Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Speaking of the Frozen Truck Driver

Awkward indeed:

 “A focus on the particular child is at the core of the IDEA,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the unanimous Supreme Court. “The instruction offered must be ‘specially designed’ to meet a child’s ‘unique needs’ through an ‘[i]ndividualized education program.’”

But while this process can be difficult, it must provide meaningful educational benefits to disabled students — which brings us to Judge Gorsuch’s error in a 2008 opinion. In Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P., a case brought by an autistic student whose parents sought reimbursement for tuition at a specialized school for children with autism, Gorsuch read IDEA extraordinarily narrowly.

Under Gorsuch’s opinion in Luke P., a school district complies with the law so long as they provide educational benefits that “must merely be ‘more than de minimis.’”

“De minimis” is a Latin phrase meaning “so minor as to merit disregard.” So Gorsuch essentially concluded that school districts comply with their obligation to disabled students so long as they provide those students with a little more than nothing.

All eight justices rejected Gorsuch’s approach. IDEA, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “is markedly more demanding than the ‘merely more than de minimis’ test applied by the Tenth Circuit.” Indeed, Roberts added, Gorsuch’s approach would effectively strip many disabled students of their right to an education. Roberts went on:

When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing “merely more than de minimis” progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all. For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to “sitting idly . . . awaiting the time when they were old enough to ‘drop out.’”

To the contrary, the unanimous Supreme Court concluded, in most cases a student’s progress should be measured according to whether they are able to keep up with their non-disabled peers.
Just compare and contrast with the discussion about the "frozen trucker" below.  As the lawyers say, the thing speaks for itself (res ipsa loquitur).  And where the law doesn't allow a rigid and constrained interpretation that denies an individual human being benefits, invent one.  As Think Progress notes, the insertion of the word "merely" by Gorsuch transformed the floor set by Congress into a ceiling.  Because, you know, the law matters, but people don't; even when the law says they do.  As Sen. Franken said, it makes one question the judge's judgment.

We interrupt this news story


to bring you something truly terrifying.

I'm not even going to copy a word of it; it's short enough, read the original.  More than a few comments there, however, agree with the actions of the NYPD, which according to comments was protecting only the British consulate in the city, and Grand Central Station (because:  reasons).

Except that's not what the article linked in the Salon post says:

The NYPD says it has deployed additional counterterrorism resources across the city out of an abundance of caution.

They say there no threats to the city at this time.
The White House says President Donald Trump has been briefed on the incident.

The Department of Homeland Security also released a statement saying they are in contact with British authorities, adding "At this time our domestic security posture remains unchanged.  However, our frontline officers and agents continue to stay vigilant in safeguarding the American people and our homeland."
So, okay, "abundance of caution" is fine.  But a guy who drives up from Maryland looking for a black to kill because "they get romantically involved with white women," is not a cause of fear and loathing.  An assault in London with a knife and a car, is.

Which answers the question posted at Slate:  "Does this make sense?" Of course it does.  White people are never scary!*

*Which, yes, assumes the attacker in London was non-white, a fact not yet in evidence.  But "terrorism," ya know?  I mean, attacking a black man in New York City "because it is the media capital of the world and he wanted to make a statement" is just not terrorism, clearly.  I mean, he's a white guy.

Before the law comes the human predicament



I know:  we're supposed to be terribly upset by the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, and yes, I am.  Gorsuch reportedly wants to be Antonin Scalia, which to my mind is enough reason to reject his nomination (just as wanting to be Robert Bork was enough reason to reject Bork from the high court).  But Bork was an arrogant prick who doomed his own nomination, and every nominee since has learned the lesson Gorsuch has learned:  say nothing.

Which makes what Sen. Al Franken did at the hearing all that much more delicious:*

It is absurd to say this company is in its rights to fire him because he made the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death, or causing other people to die possibly by driving an unsafe vehicle. That's absurd. Now I had a career in identifying absurdity. And I know it when I see it. And it makes me—you know, it makes me question your judgment.
If you want the details of that case, you can go here.  If you want a good summary, the link above to the Scalia comparison, or the link following will give it to you.  I want to get on to what Gorsuch wrote, which prompted inquiries by Sen. Durbin of Illinois:

It might be fair to ask whether TransAm’s decision was a wise or kind one. But it’s not our job to answer questions like that. Our only task is to decide whether the decision was an illegal one. The Department of Labor says that TransAm violated federal law, in particular 49 U.S.C. § 31105(a)(1)(B). But that statute only forbids employers from firing employees who “refuse[] to operate a vehicle” out of safety concerns. And, of course, nothing like that happened here. The trucker in this case wasn’t fired for refusing to operate his vehicle. Indeed, his employer gave him the very option the statute says it must: once he voiced safety concerns, TransAm expressly — and by everyone’s admission — permitted him to sit and remain where he was and wait for help. The trucker was fired only after he declined the statutorily protected option (refuse to operate) and chose instead to operate his vehicle in a manner he thought wise but his employer did not. And there’s simply no law anyone has pointed us to giving employees the right to operate their vehicles in ways their employers forbid. Maybe the Department would like such a law, maybe someday Congress will adorn our federal statute books with such a law. But it isn’t there yet. And it isn’t our job to write one — or to allow the Department to write one in Congress’s place.
In a delightful analysis of that reasoning Elie Mystal writes:

But, for the uninitiated, this is just kind of how conservative judges roll. His argument wasn’t that Maddin should have stayed there and froze to death, his argument is that the law provides no remedy for a trucker who needs to drive away to save his life. That’s a pretty standard conservative-jurist answer to, you know, problems in society.

Victim: I have a problem.
Conservative: Does Congress say I should care?
Victim: Kinda!
Conservative: Not good enough.

Obviously, I disagree with Gorsuch’s reasoning here. I think being forced to sit inside a truck is “operating it,” within the meaning of the statute. But I’m not a fan of this line of attack against his confirmation. The problem with textualists is not that their outcomes are bad (though, usually, they’re terrible), it’s that their reasoning limits the law to the dull reading of the text. Congress, to my mind, shouldn’t have to write a whole new law to specify “drivers cannot be ordered to get hypothermia.” The law is perfectly flexible enough to incorporate a “no-hypothermia” rule without additional acts of Congress.

But that’s my problem with CONSERVATIVES, not with Gorsuch specifically. It’s my problem with their thought process, not the outcome in a specific Gorsuch case where, in point of fact, he lost anyway. No truckers were frozen to death, under Neil Gorsuch’s watch.
It is the "not good enough" in that imagined dialogue that is the key point.  Listening to Gorsuch in the hearings drone on and on about fealty to the law, I couldn't help imagining it as the law in Kafka's parable:  a building the human, the individual, may not enter, but also cannot ignore.  I've read jurisprudence: the philosophy of the law and the application of law by judges and scholars and lawyers.  There is a compelling argument for the majesty, the august otherness, of the law.  That argument stands behind Kafka's parable.  The other argument is for the human, and how the law intersects the human, and serves the human, and even gives way to the human.  Not absolutely; not in all things; but when the law and its preservation is elevated above the human, when the law becomes an absurdity in order to preserve the majesty of the law, when Congress didn't write the law clearly enough to apply to the particular facts of a particular case and the human must be eliminated in order to preserve the sanctity of the law:  then we have a problem.  The best thinkers in jurisprudence, judges and lawyers with experience with the human predicament, always face the friction between the majesty of the law and the messiness of human actions.  They struggle to hold the two in balance. The poorest thinkers, the ones never represented in texts on jurisprudence and thoughtfulness about the law, put ideas like "original intent" and "strict construction" above all else because, frankly, it's easier than thinking.

Gorsuch wants to be Antonin Scalia redux.  The problem there is not just with Antonin Scalia; it is with the understanding of the law Scalia had.  Scalia invented "original intent" as a dodge from considering the human predicament.  He invented it as a way of imposing his own predilections while still sounding like an impartial juror; after all, what is more impartial than upholding what the law is supposed to mean, instead of considering the human problems that always bring the law before the Court.  William Rehnquist was actually more subtle and better grounded in common law history.  He elevated property law above all law; to him it was sacrosanct, the true basis and reason for law.  He actually had some history on his side with that, though to elevate property law as the summa of the law is to ignore tort law altogether.  And tort law is the clearest field where the human predicament and the law face one another, both seeking not stability of property ownership, but justice.  Stability is a noble purpose of the law; after all, it stands against anarchy.  But justice is a nobler purpose, and justice requires making the human problem co-equal to the legal problem.

The problem is not just with Gorsuch.  Yes, Gorsuch elevates the abstract nature of the law away from the lived reality of human beings.  Yes, Gorsuch tramples on human beings in order to preserve the law.  After all, this door was only for you; and now it is being closed forever.  But we have been closing those doors for so long now; we have closed them in the name of equality, and we have closed them in the name of tradition. What justice would ever be confirmed who said she would stand for people instead of the holiness of the law, the sanctity of the Constitution?

The law's majesty and purpose must be preserved against human messiness.   We are all simply trying to find ways to serve that master, while trying to find ways around it if we disagree with the outcomes preferred by Scalia and Gorsuch.  The problem is not with the law, or government; the problem is with how we regard the law and government.

For both sides, the human factor comes in last.  Mostly, we are arguing about where to put the emphasis, not whether these fundamentals that are now accepted, are right or wrong.  Let me illustrate with a political example:

Frank Rich has now joined the ranks of internet yahoos**, swallowing the narrative that Rust Belt boobs and dwellers in Appalachia gave us Donald Trump.  Just as conservatives on the internet (at least) wanted to eliminate California because it went for Clinton, now Rich & Company want to dump Appalachia, in order to more easily rid of us this troublesome Trump.  It's poor reasoning because Appalachia and Rust Belt ignorance didn't elect Donald Trump:  white middle-class college educated people did.  But Frank Rich and most commenters on the internet know white middle class college educated people, so they must find an "other" to blame their problems on.

And therein lies our fundamental problem.

Neil Gorsuch is reportedly a rich man.  He's a product of an Ivy League education, a denizen of D.C. even though he lives now in Colorado.  He doesn't know ordinary people with predicaments like the choice of staying with their trailer and freezing, or driving away to survive, only to lose their job for doing so.  He knows business.  He knows commerce (how else did he get rich?).  He knows ordinary people as abstractions who must be prevented from interfering with the law.

Just as so many liberals know Appalachia only as the place that elected Donald Trump; even if it didn't.  It is so easy to abstract people out of their humanity and make them the enemy, the reason for our discontent, the obstacle to the smoothly running purpose of business or politics.  Neil Gorsuch and his compatriots in the law take seriously Anatole France's irony:  "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."  In that statement they find stability and equality and the proper respect for the law's imperious nature.  But how much different is it to say the poor brought their poverty on themselves, from saying the poor deserve the poverty they are going to suffer under the administration of Donald Trump?

Gorsuch's jurisprudence, his legal philosophy, is reprehensible.  But what difference does that make, if it only depends on whose ox is being gored?

*A fuller accounting of Sen. Franken's questioning of Judge Gorsuch is here, and frankly, well worth reading.

**a narrative so deeply imbedded that even an article challenging it doesn't make a dent in the comments on that article.  Most of the comments agree with Rich's accepted narrative, rather than have that narrative disturbed by facts and analysis.  Honestly, sometimes, the difference between those in power and those out of power is not worth arguing over.

'shadows of the indignant desert birds'


It's getting harder and harder to deny something is happening.

WaPo watched the same hearing Howard Fineman did:

But in Monday’s remarkable, marathon hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Comey said there was no such evidence. Trump’s claim, first made in a series of tweets on March 4 at a moment when associates said he was feeling under siege and stewing over the struggles of his young presidency, remains unfounded.

Comey did not stop there. He confirmed publicly that the FBI was investigating possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and associates with Russia, part of an extraordinary effort by an adversary to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election in Trump’s favor.

Questions about Russia have hung over Trump for months, but the president always has dismissed them as “fake news.” That became much harder Monday after the FBI director proclaimed the Russia probe to be anything but fake.

“There’s a smell of treason in the air,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said. “Imagine if J. Edgar Hoover or any other FBI director would have testified against a sitting president? It would have been a mind-boggling event.”

Although, to be honest, WaPo still can't see the forest for the trees:

Furthermore, the FBI’s far-reaching Russia investigation show no sign of concluding soon and is all but certain to remain a distraction for the White House, spurring moments of presidential fury and rash tweets and possibly inhibiting the administration’s ability to govern.

Any reasonable person, looking at the last two months, would be forced to ask:  "What 'ability to govern'?"  Trump's one governing effort, the travel ban, has been struck down twice in the courts.  His Cabinet Secretaries are being overseen by a sort of "loyalty guard," a commissariat straight out of Soviet Russia ("commissar" is the name given by the staff of the Secretary of Defense, being the title of such officials in the old USSR).  He has insulted France, Germany, and Great Britain, undermined NATO, and appeared to threaten war against North Korea.  His efforts to drum up support for the AHCA have largely consisted of rallies where he still talks about his margin of victory in the electoral college, and he has yet to withdraw either his unsupported claims that Obama surveilled Trump Tower or that 3-5 million illegal votes gave Hillary Clinton her popular vote margin of victory.

Of course, there is the GOP whistling past the graveyard:

“All that really matters this week is Gorsuch moving forward and the House passing step one of Obamacare repeal,” said Scott Reed, a veteran Republican strategist who works for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “All the rest is noise.”
But the "noise" is coming from inside the house; inside the White House, specifically.  No one forced Sean Spicer to read a list of news articles he said supported Trump's unsupportable claims.  No one forced Sean Spicer to cite Napolitano (since suspended by Fox News, which couldn't support Napolitano's rant) and insult the British government.  No one forced Trump to do those things either, anymore than anyone forced Trump to make his outlandish claims in the first place.  During the Comey hearing Trump and his staff couldn't stay off Twitter, distorting and misrepresenting what Comey and Rogers said in testimony.  That wasn't "noise" from the Democrats or misguided questioning from the  news media.  This isn't the result of a bad week and unforeseen events.  For Trump this is a feature; and that's the bug.

Which is why Paul Ryan is whistling loudest of all:

"It is very clear that we’ve seen no evidence and have been presented with no evidence that Donald Trump or his staff were involved in this with the Russians," he said.

He's right.  And he's just playing a True Witness to say so.*  We haven't seen any evidence, but that's because the investigation hasn't ended in any indictments yet.  But an FBI investigation ongoing since July 2016 and not expected to end anytime in the foreseeable future, an investigation so sensitive the FBI didn't inform leaders of Congress of it, or the White House, until very recently, is not an investigation running solely on innuendo and suspicion.  There may never be sufficient evidence to prove criminal guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; but there is clearly some evidence "that Donald Trump or his staff were involved in this with the Russians."  Which should be a good enough to establish the appearance of corruption (again, Nixon was never presented with evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of his corruption; but there was enough evidence for a Congressional investigation, and to persuade him to resign).

But go back to what Douglas Brinkley said, in the quote WaPo drops in and then runs from:  that's the turd in the D.C. punchbowl.  Keith Olbermann is right:  any other President would have resigned by now (even Nixon never had the FBI testifying about their investigation of him before Congress); any intelligent President would have fled the country.  Sure the GOP needs Trump to push the Obamacare repeal, but what if that doesn't happen?  Trump's only real power is leverage, and his approval rating is already at historical lows.  His ability to influence the votes in Congress seems to be non-existent.  It won't get any stronger as he continues to entangle himself in the Russia story and the wiretapping fiasco.  The bill has precious little support in the House, and none in the Senate.  What does Trump bring to the party, except an FBI investigation?**

*Heinlein, as I mentioned, invented the concept for Stranger in a Strange Land.  If memory serves, he exemplifies it by one character asking the True Witness in his employ to describe the color of a nearby house.  She identifies the color of the one wall she can see, but refuses to make even the reasonable extrapolation that the rest of the house is the same color, as she can't see the other walls.  We haven't seen evidence of collusion, but a reasonable extrapolation can be made. if only because the FBI is still investigating.

**Trump thinks he brings the threat of a Democratic House if AHCA isn't passed; which is a weird threat for a sitting GOP President to make as an attempt to motivate his own party.  He even made specific, personal threats:


“I’m gonna come after you,” Trump threatened Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-NC, the congressman confirmed to reporters.

The threat, however, apparently rung hollow.

“I’m still a no,” Meadows said afterwards, “because the bill that we’re currently considering does not lower premiums for the vast majority of Americans, and that’s what we need to do.”

And no, Trump didn't distinguish between primary opponents and losing in the general election.  It was up for grabs where the axe would fall.  Dale Carnegie would be so proud.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent-2017


The presidents and satraps conspired and came to the king and said to him, "O King Darius, live forever!  All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that they kind should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions.  Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked."  Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.

Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise God, just as he had done previously.  The conspirators came and found Daniel praying and seeking mercy before his God.  Then they approached the king and said concerning the interdict, "O king!  Did you not sign an interdict, that anyone who prays to anyone, divine or human, within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions?"  The king answered, "The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked."  Then they responded to the king, "Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the interdict you have signed, but he is saying his prayers three times a day."

When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed.  He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him.  Then the conspirators came to the king and said to him, "Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and the Persians that no interdict or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed."

Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions.  The king said to Daniel, "May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!"  A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel.  Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.

--Daniel 6:6-18

Karl Barth is supposed to have advised preachers to hold the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.  I read this story from Daniel, especially about the prayer three times a day, and the interdiction of such prayer, and I can't help but think of the Texas Attorney General.  He declared, in an open letter, that Liberty High School in Frisco, Texas, had a designated prayer room open only to Muslim students, a preferential treatment of a religion that violated the law.  The problem is, the room is open to all students who want to pray, and is used by different groups of students for prayer in the course of the day.  Nor is the prayer by Muslims, who pray at least three times a day, a problem for the students.  As one recent graduate said:  “As a believer in Christ, I want my faith respected,” he said. “If I want that respect, if we want respect as people, then we need to show respect.”

But Ken Paxton would rather be a satrap and a conspirator.

No longer does prayer bring an angel of dew to the heart or a fiery furnace, or close up the mouths of lions, or transport to the hungry food from the fields.  No longer does it remove all sense of pain by the grace it wins for others.  But it gives the armor of patience to those who suffer, who fell pain, who are distressed.  It strengthens the power of grace, so that faith may know what it is gaining from the Lord and understand what it is suffering for the name of God.

--Tertullian, Third century

As if things have changed since the days of the Exile; or, for that matter, the third century.

Thus it was that when Daniel was shut in the lion-pit by the king's orders. God sent him his dinner, and the hungry beasts left the man of God alone and let him take his food.  So, too, Elias was fed on his flight, in his seclusion and in time of persecution; he was served by ravens, his food brought to him by birds.  Yes, wild beasts can keep their distance, birds can wait at table, but the human will is so horribly cruel that people are always on the prowl, always ready to pounce on their prey.

--Cyprian of Carthage, Third Century

The coda to the Paxton story is that he went on FoxNews, despite being rebuked by the school for having no more facts for his story than Donald Trump has for his stories, and continued to make his false claim.  As if humans are so much different now than they were 1800 years ago.  The comfort and hope is that God is no different, either.


The second time as farce....

Doesn't he have something better to do?

Howard Fineman on the House Intelligence Committee hearing with James Comey:

The director of the FBI, with the director of the National Security Agency agreeing at his side, in effect called the president of the United States a liar ― and, oh, by the way, the president’s 2016 campaign indeed is under investigation for allegedly having secretly teamed up with Russia to win the election.

After two months of Donald J. Trump’s presidency and more than a year of his campaign, our political senses are so dulled by tumult that we can barely recognize history when we see it. Make no mistake. Monday’s hearing was all but unprecedented.

Not since a White House aide named Alexander Butterfield told the Watergate committee in 1973 that President Richard Nixon had bugged his own Oval Office has an investigative hearing made it so clear that a presidency was in serious legal jeopardy.
And part of the response of the White House, through Sean Spicer:

“Right, and I’m not aware of any at this time, but even General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign. And then obviously there has been some discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time, but beyond that –

“He was the chairman of the campaign!” ABC’s John Karl interjected.

Spicer continued without acknowledging Manafort’s role in the campaign.

“No, no, nothing that has not been previously discussed,” Spicer said, referring again to potential contact between Trump associates and Russians. “I just don't want to make it look like we’re not aware of the stuff that’s been…” he trailed off.
Fineman doesn't mince words in response to that:

That is a flat-out lie. Manafort ran the campaign from the spring of 2016 ― to the extent anyone could actually run it ― until after the GOP convention. 

And the POTUS Twitter account sounded off in the middle of the hearing:



But Comey downed that effort*:

"It certainly wasn't our intention to say that today," Comey answered. "We don't have any information on that subject. That's not something that was looked at." 
And when Adam Schiff noted that Roger Stone had contacts with Guccifer 2.0, a Russian hacker implicated in the Wikileaks Democratic Party e-mails leak, Stone didn't deny it, but he did turn the revelation into a conspiracy theory by trying to get the band back together:

He insisted that his interaction with Guccifer 2.0 was "benign in its content" and said that it took place after the DNC had been hacked.

"This is does not constitute collusion," Stone said. "I had no contacts with Russians. This one has been manufactured by the intelligence service with a nice assist from [billionaire philanthropist George] Soros and [David] Brock. I'm not gonna stop fighting for Donald Trump, nor are they going to silence me. I am anxious to go to the committee. Let's see if they can handle the truth." 
Soros and Brock?  That's practically a blast from the past.  Speaking of which, the beat goes on:

“He said that there is no information to support the allegations that the President made against President Obama,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl told Spicer, referring to Comey, before the press secretary cut him off.

“At this time,” Spicer said.

“So is the President prepared to withdraw that accusation and apologize to the President?” Karl asked.

“No,” Spicer responded. “We started a hearing. It’s still ongoing. And then, as Chairman Nunes mentioned, this is one of a series of hearings that will be happening.”
Because Congress apparently has investigative abilities denied to the FBI; or something.  Although James Comey, David Nunes and Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr and Mark Warner of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, President Barack Obama, the British Government (whom I indelibly see in the person of Mycroft Holmes), have all said there is no evidence to support Trump's claims.  If Chapter Two is going to rewrite that, the plot of this thing is hopelessly buggered.

Fineman makes several points in support of his thesis that history was made in the hearing room with Comey.  Among them:

1)  If the FBI put Manafort and Flynn under pressure, would they start revealing what they know about Russia and the Trump campaign?

2)  Even GOP leaders aren't going go get between Trump and evidence connecting him to Russia.

3)  "Comey made it clear Monday that he was speaking out with the approval of the Department of Justice – which means Attorney General Jeff Sessions. History buffs will hear the echoes of Watergate. Nixon sealed his own doom by demanding that Justice fire the man investigating him."

Connect that last one with the reports of Trump installing "commissars" to be sure his Cabinet Secretaries remain loyal to Trump, and a repeat of Nixon's failed attempts to save himself may well be in the offing.

At least that's where I ended when I wrote this; but emptywheel stayed around for the end of the hearings:

Note that point: the practice has been that FBI won’t brief the Gang of Four until after they’ve briefed DOJ, the DNI, and the White House. Stefanik goes on to ask why, if FBI normally briefs CI investigations quarterly, why FBI didn’t brief the Gang of Four before the last month, at least seven months after the investigation started. Comey explains they delayed because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
"That point" is a point I leave to the link.  But there is a great deal more going on here than Republicans trying to obfuscate the point of the hearings, or Comey refusing to comment on very much.  The implication of Comey's answers about the delay in passing out the information implicates both Flynn and AG Sessions; or, to be fair, maybe not.  But Howard Fineman was definitely on to something:  Donald Trump is going to need a good lawyer before this is over.

*WaPo later noted that Trump had a very bad Twitter day.  Is Twitter Trump's way of accessing the people; or of lying to them?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Your Own Personal Jesus


Maybe it’s the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition that churches instill. Maybe religion builds habits and networks that help people better weather national traumas, and thus retain their faith that the system works. For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict. It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.

For years, political commentators dreamed that the culture war over religious morality that began in the 1960s and ’70s would fade. It has. And the more secular, more ferociously national and racial culture war that has followed is worse.

The final words of an interesting article (courtesy of rustypickup) that finds a correlation between church membership and civil/political life.  I'm not sure the basis is religious so much as ecclesiological, a narrower sphere of influence.  I am sure that the idea of being part of something more than yourself, of being important in the community rather than in your own accomplishments, is the reason "secularization isn't easing political conflict."  That conflict used to be the simple disagreement on how to get things done (well, it seems simple now).  The conflict now is whether to do anything at all, and for whom.

“We don’t have universal ― the only way to have universal care, if you stop to think about it, is to force people to buy it under penalty of law,” [White House Budget Director Mick] Mulvaney said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
The alternative is to force people to die in a ditch; or to force ER's to care for people without insurance, passing the costs on to those of us who have insurance.  There is always force in the system; it's a matter of who it's applied to.  The ACA applied the force of law to the wealthy, taxes Paul Ryan is desperate to repeal.  So we will once again force people without insurance to forego healthcare until they have to go to the ER, or die.  And even after they get to the ER, we will expel them from there as soon as it is clear they won't die immediately after leaving.

Mr. Mulvaney also thinks we can't take money from people in West Virginia under penalty of law, and use it to pay for Meals on Wheels.  The people he is talking about probably benefit from Meals on Wheels, and probably don't pay federal taxes, aside from Medicare and Social Security taxes.  Again, the people who are "forced" to pay for Meals on Wheels are the rich, not the poor.  As the old adage had it about banks, that's where the money is.  "Forcing" them to give it up is like "forcing" me to pay school taxes for schools I'll never use again.  But nobody seems to think that's a problem we must solve with a tax repeal (no, they'll take my tax money which is "forced" from me and give it to some rich person to subsidize their child's private school education through vouchers, a use of force that doesn't bother the Trump Administration).  The people Mr. Mulvaney is worried about are the rich; and all he is worried about is their money.  People are too damned expensive, is Mr. Mulvaney's guiding philosophy; especially poor people.  But rather than offer a modest proposal that recognizes at least their humanity, as Dr. Swift's narrator did over 200 years ago, Mr. Mulvaney simply wants the country to collectively turn its back on the poor.  After all, in America, there but for the grace of God or the Dow Jones go I; better to eliminate them from view, in order to relieve the anxiety they create in us who fear the grace of God, or of the market, may be summarily withdrawn.

This conflict is not the follow-on to the "culture war over religious morality that began in the 1960's and '70's.  That war never faded.  The battle was simply taken up by new combatants, the ones who felt the victories of the '60's and '70's were wrong and must be vanquished.  I know those people.  I grew up with them.  Some of them were from my parent's generation, some from my generation; some are much younger than me.  And, of course, the problem is with the concept of conflict in the first place.  This is where Dr. King succeeded; and it is where we continue to fail.

Will Arnett, the voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne in "The LEGO Batman Movie," pointed out in an interview that the very idea of Batman solving problems like crime through violence is a kid's idea; it's not something an adult would think sensible.  But we remain children, wedded to the idea that violence works so long as it is used against people other enough to us that we can treat them like comic-book villains:  to be vanquished until they return again, but always amenable to only one thing:  physical force.  So we go to war, or unleash police officers, or accept violence in our name on our streets or in foreign countries, because we imagine it works on "them."  When Trump proposes to gut the State Department but increase the monies flowing to the Defense Department, he is appealing to this childish idea of how adults behave.  And there is something in that that explains why our secular solutions are leading us away from the very idea of control.

People used to go to church out of social obligation or moral obligation or perhaps even religious obligation.  Du muss gehen was the phrase my congregation members remembered from the old days of the German E&R:  'you must go!'  Wherever the obligation sprang from, there it was:  you had an obligation to others, or even just to God (though I think that one's always been a bit too abstract for most of us), to go to church, to support the church, to do some of the work of the church.  The best communities I've ever been in have been church communities; and the worst, too.  But in the case of the latter, it was either a poisonous atmosphere as old as the congregation's history, or because too many members were "unchurched," meaning they simply didn't understand the idea, the purpose, the point, of church.  All they understood was that it was their chance to be in charge, to boss someone (preferably the pastor) around.  I've known churches that didn't understand church that way, and churches that only understood church that way.  It's possible in churches where the family members have ancestors buried in the church yard from 100 years ago, and possible in churches where almost all the "power" members are newcomers.  The mainspring of the problem is:  I am not for community, community is for me.

If the Baby Boomers are the "Me Generation," then the Millenials are truly our heirs and children.  That is, if they are rejecting church because it asks too much of them, and they don't want to give that.  I'm not sure that's it, though.  I watch too many contemporary shows, movies and Netflix-TV shows, where the characters want to change the world, or at least make an important and good difference in the world.  Our hearts haven't changed, but our venues for seeking change, have.  Church has been, since the time of Constantine, a pillar of the society, a place seeking stability more than the revolutionary churn of the basiliea tou theou.  It has been revolutionary in places, but has always settled into some kind of peaceful coexistence with a world it can't really fundamentally alter, populated by people who don't really want to fundamentally alter themselves.  Has that changed so much since the Millenials were born?

No, I don't think so.  In 1906, church affiliation was claimed by only 41% of the population.  In seminary they showed us the numbers, and it turns out only a minority of the population, despite New England Puritans, attended church regularly, or felt themselves affiliated with a church.  Read Bradford's history of Plymouth Plantation, and you realize the whole thing fell apart quickly, that the rigid control of religion over the populace faded as soon as enough people had immigrated to make life easier out from under the Puritan yoke.  People stayed with Plymouth because survival outside was precarious at best.  When that condition ended, so did Plymouth.  The control of the church over the populace is wildly exaggerated in the popular mind.  If you read Cotton' Mather's accounts of the so-called Salem Witch Trials, it's clear Mather is not in control of the trials, and that many of the trials are not the result of mass hysteria, but of carefully planted lies from people looking to take advantage of widows and single women.  The very class of people, in other words, that the Mosaic Law recognized as deserving of special protection because of their vulnerabilities. The more things change, the more they remain the same, and one can argue religion was abused for non-religious purposes, rather than being the promoter of non-religious purposes.

We have never been that religious a country, so much as we like what religion can sometimes do for us.

World War II, seminary taught me, changed all that.  Coming home from the war people sought stability and security and tradition, and the church, Catholic or Protestant, offered that.  It certainly didn't get in the way of suburbia and racism and even, later, white flight.  Church boomed because people wanted it that way, much the same way as interest in Biblical studies prompted a boom in mail-order Greek lessons in the early 20th century.  Those same Biblical studies, coming out of Germany and Europe in general, also prompted the writing of "The Fundamentals," and gave rise to religious fundamentalism.  So it goes.

That wave begun 70 years ago is finally cresting.  The generations affected by World War II (I grew up on Bugs Bunny wartime cartoons, and the Hollywood-John Wayne version of that war.  I knew it better than I knew Vietnam or, certainly, Korea.) are passing.  My father was one of the last people alive who could have had any involvement in combat in that war (he was too young, really, to go to war, and by the time his training was through, so was the war).  He died last year, and I'm in my 60's now.  WWII is no touchstone for my daughter at all, not like it was for me, and I wasn't born until 10 years after that war ended.  It can be said that WWII created America as a nation; until Pearl Harbor, we saw no connection to the war in Europe, and not all that much connection as a nation.  After Pearl Harbor, we were from Texas and Brooklyn (the favorite types of the movies) and Appalachia and California, and we were joined to something bigger than ourselves:  we were Americans.   We were in it together.  Our parents passed that on to us, and we used that sense of commonality to protest Vietnam and promote civil rights, and then those movements ended, we became yuppies and cared only about the money we had disdained when we were students in college.

So it goes.  And maybe that's where the root really lies, because we had no experience like our parents had, and too few of us chose the non-violent path of Dr. King, and when he died non-violence died with him; at least non-violence as a way to change society.  Non-violence requires all of us together, and without a leader we simply fell apart.  We gave up on society and took care of ourselves, so we could live in grand houses big enough to hold our college friends for one last great weekend, warming ourselves against The Big Chill.

It may be, then, that the "religious society" is just the crest of a wave, and now that wave is ebbing again.  Harvey Cox wrote about 'The Secular City" more than 50 years ago.  This thinking about religion and society is not new, and it is certainly not unique to Millenials.  The argument of the article at Atlantic is this:

Americans—long known for their piety—were fleeing organized religion in increasing numbers. The vast majority still believed in God. But the share that rejected any religious affiliation was growing fast, rising from 6 percent in 1992 to 22 percent in 2014. Among Millennials, the figure was 35 percent.
The real argument of the article, however, is economic.  The religiously unaffiliated, the article says, voted for Trump because:
we know that culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected, and they grow more pessimistic and resentful.
Withdrawn from the community of a congregation:

they tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation. Trump is both a beneficiary and a driver of that shift.  

So one system of classification replaces another, and the driver of despair is money, or the lack of it.  As sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox is quoted:

“Many conservative, Protestant white men who are only nominally attached to a church struggle in today’s world. They have traditional aspirations but often have difficulty holding down a job, getting and staying married, and otherwise forging real and abiding ties in their community. The culture and economy have shifted in ways that have marooned them with traditional aspirations unrealized in their real-world lives.”
But Eliot described this over 100 years ago:

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? ...

--Prufrock

The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
Out of the window perilously spread
Her drying combinations touched by the sun’s last rays,
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest—
I too awaited the expected guest.
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent’s clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.
The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence;
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows one final patronising kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .

She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover;
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
“Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.”
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.

--"The Waste Land ('The Fire Sermon')"

"What life have you if you have not life together?
There is no life that is not in community,
And no community that is not lived in praise of God.
Even the anchorite who meditates alone,
For whom the days and nights repeat the praise of God,
Prays for the Church, the Body of Christ incarnate.
And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbour
Unless his neighbour makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars.
Familiar with the roads and settled nowehre.
Nor does the family even move about together,
But every sone would have his motor cycle,
And daughters ride away on casual pillions.

--"Choruses from 'The Rock'"

There is, indeed, nothing new under the sun.  But is the problem entirely economics?  Is the problem solely that we have whittled away the middle class, ignored the poor or nearly poor at our peril?  Is it money that matters?

Secularization is transforming the left, too. In 1990, according to PRRI, slightly more than half of white liberals seldom or never attended religious services. Today the proportion is 73 percent. And if conservative nonattenders fueled Trump’s revolt inside the GOP, liberal nonattenders fueled Bernie Sanders’s insurgency against Hillary Clinton: While white Democrats who went to religious services at least once a week backed Clinton by 26 points, according to an April 2016 PRRI survey, white Democrats who rarely attended services backed Sanders by 13 points.
Sanders campaign was economic, not moral or even ethical in basis.  Which is not to say he was unethical, but his arguments were about money, his positions about government spending.  His appeal, to his supporters, was economic.  There is nothing wrong with that, especially in politics; but is money what makes the amelioration of religion possible?  Or is religion supposed to ameliorate the lack of money, and it no longer serves as that kind of social lubricant?

Eliot's point was not about money, it was about human connection.  LBJ's thrust in establishing the Great Society was to do the humane thing, not the economic thing.  Yes, the basis was economics, in that poverty destroys people and undermines the society that tolerates it.  But LBJ's appeal was to our common humanity, not to our money-driven anxieties.  Bernie Sanders pushed for free college, to allay the concerns of students with massive debts.  He wasn't urging his followers to build a better world, but to get out from under their economic burdens.  The difference between Sanders and LBJ is important, and has nothing to do with religious affiliation.  Indeed, I would argue the shift in society outlined in the Atlantic article is correlated to the shift in church attendance and religious affiliation; but correlation is not causation.

Something deeper and darker is at play here; something as deep and as dark as the hidden wound of American history:  the commerce and trafficking in human beings as property and chattel, the elevation of money and gain above all.  It is almost a peculiarly American trait, yet it was brought here from Europe, with the discovery of America by Columbus, who started enslaving the native peoples and looking for wealth almost as soon as he landed.  Europe taught us to treat the Americas as the solution to an economic problem; but it is a spiritual problem that still assails us.

The basic issue, to drag this out even further, but to reconnect it to something positive with regard to Christianity, if not the amorphous "religion" in general, is the idea of the covenant:

Our expected future, which God has promised in the Bible, has many points of commonality with the best of civil religion and with the substance of the American dream.  But the texture of this future is expressed in the staggering inversions of a life which contains not only gifts, but also harsh judgments against those who resist the vision or seek to have a piece of it on their own terms.  The future held for us by the Bible is not a blissful blur.  It is a promise of an historical future in which human dignity and human joy are valued and human worth is celebrated.  This vision seriously challenges present arrangements for the sake of what is promised.

Moreover,  this future, which staggers us by envisioning what we think not possible, offers the dynamic of a Promise-Maker and a Promise-Keeper,  God himself.  That is what is covenantal about this tradition.  We are not in covenant with a good idea which is simply there or with our best intentions which depend on us.  We are in covenant with an active, caring intervening God who keeps his promise.
This idea was the underpinning of the notion of America as a country chosen by God.  Good riddance to that arrogant notion, sez I; but the idea of a covenant is central to the Biblical understanding of Christianity (it is not an idea promoted by either Joel Osteen's prosperity gospel on one extreme, or Bible-beating fundamentalists on the other).  Covenant is not something imposed upon humanity by a jealous God anxious to be worshipped and angered when not; covenant is a binding agreement, one entered into but, rather akin to the union of the United States, not an agreement one can back out of.

The vision of the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures is summed up in Isaiah's holy mountain, where all the nations (i.e., peoples) of the world are drawn because of the peace and prosperity and happiness of Israel, living in accordance with the covenant of Abraham, a covenant that survives even the Exile.   That covenant is for the children of Abraham, not for all humankind.  Likewise the covenant of Christianity is one of choice, but again not one you can unchoose.  Walter Brueggemann is right:  the end of the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew is judgment, with the sheep welcomed into everlasting life, and the goats shuttled off to eternal punishment.  But those sheep and goats recognize God at the end, even if they didn't in their lifetimes.  To universalize that is to invoke the paradox of the Inuit told about God and Jesus by the missionary, who asks:  If I didn't know this, would I be damned?  No, the missionary replies.  Then why did you tell me?, he is asked.  If the covenant is not a matter of choice, then it is a matter only of cruelty.  But the brunt of the covenant is not damnation, it is salvation.  It is the source of life into the ages.  The point of the parable is not that damnation awaits all those who don't live like Christians; the point of the parable is to lay out the responsibilities of choosing to live like a Christian.  "Religion is responsibility, or it is nothing at all." But it is only responsibility if if is freely, and knowingly, chosen.

So are Americans rejecting religion?  No; that doesn't seem to be the case.  They are rejecting creeds that seem outworn, models that seem unreal, efforts that don't seem to be part of their lives.  Perhaps it's them.  Perhaps it's the church.  Perhaps it's time to resurrect that prayer of the German E&R church:

Grant that thy Church may be delivered from traditions which have lost their life, from usage which has lost its spirit, from institutions which no longer give life and power to their generation; that the Church may ever shine as a light in the world and be as a city set on a hill.
HEAR OUR PRAYER, O LORD.
Because the church is the light in the world, the city set on a hill; or it is just a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal.  And as pessimistic as I can be about the church, I know it isn't the latter, even when in some places that's all it is.

The Emperor is not only naked, he's not an emperor....

One of the few times I've agreed with Ted Cruz

So this is what we have on the wiretapping claim President Trump made 2 weeks ago:

“Judge Andrew Napolitano commented on the morning show Fox & Friends that he has sources that say British intelligence was involved in surveillance at Trump Tower,” Smith explained on Friday afternoon’s newscast. “Fox News cannot confirm the judge’s commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the President of the United States was surveilled at any time in any way—full stop.” Moments later, Fox News issued a statement saying, “Judge Napolitano stands by his report on Fox & Friends.”

The only person confirming Napolitano's statement is:  Napolitano.  And now we know where he got his information:

On March 13, Napolitano told hosts of Fox News' Fox & Friends that Obama circumvented the American intelligence community to ask "the British spying agency" for "transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump" without "American fingerprints." Napolitano's claims were cited by White House press secretary Sean Spicer while defending Trump's baseless claims that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.

On March 14, Media Matters uncovered the link between Napolitano's claims and an interview Johnson gave to RT. The New York Times confirmed Media Matters'  reporting that Napolitano used Johnson as "one of the sources" for his "claim about British intelligence." The Times also noted Johnson's direct involvement in spreading false rumors that video existed of Michelle Obama using a racial slur against white people. 
If you're checking your calendar, Media Matters uncovered that connection the next day.  The Grey Lady in New York finally confirmed it four days later.  It also brings Russia back into it, the country that seems to figure so prominently in every scandal involving Donald Trump.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) told "Meet the Press" on March 19 that Trump's claims were "patently false."  Which is polite public-speak for "lies."

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) continues to dance on the edge of the abyss, almost but not quite saying "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is:"

“Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No, there never was,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The information we got on Friday continues to lead us in that direction.” 

Which doesn't rule out the government simply listening to Trump's calls through other means, like the microwave oven.

Nunes also said that “there was no warrant that I’m aware of” authorizing any wiretapping of Trump Tower, confirming what top intelligence officials under Obama have also determined.

But Nunes put it in carefully crafted weasel-speak, because we are all lawyers now, or at least True Witnesses, a concept from Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.  So we cannot say what we do not know, and Rep. Nunes is not saying there is no warrant; only that, as a True Witness, he is not aware of one.  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, ya know.  It isn't evidence of presence, either, but it does allows us to keep wondering about that mysterious concept of "presence," doesn't it?

The next level of this will be that the DOJ doesn't produce a warrant, which will be explained as one was not found; not that one was never requested or issued.  It's a simple matter:  if a warrant was issued, it would leave a paper trail, or at least an electronic one.  But to say one was not found, that no one knows of one being issued, is to imply that, like the Ark of the Covenant, it's in a box in some government warehouse and the filing information has been "misplaced," so how can you prove it never existed?  Without the presence of the evidence, we can only speculate as to where the evidence is, or is not, present, hmmmm?

Josh Marshall says the problem is we are talking about this, instead of talking about a President who lies so flagrantly and publicly that even foreign leaders are getting splattered with it.  He has a point, but the answer is not, as some think (not JMM), to ignore the story.  We cannot selectively ignore and pay attention to what the President of the United States says.  One of the burdens of the office is to e selective about what you say, a burden Trump refuses to recognize.

If we don't pay attention to the consequences of his actions, who will?  But we can do it and reject the weasel words of those who would defend the Liar-in-Chief by refusing to acknowledge the nakedness of his lies.

The question is:


How does a President with a -21% approval rating function at all?

Josh Marshall thinks this is due to the ACA repeal effort, and Trump's inability to move that bill forward.  I would add to that:  Russia; Trump's tweets about wiretapping (and the subsequent insanity of Trump's administration trying to defend that nonsense, which, yes, is the "bigger picture", and I think more people than not at least have the sense that something is rotten in the state of Denmark); and related to that, the unforced diplomatic error of insulting Britain (with Trump blaming that on Fox News*), along with the embarrassing visit and public treatment of Angela Merkel (whom Trump, in his sheer ignorance, has also insulted), and Sean Spicer forced to defend the President by citing false news stories and relying on the "fake news" outlets Trump decries as liars.  It is, as Adam Schiff said, a "wrecking ball" to U.S. allies.

Of course, JMM's simpler answer is attractive.  I mean, when even Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz agree the AHCA is a dead letter before it hits the House floor, and the White House is admitting universal health care coverage is not even an option without Obamacare, it may be surprising Trump's approval rating is as high as it is.**

*and to prove irony is not dead:  


The New York Times has confirmed that Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano sourced his false allegation that former President Barack Obama asked British intelligence to spy on President Donald Trump to a discredited former CIA analyst. This analyst, Larry C. Johnson, floated the conspiracy theory on the Russian state-sponsored news network RT on March 6, the week after Trump's original accusation that Obama was responsible for an illegal wiretap.

Great.  Just:  great.

**And then there's Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex), who thinks Trump should apologize to Obama and Britain and Germany.  Maybe this is what a -21% approval rating looks like.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"Choose love over fear"


As a kid and consumer of comic books, I was never a fan of Captain America.  Fantastic Four and the Hulk and even Dr. Strange, yes.  Captain America?  Not really.

He is, however, my favorite comic book movie character, and I put that all down to the acting of Chris Evans.  I see now I should put it down to his humanity and decency, which is ultimately what I like about his portrayal of Captain America:



That's his response in a "Twitter war" with David Duke.  Here's his response to Rep. Steve King:



Seriously.  I love this guy.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Was Malthus ever a drunk frat boy?


Inquiring minds want to know:

[Rep. Paul] Ryan: So, the health care entitlements are the big, big, big drivers of our debt. There are three. Obamacare, Medicaid, and Medicare. Two out of three are going through Congress right now. So, Medicaid—sending it back to the states, capping its growth rate. We’ve been dreaming of this since you and I were drinking out of a keg.

[Laughter]

[Rich] Lowry: I was thinking about something else, he was thinking about reforming Medicaid.

Ryan: I was, I was! I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. We are on the cusp of doing something we’ve long believed in.

Paul Ryan is in desperate need of a visit by three ghosts.  He clearly took the wrong lesson from Dickens:

``At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,'' said the gentleman, taking up a pen, ``it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.''

``Are there no prisons?'' asked Scrooge.

``Plenty of prisons,'' said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

``And the Union workhouses?'' demanded Scrooge. ``Are they still in operation?''

``They are. Still,'' returned the gentleman, `` I wish I could say they were not.''

``The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?'' said Scrooge.

``Both very busy, sir.''

``Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,'' said Scrooge. ``I'm very glad to hear it.''

``Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,'' returned the gentleman, ``a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?''

``Nothing!'' Scrooge replied.

``You wish to be anonymous?''

``I wish to be left alone,'' said Scrooge. ``Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.''

``Many can't go there; and many would rather die.''

``If they would rather die,'' said Scrooge, ``they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides -- excuse me -- I don't know that.''

``But you might know it,'' observed the gentleman.

``It's not my business,'' Scrooge returned. ``It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!''

Probably occupied him since he was drinking from a keg, back in college.

(It occurs to me just now that Scrooge's last comment is a swipe at Candide.  Clearly, since Marley later tells Scrooge: "Mankind was my business!"  Which is another thing Ryan needs to learn.)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Watching the monkey joylessly dance his tired routine

Then?

We're looking into it very, very strongly. At a certain point in time I'll be revealing some interesting things," Trump said on CNN's American Morning.

Trump first claimed earlier this month he had sent investigators to Obama's home state in an effort to find out if the president was indeed born there, as he says he was and several media organization's independent investigations have confirmed.

"I have people that have been studying it and they cannot believe what they're finding," Trump told NBC then.

But Trump has since offered few details about the on-the-ground investigation and, in the interview with CNN Thursday, wouldn't specifically say if it had uncovered new details.

"You'll be very surprised," he said when asked by CNN's Ali Velshi if his investigators have found anything.

Or now?

Carlson: So on March 4th, 6:35 in the morning, you’re down in Florida, and you tweet, the former administration wiretapped me, surveilled me, at Trump Tower during the last election. How did you find out? You said, I just found out. How did you learn that?

Trump: Well, I’ve been reading about things. I read in, I think it was Jan. 20th, a New York Times article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article. I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier the day previous where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said, wait a minute, there’s a lot of wiretapping being talked about. I’ve been seeing a lot of things. Now, for the most part, I’m not going to discuss it, because we have it before the committee and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon that hasn’t been submitted as of yet. But it’s potentially a very serious situation.

Carlson: Why not wait to tweet about it until you can prove it? Don’t you devalue your words when you can’t provide evidence?

Trump: Well, because the New York Times wrote about it. Not that I respect the New York Times. I call it the failing New York Times. But they did write on Jan. 20th using the word wiretap. Other people have come out with…

Carlson: Right, but you’re the president. You have the ability to gather all the evidence you want.

Trump: I do. I do. But I think that frankly we have a lot right now. And I think if you watch—if you watched the Bret Baier and what he was saying and what he was talking about and how he mentioned the word “wiretap,” you would feel very confident that you could mention the name. He mentioned it. And other people have mentioned it. But if you take a look at some of the things written about wiretapping and eavesdropping… and don’t forget I say wiretapping, those words were in quotes. That really covers—because wiretapping is pretty old-fashioned stuff—but that really covers surveillance and many other things. And nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes, but that’s a very important thing. But wire tape covers a lot of different things. I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.

If anything, really, he's gotten worse in 6 years.  He's tripping all over himself in that interview to avoid saying anything substantive while still trying to appear to say something substantive.   What, for example, do those last two sentences mean?  Reading his thoughts through the fillings in his teeth?  Watching his popcorn pop through the microwave oven turned camera?  Alien abductions and out of body experiences (if "wiretapping" covers "a lot of different things," what things, and how different?)?  That dance really won't last much longer.

Of Meat and Men

Nope; never been there, not planning to go there.  I'm sure it's good, 
but I'm not making a four hour drive to Austin to get up early the next day
 and spend all morning waiting for a plate of BBQ.
  I know places where the wait is shorter and the meal just as good.

My favorite BBQ place as a kid was a place somewhere between Dallas and Tyler, on the old highway before I-20 was the way to get to Dallas (or maybe I-20 was there, and we just liked the alternative once in a while.  I was a kid; what did I know?).  It was a room covered in iron objects:  farm implements and household tools long since replaced by electronics and 'technology.'  It was as much an "antique" store as BBQ place.  It wasn't a "restaurant."  BBQ wasn't served in "restaurants."

And the place smelled like the inside of a pit smoker.  It was stained with smoke, because there was no separation of the pit and the dining room.  There's a place kind of like it, still, in Luling, just south of Lockhart.  The pit is in the center of the room, in a separate room; you go in there to order, to soak up the smell of the pit before you sit down to eat.  This place was all pit.

And it never had a line out the door.  Nobody arrived hours before opening time and waited anxiously in hopes the meat didn't run out.  This place kept regular hours, and served regular customers as they arrived; or people like us, travelers from point A to point B, who disdained the interstate for "local color" (as we would call it now).

Now people think standing in line for BBQ means it's a great meal.  But it's still BBQ.  In Texas that means brisket (didn't even know that until a few years ago; just knew it was beef, not pork.  BBQ chicken meant grilled chicken cooked with bottled sauce poured on it while it cooked.  But really BBQ was beef.), served with sides like potato salad and pinto beans and white bread (preferably from a plastic bag, not homemade).  It is not gourmet dining.

In fact, there's a BBQ place near me, and the guy who runs it opened a new steak place, just to show off his Cordon Bleu chops (he has the training!).  His BBQ is widely praised (people stand in line for it), but he said he wanted to show he could cook really good food.  Not just, in other words, BBQ.

BBQ is good food. It's comfort food. That doesn't mean it's really good food, though.  Cordon Bleu level cooking is probably worth making a reservation for.  BBQ isn't.  It was never meant to be.

There's something un-Texan about swooning over BBQ.  After all, the commercial iteration of it started in stores in Central Texas, where the store owner threw extra meat on the grill to smoke (so it would be tender, and so it would cook by itself), and sold it at lunch time for an easy sandwich that was hot and tasty.  But Texas BBQ is like Texas chicken-fried steak:  it takes a tough piece of meat and renders it edible.  Chicken-fried steak comes from wienerschnitzel (strong German heritage in Central Texas), but it doesn't use veal; you'd ruin veal to make it chicken-fried (a restaurant in Austin actually tried it once.  Clearly they were Yankees thinking to bring some "class" to Texas comfort food.  Clearly, too, they had lost their way.  That restaurant is long gone.).  BBQ is the same way; good for what it cooks, but haute cuisine it ain't.

This is not to say I don't like BBQ.  I've been known to drive 4 hours one way to get to my favorite BBQ restaurant (bad BBQ, which is all around me, isn't worth spitting on).  So I shouldn't disdain people who stand in line for four hours, I suppose.  But I like driving; I don't like standing in line.  Besides, Texans have driven long distances for a good meal since we had cars.  Standing in line sounds like something they do in New York City.

So what did I do yesterday?  Drove an hour to a BBQ restaurant, then waited outside in line for an hour.  The wait was marketing.  The restaurant cleverly set the serving line (like almost any BBQ joint I've ever been to, it had a serving line) just inside the door.  The dining room was 1/4 full; there were more people outside than in.  But you had to stand outside until getting in, then stand and wait until the server could cut and load your plate (cafeteria style), and then pay and sit down.  The line indicated, not massive and unfillable demand, but rather like a Trump rally, an effort to provide a good street view (and it is on a busy street).  It was good food, worth the wait (although the wait was, as I say, imposed by the management), but it was still BBQ.

There is good BBQ, and there is bad BBQ.  The good stuff takes some skill to cook, but it's not Michelin class skills; not even Cordon Bleu or CIA (Culinary Institute, not the spies) level skill.  Bad BBQ is poorly cooked meat drowned in bad sauce.  Good BBQ is worth traveling for and waiting for, but like good chicken fried steak, it can't really be raised above its level.  Good BBQ is brisket; it's sausage; it's ribs; it's even turkey (which has replaced chicken) (and it can be pork; some of the best BBQ I ever had in Central Texas was pork.  It was a BBQ revelation; but it was still just BBQ).  But honestly, it doesn't raise those ingredients the way even good Cajun food does.  It's BBQ.

The resurgence of BBQ in Texas is a good thing.  Good BBQ is always to be welcomed, and for awhile good BBQ was almost a ghost of my childhood.  As long as it never becomes the next cronut, or starts being served by soup nazis, we'll be fine.

St. Patrick's Day 2017


I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ with his Baptism, through the strength of His Crucifixion with His Burial through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension, through the strength of His descent for the Judgement of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim in obedience of Angels, in the service of the Archangels, in hope of resurrection to meet with reward, in prayers of Patriarchs, in predictions of Prophets, in preachings of Apostles, in faiths of Confessors, in innocence of Holy Virgins, in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven; light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendour of Fire, speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of Sea, stability of Earth, firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me: God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me, God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me, God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me, God's host to secure me: against snares of devils, against temptations of vices, against inclinations of nature, against everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.

I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils): against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and my soul, against incantations of false prophets, against black laws of heathenry, against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry, against spells of witches, smiths and wizards, against every knowledge that endangers man's body and soul.

Christ to protect me today against poisoning, against burning, against drowning, against wounding, so that there may come abundance in reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Noises off

First, the fun parts of the Court's opinion:

The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable. The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed. The Court declines to relegate its Establishment Clause analysis to a purely mathematical exercise. See Aziz, 2017 WL 580855, at *9 (rejecting the argument that “the Court cannot infer an anti-Muslim animus because [Executive Order No. 13,769] does not affect all, or even most, Muslims,” because “the Supreme Court has never reduced its Establishment Clause jurisprudence to a mathematical exercise. It is a discriminatory purpose that matters, no matter how inefficient the execution” (citation omitted)). Equally flawed is the notion that the Executive Order cannot be found to have targeted Islam because it applies to all individuals in the six referenced countries. It is undisputed, using the primary source upon which the Government itself relies, that these six countries have overwhelmingly Muslim populations that range from 90.7% to 99.8%.12 It would therefore be no paradigmatic leap to conclude that targeting these countries likewise targets Islam. Certainly, it would be inappropriate to conclude, as the Government does, that it does not.

Further:

A review of the historical background here makes plain why the Government wishes to focus on the Executive Order’s text, rather than its context. The record before this Court is unique. It includes significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the Executive Order and its related predecessor.  For example—

In March 2016, Mr. Trump said, during an interview, “I think Islam hates us.” Mr. Trump was asked, “Is there a war between the West and radical Islam, or between the West and Islam itself?” He replied: “It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.”

SAC ¶ 41 (citing Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees: Exclusive Interview With Donald Trump (CNN television broadcast Mar. 9, 2016, 8:00 PM ET), transcript available at https://goo.gl/y7s2kQ)). In that same interview, Mr. Trump stated: “But there’s a tremendous hatred. And we have to be very vigilant. We have to be very careful. And we can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States. . . [a]nd of people that are not Muslim.”

Pay attention, there will be a quiz:

The Government appropriately cautions that, in determining purpose, courts should not look into the “veiled psyche” and “secret motives” of government decisionmakers and may not undertake a “judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts.” Govt. Opp’n at 40 (citing McCreary, 545 U.S. at 862). The Government need not fear. The remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry. For instance, there is nothing “veiled” about this press release: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.[]” SAC ¶ 38, Ex. 6 (Press Release, Donald J. Trump for President, Donald J. Trump Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration (Dec. 7, 2015), available at https://goo.gl/D3OdJJ)). Nor is there anything “secret” about the Executive’s motive specific to the issuance of the Executive Order:
Rudolph Giuliani explained on television how the Executive Order came to be. He said: “When [Mr. Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’”  SAC ¶ 59, Ex. 8. On February 21, 2017, commenting on the then-upcoming revision to the Executive Order, the President’s Senior Adviser, Stephen Miller, stated, “Fundamentally, [despite “technical” revisions meant to address the Ninth Circuit’s concerns in Washington,] you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome [as the first].” SAC ¶ 74.

These plainly-worded statements, made in the months leading up to and contemporaneous with the signing of the Executive Order, and, in many cases, made by the Executive himself, betray the Executive Order’s stated secular purpose. Any reasonable, objective observer would conclude, as does the Court for purposes of the instant Motion for TRO, that the stated secular purpose of the Executive Order is, at the very least, “secondary to a religious objective” of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims. See McCreary, 545 U.S. at 864.

The court included a footnote in that discussion:

14There are many more. See, e.g., Br. of The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center as Amicus Curiae in Supp. of Pls.’ Mot. for TRO, ECF No. 204, at 19-20 (“It’s not unconstitutional keeping people out, frankly, and until we get a hold of what’s going on. And then if you look at Franklin Roosevelt, a respected president, highly respected. Take a look at Presidential proclamations back a long time ago, 2525, 2526, and 2527 what he was doing with Germans, Italians, and Japanese because he had to do it. Because look we are at war with radical Islam.”)

And here is the response from Donald Trump, President of the United States:

“This ruling makes us look weak ― which, by the way, we no longer are, believe me. Just look at our borders,” Trump told a crowd at a campaign-style rally in Tennessee. “We are going to fight this terrible ruling. We’re going to take our case as far as it needs to go, including all the way up to the Supreme Court. We are going to win.”

And regarding the new ban:

“It’s a watered-down version of the first one,” Trump said of his new ban. “And let me tell you something: I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way, which is what I wanted to do in the first place.” 

As Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said:  “He should just continue talking, because he is making our arguments for us.”

Not really something you want to hear about a President who will someday be negotiating international agreements.