they do so with one underlying goal in mind: To insure their continued existence and, if possible, prosperity. A nation tied to a nuclear strike would almost surely face extensive shunning by the global community. Economic repercussions would be all but guaranteed; some kind of military counterstrike would be likely; the chances of a war being launched to unseat that nation’s rulers would rise significantly.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: