Justice Ginsburg To Officiate At Gay Wedding Of John Roberts

Would I make that up? No way, it is a true story–just it is not the John Roberts who happens to sit on the Supreme Court.

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It Should Not Be Just Your Military And You Are Not My Commander-In-Chief

To President Obama: Sir, you are the duly elected President of the USA, and as Baracka Flacka Flames has said, you are the head of the state. However, if you can say that the armed forces are “my military,” as you did today, either you or the Congress or both have lost your way. They, the Congress, may have wanted to abdicate their explicit Constitutional powers. But we the voters have chosen them as well as you to represent us.

And by the way, unless I belong to the military, you are not my commander-in-chief. Nothing personal. Neither was Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon…you get the picture, I hope. I have heard enough media insinuation, spoon-fed by minions of our surveillance state, that the President is Commander-in-Chief of the American people.

Update Saturday August 31: President Obama has paused to wait for a Congressional vote to authorize military action in Syria, surprising his staffers, according to a New York Times story. This is one issue where the Republican House can hardly refuse to vote–and the Senate will be obliged to take a vote as well. A piece of political prudence that may also be a step back from the imperial presidency. I do not follow, however, the connection he made from we are a country where right makes might rather than might makes right straight to “I have therefore made a second decision” to ask Congress for a vote. Congressional approval is a process issue that matters but does it confer just war status on whatever a president does?

Fact Entitlement And Petitions For Redress

Wednesday night Bill O’Reilly complained to his guest James Carville that “no Republicans and no conservatives were invited” to the commemoration of the March on Washington. Carville, as Erik Wemple of the Washington Post wrote, “stumbles, even bumbles–restrained by his concern with the particulars….it’s so much easier to run over your cable-news guest if you ignore the facts.”

Fact: Bill O’Reilly apologized the next night: “I said there were no Republican speakers invited. Wrong. It was wrong. Some Republicans were asked to speak. They declined. And that was a mistake. They should have spoken. Now, the mistake, entirely on me. I simply assumed that since all the speakers were liberal Democrats, Republicans were excluded.” OK then. He was born in 1949 and grew up on Long Island, in Levittown no less. Obviously the self-indulgent and entitled baby boomer product of permissive parenting. If only he had some solid moral foundation. But I digress.

Fact: Even if O’Reilly did actually apologize pretty straightforwardly, his in-the-moment bad-faith make-believe and designed-to-bully-the-guest spiel on his show Wednesday reflect a refusal, either willful or ostrich-like, to see how unwilling today’s Republican Party has become to even acknowledge that there was ever any racial subjugation in this country worth mentioning. The “Dunning thesis,” which was the pervasive view of the first Reconstruction era for the first half of the last century, depicted Southern slave plantation owners as decent, honorable men on the whole, and Reconstruction as an extreme uprooting of Southern ways by dishonorable Radicals. That thesis was contested by W.E.B. DuBois and John Hope Franklin, among other historians, but John Roberts and many Republican primary voters are simpatico in their readiness to revive Dunning by applying his thesis to the second Reconstruction of the 1950s and 1960s. Republican officeholders, remarkably, do not seem to want to risk seeming friendly even to the memory of the 1963 march, an utterly peaceful petition for redress of just grievances if ever there was one. I kinda thought they liked the Constitution, especially the guarantees of freedom, especially the freedom to protest and petition for redress.

The Onion And The Rose In The Cross

Happy 25th birthday to The Onion today. As Editor-In-Chief Will Tracy told NPR, “You’re just replacing one word. You’re giving people a headline that they have seen…and you’re just making that one-word switch….There’s always a slight looming terror of running out of jokes…But…there’s still awful people doing awful things every day, so that’ll give us more material.” The Onion keeps faith, so to speak, with Aristotle’s definition of comedy, in which people act worse than they would in real life.

And a belated (two days late–past the owl of Minerva‘s hour of philosophical dusk, as it were) birthdate remembrance to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the source of this blog’s motto and heading. In his preface to Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Hegel wrote, “reason is not content…with that cold despair which confesses that, in this temporal world, things are bad or at best indifferent, but that nothing better can be expected here, so that for this reason alone we should live at peace with actuality. The peace which cognition establishes with the actual world has more warmth in it than this.” That spirit was visible, I believe, in the remarks of John Lewis (and former Presidents Carter and Clinton) yesterday. They exemplified what Hegel called “reason as the rose in the cross of the present.”

Friction Rider In The World House

John Lewis spoke once again today in Washington. He is the last surviving speaker from 50 years ago, and perhaps the most radical then and now. Fifty years ago he was the newly elected president of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee–the folks who gave us the Freedom Rides that kickstarted the civil rights movement in 1961. Lewis prepared a speech even stronger than the one he gave (you can search “john lewis 1963 speech text changes student activism” to see the two versions), but what he did say was a sharp rebuke to the Kennedy administration’s wavering on basic human rights.

Lewis said then: “In its present form this (civil rights) bill will not protect the citizens of Danville, Virginia, who must live in constant fear of a police state….’One man, one vote is the African cry. It is ours, too. It must be ours. We must have legislation that will protect the Mississippi sharecropper who is put off his farm because he dares to register to vote. We need a bill that will provide for the homeless and starving people of this nation….My friends, let us not forget that we are involved in a serious revolution. By and large, American politics is dominated by politicians who build their careers on immoral compromise and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic, and social exploitation. There are exceptions, of course. We salute those. But what political leader can stand up and say, ‘My party is the party of principles?’ For the party of Kennedy is also the party of Eastland (segregationist Democratic Senator from Mississippi). The party of Javits (pro-civil rights New York Republican Senator) is also the party of Goldwater (who had voted consistently against civil rights bills). Where is the political party that will make it unnecessary to march on Washington? … To those who have said, ‘be patient and wait,’ we have long said that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now. We are tired. We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tIred of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again. And then you holler ‘be patient?’ How long can we be patient? We want our freedom, and we want it now! … I appeal to all of you to get in this great revolution that is sweeping this nation. Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village, and every hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete…. They’re talking about slow down and stop. We will not stop. All of the forces of Eastland, Barnett, Wallace, and Thurmond will not stop this revolution. If we do not get meaningful legislation out of this Congress, the time will come when we will not confine our marching to Washington. We will march through the South… but we will march with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity we have shown here today. By the forces of our demands, our determination, and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of God and democracy. We must say to you ‘Wake up America! Wake up!’ For we cannot stop, and we will not and cannot be patient.”

I think that sums up militant nonviolence as well as any speech of the whole civil rights movement. The text he had prepared to give, but revised out of respect for (and under pressure from) his elders in the movement expresses militant nonviolence even more militantly.

The Mississippi newspapers of the day, according to Raymond Arsenault’s book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, “routinely referred to the Freedom Riders as ‘crackpots,’ ‘mixers,’ ‘mix riders,’ ‘friction riders,’ or ‘freedom raiders” (p. 344). John Lewis could never be accused of being an outside raider or agitator or carpetbagger–he grew up on a tenant farm near the little town of Troy, Alabama. But perhaps he would not mind being called a friction rider. As Thoreau wrote in Resistance to Civil Government, if an “injustice is part of the necessary friction of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth,–certainly the machine will wear out….but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”

Today John Lewis gave a speech on the National Mall and said that “Martin Luther King taught us the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence. He taught us to have the power to forgive, the capacity to be reconciled. He taught us to stand up, to speak up, to speak out, to find a way to get in the way.” And he said we need to “continue to push” until “we are all living in the same house–not just the American house, but the world house.” (Lewis echoed there the title of the last chapter of King’s 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos Or Community?). John Lewis has been The Honorable Congressman for decades now, but he has also kept on being a freedom, and may I say friction, rider.

“Tell Them To Fly”

John F. Kennedy was president of the United State when the March on Washington took place fifty years ago this week. Other presidents had had black visitors, such as Teddy Roosevelt, who received Booker T. Washington. But Kennedy was, I believe, the first to have a significant number of (non-servant) African-American guests. He made a point also of inviting African diplomats, but it was not a simple matter for them to drive from New York to Washington. Route 40 in Maryland–this was before Interstate 95–was especially unwelcoming and in fact hostile for any dark-skinned person seeking public accommodation, even for a lunch meal. Kennedy was upset at the image problem this created and the propaganda opportunity segregationist maltreatment offered to the Russians. His administration made some attempts via the State Department, only very partially successful, to get restaurants to serve those with diplomatic passports. At one point Kennedy expressed outrage to Angier Biddle Duke, the State Department chief of protocol. JFK snapped, not, as Duke first thought, at the restaurant owners, but at the African diplomats themselves. “Can’t you tell these African ambassadors not to drive on Route 40? It’s a hell of a road….Tell these ambassadors I wouldn’t think of driving from New York to Washington. Tell them to fly.”  

And let them eat cake on the plane!

(Sources: Mary Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights; Nicholas Bryant, The Bystander)

The Official Story Circa August 1963

Page 15, fifth paragraph: that was the one and only mention in the Washington Post of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. As Robert Kaiser writes in the Post’s August 24, 2013 opinion page, on the day after, “The Post published two dozen stories about the march. Every one missed the importance of King’s address….Perhaps this anniversary provides a good moment to cop a plea. We blew it.” The New York Times, which has its original coverage from 1963 on its front web page today, did have a page one story entitled “I Have A Dream,” but below the fold. The main headline emphasized “Orderly Washington Rally” and “President Sees Gain For Negro.” King and Roy Wilkins, head of the NAACP, were on Meet The Press three days before the march. Watching YouTube clips, what struck me was that the burden was on King and Wilkins to prove two negatives: we are not “infiltrated by Communists” and we are not going to riot. The Guardian has a piece on its site reminding us of the brilliant organizing and coalition-building work of Bayard Rustin, the gay black Quaker pacifist who was the principal organizer of the great march, and also of the infighting inside the movement over whether he should be allowed to be involved.

The actual history behind the March is uplifting, but also complicated and sobering, as it reminds us how the powers that be have a habit of creating bogeymen to distract people from problematic, offensive, and unjust elements of the status quo. Who has the skill and resources and leverage now to place the moral burden where it needs to be, and to deflect the inevitable insinuations of disorderliness and turpitude?

The Slippery Slope of Renunciation

I thought Mayor Bob Filner had made such great therapeutic progress that he was going to go back to his mayor job, but no, he is apparently taking the easy way out and slinking away from public life. He is surely doing San Diegans a favor.

But what the heck are you doing, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, renouncing your homeland of Canada? Bad decision, I think. There are so few civilized countries on the planet, why mess with one of them? After Hillary Clinton succeeds Obama, the plagues and maybe the apocalypse are sure gonna get us, and maybe even global warming will be part of the divine plan to punish America. Canada might have half a mind to not let you unrenounce four years from now and become Canadian again. I know you still have time to turn away from your rash promise to renounce and turn back into the dual citizen you were naturally born to be. Can I tell Donald Trump or do you want to let him know first?

End Of Pranzo Di Ferragosto C’est Tellement Dommage Y’All

To mark the end of this year’s Mid-August meals, here is a news roundup:

Justice Elena Kagan said yesterday in Providence that the Supreme Court justices, rather than emailing each other, write memos, which are printed on ivory paper and then carried by chambers aides to their recipients. She remarked that “the justices are not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people…the court hasn’t really ‘gotten to’ email.” She acknowledged, as Chief Justice Roberts has, that the court is “going to have to be doing a lot of thinking” about privacy, technology, and surveillance. One hopes that their clerisy will judge privacy issues with better sucess than the Roman Catholic clergy has handled sexual ethics. Lack of (open) practice does not usually make perfect.

Justice Scalia said in Bozeman that “it’s not up to the courts to invent new minorities that get special protections.” He meant “don’t tread on my right as a member of an ethnic group formerly despised as anarchists but now accepted as more or less white folk to tread all over other folks who disgust me and don’t tread on my prerogative to say I am not a bigot if I redefine equal protection as special protection.”

The Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, disclosed that the newspaper was compelled to destroy hard drives with some of the classified government documents Edward Snowden gave to their reporters. Rusbridger noted that there are other copies of the documents outside London, so he “was happy to destroy a copy in London.” The Guardian, and the Daily Mail (which in the fullness of time may raise its gaze above celebrity rehab) have U.S. websites, correspondents, and offices, so the barbaric lack of First Amendment protections in Britain is so far not a crippling constraint for them.

White House deputy spokesman Josh (no kidding) Earnest said Tuesday “it’s very difficult to imagine a scenario in which (it) would be appropriate” to just tear up the First and Fourth, among other Amendments, and smash a newspaper’s computers. Why would anyone be concerned that that position might “evolve”?

Ten Best Airport Transit Zones And The New Cool War

The Cold War is over. Now we have cool war. Vladimir Putin may or may not be paid up on his dues to Amnesty International and the ACLU. But he could be forgiven a smug grin if he read about the nine-hour detention of David Miranda at London Heathrow yesterday. Mr. Miranda was held under an anti-terrorism law. He is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist primarily responsible for breaking the Snowden NSA revelations.

So, journalism is inherently criminal and terroristic if it shines a light on issues the governments of Britain and the U.S. do not want debated and discussed?

As we approach fifty years since the March on Washington–of course there have been other marches but this one is capitalized for good reason– we might recall how important the Cold War was as a motivator to pass civil rights laws. This is a hidden and neglected part of the civil rights story, but seizing the moral high ground vs. godless Communists was just not possible unless we got past lynchings and poll taxes and segregation and vote suppression.

Maybe the Cold War was a blessing to Americans at least in that it pushed us to reform some of our shameful ways. Do we feel enough shame now about warrantless searches to push back? Is your cellphone your personal property? If the U.S. government succeeds in their effort to legitimize warrantless phone searches and you have an iPhone or Android or other smartphone, how much does the Fourth Amendment still mean? Do American political and business elites care that the encroaching surveillance state is bulldozing away the moral high ground on which we used to enjoy standing versus, say, the East Germans?

The Summer Hit Of 2013: Magna Carta Holy Grail? Unh-unh, It Was “Magna Quaestio Est De Mendacio”

Without a doubt, it was Edward Snowden who really got lucky this summer (nice try, Daft Punk) with his monster hit “Magna Quaestio Est De Mendacio.” Jay-Z or no Jay Z, the great tune of summer 2013 was all about the great problem of lying, which has long transcended musical genres.

Augustine wrote two treatises on the topic of lies, De Mendacio and Contra Mendacio. He preferred the later treatise Against Lying, but decided to let On Lying remain “in print” as well, though in the Retractations Augustine wrote late in life he found De Mendacio “obscure, and intricate, and altogether troublesome.” In the first paragraph of the treatise itself he warns the reader that the way will be “very full of dark corners… (with) many cavern-like windings” as Augustine takes up the cases for as well as against lying, which he defines as “speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” I am not ready today to follow Augustine down that rabbit hole. I am only ready to say that I believe it is bad for the future of a democratic republic with representative government and consent of the governed to focus too much on suppressing whistleblowing (or, if you prefer, leaking for ostensibly altruistic reasons) while at the same time conniving to make informed debate about surveillance and privacy rights too difficult.

It is vexing and troubling to judge, regarding government surveillance, how security and liberty ought to be balanced–or whether that is a false and foolish either/or, as Franklin warned. It is also hard to say to what extent we are well served to keep applying Churchill’s dictum that “in wartime truth is so precious that she should be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” It is easy to imagine the “interests” (regardless of what President Obama said August 9) that the millions employed by or profiting from the national security state have in stopping terror attacks and also in releasing or even, heaven forbid, leaking information selectively to make sure their gravy train is perpetual.

I am skeptical that the latest story about the NSA overstepping its bounds thousands of times is, in itself, as big a deal as some in Congress and the media say. But I take Senators Wyden and Udall seriously when they say the latest revelations are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, on the NSA acting out of legal and constitutional bounds (which two things are not identical).

What tune will be top of the chart this fall?

Defiant Obama Refuses To Confirm Or Deny UFOs In Area 51

House Speaker Boehner said he would repeal Obamacare again if the President refused to say when he first became aware of UFOs in Area 51. Senator McConnell said he would refuse to allow a vote on any appropriations for infrastructure improvements at the long-rumored alien landing strip. General Keith Alexander of the NSA said the disclosure was a cynical ploy by the CIA to curry favor with voters and divert scarce surveillance state resources from the NSA budget. And Obama, arrogant as ever and playing cooler-than-thou as per usual, defiantly refused to say whether he was in fact born to space aliens in Area 51.

Jesus Overwhelms Messiah, 3758-762

Formerly Known As Messiah baby update: NYT reports that the judge in Tennessee, what’s her name? Karma Chameleon Balloup-bop? Anyhow, they say she is gonna get overruled on First Amendment grounds , including disrespect to atheists who do not believe there is a messiah! And American new baby boy Jesuses outnumbered Messiahs last year by the above-mentioned score. One factor in the concurrent popularity of Hebrew names for Hispanic children here is the growth of Pentecostalism among Latinos, with Hebrew-based names staking out their newfound non-Catholicism.

Our Long National Nightmare Of Plausible Deniability Is Over

Truly the end of an era! I refer to the CIA’s admission that Area 51 exists. Is this revelation the act of a patriot, or a traitor? Is it a transparent bid to distract us from today’s Washington Post story by Barton Gellman blowing more holes in the NSA‘s story that they respect our privacy? For those who can, enjoy a long weekend on that extraterrestrial highway in Nevada.

A “Handful of Things” Are “Probably OK”

That is what Senator Mitch McConnell said about the Affordable Care Act in an interview with Corbin, Kentucky TV station WYMT. Talking Points Memo points out that in a normal political environment this would not qualify as news. But we are in times that philosopher Blaise Pascal nailed over three hundred years ago: “Two extravagances: to exclude Reason, to admit only Reason.” We have the crazies, still crazy after…well, it just seems like a lot of years. And we have President Obama, who does often make a truth-telling prophet out of another Frenchman, Michel Foucault, who (as Jonathan Israel has paraphrased him) saw the Enlightenment insistence on the primacy of reason as another mask for the exercise of power. Yesterday’s blog post, for example, was about Obama’s denial last Friday of any ulterior motive or interest in either himself or the NSA vis-a-vis surveillance of American citizens’ emails. C’mon, you’re not anonymous, we can see through.

Senator McConnell’s reelection campaign manager, on loan from Rand Paul, thought he was speaking privately when he was caught on tape saying he would be holding his nose the next couple of years working for the non-crazy, non-true-believer, pre-embalmed old turtle McConnell. But what he said is no surprise: it is obvious where the Republican passion is these days. It says something that he has not yet lost his job.

Hillary Clinton is likely to have a wholly different challenge in ’16 vs ’08: not laughing out loud at the nutty things that Republicans will say about how the world ought to be. If she just counts to three and then says how she sees things, she should be in.

I Have No Patience For Presidents Who Deny That They Have Any Interest In Anything Other Than Protecting Us

President Obama, you said last week that you have “no patience” for countries that make life hard for gays and lesbians. Great. I am glad Joe Biden had even less patience than you did during your reelection campaign. He got over his skis, it was all a little willy-nilly, but you were fairly good-humored in public about the disorderliness of Biden–maybe because what choice did you have? And real change is sometimes a little disorderly, you know that.

I must say, though, you lost me when you also said that “the main thing I want to emphasize is, I don’t have an interest and the people of the NSA don’t have an interest in doing anything other than making sure that…we can prevent a terrorist attack…that we’re able to carry out that critical task. We do not have an interest in doing anything other than that.” I have no patience for ridiculousness like that. How did that kind of banal self-serving propaganda get into your head? From your mother? Maybe she was idealistic and naive in some ways, according to your own memoir, but that naive? It is hardly believable. From your grandparents? Not likely. From your professors or colleagues? Maybe. Not from Reverend Wright or any preacher with any sense. And you are not running for reelection, as you have pointed out more than once, so maybe you actually are so deep “inside the government,” as you say, that Keith Alexander has hypnotized you. I am not quite sure how you got to the point where you could say the silly things you did. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic debunks your “no interest” claim: “(President Obama) has all sorts of interests besides preventing terrorist attacks–political interests, ideological interests, legacy interests, ego interests. The folks at the NSA want to stop terrorist attacks. But they have other interests too….they want to perpetuate and expand their agency…and some, like Snowden, have totally unexpected interests, like transparency. It caused him to flee with all sorts of sensitive information. Am I to believe that no employee or contractor would possibly abscond for less noble reasons?”

I am not expecting or asking you to become a radical leftist or even reliably progressive, or to let go of your petulance over Snowden’s role. But could we just get real about how government works and could you get enough outsider perspective to imagine that people who are angry and upset are not necessarily infantile, naive, or misguided. That too much to ask? One press conference that was the intellectual version of Mission Accomplished was enough, can we agree? You might take a look, or another look, at the works of the late great interdisclipinary social scientist Albert O. Hirschman–recently eulogized in the New York Review of Books by Cass Sunstein, your former Head Man in Charge of the Hermeneutics of Regulation (and that’s a good thing to have). Hirschman’s The Passions And The Interests is a study of 18th-century ideas and a plea for a richer conception of “interests” than we now possess; and his The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy is a wonderfully acidic takedown of a mindset you have had to confront again and again to the point of understandable exasperation.

Try Again, Anthony Kennedy–Unless You Actually Like North Carolina’s 21st-Century Poll Tax Laws

It is not hard to imagine some Supreme Court justices pleased as punch with the new vote suppression laws in Texas and North Carolina. They are 1877 lite, and at least four justices seem fine with the latter-day return to rules that make it harder for the wrong kind of people to vote. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory expressed this pretty transparently in a radio interview with WUNC today when he compared the voter identification bill to measures that require identification to collect public benefits such as food stamps. Hard to speak in racial code any better than that. The governor also said “I frankly think our right to vote deserves similar protection that we’re giving to Sudafed.” I frankly think Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Rick Scott of Florida, and Rick Perry of Texas are all nervous that you, Pat McCrory, might outflank them on the far right edge of political discourse.

More important–assuming a stable lineup on the Supreme Court–is whether Anthony Kennedy will be concerned enough about how he is remembered fifty years from now to climb down from the perhaps well-intentioned but–if so–politically naive decisions in Shelby and Citizens United. President Obama and Attorney General Holder can do quite a bit to mitigate the vote suppression efforts that began within a couple of hours after the Shelby opinion, but, Justice Kennedy, only you can decide the historical role you will pay in making the right to vote real, or not.

Messiah Suffers Name Change

Who does Lu Ann Bellew think she is to say who we will call messiah? Nonetheless this woman, who is a judge in the 4th Judicial District of Tennessee, settled a dispute between the parents of a 7-month old boy by ruling, according to UPI.com today, that the child’s first name must be changed from “Messiah” to Martin on the grounds that “the word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ.”

Update: The Grand Supreme Judicial Overlord of Tennessee has overruled the name change on First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendment grounds and ordered Judge Ballew’s last name changed to Wop-bop-a-lew-bop and her first name changed to Instant Karma.

Happy Vacation Week, Mr. President. Smoke?

Dear President Obama, Hope you have a refreshing week on Martha’s Vineyard!  Seems like you could use it, because you came this close to telling us more of the truth than we could handle in your press conference the other day. We knew that you were absolutely going to proceed in a lawful, orderly way to just about the same place we are at right now with respect to the surveillance state. We had guessed that Vladimir Putin was a slouching bad boy. We already figured that just saying the words “Edward Snowden” out loud would provoke you to make laughable claims about your own respect for our constitution.

But thank goodness you did not tell us that you were going to set up a Massachusetts version of the “fierce Andean rite” described in this morning’s NYT. Your very own Chilmark basketball court will be just as festive as Coyllurqui, Peru this week as you choose your next Fed chairperson by lashing together Larry Summers (as the bull) and Paul Krugman (as the apu, or condor, tied atop Summers, trying to scratch his eyes out). Janet Yellen, Paul Volcker, and other current and past Fed governors will be the bullfighters. An announcement of who survived is expected in the fall.

Sour fermented corn liquor will be served courtside, of course, but, Mr. President, do the American people a favor and have a smoke on us. You seem to have noticed that you, like the pope, never have to run for office again. That has to be a freeing thought. But you have at least a year or two left of making big decisions. Think of us, not your wife or daughters. They will be fine. Would you believe, by the way, that my mother-in-law turns 99 today? Been smoking since Calvin Coolidge was president. And still totally motivated to walk down the hall to the smoking room four or more times a day. Got her a fresh carton just the other day. Believe it, or not. Go for the gusto, Mr. President. It’ll make the rest of your presidency so much more relaxing for all of us citizens–excepting perhaps the losing Fed candidate, as you stub out your butt next to her or him.

State of Texas: Our Discrimination Is No Longer “Pervasive, Flagrant, Widespread, and Rampant,” It Is Tasteful And Subtle

So you Feds can’t touch us anymore, said the Attorney General of Texas in a federal court filing this week in response to the Justice Department’s move to bail Texas in to federal supervision under section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. Section IIC of the Texas filing is headed “Even If This Court Concludes That The 2011 (Redistricting) Plans Were The Product Of Intentional Racial Discrimination, This Case Does Not Present The Threat Of Pervasive, Flagrant, Widespread, and Rampant Constitutional Violations Needed To Justify Preclearance.”

Is Texas saying we can mess with voters all kinds of ways so long as as we keep it classy-looking and subtle?

After reading the filing twice, let me summarize: yes that is what Texas is saying. And when Texas leans on Justice Roberts’ opinion that any “departure from the fundamental principle of equal sovereignty” of the states, their interpretation is just as ahistorical and lacking in actual textual constitutional basis as the 5-4 Shelby opinion itself.

Abraham Lincoln, in his Cooper Union address, took up the issue of local vs. federal authority over slavery in the territories. Taking on the “popular sovereignty” ideology of his rival Stephen Douglas, Lincoln found that a majority of the Constitution’s framers clearly understood that “no proper division of local from federal authority, nor any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control slavery in the federal territories.” He goes on to say that anyone who disagrees with the majority of the founders is welcome to their opinion, but not to distort facts by claiming the support of those founders. He then addressed “a few words to the Southern people….You consider yourselves a reasonable and a just people….Still, when you speak of us Republicans (1859 does not equal 2013, does it!) you do so only to denounce us as reptiles….you say you are conservative…while we are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the sort….(but) some of you are for reviving the foreign slave trade….some for the ‘gurreat pur-rinciple’ that ‘if one man would enslave another, no third man should object,’ fantastically called ‘Popular Sovereignty.'”

Think this has no echo in John Roberts’ campaign against the Voting Rights Act? Thirty years ago, Roberts’ Justice Department memos argued for “Popular Sovereignty” as a justification for limiting the Act. Two months ago he wrote of the supposed doctrine of “equal sovereignty.” Lincoln ridiculed that kind of assertion as unconstitutional on the eve of disunion. And the state of Texas is making their provocative assertions knowing full well, I think, the resonant historical context.

Gridlock? How About A Sitdown Strike?

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Ezra Klein called “gridlock” a “metaphor that leads us awry,” because if Congress cannot get anything done, we get governing by waiver. He cites the waiving of rules set by No Child Left Behind, which expired in 2007, has not been updated, but continues as a kind of zombie baseline through proficiency goals and appropriations for states and districts that meet the goals, though targets are routinely waived. Likewise with the DREAM Act: it did not pass but the Obama administration no longer prosecutes “immigrants who fit DREAMER characteristics. They basically implemented the law by fiat.” Klein observes that Congress cannot agree either on what to do or on what they should prohibit the executive branch from doing. Republicans may see “lawlessness” in the actions of President Obama’s executive branch agencies, but to Democrats the utterly intransigent Republicans leave them no real choice. So “congressional gridlock is not like traffic gridlock” (Klein recalls for us the 60-plus mile backup that lasted ten days in China three years ago). “Things move…just (not) through the part of government they’re supposed to.”

The National Journal this morning has a story about Jeff Bezos with a different but complementary take on Washington dysfunction. Ronald Brownstein hypothesizes that the greater rigidity and ideological purism of Republicans is due to their more homogeneous electoral coalition. “The escalating blockade of Republican resistance to Obama’s initiatives–symbolized by mounting conservative demands to shut down the government to defund his health care law–increasingly resembles a kind of sit-down strike by nonurban white America against the racially diverse, urbanized electoral majority that twice elected the president.”

That sounds accurate to me, though the very local problems of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as he seeks reelection in Kentucky could have a wild-card effect on the Senate’s capacity to cut deals. Down on Fancy Farm in far western Kentucky, McConnell’s challengers on his right and left had the best lines the other day. McConnell has used the Fancy Farm event as a springboard for many years, but Democrat Alison Grimes got the better of him so far by saying that if McConnell’s “doctor told him he had a kidney stone he’d refuse to pass it.” And do you think President Obama might give him a waiver to pass the stone? “Please proceed, Senator”? No, a waiver for turtles would be too lawless even for Obama.

“It’s Not Enough For Favas To Be In Season”

So says the chef of the American Academy in Rome, as quoted in the NYT article yesterday, “The Seasons Within.” And it is surely true that early-season and late-season tomatoes have different flavors and textures. But “microseasonality”? Has the new gilded age no limit on slower-than-thou invidiousness? Must all radishes that are a day too early or too late be discarded? The article concludes with the commonsense reminder that “of course, being fully attuned to the seasons within seasons is nothing new. It’s a traditional way of relating to agriculture and getting the most out of food cycles.” Still, this “latest paradigm for chefs and home cooks” is bound to provide a rationale for new levels of winner-take-all dining. Perhaps there will be an upside: the truly elite will decide that food is only worthy of them one day a month, and their principled suicides will free up perfectly delicious leftover tomatoes for the rest of us.

Gadsden Flag? Not In My Name and Not With My Tax Dollar

Today’s NYT reports that a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag went up at a city-owned armory in New Rochelle, NY. The city of New Rochelle said no, bad idea. A local veterans group has sued the city. I do not pay taxes in New Rochelle, but this seems to me a clear case. The job of government is not to save souls, nor is it to use tax dollars to support divisive symbols. I do not know what Benjamin Franklin, who first published the snake image, would make of the Tea Party. I accept the statement of the man, Moises Valencia, who in this case paid for the flag and said he did not know about the Tea Party’s use of this flag; and I mean no disrespect to him. And the city of New Rochelle might have “done themselves a great favor,” as Ken Paulson of Middle Tennessee State University observed, “by simply announcing they were going to ban any flag other than that of the United States.” But the principle here remains.

Free speech is a right of persons, not governments–or ostensibly person-like corporations. Governments have no right to favor one religion. Or one race. Or one orientation, speaking symbolically and literally. When did that become the meaning of the Constitution? As soon as we woke up and smelled the beach roses, which have been planted hundreds of miles inland in these latter days.

The Horrific Overuse of “Defiant”

The top right headline across four columns in Friday’s NY Times was “Defiant Russia Grants Snowden Year’s Asylum.” Please, spare us the parroting of the official story and just give us the news. Other sources led with the press secretary’s “extremely disappointing” or versions thereof. The WSJ used “defying” to refer to Russia in the first paragraph, though the headline was that the grant of temporary asylum “Hits U.S.-Russia Relations.”

One problem with “defiant” is that Russia and the U.S. have no extradition treaty. The broader issue is that the Times does readers no favors by insinuating that we are not living in a multipolar world where if we force down the plane of a South American head of state whose flight began in Moscow, we can hardly expect Russia to hand Snowden over without losing face. As Alexei Pushkov, head of Russia’s State Duma Committee on international affairs, put it, “Even though Obama said that he wouldn’t ground a plane over some ’29-year-old hacker,’ they trapped Snowden after they grounded the Bolivian president‘s plane.” The U.S. government is quite understandably eager to arrest Snowden–but their actions had the consequence of compelling Snowden to stay where he was and effectively compelling Putin, who was apparently eager to see Snowden leave Russia, to let him stay. Just because Putin has been wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove in all this is no reason to misreport Russia’s actions as “defiant.”

Unringing The Bells and The Force of Circumstances

Still sitting Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia got favorable headlines this past week: “McDonnell giving it all back,” said CNN, for instance. Perhaps not good enough to keep him out of prison, but who knows. His comment on a recent trip he made to China and Japan was that “it’s hard–I suppose the force of circumstances–for instance, not to accept gifts. Now, the broader, of maybe letting someone use your house at a lake, private travel, I think those are things that are of fair discussion.” But not a discussion important enough to call a special legislative session on ethics reform, said the governor, though he promised some reform “proposals” soon.  Special sessions are reserved for important things such as messing with people’s right to vote.

Meanwhile, Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli has declined to return gifts from the same contributor, Star Scientific (e-cigarettes, dietary supplements) CEO Jonnie Williams, saying “there are some bells you can’t unring.” Or some dietary supplements ($6711 worth) you cannot regurgitate, some private Thanksgiving dinners ($1500)–ditto, and some e-cigs you cannot unsmoke.

Pope Francis Says He Is Anti- “Antiseptic Hermeneutics”–Is That So?

“Who am I to judge” (a gay priest) made the big headline at the end of the Pope’s trip to Brazil last week, perhaps rightly so, despite the spin from some quarters that nothing is changing. English transcripts have now been published of both the full airplane press interview (the first such, on land, sea, or in air, since John Paul II was healthy), in Zenit.org, and of Francis’s address to CELAM, the bishops’ conference of Lain America and the Caribbean, in the Whispersintheloggia blog.

The address to the bishops, who are now the demographic heartland and more of world Catholicism, showed Francis not just as a master of the “grammar of simplicity” he urges upon his fellow church leaders, but also as a Pope with a distinctive practical theological agenda. His message was that “there is no such thing as an ‘antiseptic’ hermeneutics,” meaning no neutral vantage point on theological/pastoral questions, or we might use Paul Tillich‘s language and say there is no neutrality on matters of ultimate concern. For Francis, there are multiple temptations and “evil spirits” to avoid: sociological reductionisms (which include worship of free markets as well as Marxism); psychological reductionism (an “immanent, self-centred approach”); Gnostic and Pelagian elitisms; functionalism (“fixing holes in the road…no room for mystery…aims at efficiency” and makes church an NGO); and a clericalism in which priests and laity are complicit because “deep down it is easier…(and which) explains, in great part, the lack of maturity and Christian freedom” in much of the Latin American laity. In sum, for Francis the obstacles to “missionary discipleship” in Latin America (and not only there) amount to self-enclosure and a lack of proactive mindset.

Francis’s agenda has just begun to play out. He appears to be strongly focused on responding to suffering, poverty, gross economic inequality, and injustice. He appears to have opened the door to divorced and remarried Catholics, and perhaps to gay Catholics; but on the plane back to Italy said that John Paul II had closed the door to women priests “in a definitive formulation.” To some obsevers, such as Diane Winston in the LA Times, Francis has a woman problem: “I leave it to Catholic scholars and theologians to explain why Francis can all but countermand Benedict’s directives on gays but not John Paul’s on women.” Pope Francis says that Mary is more important than the apostles, and that women cannot be limited to roles as altar servers and catechists. They must do “profoundly more” and “mystically more.” Is that so? And how so? On some issues the Vatican is an expert practitioner of what Clifford Geertz termed “anti-anti-relativism,” recognizing that, as Geertz put it (though in a broader context) “cultural relativism is just there, like Transylvania….(we) do not need a protective cross against the relativist dracula.” Would seeing women as fully human be a relativistic bridge too far?

Jorge Bergoglio said in a 2007 interview with “30 Days” journalist Sefania Felasca that “coming out of oneself is also coming out from the fenced gardens of one’s own convictions.” Francis now has some huge challenges if he is determined to clean up the Catholic church. We may have a summer lull (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) in news out of the centers of ecclesistical and political power. But voices just as compelling as Francis’s, albeit voices currently on the Catholic periphery (where Francis claims he wants and the church needs to go), will soon be asking him to transcend some aspects of his own self-referential and self-enclosed mindset.

A Sure-Fire Anti-Overload Solution

According to the NYT Bits blog, North Korea has produced a perfectly lovely-looking and well-functioning tablet computer with a 2-megapixel camera, Angry Birds, and NO Internet. Perfect for those who have heard it all but tried and failed to read it all. And no need to worry that your web browsing will be scrutinized by the authorities.

Helium Shortage May Be Affecting The Deep State

The reviews are in, and the latest Guardian leak via Edward Snowden has decisively trounced the Deep State‘s heavily redacted declassification yesterday. On Google News, there seems to be  more coverage focusing on the XKeyscore program reported in the Guardian than on the competing official disclosure-within-nondisclosure, perhaps because the leak of XKeyscore, as Shane Harris writes in Foreign Policy, indicates that despite the “NSA Hype Machine” claims, “maybe Snowden wasn’t such a blowhard, after all. When (Snowden) insisted that low-level employees like him could spy on just about anyone, administration officials and NSA supporters in Congress were quick to call him an embellisher, if not an outright liar.” But yesterday’s documents from both the Guardian and the NSA lend “credence to Snowden’s claims,” Harris writes. The NYT lead story yesterday headlined “U.S. Outlines N.S.A.’s Culling of Data for All Domestic Calls” was revised overnight to “Senate Panel Presses N.S.A. On Phone Logs,” but both versions report Snowden’s leaked documents on par with the official story, which can be interpreted as either a stunning shift or simply a step in the right direction. I would at this point give the Guardian stories more weight, but the NYT–notwithstanding what Fox “analysts” may say–is not Democracy Now. Give them a little of the precious helium that the Guardian warned is running low (on our planet where we can get at it, not in the universe as a whole), and maybe they will wake up and smell the poisoned rose aroma more acutely.