Archive for the 'Current Events' Category

Cheeps and Chirps for Nov. 28, 2018

November 28, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 28, 2018

The finest hand-crafted autumnal tweets.

• Politics

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Cheeps and Chirps for Oct. 31, 2018

October 31, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 31, 2018


Chirping from the hip.

• Politics, Supreme Court edition

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

August 15, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
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.

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Cheeps and Chirps for Jan. 29, 2017

January 29, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
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!

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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
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.

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Why #ImWithHer: Considering Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

November 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
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.

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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
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.

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

July 9, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
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.

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Cheeps and Chirps for July 2, 2016

July 2, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 2, 2016

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

• Comedy!

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

February 26, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
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.

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

January 20, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
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.

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

December 22, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
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
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.

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On tax expenditures: Some additional details and a renewed caveat

October 16, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
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.)

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

October 10, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
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.

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

July 29, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
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.

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Cloudy eyesight and sexual misconduct: Three recent cases

June 1, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 1, 2015

No two ways about it: The latter half of May was a bad time for self-appointed arbiters of morality.

The trouble for the God squadders began on May 18, when Queerty reported that a Michigan pastor named Matthew Makela had been an active user of Grindr, a hookup app for gay men. This was despite the fact that Makela, a married father of five, was an outspoken opponent of homosexuality.

This was small fry, however, compared to l’affaire Duggar. The day after Makela was outed, InTouch reported that Josh Duggar, eldest son of the prolific Arkansas family of reality television fame, had sexually abused minors when he was a teenager. Some of the victims were reportedly his own younger sisters.

Duggar admitted that he had “acted inexcusably” and “hurt others” as a teenager and resigned his position as an official with the Family Research Council, a powerful conservative lobbying group.

And just last week, a once-powerful politician who had quickly sunk into obscurity was indicted by the federal government. The Chicago Tribune reported that Denny Hastert, speaker-of-the-house turned lobbyist:

was charged with one count each of structuring currency transactions to evade currency transaction reports and making a false statement to the FBI, counts that each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

Indications soon emerged that the former politician had agreed to pay $3.5 million to a young man whom he’d apparently known — and, presumably, sexually molested — decades ago when Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach in a small Illinois town.

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Out of order: Despair and the American way

May 1, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 1, 2015

There have been a handful of days in my life that have shaken my belief in America, the nation that has sheltered and nurtured me. Two of them have come in the last six months.

The earliest such occasion was March 30, 1981, when I came home from school and learned that someone had attempted to kill President Ronald Reagan. It was the first time since 1963 that an assassin had seriously jeopardized the life of the leader of the free world.

The next world-shattering day was Jan. 28, 1986, when the seven people aboard the space shuttle Challenger were killed by an explosion 73 seconds into their ascent. It was the first time in history that an American space mission which had cleared the gantry had resulted in the loss of lives. I got out of school early because of testing and spent the afternoon in the basement of my friend Eric’s house watching coverage of the catastrophe on CNN and other TV channels. The deaths seemed entirely at odds with my belief in the United States (and in adults) as technologically competent.

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On laughter and white privilege

April 3, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 3, 2015

Author’s note: Alas, my laptop is malfunctioning again, so I’m going to have to change up my blogging for the next several days until I get things in order. (Unfortunately, that may require the purchase of a new computer.) Here’s a short post based on some tweets I sent recently. MEM 

True, and kind of sad, story from Wednesday night about Chris Rock. 

It was trivia night at a downtown Durham, N.C., restaurant/bar. The crowd was largely Caucasian (as I am) and Asian. 

One trivia question was basically, “Which comedian posted pictures of himself being repeatedly pulled over by the police?”

Several minutes later, the M.C. gave the answers to that round of questions, including the above-mentioned one about Chris Rock.

The M.C. mentioned that some people incorrectly answered the question with “Will Ferrell” — who, of course, is white.

I laughed heartily at the thought of Will Ferrell being pulled over repeatedly. It just seemed totally ludicrous.

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The American right embraces Netanyahu ardently as Netanyahu embraces U.S. conservatives’ slash-and-burn tactics

March 20, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 20, 2015

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, prides himself on taking a hard-nosed approach to security issues. He’s been warning for more than 20 years that Iran was just a few years away from building a functional nuclear bomb. He’s a longtime proponent of building settlements in the West Bank, an initiative that diminishes the possibility of establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside the Jewish nation of Israel — the so-called two-state solution.

But Netanyahu’s Likud Party was struggling in the polls leading up to Tuesday’s elections, in part because many Israelis are focused on economic issues, not national security. So Netanyahu doubled down on his core issues.

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Private foster-care agencies: Where government inefficiency, the free market and magical thinking collide

February 27, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 27, 2015

On Thursday, Mother Jones published a lengthy look at private foster-care agencies, some of which are nonprofit, others of which are for-profit. The report is fairly alarming.

Brian Joseph, a former state government reporter for the Orange County Register and a former investigative journalism fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, produced the story. One of the problems he found is that there is little hard data on the safety or effectiveness of this entire business sector:

Squeezed by high caseloads and tight budgets, state and local child welfare agencies are increasingly leaving the task of recruiting, screening, training, and monitoring foster parents to these private agencies. In many places, this arrangement has created a troubling reality in which the government can seize your children, but then outsource the duty of keeping them safe — and duck responsibility when something goes wrong.

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Spying and the modern society: Why isn’t anyone talking about First Look’s alarming scoop about compromised cell-phone privacy?

February 26, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 26, 2015

At least once a month, I’ll read through recent posts on Kevin Drum’s blog at Mother Jones. When I did this the other day, I ran across something that I found extremely startling, especially because I hadn’t heard or seen it mentioned anywhere else.

Last week, Drum wrote about a lengthy investigation by First Look Media’s Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley. The duo, using documents provided by Edward Snowden, the infamous National Security Agency leaker, revealed that American and British spy agencies have compromised a significant number of the encryption keys that are supposed to protect the privacy of the communications of cell-phone users.

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‘Popular’ tragedies: Contemplating Paris and Baga, and Sydney and Pennsylvania

January 16, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 16, 2015

Everyone knows about the three deadly days that occurred in and around Paris last week. On Jan. 7, 12 people died in an attack on the offices of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. The following day, a police officer was fatally shot by a man linked to the attack on the magazine.

On Jan. 9, that same man and an accomplice took hostages in a kosher grocery store in a Parisian suburb. French police stormed the shop, helping to rescue 15 hostages. Four civilians and the gunman suspected in the Jan. 8 murder died; the second gunman escaped.

Also on Jan. 9, two brothers who were suspected of participating in the Charlie Hebdo assault holed up in a rural community northeast of Paris. Authorities entered the building at the same time as the grocery store. The brothers died.

The final toll: 17 civilians and police died, as did three gunmen.

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Economists and politicians: Parceling out credit and blame for the numbers

January 13, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 13, 2015

Gas prices are down! The economy is growing! More Americans are going to work!

Great job, President Obama! Oh, wait — perhaps new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, deserves credit for the turnaround?

Or maybe not. On Thursday, Politico’s Lucy McCalmont contacted 14 different experts and asked them to evaluate Sen. McConnell’s claim that “[t]he uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama administration’s long tenure in Washington: The expectation of a new Republican Congress.”

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The good, the bad and the ugly: Looking at the newest job numbers

January 10, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 10, 2015

On Friday morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released employment numbers for December 2014. Many commentators highlighted the positives: Unemployment dropped from 5.8 percent in November to 5.6 percent last month, and 252,000 new jobs were added, mostly in the private sector.

I’m no economist, but I thought that the data were mixed. Here’s my look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the latest BLS report:

• The good. Job creation fell slightly from November but was still strong. As Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum is fond of reminding readers, about 90,000 new jobs are needed each month to keep up with population growth; even so, the remaining number of jobs, 162,000, is not too shabby.

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